Relax, everything is out of control
Anxiety is a part of life. Everyone feels anxious when they are pushed outside of their comfort zone or put under stress. However, the levels of anxiety that you feel and your reaction to the anxiety is what sets an anxious person apart from a person who responds to stress normally.
It's important to remember this, because it's important to remember that you cannot get rid of anxiety. We are humans and stress responses are deeply engrained in our behavior. Trying too hard to "solve" anxiety or put a total stop to it will often result in more anxiety, because you will inevitably fail.
Instead, it is better to focus on overcoming anxiety, meaning training your brain to:
Take your anxiety less seriously
Focus on something else instead of your anxiety
Allow your anxious thoughts to exist without letting them disturb you and
Believe that life is still good and worthy of living despite uncertainties or negativity.
It's important to accept that "what if" statements will always exist and be available to you if you seek them out. It's also important to accept that the stresses of life: earning enough money, fitting in with others, and living up to unexpected challenges that arise, will always exist.
But once we accept this, we can shift our focus from trying to eliminate these stressors to finding ways to deal with these stressors in healthy, measured ways that allow us to still appreciate and enjoy life. So how do we do this?
It Starts with Changing Your Expectations
Oftentimes we think that being a little bit cynical leads to negativity. But the truth is, sometimes it's the opposite. As Alain de Botton explains in his New York Times most read article of 2016: Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person, sometimes our unrealistic optimism is what ends up destroying our ability to be happy in our actual reality.
Allow Yourself Room for Error
One major way to avoid panic and anxiety is to allow the idea that "things will certainly go wrong" exist in your brain.
This doesn't mean you should be apocalyptic and negative all the time, it just means that you should allow for error and disappointments in your day to day life, so that when they inevitably arise, they don't break you. Here is an example:
You find out that your mortgage payment just went up without you expecting it. You can have one of two reactions:
- The panic thoughts begin. You do not have the money to pay for this, and you can't believe it just happened. What else out there is going to go wrong? How did you not see this coming? Why do things like this always seem to happen to you? How are you supposed to focus on work today?
- Crap. Well, I'm sure I am not the first person that has experienced this. Let me hop online and see what others have to say about this issue, and call my mortgage rep and get more information and talk through my situation. There's got to be a solution out there for people going through things like this, and I knew this mortgage was going to be a stressor sometimes in my life, but I did what I had to do for my family.
You might think that these two reactions don't make much of a difference: you're still short on money, what are you going to do?
The reality is that by staying calm and not allowing this problem to send you down a rabbit hole of questioning your self worth, your sense of control, and your sense of right and wrong, you are able to save all that energy to put it into proactive steps to fixing the problem and reaching out to people that will help you feel less alone in the process.
In other words, you've already got a problem, reaction 1 just compounds it.
Reaction 2 sets out to manage it without blame or panic.
Practice This Exercise:
Think about the last thing you were feeling anxious about. Ask yourself: How can I change my expectations about my life to reduce my feelings of anxiety about this topic?