Therapy in a nutshell anxiety skills #5

OK,  just so you know, I’ve been there in the past; I’ve had a couple of anxiety attacks. One of them was when I lived in Argentina. And I had been under a lot of stress overall, but everything seemed fine. I was just going about my day when all the sudden I started feeling shaky and sick. 

I started to worry, “What’s the matter with me?” And then I started to feel shakier and sicker. Then I started to worry about how this was going to mess up my day.  We had a lot of important appointments. What if I wasn’t going to be able to get to them because of how I was feeling? 

Pretty soon I was sucked into waves of anxiety, and every wave was worse than the last. I was trying my best to make myself calm down, but everything I did made it worse. Eventually I had to call a friend over to help me. When he came over, we talked for a while, and he was gentle and comforting. I took a break and eventually calmed down, and when I did, all the nausea and sick feelings went away. 

Turns out I wasn’t sick — it was all the stress, anxiety, and fear that was causing that sick feeling. But the harder I tried to make it go away, the worse it got. 

This is one of the real paradoxes of emotions; there’s a lot we can do indirectly to change how we feel, a lot you can do to get feeling better overall in life, but if we try to stuff our emotions or force our emotions to change in the moment, we often make things worse in the long run. 

This can be hard to see, because for many people, the only emotional skills they were taught were things like get over it or try to look on the bright side or relax or try not to think about it. Maybe as a child you were taught that it’s not ok to cry or to feel sad or angry, and to be honest, putting an emotion to the side for a while in order to complete an important task is a really helpful skill in the short term.  

So, for example, think of a police officer who responds to help at a horrible car crash. They need to be able to focus and perform their task in the moment and push their emotions to the side for a moment. That’s an effective short-term strategy, but if that’s their only strategy, then over time those emotions are going to build and build. 

Many police officers are really good at suppressing their emotions, but when they do this, in the long run, it can lead to higher rates of alcoholism, divorce, and suicide. Emotional suppression isn’t an effective long-term strategy because emotions beg to be processed and resolved, and they do this by popping up over and over again. Most people have simply not been taught other ways to work through emotions. 

For that officer, he or she would need to add the skill of processing through the emotions later so those suppressed feelings of stress and anxiety can get resolved.

In skill #5, we looked at how avoiding or struggling with our emotions tends to make us miserable — or at the very least it keeps us from living the life we dream of. So what is the alternative? Just suffering? No! Today we’ll look at mindful acceptance as a step towards resolving emotions. 

“When we are mindful, deeply in touch with the present moment, our understanding of what is going on deepens, and we begin to be filled with acceptance, joy, peace and love.” Thicht Nhat Han

Have you ever had an experience where you were intensely aware of the moment? Maybe it was a beautiful sunrise or even a frightening experience. And suddenly you started noticing the tiny details of each thing around you. 

Perhaps you noticed the way the light was hitting the trees and the feel of the dirt beneath your feet; you heard the sound of the birds or maybe even of your own breath. Everything felt real, crisp, the moment felt magical, you felt alive! 

On the other hand, have you ever felt like you were just numb, plowing through the day, trying to just not think about your life — or waiting for it to get better. Maybe you’ve felt that way for weeks and months on end.  

We often attribute these feelings of joy or misery with the outside circumstances, thinking “The beautiful sunrise gave me joy and my daily grind gave me misery.” But there is another way to look at that. What if it was the state of awareness that brought joy and the habit of distraction and avoidance that brought misery? 

Our minds, hearts and bodies have innate healing abilities. We have a natural drive to heal, resolve problems, feel joy, and grow. 

When we stop interfering with that natural drive, when we stop distracting ourselves endlessly and start acknowledging instead of avoiding all of our feelings — the comfortable and the uncomfortable — we give ourselves the freedom to come back to ourselves and find peace and joy. 

Our brain has a natural way to “file away” our problems and resolve them in our downtime, but if we never give ourselves quiet time, then it creates a backlog of issues to file away. 

Some indications that you might have a problem with distraction are: you have a hard time sleeping (because sleep gives your mind a chance to finally sort through your thoughts), you always need music or your phone, or you sit still with nothing to do and you feel anxious or sad. 

We can train our minds to feel joy and vitality by developing our present moment awareness. Instead of needing different experiences to feel happy (like a vacation or winning the lottery), we create joy in the present moment by waking up and living.  

“Acceptance, in my opinion, is the key to convert momentary happiness to enduring happiness. It helps you move from feeling happy to actually being happy.” -tiny buddha

A simple grounding exercise for managing anxiety and triggering the parasympathetic response. This simple activity can help you feel calm by giving you a practical way to use your 5 senses to remind your brain that you are actually safe.

Grounding skills are more effective than coping skills for anxiety because they provide a longer lasting and more sustainable way to resolve anxiety, actually re-training your nervous system to be calm, instead of just avoiding thinking about anxiety.

These Grounding Exercises for Anxiety can be helpful for Panic Attacks, Anxiety Attacks, PTSD, and work well with both Children and Adults.

PDF download available at

Check out my online course on on how you can change your brain:


A lot of times we dread or feel anxious about when we need to set a boundary because we feel like we have to explain ourselves or worry that we’re going to hurt the other person. These are 5 ways to go about setting boundaries without having to explain yourself and saying them in a normal or calm tone should help.

1. When someone asks to go out over the weekend, but you feel tired or like you need to do some self-care.

You could respond like this: “I don’t have the energy to go out right now” or “I don’t have anything planned this weekend, but I would like to rest instead of going out, could we please reschedule?”

2. Someone comes to you to vent about their problems or asks for you to support them through brainstorming solutions.

You could respond something similar to this: “Could we talk about this later? I would like to be able to support you, but I’m not in the right frame-of-mind right now.”

3. When you’re feeling angry or upset about something and need to vent, and also don’t want to cause someone to think that you’re looking for advice.

You could say something like this: “I’m not looking for advice, I would just like to vent.”

4. When someone continues to ask you about something and it’s unnecessary or causing an issue.

Try saying something like this: “I’d appreciate it if you stopped asking about this topic.”

5. When someone asks questions about what is going on and you don’t want to talk about it with them.

Consider responding similar to this: “I don’t feel comfortable discussing this matter/decision/problem/event with you.”

These five examples are ways to set boundaries with people without explaining ourselves to others. We feel like we should explain ourselves, but we don’t have to. Remember, there are some people who don’t expect an explanation, as well, it’s just a “rule” or a “should” that we apply to ourselves because we worry or feel anxious of what a response might be. This is quite stressful.

We also stress about setting boundaries because we think that we will hurt the other person, but boundaries are healthy for both you and them. You can’t control a person’s reaction to setting a boundary, you need to do what’s right for you, and you can choose how to cope or react to a situation.

If you’re feeling anxious about setting a boundary or remembering how you’re going to word it, practice saying it out loud to yourself a few times, first. While you’re practicing, listen to see if your voice sounds normal and calm, this helps with delivering your response, making it clear.

Related content






The #1 Obstacle to Setting Healthy Boundaries: Relationship Skills #5 (Therapy in a Nutshell – YouTube)

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