We live in a very stressful and intense world, so if you find yourself struggling to deal with anxiety, you are not alone. Most of us do too!
Anxiety is very normal and it actually serves a purpose - it's your brain's way of saying, "Hey, things are not right here, we need to make an adjustment."
One of the very best things you can do for yourself and those around you is to learn how to manage your anxiety. You'll feel better, you will act better, and you'll find you have a lot more control over your life.
To help you do exactly that, here's my very best advice for how to deal with anxiety:
1. Take care of yourself.
Your emotional health is strongly tied to your physical health. You don't need to be perfect, but do make an effort to set yourself up to feel as physically good as possible. Eat nutritious meals, drink plenty of water, indulge in alcohol and caffeine in moderation, get plenty of sleep, and try to get some exercise every single day.
2. Make an effort to reduce stressors where you can.
If we want to feel better, we have to do less of what hurts us and do more of the things that make us feel good. Watch less news, read fewer political posts, stop tweeting nasty comments at people you don't agree with. Pay attention to what is getting you worked up; do as little of this as possible.
3. Be very intentional about doing things to relax.
Think of your stress level as water in a bathtub. Stress is going to constantly flow in, so if you're not doing something to drain it out, you are going to have an overflow situation. So be very intentional about doing things to drain the stress out:
- Listen to music (this song has been shown to reduce anxiety significantly).
- Do a short meditation (this breathing meditation from UCLA is excellent).
- Try progressive muscle relaxation (this video will guide you through the process).
- Take a warm bath and try to clear your mind of all thoughts. Try to picture yourself sitting in a large, white open room. It's bright and light, yet there are no obvious doors or windows. You are completely safe, the space is enormous and open.
- Visualize a very beautiful and relaxing place that you have been to. Spend 5 minutes imaging yourself in that space, walking, seeing, smelling, feeling everything you can remember from that place.
- Start journaling and write stream-of-conscious about the things that you're worried about. When you're done writing, tell yourself, "Ok, worry time is done, I am moving on now and I can worry about this again tomorrow when I journal again."
4. Push yourself positive.
The secret to dealing with any kind of stress is to have a positive mindset about it. Being negative and thinking only about the downside will not help you. If I could only give you 1 piece of advice about how to manage your stress, this would be it... flip your thoughts positive. Instead of thinking of the worst case scenario and the most awful things that could happen, please push yourself to think positively and be optimistic.
Here's a quick and easy way to reframe a negative thought: ask yourself, if I had to turn this into a positive, and still true, story... how could I do it?
For example, if I accidentally backed- up my new car into a tree and damaged the bumper, I could say, "OMG, I am such a ding-bat, I can't believe I hurt my new car, I can't do anything right!" Or, I could turn this thought around using the positive story reframe and say, "I am so lucky that my car is strong and just got a tiny scratch and that my seat belts worked and I didn't get hurt at all. The car did just what it should, it protected me!"
If you like this idea and want to take it to the next level, check out this amazing technique by therapist Byron Katie on how to challenge your thoughts.
5. Count your blessings.
Look around at your life and focus on what you're lucky to have. Make a mental list of the blessings you have. Odds are that you have a home, family, friends, and many other things to be grateful for. You can also feel grateful about little things, even silly things, like being grateful for toothpaste and slippers. Keep looking for examples of blessings in everyday life... the more gratitude you develop, the better you will feel.
It can be difficult, but try to find the silver lining to any situation. There may be many things going wrong, things may not be great, but there's often a lesson or a moral or a pearl of wisdom we can find in the mess. Look for that... ask yourself, what good can I take from this?
6. Base your beliefs on evidence.
We get ourselves very worked up by IMAGINING what other people are doing or saying or thinking about us. Instead of doing this, please challenge yourself to only believe things you can find actual evidence for. Worried your wife is really angry with you? Ok, let's go find evidence. If there's no (or little) evidence, assume you are not the problem and that she's upset about something else. Try to take very little personally and if someone is upset, you can't go wrong with asking, "How can I help?"
7. Go help others.
If you're struggling or feeling helpless, one of the best things to do is to go help someone else. You can help someone in person, like helping an elderly neighbor go to the grocery store or mow their lawn. You could also find a charity that has a mission you believe in, then do what you can to support that charity. If you don't have money to donate, you can donate your time or you can help raise awareness online. Helping others takes our mind of our problems and helps us feel better.
8. Focus on what you CAN do.
We tend to get very negative in times of crisis and focus on what we can't do anymore. Instead of thinking about what you can't do, look at all you CAN still do. Or if you made something messy, focus on how you can make it right. For example, if you're upset because you got into a fight with a friend and really hurt them, you could dwell on this and spiral down into sadness. Or you could say, "Ok, what's done is done, all I can do now is sincerely apologize and try to make it right."
9. Savor something you love every day.
One of the most healing things we can do to cope with stress is to really savor something we love doing or experiencing. So, what's something you love? If you enjoy coffee, get or make your favorite coffee every day. If you love reading, indulge in your favorite book for 30 minutes each day. No matter what it is... fresh bread, painting, gardening, riding your motorcycle... do something you truly love and really savor it as you're enjoying it. Not sure what you love doing? Try to think back to a hobby you had in high school... see if you can pick that up again. Or try something new by following a tutorial from YouTube or Pinterest.
10. Make a plan for what's worrying you.
One of the worst things we can do is spend all day thinking about disaster scenarios and what could go wrong. Try to narrow down your fear and make a plan for it.
For example, if you run a small business, you're probably worried how you will manage cash flow, pay employees, cover fixed costs, etc. if any crisis hits. Absolutely understandable and appropriate worry. So, sit down, write down everything you're worried about and then... start to make a plan to address each of these worries. Go online and start researching some options. Check out the programs the small business administration has to support you. Talk to a lender about a small business loan, so you could use this if needed. Talk to others with similar shops and see how they contingency plan; maybe there's a way to partner?
The critical idea is to make a plan, don't just wallow in the worry.
Now, your turn... choose 1 of these strategies to try today and come back and tell us how it worked for you in the comments below.
I hope these ideas help you... until next time, big hugs!
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The Relationship Repair Kit - PDF
Dr. K's Blog
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