It was 3 a.m. when my anxiety decided to strike.
Desperate to end my racing thoughts, I reached for my iPhone on the nightstand. The bright light from the screen washed over my face, as my phone unlocked with one look. A half hour and several social media stalking sessions later, I set my phone down. This time, the taste of saline tears washed over me as the fear settled deep into my spine. I could feel myself spiraling downward but felt helpless to halt it.
I tried scanning my body through mindfulness. I tried the box breathing technique. I tried placing my hand on my heart and sending healing energy toward the area of tightness.
Another hour came and went while I remained in an emotional freefall. At my wits’ end, I decided to get up and write. Around 4:30 a.m. my pen hit the paper.
I’m feeling especially triggered right now, I wrote in my journal. I feel vulnerable and exposed and anxious. My mind can’t stop racing and I can’t sleep, so I’m going to write until I feel like I’ve emptied myself of this poison.
10 pages of writing later, I emerged lighter, calmer and freer; a sense of peace began to settle back in. And although I never made it back to sleep, I was able to find a coping mechanism to calm me down.
For me, anxiety is a sidekick I never wanted but always felt stuck with. It swoops in when I least expect it and it takes over my mind. And it makes me feel overwhelmed, inundated and inadequate. Like an ingénue in a horror flick trying to escape her impending attacker, only to run upstairs to her certain doom—my thoughts corner me and I can’t seem to break free.
But life doesn’t have to be this way. You can liberate your mind. You can think different thoughts. You can conquer your fear and anxiety.
It all starts with educating and empowering yourself with information. And that’s exactly what I detail for you below.
Because you can restore reason in your life. You can proclaim your peace. You can axe your anxiety.
All it takes is the willingness to change.
1. Anxiety is extremely common.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are “the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.” That’s nearly one in every five people!
But regardless of whether you experience anxiety regularly, each and every one of us knows what it’s like to stress out before an important interview, get anxious about a big life decision or worry that things might not go the way we expect.
We all avoid, numb and bury to varying degrees to cover our anxiety. And then it manifests as irritability or lack of concentration or insomnia or obsessive thoughts. No matter how it shows up, anxiety is everywhere.
So, don’t fret: Everyone can relate to what you’re feeling. And that’s a good thing. You have so many people you can turn to who’ve been there. Know that if this keeps creeping up on you, there are simple ways to address your anxiety and calm your mind so you can live your best life.
And that puts the power back in your hands. Which is exactly where it’s always been.
2. Anxiety is future-oriented.
Lao Tzu, a philosopher and founder of Taoism who lived 2500 years ago, once wrote, “If you are depressed you are living in the past. If you are anxious you are living in the future. If you are at peace you are living in the present.” And, boy, was he onto something: Recent research actually backs up his claims!
Here’s the thing about anxiety: It’s all about your expectations. It’s all about your inability to let go. It’s all about the future.
But allow me to let you in on a giant secret: You do not live in the future. Nor do you live in the past. You live in the now. Is it really worth your personal peace to torture yourself over the future?
So, learn to bring yourself back to the present and go from there. That’s all you really have anyway. The rest is just an illusion. And you can’t build a life of happiness based on an illusion.
3. Anxiety is about control.
Allow me to be blunt here: Your anxiety is directly proportional to your need for control. The more in control you like to feel, the more anxious you’ll become.
It starts off with an idea in your head of how you think things should be in order for you to be happy. And then you grasp onto that idea and simply refuse to release it. It’s silly when you look at your anxiety in this way, but it’s true. After all, anxiety isn’t rational, as I explain in fact number five below.
But regardless of what you think you need and how you think things ought to be, if you think those thoughts you can think different ones, too. If you learned to survive on your anxiety, you can learn a new way to survive, too.
Just don’t let yourself get to the ledge before you’re willing to surrender. You have so much beauty and so many blessings to share with the world. Don’t get caught up on the things that are out of your control. You don’t need to live through the pain twice.
4. Anxiety is a learned, fear-based response.
Anxiety is simply a persistent fear that you are in danger. But are you in danger, really, or is what you’re feeling simply a physiological response to the thought that you’re in danger? Our bodies don’t know the difference between perceived danger and actual danger—they just respond to the chemicals and impulses from the brain. Your brain, on the other hand, can be taught to not see certain stimuli as “dangerous.”
Just knowing this is empowering and it of itself. Rejoice in the fact that you can adapt and mold your brain to believe something new. And relish in the realization that this time it will serve you instead of enslave you.
5. Anxiety is irrational.
There may or may not be a rational trigger, but your anxiety is usually an irrational response.
“The rational mind is really about training your brain to help you rather than hurt you,” says psychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen, who recently spoke about ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) on Jay Shetty’s On Purpose podcast. “So often people are just brutalized by the thoughts that go through their heads… [but] you don’t have to believe every stupid thing you think.” In the podcast episode, Dr. Amen went on to share his tried-and-true method for addressing your anxiety head-on—and it goes like this:
Write down what you’re thinking.
Follow up with, “Is that absolutely true?”
Then, pose this question in your mind, “How do I feel when I believe the thought?”
Next, answer this question, “Who would I be without the thought?”
Finally, ask this, “What’s the opposite of the thought?” You might be surprised to find that the opposite of the thought that was tormenting you is usually true.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety over a big career choice you’re about to make. Here’s what the steps would look like for you:
This new job offer I received isn’t quite what I was expecting. Is it really worth leaving where I am right now to pursue this? What if I don’t like it? All of this feels so overwhelming! How am I supposed to know what to do?
Well, if I calmed down I could probably figure this out.
I know what I’m looking for, so I guess I need to ask for that.
I feel out of control and unsure of what to do when I’m overwhelmed. I hate that feeling.
Instead of just feeling overwhelmed, I can focus on finding a solution that works for me.
I guess I’m not overwhelmed at all. I’m actually underwhelmed by the offer and need to negotiate on my own behalf.
6. Anxiety is ephemeral.
These four words are indispensable when you’re experiencing anxiety: This too shall pass. Just like everything else in life, your anxiety will subside if you let it pass. Truth is, your thoughts are like waves in the ocean of your mind. The ocean is vast compared to the waves that come and go on the surface, just as your mind is vast compared to the thoughts that come and go through your brain. Learn to ride your thoughts like the waves they are—and don’t confuse those thoughts for the enormity of your mind.
You are deeper, richer and more powerful than what happens to you on the surface. Settle into this truth and you’ll tap into the calm you’ve always had inside of you.
7. Anxiety is treatable.
Anxiety is persistent. But so are you. There are a variety of ways you can ease your anxious mind and preserve your sense of peace. Here’s a short list of things to try—or at least keep in mind—the next time anxiety butts in:
Exercise to get out some stress and release endorphins.
Write out your thoughts as a form of expression.
Meditate to calm your mind.
Listen to music that makes you happy.
Eat a healthy diet.
Avoid alcohol and caffeine.
Laugh it out. Humor can certainly help remind you not to take things so seriously.
Get some rest.
Volunteer or give back to the community.
Talk to a mental health professional and explore any medication you may need.
What is your experience with anxiety? How do you cope with it? Tell me in the comments below—or Tweet me @crackliffe.