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An overall approach to managing anxiety (and other difficult thoughts and feelings)

Updated: May 19, 2023

I get asked a lot about strategies teens can use to help manage anxiety so they can get on with the important things in their lives. In this short article, I share an overall approach to tackling anxiety. It has something to do with a Llama - but what?

Well, the LLAMA letters stand for five steps that can be taken to overcome anxiety. These are the steps I teach the young people you come to see me for help and support with managing anxiety.

Before I go through what these steps are, I just want to remind you of two important points to remember about anxiety:

1. anxiety is a normal human response, it's the minds alarm system - it is the response to this alarm that tends to cause problems.

2. there is a need to stop listening to anxiety or battling with it.

When you are aware of these important points about anxiety, you will be ready to put strategies in place to start moving away from its hold.

An easy way to remember the 5 steps to take to break free of anxiety is is what each letter stands for:

1. Label

Noticing when the anxiety comes, noticing what it feels like in the body and labelling what is going on. Saying to yourself "I notice I am feeling X because of Y". For example, "I am feeling uneasy because I am going into school, and I don't know what the day is going to be like" or "I am feeling angry because no one understands how hard this is".

2. Let it go

Noticing any tricky thoughts that are going on at the time such as "I can't do it", "I haven't worked hard enough", "I'm rubbish", "People are going to laugh at me". Learning to notice these are JUST thoughts is what is key here. Often anxiety gets bigger when thoughts are listened to as if they are facts.

3. Allow

Allow the thoughts and feelings to be there, just noticing them. Know that it makes sense in many ways that they are there. Remembering they are just thoughts and feelings. Stop trying to control them, stop listening to them or trying to make them go away.

4. Mindfulness

This step is about helping the body to come back to a calmer state. Mindfulness is something we hear a lot about but essentially, it's about focusing on the moment so that it is possible to move away from the difficult thoughts and feelings. There are lots of different mindfulness techniques such as noticing your breathing, colouring, going for a walk, eating something and really noticing what it smells and tastes like. It's about finding what works for you in terms of what allows you to move away from listening to the tricky thoughts.

5. Action

This is about focusing on the next small step forward that is important to take in your life. This is about doing the opposite of what anxiety is telling you e.g., going to school rather than avoiding it, answering a question in class rather than keeping quiet, spending time with friends rather than declining their offers. What is important here is to keep taking small steps forward even if there are tricky thoughts and feelings around (that were noticed in step 1). The mindfulness techniques help get you into a calmer place before taking this step.

By taking these 5 steps every time anxiety pops up, you can start to move away from the tricky thoughts and feelings, find a sense of calm and then take small steps forward towards what is important. Over time this is how to break the cycle of anxiety.

Of course, there is much more I could share about each step and how to achieve it, but I hope that this gives you an overview of how you can break free of anxiety. I want you to start to believe that it really is possible to break free of its hold.

Dr Beck



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