The ABC’s of Anxiety


Have you ever had the perfect storm of situations in life colliding to the point where your whole body feels tense, your stomach tied in perpetual knots? You know that feeling of a shot of adrenaline coursing through your body when you have when you almost get in a car accident? Has your body felt that way and you couldn’t not feel it? On top of that, your mind circles around the same thing over and over and over. You can look at it and reason through it from every which angle. The only thing you can’t do is let it go and be at peace with it. (Ahem…anxiety anyone?)

For me the mind is a powerful place. Much of the time I am in charge of my mind and use it for my benefit. I can observe thoughts and release them. I can choose to focus on that which serves me instead of harms me. But even now, almost twenty years after Alison’s death I still occasionally feel the wave of anxiety come on.

When anxiety gets triggered all bets are off. Recently the feeling had become so overwhelming I knew I needed to find an answer, an escape route, a release. All of my regular coping skills and tools weren’t working. I no longer wanted to feel hostage to anxiety, so I jumped into research with both feet. One thing became abundantly clear, this IS another coping mechanism, a form of resilience. It was also no longer serving me in a way that worked for me. But to fight it was feeding it, I needed to learn from it and listen to what the small voice underneath was trying to say.

With equal parts acceptance and compassion for this anxiety inside me AND a desperate need to find a new way, I waded through podcasts, books, and articles. Among those, I’ve found something that not only resonates deeply, but has worked for me practically. And I want to share it with you…

In the book Anxiety Rx , A New Prescription for Anxiety Relief From the Doctor Who Created It by Russell Kennedy, MD, Kennedy reframes anxiety as alarm.

Here’s why:

  • There’s a scary and perpetual feedback loop where the body goes into an alarm state so the mind then searches for a reason that triggered the tense feeling in the body
  • The mind goes into well worn paths of past experiences and fears to provide a reason for the alarm
  • The body then responds to the mind’s thinking
  • Rinse and repeat

He then outlines a simple and effective approach to short circuiting that crazy feedback loop, calling it the A,B,C’s.

The Anxiety A,B,C’s

Awareness – Be aware of how your body is feeling and what your mind is thinking. Ask yourself multiple times a day, “Where am I right now?” If you’re feeling grounded, relaxed, and present in the moment great! Sink into the feeling for a few moments. If on the other hand, you find yourself feeling on high alert, tense, and/or in worry- more in the past or the future than the present moment…Stop. Feel into your body, allowing your thoughts to simply pass through without engaging them.

Breath – Close your eyes for a moment, place your hand wherever you feel the alarm in your body and focus on your breath, allowing the sensation of alarm to be present without attempting to think your way out of it. Thinking is not your friend right now.

Compassionate Connection – Once you’re feeling grounded in your body, now you can engage your mind by thinking about something you like about yourself or something that brings you joy. When the charge is gone you can even ask that part of yourself that felt so on edge what it needs to feel relaxed.

So in a nutshell as Kennedy puts exactly in his book:

  • “Develop intentional Awareness of your “tells.” Train yourself to call out the repetitive scary thoughts of your mind and the familiar feelings of alarm in your body.
  • When you sense worries or alarm, immediately move your attention into your Body and Breath (no more thinking!). Put your hand over your alarm and focus on making a connection with that alarm sensation.
  • In grounded present moment sensation in your body, make the specific intention to practice acceptance, Compassionate Connection, and love towards yourself.”

This is an extremely abbreviated, high-level summary of what I learned in a 300+ page book. If you’d like a deeper understanding of where anxiety often comes from, why using the A,B,C’s work, and a much, much deeper dive including an additional D and E please check out the book!

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