How To Stop Freaking Out All The Time
We all experience intense anxiety sometimes. But unfortunately, for some people, “freaking out” is a weekly or even daily occurrence. It's not the healthiest reaction to have on a regular basis; in fact, in my practice, I call this creating "Everyday PTSD."
Some people develop Everyday PTSD because they live in complete fear of the uncontrollable and the unknown. As a result, they experience ordinary stressors as life-or-death situations when in reality they're simply over-thinking. Freaking out all the time is traumatizing to themselves and possibly those around them.
In case you can relate, let’s explore some methods that I share in my practice to prevent and regulate anxiety.
1. Stop exaggerating.
Catch yourself before using distorted conversational terms and phrases that aren’t accurate, either in your head or in conversation. (“Ohmygod, that’s THE worst thing ever!")
Not everybody loves a drama queen. And you’re not helping yourself by overstating the situation. You’re creating an exaggerated scenario and it’s a lie. I know you don’t mean to — after all, everyone around you has been using this language to describe their life and their experiences — but it’s time to stop. It’s confusing to your psychology and it’s not diffusing the situation — it’s only making it worse.
2. Just stick to the facts.
Don’t say, “My mom doesn’t care about me.” Instead, focus on the facts. Your mother called two days ago and she said she couldn’t attend the event. That’s it, there’s not more to it!
There’s no, “She’s too busy for me,” or “She’s so selfish.” Again, these are lies. They don’t help, they just hurt.
3. Quit making other people the expert.
No person is an expert on another person’s mind. You are the only expert on yourself, so don’t give yourself anxiety over someone else’s assumptions.
4. Don’t ask questions, make statements.
It’s very anxiety-provoking to ask, “Do you want to go out on a date with me?” Whether you're asking or being asked, male or female; a question like this makes anyone anxious. It puts them on the spot, to say the least. It’s just like asking, “Do you really like me?”
These kind of questions typically have a hidden statement about how you feel. Imagine saying, “I’d love to take you out to dinner,” or “I really enjoy spending time with you.”
It’s sharing your honest emotions with another person and inviting them to do the same. There is no pressure to respond a certain way or the added stress of wanting to hear a certain answer. It’s being open to whatever the truth may be.
5. Never apologize for being human.
We are not perfect people. Did you get that memo? Well, let me remind you anyway. Human beings make mistakes and we make many of them. If I’m supposed to meet a client￼ at 9am and I realize, as I’m driving, that I won’t be there until 10 minutes later, it doesn’t do me any good to call that client and say, “Hey, so there’s a lot of traffic and I wanted you to know that I’m really sorry, but I’m going to be 10 minutes late.”
It’s more accurate and effective to just say that I'll be there at 9:10. Apologizing would mean that I’m in some way defective and I know I’m not. I didn’t do something wrong, I just did something unintentionally. So, stop saying that you're sorry and stop giving yourself anxiety about being imperfect. You’re human.
6. Always have your own back.
No matter what external factors may be in play — you just lost a job, someone doesn’t like you — always be there for yourself. In those moments when everything seems to be spiraling out of control, stop focusing on all the negativity and instead focus on all that is good about you. You’re alive, you’re breathing and you’re still existing. Instead of hurting yourself with negative thoughts or scenarios, you'll be your own source of honesty and kindness.
7. Take a moment to meditate.
I know that sounds scary if you’ve never practiced meditation, but let’s approach it differently. How about breathing affirmation? When you feel yourself slipping into a negative mentality, just take yourself away from the situation.
Go to a quiet space; it can be your favorite armchair, on the grass in the park or even inside your car. Sit with your eyes closed and just breathe. Empty your thoughts. (If it helps, imagine three boxes stacked on top of each other. Each time you breathe, take one box away until nothing is left but empty space.)
Each time you inhale, think of yourself breathing in compassion, positivity and love. And each time you exhale, visualize all the doubt, uncertainty and hatred leaving your body. Breathe in affirmation and breathe out negative energy. Breathe in tranquility and breathe out anxiety.
8. Fall in love with not knowing. Anxiety comes from overthinking and focusing on the unknown.
We as human beings weren’t designed to know the future or know what another person is thinking. But you were designed to figure out who you are as a person and to love yourself. Living is about sharing your essence and allowing other people to share theirs.
Be comfortable not knowing that information beforehand — it’s what makes you human. You don’t need to know the future to feel safe and you don’t need to know what occupies another person’s mind to feel secure. Let life unfold; it was designed to be a gift. And the best gifts are always a surprise.
9. Remember, there is no scoreboard. Nobody is keeping track of every tiny, insignificant thing you do incorrectly.
As entertaining as it might be to see a giant scoreboard behind every person’s head that counted each time they did something right or each time they did something wrong, it just doesn’t exist. And it shouldn’t.
I don’t believe it’s accurate to say, “Oh, Jim shouldn’t have done that,” because, in all honesty, SAYS WHO? Who says we have to do things a certain way to be right, anyway?
Saying, “I have to get my nails done,” or “I have to get across town to pick up my kids;” these things aren’t necessary for your survival (or your sanity) and placing too much significance to them just traumatizes yourself. Saying you have to or you need to, it’s as if you’d literally drop dead if you didn’t get your nails done. It might make you uncomfortable, but c’mon, you’ll live.
I invite you to use more accurate language: “I’d really enjoy getting my nails done,” or “I’m planning to get across town to pick up my kids.” You can really get some peace of mind just by taking the pressure off yourself.
Anxiety is a serious contender when it comes to major health issues, and for good reason. It affects our psychology, mental capacities, sleep patterns, eating habits, confidence levels, and so much more.
But I encourage you to become aware of the role that you play when anxiety strikes. You’ll have less cortisol flowing through your veins, more enjoyment in life and definitely more fun — isn’t it about time?
Tracy Thomas, PhD, is a clinical psychologist in Fresno, CA who specializes in emotional sensitivity. She has spent over 20 years helping people live more intuitively, strategically and intentionally. Her unique methodology has been featured in SHAPE, Women’s Health Magazine, Men’s Health Magazine, and SELF, among others.