The other day I had a friend that let me know that she was having difficulty dealing with anxiety. She told me about how, due to severe edema, her doctor took her off of her meds. It made me remember how, not too long ago, I was in a very similar situation.
See, when I was at the hight of my days in dealing with anxiety, I was still married to my ex and I was looking, desperately, to get out. There was something deep inside of me that knew that everything that I was doing was wrong. I woke up in the morning feeling as if I was in the wrong skin, living the wrong life. My irritability was off the charts, and most tasks made me feel lethargic and longing for an escape. More than anything, I feared that no matter what step I took, it would be wrong. The backlash that would come from making the wrong decision was enough to make me want to crawl in a hole and not get out.
Eventually, I realized I did not have to go on living that way.
Deep down, I knew that I did not have to continue living my life feeling the way that I did. I had seen too many Oprah episodes and heard so many stories of women that had dealt with much more difficult situations, and they were living extraordinary lives. I realized that I had the ability to take my life into my own hands, and I had been dealing with anxiety in the wrong way. Simply believing that I had the power within me to change my situation was enough to make the constant nagging go away….although it didn’t go away completely. In fact, my path of dealing with anxiety took a few years to master.
Today I can honestly say that I have my anxiety under control. However, it wasn’t always that way. It took me tons of time and lots of my own research to find out what worked.
Dealing with anxiety: This is exactly what has worked for me…
I want to share with you exactly what I did, and what I still do (on a daily basis) for dealing with anxiety.
I remember one day I came home and beat up a blender with a butter knife because I couldn’t find the lid. No kidding. Right in front of my 8 and 11 year-old girls. I felt totally crappy. I picked up the phone. With my voice quivering and shaking, I asked my kids to please, please go to their rooms. I let them know that they had done nothing wrong. I was just freaking out, and I had no idea why. I dialed my mom’s number. She then told me about this amazing book that she was reading called The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, and how I needed to pick it up. Of course, as a busy mom, I really didn’t have the time to sit and read…so I took in the Audible version.
I will go into the details later in another post, but this is what I learned: If I think about any other event that took place at any other time, I would notice that my anxiety levels go up considerably. Rather than think about how I wish things were, or how things once took place, what I really needed to focus on was what was happening right then and there. Like…sensing my feet on the ground. Feeling the breath pass in and out of my lungs. Noticing the color of the light I was parked at. Reveling at the incredible pitch some kid was screeching at.
Basically, falling in love with what was happening with each moment as it was taking place.
It took some practice, but eventually I learned to master it. When I did, I would also notice situation that would cause my anxiety levels to increase. I was then able to pause, consider what I needed to alleviate the tension I was feeling in my body by giving it what it needed. This book, I can honestly say, changed my life.
2. Mindfulness Meditation
This strategy goes right along with presence, and is incredibly effective in dealing with anxiety. I first learned about mindfulness as part of a teacher study group on mindfulness in education. Together, we read Daniel Rechtschaffen’s book, The Way of Mindful Education. We examined different facets of mindfulness. We learned that mindfulness ultimately begins with us. We discovered how the cultivation of mindfulness includes embodiment, attention, heartfulness, interconnectedness, emotional intelligence, and communication. For me, it became very clear that if I wanted to raise children that would thrive in our modern world, I needed to master the tools of mindfulness first, and then teach it to my kids and the kids in my class.
From this point on, I began to learn as much as I could about mindfulness. I discovered that through practicing presence, I was able to live my life in a mindful way. Once I started moving my body more, I learned to appreciate different sensations. I learned a TON more about mindfulness through yoga and my Nia education. I began cooking and paying attention to my sense of taste. The world became more exciting, and I felt much more alive. To read more about this, be sure to check out this post: Why self-care for parents is critical for raising healthy kids.
TRY THIS: I will write much more about mindfulness for dealing with anxiety. But for now, practice mindfulness by giving yourself a sensory “bath”. Wherever you find your body right now, take a minute to notice anything that is touching your skin. Notice the pressure on the muscles in your body. Notice your breath flowing in and out of your lungs. Notice the way your clothing feels. Your feet on the ground. The temperature of the room. Know that you don’t need to do anything else. Just BE. Throughout the day, when you notice yourself taking the time to pay attention to what is happening with your sense of touch, say the words (inside your head), “I am”. For a audio-guided version of this exercise, be sure to check out the Body Scan Meditation. If you do this practice before you go to bed every night, you will find that you will get better and better with this, and dealing with anxiety will come much easier for you.
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Reduce stress and anxiety quickly and naturally with this strategy.
3. Examine your relationships
This is a very sensitive topic, but one that is really critical to examine when it comes to dealing with anxiety. Sometimes the relationships that we are in are…let’s face it…toxic. This can be a relationship with a spouse or a lover, a parent, a child, your friends, and even your relationship with yourself. Take a minute to truly examine each relationship you have in your life and decide how they are helping you, and also how they are causing you to feel anxious.
In addition to “people” relationships, many don’t consider the relationships we have to other things in our lives. I want to invite you to consider your relationship with:
- Your body
- Your career
- Your environment
- Your spirituality (does it even exist?)
Are any of these parts of your life asking for more attention? These aspects of your life won’t ever go away, and the relationship that you have with each one of them is more important than any relationship you have with another human. If one of these part of your life are out of whack, there is a good chance that this is contributing to anxiety in your life. If the relationships with the people you have in your life are compromising your relationship with any one of the above aspects of your life, it may be time to consider the role that these folks play in it. It may be that more boundaries need to be established on your part. It may be that the person needs to find the Exit. Spend some time contemplating this. If needed, enlist the help of a therapist or life coach.
TRY THIS: Make a list of all of the significant relationships with the people in your life. Next, make a list of the above bullet points. Also consider your relationship with yourself. Take some time to really examine what is working, and what is not really working. Are the people in your life contributing to the betterment and health of each of the bulleted aspects above? If not, what role do they play? Are you taking care of them, and keeping them around simply because you don’t want to be lonely? Remember that when we keep people in our lives that are toxic, they are occupying the space for another person that could bring you more love, compassion, and understanding.
4. Mind/Body Tools
I began to develop a close relationship with my body’s intelligence when I started working out and paying attention to my eating habits. I wasn’t even sure, at the time, what body intelligence was until then! However, when I started taking Zumba classes, I started noticing that I felt INCREDIBLE and even invincible when I moved my body in ways that felt great. I became fascinated with this. Not only was it at the gym that I felt amazing, but this feeling spilled over into all areas of my life. The angst that I had been experiencing as a result of my failed marriage, my gender identity crisis, and pressure coming from work and school dissipated as I danced them away. This was incredibly important for me on my journey of dealing with anxiety.
I became super fascinated with this phenomenon. Why was it that I felt such a tremendous release of pressure when I danced so hard? After diving deep into years of research and somatic self-study, I learned about how the emotions live in the body and NEED to be released through movement. In dealing with anxiety, the way that this looks is like this:
- Feel the sensation of anxiety in the body.
- Examine the sensation. What does it feel like? What does it make me want to do?
- ASK the sensation: What do you need? Pay attention to any thoughts, emotions, pictures that come into your head, any cravings that may come up. Typically, what the body wants are wholesome and things that are going to make you feel free in the long run.
TRY THIS: The next time you feel anxious, try moving the anxious energy out of your body through movement. Throw on some music and allow yourself to move in any way that your body guides you. And for more on this, check out How Stress Affects the Body and What You Can Do About It. After RELEASING the energy, do a Body Scan to help you recognize the after-effects.
5. Get obsessed with something
Sometimes anxiety doesn’t make you jittery. I remember many, many nights where I would lay in bed and wonder what in the world the point of my life was. I became obsessed with the feeling of desperation and not knowing what to do. I would begin also obsessing over “what would happen if” scenarios. The way that I deal with this type of anxiety is this: I get obsessed with something else that is constructive. While it is true that this may sound a bit like workaholism, when you choose a constructive project to get obsessed with, it gives your brain something to chew on. Not too long ago, I found myself getting down and obsessing over things that were ridiculous, like what I wore once when I was in 3rd grade and how I got laughed at. I needed to let it go. This was when I found myself re-engaging with blogging. Here I am, totally obsessed with it and geeking out over what I am doing now!
TRY THIS: Find something to get obsessed with! What is something you have always wanted to do? Maybe it’s playing an instrument, or starting a business. Or starting a degree program. Regardless, you have talents and gifts to share with this world. What direction do you feel you need to be going in to share those talents and gifts? Next: GET STARTED. Start planning and get that ball rolling. Get excited!
6. Dive into personal development resources
There are so many personal development books and other resources that are available for dealing with anxiety. These books taught me presence, how to heal the broken parts within me, about the mind/body connection, all about my calling, and how I have the power to change my reality. Here are some of my favorites:
- The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle
- Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself – Lissa Rankin
- The Biology of Belief – Bruce Lipton
- The Anatomy of a Calling: A Doctor’s Journey From the Head to the Heart – Lissa Rankin
- Finding Your Own North Star: Claiming The Life You Were Meant to Live – Martha Beck
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom – Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck – Mark Manson
- You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life – Jen Sincero
JUST A NOTE! I did not actually pick ANY of these books up and read them. I got the audio versions and listened to them in the car on my commute to/from work. So if this list overwhelmed you in any way, just choose ONE book and go for it!
Life Coaching Resources
- Our thoughts are the source of so much of the anxiety that we experience in our lives. One way of dealing with anxiety is to use a strategy called though inquiry. Byron Katie developed a tool called The Work and you can see the way that she uses it to release the power that destructive thoughts have. You can find her work here at The Work of Byron Katie. Here is an amazing and timely example.
- One of the books above was written by world-renowned author and life coach, Martha Beck. Last year I was SUPER fortunate and was able to take her Wayfinder Life Coach Training Program. This program was an investment…not only in my future, but in myself. As part of the program, we (the “cadets”) were tasked with practicing the tools with one another. This meant that we were able to, with support, discover and make sense of the mysteries of our minds, bodies, emotions, and spirit. Martha offers her wisdom every week on her Facebook Group: The Gathering Room. She also has a YouTube channel. Here is one of my faves:
- Nia – I know I have talked a TON about the Nia Technique and how it has transformed my life, but seriously…it really has! The training program has 4 levels: The White Belt – Focus on Sensation; Blue Belt – Focus on Relationships (between all things), Brown Belt – Focus on Energy, and Black Belt – Focus on Creativity. The experience has not only meant that I’ve been able to train my body and feel healthy in that way, but it has also helped me develop flexibility, agility, mobility, strength, and stamina in the mental, emotional, and spiritual areas of my life. I have never experienced anything that feels more like a guidebook for life than this. If you have ever thought about going to a Nia intensive, GO FOR IT! You won’t regret it.
TRY THIS: Choose one thing from this list that feels effortless for you and allow yourself to dive in. If one resource doesn’t work for you, test out another. Keep going until you find a resource that really speaks to you.
This is actually a trick that I learned from Martha Beck, my life coach trainer extraordinaire. This is a really quick, yet effective way of dealing with anxiety. You can check out the post here: Conquer Anxiety With This Quick Trick.
8. Make a list, prioritize it…and then act on it
I have no idea how many times I’ve found myself stressed out beyond belief because I felt that the world was caving in on me. When I took the time to really examine why I felt that way, I realized that it was all of the tasks that I had in my life that kept me feeling as if I was on a giant hamster wheel. I never thought I would ever catch up. I had bill collectors coming after me. I had students that depended on me planning, otherwise they wouldn’t feel safe in their learning environment. I had two kids, then four kids, then two kids (again), then four kids (again) that all relied on me to (pardon my language) get my shit together, otherwise the household would implode. This was when I learned the art of goal setting, planning, and executing a plan.
TRY THIS: Do a total and complete brain dump onto a piece of paper. Write out ALL of the things that you have on your mind that you have been putting off. Next, take a minute to make 3 lists and categorize each and every one of those things. The categories will be: Should do, Need to do, and MUST do NOW. Next, examine that 3rd list: the MUST do NOW list. What is the one thing that is just screaming at you? What needs to be done now? I’m going to give a little tough love here and say that this is no time for excuses.
Take out another piece of paper. Put that screaming, wild pig of a task on the top of it. Next, write out everything you need to do to begin getting that task done. You’re basically breaking it into little tiny mini-tasks. Next, focus on one of those little tasks until the BIG task is taken care of. Then you can move on to the others.
TIP: Use a productivity app to help you get things accomplished. Write out what needs to happen in Reminders (if you have an iPhone) or use the Todoist app. If you would rather write it out, just write out a running list of tasks every day. It may not seem like much, but I have been amazed how when I write out my “big things” that need to get done, before long, they just get done. It’s almost like something takes over me and gets the thing done for me. I’ll find myself absent-mindedly paying bills, or going to government offices to talk to people. You’ve got this.
For more on this, check out this post: Overcoming Procrastination with Goal Setting and Planning.
9. Find “The Place Beyond Fear”
I know, I know. Here I am talking about Martha Beck again. But you know what? She’s just SOOOOO GOOD! One of the things that I love about her is that she always has, and still to this day DOES, suffer from anxiety. I mean, when you hear her talking, you can see how anxiety has truly ruled her life for so long. But then she had her son, Adam, who was born with downs syndrome. I won’t steal her story here, but basically, she ended up leaving her highfalutin career as a Harvard professor and became one of the world’s first life coaches. And she worked with Oprah!
Anyway. Her stories and strategies that she has developed, discovered, and used over the years of effectively dealing with anxiety are ON TARGET.
But this is the one thing that I thought was incredibly important to share with you today. It’s this excerpt from her book, Steering By Starlight, is gold. In it, she talks about a time when she went to have brain mapping done. During this experience, the researchers told her what she had already known…that she had high anxiety, based on the frequencies of electricity that were being picked up by the electrodes during the procedure. She knew that anxiety was hardwired into her brain. They asked her to then look at a computer screen and make a computer cursor move down on the screen. This would mean that her beta waves had kicked in, and she was relaxing. She figured that this would be easy to do since she was experienced with yoga and meditation. However, what she and the researchers discovered was that when she went into this calm state, although her theta waves increased, her anxiety was still high.
So she started recalling all sorts of memories from her past. What she (and the researchers) discovered was that when she remembered times when she was in intense, high-pressure situations, her anxiety levels went DOWN. In her words, “Sure enough, the more high-risk the situation I imagined, the less anxiety my brain produced.” She decided to name this obscure state “The Place Beyond Fear”. In doing more research on this phenomena, Beck states, “…we are most centered and blissful ‘in the zone,’ when we’re intensely focused on something that is almost too hard or scary to do–hence the human proclivity for rock climbing, skydiving, white-water rafting, and shopping sales on the day after Thanksgiving.”
TRY THIS: Remember #5 (above), Get obsessed with something? This goes right along with Martha Beck’s example. If you have decided that you are going to embark up on getting obsessed with a hobby of some sort, think of some way to up the game a little. For example, I became obsessed with starting a business. I upped the game when I decided to start reaching out to influencers I didn’t know, asking them if I could interview them, and then leading multiple online shows. This put me in a flow state that certainly pushed me past my fear zone. At the same time, the rewards were massive!
10. Taking part in a creative practice
I have to say that one of the most effective ways of managing my own anxiety, overall, has been having a creative practice of some sort to fall back on. I am a writer by nature, but I do also love creating visual art. To me, exercising creativity is like going to therapy, but having something MUCH bigger than me as my therapist. For this, I want to encourage you to go with whatever feels amazing to you. Creativity looks different for different people. For some, it’s painting. For others, it’s creating computer programs or architecture, or coming up with ideas for the next thing that is going to save our environment. Creativity has no set boundaries, so let it ride. Examine your relationship with it, and allow it to guide you.
TRY THIS: Ask the creative side of you how it wants to express itself. Is it through music? Visual art? Writing? Computer programming? Dog grooming? What is it that makes the purest part of you shine? Allow yourself to play. Not sure what you are “into” yet? It’s okay. Take a class or two to explore! Tamara Laporte at Willowing.org has an INCREDIBLE year-long course called Lifebook. It’s like a year’s worth of art therapy…no joke! It’s great for dealing with anxiety. Or you can grab yourself a notebook and start writing. Just start exercising those creative muscles!
A word on acute, extreme anxiety…
I do want to make it really clear that I am not a licensed therapist, and the above tips and techniques are simply what I have used to help me with my anxiety. Although I can say that today the old triggers that used to spark my anxiety in the past are no longer taking me down like they used to, I do need to point out that it took a lot of self-discovery to get to this point.
If you have acute, or extreme anxiety…or your anxiety is too much to handle on your own, please seek out more help. BetterHelp is an excellent online resource. In addition, if you need more immediate help for extreme anxiety, and even if you are suicidal, check out MentalHelp.net. In the meantime, you can also try the tapping video below.
One last word about dealing with anxiety…
The one thing that I want you to know, more than anything, is that you are not alone. I know what it’s like to live life with anxiety, and I am completely aware of how paralyzing it is. However, you do not need to live your life this way. You deserve WAY better. I truly hope that these 10 tools will come in handy throughout your journey in coping with anxiety.
Has this helped you?
What tools are you the most curious about? Is there anything you would like for me to elaborate more about? Let me know in the comments below, or by contacting me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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