Top 3 tips for managing your anxiety
You probably have already felt anxious at some point in your life. Feeling uneasy before an important event in your life or when you're facing changes is natural. However, when feeling anxious becomes the norm and starts to affect your daily life, you should look for help. In this blog post, we suggest you three great tips to manage your anxiety and feel better. Read on to find out more!
1. Build mental anchoring
The first helpful technique we can turn to is the use of what we call anchors. This practice involves using our senses to anchor us in the present moment and evoke a sense of calm. When you develop a mental anchor, you can reduce anxiety and actively balance your emotions. Anchoring is effective because our brain works well with associations. So, once our brain has made a particular association with a specific smell or sound, it’s quite hard to reverse.
Think about a loved one's perfume or the smell of your parent’s home cooking. It can create a very visceral feeling in us. We can use this sentiment to our advantage when trying to develop a sense of calm. To start this exercise, you can choose any anchor type, but we suggest music. Music is easily accessible, and it's also something we carry around with us all the time. We recommend picking a piece of music that you find relaxing but doesn’t remind you of anything else – so a song you have no previous associations with. We also suggest music without lyrics or with minimal lyrics, but this isn’t essential.
Then, you should listen to this piece of music when you’re already feeling calm initially – so maybe after a long bath or a relaxing walk. And when you’re listening, focus on the sounds you can hear in the song (the tone, the pitch, the different instruments you can hear) – so listen mindfully. Repeat this a couple more times when you’re feeling relaxed to cement the association. Then, when you’re starting to feel anxious or stressed, you can put the piece of music on, and it will help calm you down because your brain will have already made an association there. This piece of music will be your anchor. You could even have a whole playlist of tracks like this over time.
2. Distinguish between thoughts and facts
When we feel anxious or are combating a problematic situation, our minds often become clouded with negative thoughts and worst-case scenarios. As a result, we spend a considerable amount of time worrying and ruminating about problems, which we’ve turned into monumental disasters in our heads.
We can consistently worry about losing our jobs over small mistakes we’ve made, or we might struggle to control the constant thought that someone close to us is mad at us for something we said. Once our thoughts start to run away with us, we can begin to spiral, and before we know it, we’re convinced the worst will happen, and our anxiety only worsens.
To avoid this situation, start with a simple question: what is thought and what is fact? In other words, in this catastrophic scenario you've made up, what is only a thought and what is an actual fact?
The issue is our brains struggle to separate thought from fact. When something goes through our minds, we take it as gospel. We often do this without even being conscious we’re doing it. We don’t challenge our thought patterns enough to take a moment to distinguish that these are just thoughts – concerns, worries, projections – not facts. This train of thought could cause us a considerable amount of stress, and it’s completely exhausting. A vast amount of energy is required to deal with all these potential scenarios happening in our heads. Recognising our thoughts for what they are – just thoughts, mental events that will pass – can help us liberate ourselves from them.
To do this exercise practically, the next time you’re feeling anxious, write down a list of everything you think and know about the situation. For example, you can include all the things you’re worried about, possible outcomes and what has already happened. Then, take a highlighter to this list and highlight what you know to be true. So, don't highlight your worries, projections or assumptions about the situation, but the facts only. Do this exercise whenever you're feeling pretty anxious about a problem, and you should be able to reduce your anxiety by focusing on the facts.
3. Recognise fear
Anxiety often stems from a fear of some kind. We may not always be aware of it, but these everyday fears we experience and tend to cause us to feel anxious stem often from one of our base human fears. Psychologists believe we have two base human fears – could you guess what those are?
One is the fear of dying, and the other is the fear of social humiliation. Both of these fears are part of what drives our survival instinct. The reasons behind our fear of death are obvious. And the reason we have a fear of social humiliation is so that we’re not ostracised from the tribe or pack and left unprotected on our own. Being part of a social group kept us alive back when we were hunter-gatherers, and although it may not be in the same way now, this is very much a part of what keeps us alive today.
So it’s worth thinking about – what is it you’re fearful of? If you dig a little deeper, does that help you uncover your base fear? Again, it’s a useful reminder here that these fears are natural and, in a way, can be useful – they have kept us alive! But identifying what these fears actually are can help us rationalise them. You could remind yourself that many of your fears are highly unlikely to lead to death or social humiliation. Things like travelling on public transport, flying or public speaking are among some of the triggers that cause anxiety. Still, we need to notice that these things are improbable to lead to death or social humiliation, which can help rationalise the process.
Sometimes anxiety can cause us to live lives that can become quite small – we avoid taking risks or putting ourselves out there. Think about anything anxiety is holding you back from. What would you do if you didn’t experience anxiety? What risks would you take?
Sometimes we have to push the boundaries of our comfort levels to break out of habitual patterns of anxiety. You could start small and work up to something bigger. For example, if public speaking makes you anxious, but you know you’re missing out on opportunities at work because of this, what could you do to push the boundaries of your comfort zone? Perhaps you could give a talk to a small group of friends or just your partner initially. Then, you may try to give the presentation to a small group of trusted colleagues and grow from there.
We need to remind ourselves that it’s ok to feel anxious, but this feeling shouldn't hold us back. If you identify that anxiety badly affects your life goals, take these conscious steps in your own time. You should always respect your own boundaries. And that's why it’s a good idea to take small steps here and there and work our way up.