It is waaaay too easy to be anxious these days. As we become tethered to our technology, we are bombarded and overwhelmed with more input than our brains and bodies can handle. As we get older our responsibilities seem unflinchingly complicated and arduous. Dreaming of being on a deserted island takes on a surprising appeal.
Well, the deserted island may evoke even more anxiety, so let’s slowly back away from that last one.
With all that’s going on, I’ll keep this simple and brief. If you are struggling with anxiety, here are 5 things you can do right away to help you start finding some relief and regaining your confidence.
Know that your anxiety comes from strong associations your brain has formed from past experiences. When they start to appear, name them to tame them. Say to yourself, “I’m feeling anxious because of the break in”, “I’m feeling anxious even though I don’t know why”, “I’m feeling anxious because of things happening in politics”. Don’t enter into a long conversation with yourself. Name it and move on.
Shift your attention to something else when you feel the first inkling of anxiety. Anything. My “go to” is my breath because it is always with me. I take deep breaths and just try to pay attention to how it feels. I try to breathe twice as long “out” as I did “in”. After a few deep breaths, I turn my visual attention onto something in the here and now. My goal is to keep myself in the present and disrupt rising anxious thoughts as soon as I am aware of them.
Know it will pass. Seriously, this is legit. Even if you don’t do anything, this overwhelming feeling of anxiety WILL pass. Experiment with it. Next time, try to just observe what it is doing. Your thoughts, body, the time it takes, the level of discomfort. Don’t do anything and just observe it pass through. Sorta like that unexpected (and unwelcome) couch-surfing friend of yours from college. Phew, that was brutal...but they’re gone!
Know that any new association, thought, action or choice you can make when you are feeling anxious will start a new neural pathway. These new neural pathways strengthen with each repetition. The key is in the reps. The ultimate goal is retraining your brain away from your past anxious associations and this will do it.
Self compassion. Your first inclination may be to hate yourself for “doing this” to you again. Actually your second and third inclinations may be the same. As soon as you possibly can muster it, you’ll need to forgive yourself and be nice to yourself. I would bet the farm that you’d never say to a friend the things you are saying to yourself. Turn that understanding inward A.S.A.P.
There you have it in a nutshell. Minus the effort and practice.
Here’s another nutshell. You are not broken.