From my teens through early 20s, I suffered from anxiety, and felt isolated by it. What I didn't know then is that 18% of adults (almost one in five) suffers from anxiety. We just don’t talk about it.
The fact that I didn’t feel like I could talk about it also meant I didn’t understand what caused it, or how to fix it. I thought I was just an anxious person by nature. Over time, and through training to become a hypnotherapist, I learned that no one is just doomed to a life of anxiety. And, new evidence suggests that although anxiety is often passed on from our parents, it isn't due to genetics.
Anxiety is something we learn. That means we can unlearn it.
We have the power to change ourselves and the way we experience life.
It can seem like an overwhelming task, but taken day by day, it doesn’t have to be. Here are five steps to help you regain control of your life and let go of anxiety for good.
1. Don’t indulge negative thoughts.
You can’t keep negative thoughts from coming up, but you can choose not to engage with them. When you notice anxious thought patterns, it's a signal to do something that energizes or relaxes you. Call a friend, listen to a song that makes you feel good, or get some exercise.
2. Remember that a fear is not a fact.
We all have fears. "I'm not good enough.” “Something bad could happen.” "I won't be able to cope.” But anxiety distorts your thought process. Just being aware of your own fallibility can loosen the grip of a thought spiral. When you notice negative thoughts taking hold, ask yourself, “Is that really true?" More often than not, it isn't.
3. Write it out.
I write every day, and recommend all my clients do the same. Putting something on paper provides perspective. Giving form to your fears makes them seem more manageable somehow. Every morning, or just when you need to, start writing.
Note any worries, anxious feelings, frustrations or musings. Next, make a list of all the things you're grateful for. (It’s a foolproof mood booster.) Next, express how you would like to be thinking, feeling, and behaving as though you already are. For example, "I am feeling calm and in control.” This encourages your mind to accept your desired reality as an actual reality.
4. Rest and digest.
This breathing exercise short circuits anxiety. By activating the parasympathetic nervous system, we can turn off the “fight or flight” mechanism and revert to “rest and digest” mode.
Anxiety sometimes causes us to hold our breath, and that can exacerbate the feeling of stress. This technique tells your body it’s safe to relax.
Breathe in for a quick count of seven, then out for 11. When you breathe in, let your belly expand like a balloon. As you breathe out, let your belly flatten. You can do this for as long as you like. I do it on my commute to work, so I feel calm and grounded when I arrive.
5. Be your own best friend.
When I first started taking note of the way I was speaking to myself, I was shocked by how much more critical I was towards myself than I would ever be towards others. How do you speak to yourself over the course of a day? Are you supportive and helpful, or critical and mean?
To adjust your self-talk, start by writing down all your repetitive negative thoughts. Then respond to those thoughts in a rational, supportive way — the way you would respond to a friend.
For example, if your negative thought is, “I’m not good enough,” a supportive, honest response would be, "There are some things I’m less good at, but I’m really good at a lot of things. And, if I keep trying, I will get better."