LIVING WITH & OVERCOMING ANXIETY
Living with anxiety can be crippling. Many people understand this. Many people don’t.
It generally stems from your mind’s desire to protect you, however unhelpful this protection seems to be. A learned behaviour from childhood due to an incorrectly processed event; a traumatic experience in your life; a sudden, paralysing fear that you can’t get past; all of these and more can trigger anxiety and depression in your life which can quite simply turn your world upside down.
From there, the smallest things can send you into a spiral leading to a seemingly never ending abyss. In the cold light of day, when you are feeling more objective and rational, the situations that caused you so much distress seem minor, insignificant even. I work with a lot of clients on challenging their negative self talk, particularly when it comes to self confidence. It is incredibly effective for a lot of people, but for those with anxiety, these techniques absolutely must become a habit during the periods of your life where your anxiety is under control or ‘in submission’, as it were. There is no point trying to desperately claw at logic in the midst of your catastrophising if you’ve never practised it before. The mind is like a muscle; you need to train it to make it stronger. Only then will you really be able to stay in control of the negative thoughts.
I often think of anxiety as a little mind maggot (excuse the rather grim imagery) that, even when you feel you’ve got your thinking under control, it’s still there wriggling away (a wriggling that you seem to be almost always conscious of) trying to convince you that there’s something wrong. What really fascinates me is that during the times of trying to rationalise your thoughts, your anxiety RATIONALISES BACK! Have you ever tried to be firm with yourself: ‘All of these thoughts are just my anxiety talking. It’s not real or based in fact. So many other people deal with this everyday and it’s down to this pesky anxiety…’ just to have your anxiety reply, oh so reasonably, ‘I totally understand where you’re coming from…but this is real. This is so much worse than what other people are worrying about because this problem is really bad and could lead to…’? And so it goes on.
Therefore, it became quite clear to me that in order for people to stay on top of anxiety disorders they have to make changes to their lifestyle that effectively suffocate their mind maggot. Here are some really effective tips that I have found to be invaluable:
1) When you are feeling stronger and more positive, try and ascertain what triggers your periods of anxiety. Think back to the idea that your mind thinks it is protecting you, so often there is a feeling of danger. Repeating to yourself that you are safe and identifying things in your life that make you feel as such can be a strong defence when your mind wants to ‘come to the rescue’. If you can convince yourself there is no danger you may find your thoughts easier to deal with.
2) Become a pro at challenging negative self talk. Most of us will experience negative thoughts on a daily basis, no matter how positive we are. Self talk is often skewed towards the negative which is arguably a throw-back to the days when sabre tooth tigers were wandering around our back gardens. The optimists amongst our ancestors were far less likely to survive the wild bear attack than our more pessimistic ancestors who thought it best to run.
So how can you effectively challenge these thoughts?
a) Consider whether your thinking is realistic: Is it based in facts or is it your interpretation? How could you interpret it differently?
b) Put it into perspective. Most of us are experts at catastrophising, but if you ask yourself whether it’s going to matter in 3 months, 6 months, 12 months time, we often find that we’re simply over reacting.
c) Ask yourself what you can learn from a situation. This way you put a more positive spin on it: Consider how you can ensure this situation doesn’t arise again? Is there anything you can do now to solve this problem? Instead of focusing on the all consuming negative thoughts, we become more goal centred and focus on solving the problem – a far healthier way to deal with any situation.
d) Changing the sound of the voice can be useful – who can take Mickey Mouse seriously? My favourite one is an angry Donald Duck. As soon as that pops into my head I can’t help but smile; another defence against the anxiety.
3) Add affirmations into your daily routine. Affirmations are a powerful tool in anyone’s armoury. Growing your confidence will also build your resilience as minor and even major occurrences are less likely to knock you. Begin by thinking about what beliefs you have about yourself that hold you back, for example, ‘I’m not good enough to be successful’. Then reframe it into the positive: ‘I am and have always been good enough. I am truly successful in my life.’ Just simple changes like that can be effective. You then need to commit to repeating these ten times a day, morning and evening. Say each affirmation with belief and feeling. You will undoubtedly feel like an idiot but changing your physiology whilst reciting your affirmations will change your mental state and embed the positive beliefs into your subconscious.
4) Master mindfulness (for more info on what mindfulness is click here). Mindfulness is arguably one of the best methods of dealing with anxiety, helping you develop awareness of your body and thoughts without judgement. There are many self help books out there that guide you through the process. Like anything, this isn’t a quick fix. You have to dedicate time and commitment to it, but if overcoming your anxiety is important then having this in your life is crucial. Mindfulness is also very effective if you experience a panic disorder; when your anxiety leads to full blown panic attacks. Learning to accept what is happening in your body without judgement really builds up your resistance making you far less vulnerable to panic attacks.
Many still feel that mental health difficulties are a weakness and not something they feel that they can talk about. So we hide it. We hide our fears, our panic and our obsessively negative thoughts. And sometimes, unfortunately, that leads to some people hiding from the world.
But it doesn’t have to be like that. The more people talk about it the more accepted it will become. The more seriously it will be taken. There are so many ways you can fight back and overcome anxiety; it doesn’t have to be a life-long sentence. It takes real willpower and effort but if you’re strong enough to live with anxiety then you’re absolutely strong enough to beat it.
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