Listen to Show 260 – The 3 Most Effective Ways to Crush Anxiety
The 3 Most Effective Ways to Crush Anxiety
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Everyone gets hit with anxiety at some point or another. Surprise! You’re not alone. In my work as a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, it sometimes feels as though anxiety is an epidemic. The good news is that anxiety is entirely treatable.
I see two main categories of anxiety with clients: short-lived and chronic. When your anxiety is short-lived, you can usually identify a cause: a big test coming up, a job presentation in front of important professionals, or maybe even too much caffeine.
When anxiety is short-lived, it’s best to re-label this as normal stress. Stress can give us the motivation to get the studying done, fine-tune the presentation, or help us nail down how many cups of coffee we can actually handle.
When anxiety becomes chronic, it can start to interfere with the quality of your life. There are three general approaches to anxiety you can take: self-soothing, interrupting negative thought patterns, and taking pointed action.
- Learning to soothe yourself when feeling anxious is a valuable life skill. This can look like doing belly breathing, a meditation app, taking a warm bath or getting a nice long hug from a loved one.
Doing belly breathing is my favorite thing to teach others because it is easy, portable, and very effective. Belly breathing means to breathe deeply from the diaphragm instead of your upper lungs. Your belly should noticeably go up and down. Breathe in through the nose for 5 seconds and exhale through the mouth for 10 seconds. While exhaling, your breath should be as soft as if you are blowing *through* a lit candle instead of blowing the candle out.
The key here is the exhale. It should be twice as long as the inhale. If you catch your anxiety before it builds into a panic, it should take 3-5 breaths. If it takes longer, no worries. I also like to tell people to practice this breath especially when not feeling anxious – so that you can easily use this tool when needed.
- Interrupting your negative thought patterns can lead you to an interesting journey about the things you tell yourself all the time. It may be worth it to note to yourself, on your phone, or in a notebook the types of negative things you say about yourself.
What is important to remember is that not every thought needs to be believed. Because we are human beings with highly capable thinking brains, sometimes we think that all our thoughts are facts.
Sometimes, we correlate things together that don’t necessarily go together. Here is one way you can tell if you are being overly critical of yourself: if you wouldn’t say the thing you are saying to yourself to a small child or your best friend (“you’re such an idiot”, “you keep messing up and can’t get anything right”), then it’s a good idea to not say those things to yourself.
Experiment with different, more encouraging words to say – the ones you would say to a small child or your best friend. For example, “Yes, you made a mistake, but that’s ok. We learn from our mistakes and no one is perfect. Perfect is boring.”
- Chronic anxiety can lead to paralysis. When your thought pattern is stuck in “what if” or “I can’t fix this”, you tend to do nothing. You reach for your phone to escape and the next thing you know, hours have gone by on social media. If this is happening for you, try this experiment the next time; feed your anxiety information and/or action.
For instance, let’s say you’re worried about the debt you have. It feels overwhelming. This is where you can call on your courage. (Courage doesn’t mean the absence of fear. Courage means acting in spite of fear). Look at all the bills. Make a list of all the debt. Look at how much money you can spend each month to pay down debt.
Tackle the problem. It will be uncomfortable during the process. But once your plan is made, you have more knowledge and feel *empowered* by it. You know how to solve your problem!
Another thing to notice is if you are avoiding something – a situation, a person, a decision you are putting off. Remember when I talked about our big, thinking brain? It really likes to learn things in patterns. And it really likes to keep you safe.
Your brain will notice things you avoid and strengthen the anxious connection. For instance, if you have a big fear of spiders, you will avoid them. Your brain will notice when you see a spider, the fear response you have, the avoidance you take to never see a spider again, and your brain will conclude that spiders are dangerous.
Avoidance actually teaches your brain to strengthen that connection between spiders and danger.
The cool news is that we can rewire our brain to make different, more helpful connections. I guide my clients through this process often. How? Exposure.
You can start with small exposures to things you fear, learn to self-soothe (belly breathing is nice here), feed your brain with information (“Oh, this particular species of spider is not dangerous. In fact, here are all the benefits of this type of spider.”) With continual exposure, your brain will adapt and your anxiety will lessen.
Applying these three steps can empower you beyond your fears and anxiety. Tap into your courage, engage your belly breathing and take action.
If you feel like you need more guidance through this process, just contact me at Symmetry Solutions. I’ve been helping clients overcoming overwhelm and anxiety for a couple of decades. I would be honored to help you along your journey to a less anxious life.