We all know that anxiety is bad for our health. Anxiety can range from mild unease to intense fear and can even include "panic" attacks. If your symptoms fall toward the intense fear end of the spectrum, you'll need to consult a health professional instead of trying natural remedies. Anxiety may be a symptom of other mental health problems that only a trained professional can assess. But if your symptoms fall more toward the worry end of the spectrum, then this article is for you.
To learn how to stop worrying and overcome anxiety, you will need to be in touch with how you feel. Your feelings are guideposts meant to give you information and feedback about you and your place in the world. For some of you, being in touch with how you feel will require laying off substances that numb, distract, distance, or otherwise remove you from experiencing the present moment. "But that's why I use those substances in the first place," you say? As long as you keep avoiding feelings rather than dealing with them, the feelings will return. I'm not advising you to drop all addictions in one fell swoop, but if you want to stop worrying, you are going to have to become more conscious of how you feel, and becoming more conscious of how you feel means being present, not comfortably numb in la la land. Upset stomach? Do you have any idea why? Your stomach is trying to tell you something: Don't wait for an ulcer to make the message unavoidable. And no, another drink won't help.
OK, now that I've lost the dabblers, let's move on. The trick to learning to how to overcome anxiety is to train your mind to observe the good things that are happening now rather than the bad things that either did happen in the past or might happen in the future. Here's a checklist to get you started:
- Remain in the present moment as much as possible. If you skip quickly over this point, saying, "Yea, yea, I know that one already," guess again. Remaining in the present moment is incredibly difficult. Whether it's reviewing what you need to pick up at the grocery store on the way home or trying to discern what your boss really meant yesterday when she said x, odds are you're doing anything but being here now. A few tricks to getting yourself into the present moment include bringing your attention into your body and sensing how it feels from the inside out. Paying attention to your breathing helps. Meditation (even just a few minutes per day) does wonders. This is because as you sit quietly and observe your mind on her hamster wheel, you notice when the hamster wheel stops. Not surprisingly, it's a good feeling; one that you begin to want to return to in everyday life. This is the beginning of the discipline you will need to keep your mind off the hamster wheel and in the present moment.
- Ground control to Major Tom. What are the messages that you give yourself? When you drive your car in bad weather, do you think "It will be a miracle if I don't get in a serious accident and become permanently paralyzed." Do you visualize your wheels skidding as you careen into a tractor trailer? Do you wonder how you'll be able to afford the undoubtedly expensive physical therapy after the accident? Or do you think to yourself "I am safe at all times" as you visualize yourself pulling into your destination safe and on time (or even early). Observe the dialogue you have with yourself and the movies you play in your head, and you may be amazed. Your mind generates random and often irrelevant thoughts that you can follow for hours on end in concentric circles. This probably served a useful function back when we were figuring out where the saber-toothed smilodons might be hiding, but this ability of the brain is overdeveloped. Follow your worry string sometime and be amazed at your mind's ability to invent anxiety-inducing scenarios. If need be, talk to creative, and have them tweak the message.
- Visualize positive scenarios. Believe me, I know this is not easy, but you have some rewiring to do. Think of it as counterbalancing all of the negative outcomes you've been visualizing for years. Challenge yourself to think of every possible thing that could go right. Get specific, be creative and enjoy yourself. Have some fun with this: Go overboard!
- Pay attention to your feelings. You know those moments when you feel that you just can't take it anymore and you absolutely must escape in some fashion? We all have them. If you struggle with addiction, this is the moment when you absolutely must have that cigarette/drink/hit or else! Your body is trying to communicate with you at these times, and if you are present in your body, you'll know that you need to pay attention. What sequence of events has brought you to this point? Is it a feeling of powerlessness? Should you be speaking up for yourself and you are not? It's inevitably not a good feeling that you're having, but running away from it will not make it go away.
As you can probably tell by now, my premise is that anxiety is simply another way that your body tries to communicate with you and in order to make use of natural cures for anxiety, you need to listen to your body. After years of you squelching your feelings, your body has had to up the ante to grab your notice. Pay attention to what it is that she is trying to tell you and she'll be able to tone the message down. Never feel good in the presence of your husband? Guess what? Wrong husband! If you stifle a feeling over and over again, you will reexperience that feeling at higher and higher levels of distress until you finally "get it." These moments are incredibly powerful teaching moments if you can tame your desire to get away at all costs and instead, pay attention.
- Lay off the television. The thousands of heartwarming events occurring every day around you are not going to make the news while the stories that distress, frighten and incite do. Make it your job to focus on the stories that don't make the news. From casual interactions at the grocery store or gas station to your interactions with your co-workers, focus on the positives. Even better, create a few more of these events yourself. Choose to give one genuine smile to someone who looks like he could use it and begin to change your own and others' perceptions of the world as an unkind place.
- Let go of blame. We're all familiar with this self-defeating line of thinking. It goes something like this: "If only my husband/wife/mother/father/child would do x, y or z, then I would be able to stop worrying." Your husband/wife/mother/father/child is not going to do x, y or z, not now, not tomorrow and not the day after, though you could waste your entire life waiting for it to happen. You will never be able to control anyone's behavior but your own. This line of thinking is really a convenient way for us to avoid taking responsibility for ourselves. We all know people who have spent a good sixty plus years on this planet who are still blaming others for their current woes. It's not pretty, is it?
- Take responsibility. On the plus side, you are able to control your own behavior! You cannot change anyone else but you can change yourself. If you want to improve your life in any way-including lessening your anxiety-you have to take responsibility for your life first and seek anxiety help. Do not give your power away to anyone else, whether it is a doctor or a guru. I believe that we are all much more capable than we make ourselves out to be of wresting control of our own emotional states and improving them. The very first step to doing so is to take responsibility for who you are right here and right now.
- Be compassionate with yourself. You won't change old habits overnight. You've been worrying for a long time, and it is your brain's fallback response. In fact your years of practice have made you quite good at it. You will slowly begin to shift how you speak to yourself, what you choose to observe, and how you respond. As you do, you will realize that some of these tendencies are more pervasive than others. You will chip away at them over time, always noting your progress as you do. You will not berate yourself for how slowly you seem to be progressing nor will you compare yourself to others. You are on our own individual journey integrating the changes in whatever style and at whatever rate works best for you.
- Celebrate. Just as you need to shift your focus from the tragedies of the world to its finer points, you need to shift the focus from what is wrong to what is right in your own life. Chances are that if you're reading this article, things are not all that peachy for you right now and you need help with anxiety. But you must discipline yourself to see the many good things in your life even in the midst of the bleak. You need to discover things that enable you to lift your own spirits, be it the blond streaks in your (misbehaving) child's hair or the fact that you did make it back home to speak to your father before he passed away. Because what you focus on is what your life becomes, so focus on what there is to celebrate. There is always something!
- Practice. You've made it almost to the end of a long article of providing help for anxiety, and I haven't lost you yet. That's a good sign because it shows your commitment to learning these techniques. Now you need to practice. You've been doing things the old way--the worried way--for a long time, and it won't be easy to unlearn these habits. Think of it as a rut, think of it as a well-worn synaptic path, think of it using whatever analogy works for you. But the point is, you need to create new pathways, you need to train your brain to process differently. Odds are you've been worrying since childhood: That's a lot of undoing to be done.
One of the most exciting aspects of making a change is that once you do, the next change becomes easier. As you lessen your worry over small matters (yes, you tipped enough), you will begin to notice that worry does not really assist in the resolution of larger matters either. You will begin to see that you have a choice as to how you spend your time and your energy, and that the tunnel vision of worry and anxiety really prevents you from enjoying a broader spectrum of experience. And it prevents you from receiving the important messages that your body gives you every day that would actually allow you to handle a crisis should one arise.
So give some of these techniques serious effort, quell the critic, and begin to rewire your worry. An anxiety-free life is within your reach if you'll commit to the discipline through using these anxiety remedies and put forth the effort of creating it that way.