If you have been searching for ways to reduce anxiety, I think you’ll agree with me when I say:
WORRY is a natural process of being protective of myself.
ANXIETY is the exaggeration of fear of what’s going to occur (and then engaging in defensive strategies).
You can reduce anxiety by changing the strategies that you apply to your brain. In fact, these strategies have been backed by research. Let’s review a few concepts that I discuss with my clients in therapy:
Tip 1: Understand how your brain defines a threat
- Your brain defines threats by looking at your past experiences. Whatever was bad for you earlier in life, your brain is wired to fear that. Then it releases cortisol (stress hormone).
- Sometimes your brain will define a threat based on something similar that happened to you and then it lays over a “template” on top of it. For example, you may fear speaking in public, but the real reason is that you fear not being recognized for your contributions.
You may think a threat is one thing when it is in fact something else. A therapist can help you define your real threat.
- Ask your brain: is this is a signal or is this noise? If it’s a signal, it’s worth problem-solving. If it’s noise, you can learn how to ignore it
Tip 2: Reduce anxiety by making a decision
- Before making a decision, people will look for information, gather data, spend hours thinking about it. This stimulates more stress hormones (cortisol), which increases anxiety.
- The longer it takes for you to take any action, the more cortisol your body creates.
- If the decision is too big to make, break the challenges into small chunks.
- Solve problems, don’t ignore them
Tip 3: Shut off the external world
- We are constantly looking at the news. There’s plenty of material out there to raise our stress level. Instead of helping, the news makes it worse because the news media constantly scans for threats.
- Turn off the opinion portion of the news. Read instead of watch. Read facts only from serious news outlets, such as Reuters.
Tip 4: Do not try to “relax”
- Your brain was not designed to “relax”. No animal survives by relaxing. When someone tells you to “relax”, it is condescending.
Meditation, mindfulness, breathing techniques, and applying rationality are crutches to relieving anxiety.
- Breathing exercises work better for panic attacks
- Respond to the world with a sense of urgency. Take action, go on the offense.
Tip 5: Get the bad news right away
- Lack of predictability and control: some people cannot wait an unknown length of time to receive bad news
Anticipation of bad news creates a tremendous amount of anxiety
Being unsure of your place in society is unsettling
- Take action, make a phone call to get the bad (or good) news right away. Be proactive.
Tip 6: Get social support
- Our brain evolved to be around others socially. That’s how we have survived for a long time.
- Social pain is debilitating. Social isolation attracts anxiety.
- You must move with the herd. If the rest of the herd moves on and you stay behind, you will miss out on an important support network.
- Offer support to others and accept support that others offer you
- It’s ok to do something and expect something in return.
Tip 7: Focus on meeting your needs
- Are your long-term needs met when you lash out at your boss for giving you a bad review?
- You can’t guarantee your needs will be met but you can build trust in your ability to meet them
- Focus on what meets your needs. Plan your focus.
- Design an experience that feels good now without bad consequences in the long run (like using drugs)
- Wire your brain for the right response now so it will repeat the same response in moments of distress
- When you ignore your needs, your brain feels like your survival is threatened
Tip 8: Get used to the discomfort of the physical feeling
- Instead of feeling anxious about the ups and downs, feel safe that your brain is doing its job.
- Sit with your bad feeling for a minute. This skill will teach your brain that the bad feeling doesn’t actually kill you.
Tip 9: Learn what your rewards are
- Dopamine (a feel-good chemical made in your brain) surges when you feel you can get a reward. Once you get a reward, dopamine stops.
- We are not designed to release dopamine all the time (that is why happiness does not happen all the time).
- Dopamine exists to promote your survival, not to make you happy
- Good feelings start when you anticipate the reward (especially if this reward is scarce or unique)
- Create a list of activities you like to do and turn to them when your cortisol level is high
- While you are engaged in an activity that rewards you, your body will absorb/metabolize the cortisol between 20 minutes to 1 hour
Tip 10: Define your goals in life and break them down
- Goals that are too big promote anxiety.
- If you don’t know what you need, you will rely on old habits that don’t really serve you
- Focus on something you can do today. Cross items off on a list.
- Take small steps. Don’t embrace big causes, instead, help just one person.
- Zero in on one small need that you can satisfy so your brain gets the message.
Tip 11: Take ownership of your anxiety
- Many people will blame an external event or a person for what is happening to them.
- Take responsibility for fixing it. Don’t rely on others to fix your anxiety. Find your way out.
Tip 12: List things you like to do and create new habits
- There are things you already love to do but never had time for.
- Some activities or dreams are out of reach, so cross them out. Only write down those that are doable.
- Find activities that promote the survival of your unique individual essence.
- Exercise and nutrition are popular choices but they are not rewarding (unless you really enjoy exercising or eating better as an activity).
Tip 13: Find someone else to chat with other than yourself
- The constant chatter in your brain when you’re stressed out impedes problem-solving, If you must speak, it’s better to speak with someone about the issue.
- If you resent your connections or they are poor listeners, get a rubber ducky and speak to it if you must talk
- Trying to find the bright side of a situation does not work
- You need to stop the chatter. Anxiety does not live in your verbal brain.
Tip 14: Engage in Self Care
- People who refuse to have downtime often resort to unhealthy ways of taking a break (such as drinking or anything else that is bad for the body and mind).
- People usually like to smoke in the company of others they trust. Design a smoke-free break
- Our minds may go to dark places when we are free, so we want to stay busy otherwise anxiety comes to fill the vacuum.
- Reward yourself with free time
- Use self-expression: write letters, start journalling, write poetry, scrapbooking, read scripture, promote yourself on social media.
- Avoid stressful tasks in the evening and address sleeping issues
Tip 15: Experiment with new things
- Anxiety surges when you feel like you tried everything. But in reality, you only try things you expect to work.
- What if you tried something different?
Tip 16: Help your anxious child
- Anxiety can be learned at home too. Children learn how to react to bad news with anxiety or depression. The best way to help your child with anxiety is to manage your own.
- Face disappointment with calm and confidence and your child will learn that too
Which tip(s) are you going to try first?
If you want to work with me to reduce anxiety, depending on your individual case, we may touch upon these items. We will design a step-by-step treatment protocol to help you gain the skills you need to improve this debilitating disorder.
If you would like to continue exploring how to understand your anxiety better, I recommend you to get to know the work of Reid Wilson, Ph.D. He has a lot of free content on his website.