Managing Anxiety: 5 Steps to Open Your Mind and Calm Your Heart: I’ve struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. From the time I was very young, I would worry about things—my life, my parents, my house, the state of the world. I would experience a tightness in my chest and an overall sense of fear that only got worse the more I worried. The more I worried, the more afraid I became of the unseen factors that plagued me.
Anxiety is distress, caused by fear of danger or misfortune, and over the years, this worry has driven me. It’s helped me to be high-achieving and extremely productive, all the while depleting my nervous system and creating exhaustion throughout my entire being.
As an adult, I have recognized how this unnecessary fear has limited my ability to enjoy and be fully present within my life. I’ve learned that taking action, or guiding my thoughts down a more positive path, can transform my feelings to a much more grounded and peaceful place. I’ve created my own road map to navigate stress, anxiety, and worry in five steps.
1. Slow your roll: When anxiety hits, everything around us seems to speed up. Physically, we feel our heart rate quicken or breath become shorter; and mentally, we might start to head down a rabbit hole of worst-case scenarios. When this happens, slow down. Shift activities, call a friend, watch a funny YouTube video, go for a run—anything that interrupts the cascade of worry and overwhelm that can create a mountain out of any molehill.
2. Ask yourself: “What is true or what is actually happening right now?” Sometimes, just labeling exactly where you are in time and space (i.e. “I am driving to work.” “I am sitting at my desk.” etc.), helps to refocus the brain and disrupt the physiological response that happens when stressors arise. Focusing on what is actually happening instead of “what if” helps us to minimize our initial reaction of panic and fear to awareness.
3. What do I fear losing if this is true? Because anxiety is driven by fear, it is both empowering and helpful to label where the fear actually stems from. Many times, this can be from a fear of losing something—security, money, friendship, or love. By noting mentally what we are afraid might happen in a given situation, we can easier recognize the worry for what it is, most often, a fear of loss. The next time you feel anxiety coming on, it may be helpful to ask yourself which of these areas you fear losing?
4. Where might I be limiting myself within this belief? As human beings, we have a tendency to focus on what is not going well, limiting our beliefs to those that focus on scarcity or lack. When anxiety is high, it can be much easier to focus on all that is wrong or bad instead of what is working or going well. By simply pausing and recognizing where you might be holding on too tightly or limiting your possibilities, you may notice that the picture is in fact, much bigger than you had originally thought.
5. Could there be a hidden gift or silver lining amidst this situation? We often learn from problems, mistakes, or painful events. Reminding yourself in a moment of panic that you’ve always landed on your feet can help you to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Envisioning yourself on the other side of this stress, lesson in hand, can be enormously helpful in actually getting you there. Sometimes simply re-framing the situation to seek the lesson or hidden positive at the onset of a stressful situation can be useful in diffusing some of the anxiety.
I have learned, through years of exploring and recognizing my own anxiety triggers, how to create a sense of peace and calm even when things seem dire. As human beings, we are capable of creating our experience and have the power to choose whether we lead with fear and anxiety or an open heart and mind. Which do you choose? What experience will you create? I hope this helps you a little like it’s helping me.