You feel perfectly fine one moment, then POW – out of nowhere – crippling anxiety overwhelms you. You feel a sense of tightness flow through your body, allowing stress and tension to invade your mind. If you’re like me, you know the near constant fear of experiencing sudden anxiety. Like me, you probably know all of the coping skills and how to power through an anxiety attack, but what happens when nothing seems to be working? Knowing the skills and implementing them in a way that works in the moment are very different things.
I can tell myself all day long that all I need to do is to keep fighting – that feeling these things is part of being human, and that I just need to find more effective solutions. However, the slightest bit of stress or worry can jumpstart anxiety that stops you dead in your tracks.
Anxiety is like quicksand, keeping you stuck and hanging onto relationships, jobs, and ideas that do not propel you forward. Meanwhile, you’re feeling like you’re sinking in the anxiety loop of doubts, lies you tell yourself, the what-ifs, and fears that surround you and pull you under. I mean, what happens if I lose everything? My family? My money? These swirling thoughts become automatic and sometimes even subconscious without us realizing what’s going on in our mind. We crumble deeper into our anxiety quicksand, feeling crushed by our worries. They relentlessly overwhelm us, causing our heart to race and our stomach to ache. If you’ve ever fallen victim to anxiety, fear, nervousness, or constant worry, I want you to listen up right now.
Of course, something could always go wrong, but what if it doesn’t? We spend so much time focusing on what could go wrong, not even realizing that we’re watering our mental seed of anxiety. Ask yourself – is there a deeper inner fear that you have? Of being alone, not being loved, or a fear of someone seeing all those hidden skeletons in your closet? Maybe you fear never being good enough no matter how hard you try, that you won’t be successful enough, or that you don’t contribute what you feel you should in your relationships. These fears sometimes stem from watching dysfunctional relationships within your family, or experiences with friends allowed you to develop unhealthy beliefs in childhood that have carried on into your adult life. Sometimes we write off trauma in our past, but it keeps knocking at the door, trying to break through. Maybe, no matter how deep you’ve dug, you can’t find a way to explain why you constantly feel so run down, exhausted, and scared. Could you be hanging out with fear, projecting it into the future onto something that hasn’t even happened? I want to give you 5 ways to kick that lingering anxiety to the curb.
First, below your anxiety is a fear; identify what the fear is to discover its’ foundation. Take a moment to explore with yourself – is what makes you feel this way grounded in a past experience, maybe to your childhood self, or is the fear rooted in a worry of something big that might happen to you in the future? Are you worried about the simple things – the places you are going, the interactions with people you will be seeing, the events that are happening? Once you identify the fear, you are able to call it out on being the liar that it is.
Second, after calling out the fear in your life, take some time to sit down, take a deep breath, and think about all of the things that are working in your life, writing them down as you go. What are the things that make you feel good about yourself? What about the things that make your life better? Any good in your life – write it down. It is okay to only have one or two things – just keep focusing on the wonderful parts of your life and wonderful things that make you who you are. Maybe you can’t think of anything at all. This isn’t a controlled exercise, and this may not be a big list…yet. I mean, you are alive – there’s one; you are not one of the 160,000 people that die each day. That alone is noteworthy. Write it down. That old fear of yours may prevent you from thinking of anything else, and you can call it for what it is – an asshole. Keep whatever list you’ve created so that you can take it out and remind yourself of what is going right when you find yourself paralyzed by anxiety or fear of the future, pulling yourself out of the anxiety loop.
Third, take out another piece of paper and ask yourself – what would be marvelous about your life if it could look exactly how you want it to in 6 months, 1 year, 5 years, 10 years? Let yourself go here and write – what does it look like? Maybe that looks like going to sleep without frantically double checking your to-do list to make sure you completed all of the day’s tasks, or driving to work and singing your favorite song instead of feeling a lump in your throat while thinking about an upcoming meeting with your boss, or maybe it looks like taking an exhale and being in the moment with your loved ones instead of your mind wandering elsewhere. You wake up tomorrow and your problem is solved – things are different than they are today. Look into the future and find a frame – a still-shot of what could go RIGHT! I know your brain is pulling you in the other direction, making you think that it’s defending you by preparing you for the worst. It’s saying yeah, but… the money could run out, I could look like a failure, this relationship could go south, or maybe even I don’t even have the brain power to think of what could go right. Beware – you are in flight or fight mode. GET OUT! This thinking is another lie; thinking about what can go wrong is not protecting yourself. Go back to steps one and two – calling out the lie and focusing on what’s right, while imagining what life looks like when your problems are gone and mentally placing yourself into that future. Maybe your product launch went successfully and the money is rolling in. Maybe your relationships are flourishing and you feel safe to be vulnerable with those around you. Maybe you have figured out how to work three days a week and sit near the ocean another four, nobody is sick, and people love you.
Fourth, go for a walk, ease your mind, clear your brain. Every time an unpleasant or negative thought creeps in, I want you to “what if” it right back. I don’t mean your usual, negative “what if”. I mean the “what if it does work, what if I do get through this, what if I am better than this,” and most of all, “what if I do kick anxiety’s ass?”
Fifth, stop what you’re thinking. I know you’re thinking something like “this isn’t going to work for me, it doesn’t just happen like that to me, and that’s just awesome for someone else”. STOP STOP STOP. This IS for you. This is to help propel you out of the anxiety that makes you question the previous sentence. If you are NOT working on YOU every single stinkin’ damn day, the old patterns, the fears, the anxieties will all seep back into every pore of your life. Your life will be hindered once again as the loop begins its’ vicious cycle once more. So, the big question – are you going to decide to stay in the loop, or to work your way out of it?
There you go, five steps to tackle anxiety. Dear Anxiety Friend, I know these steps well and personally. YOU CAN DO IT!