For the longest time, I didn’t realize my general mental state was one of constant anxiety. I literally spent most of my life believing it was normal behavior to worry from one situation to the next for no good reason.
I would worry about everything, imagining endless, negative scenarios. I spent so much time mentally preparing myself for liabilities that could happen. Sometimes those negative scenarios wouldn’t even come close to playing out. But, when they did, I was oh-so-eager to point out to myself and others, “See! I just knew it would happen.”
I had become addicted to imagining bad scenarios. Now, when I ask myself why, the only explanation I have is that, maybe, it made me feel extra safe, as if I was just being aware.
I was protecting myself.
It became so bad, at one point, that I could not tolerate meetings in conference rooms or any small-ish spaces. Or even sitting next to someone and having a quiet discussion. My anxiety had manifested into a full-blown phobia.
I got hypnotherapy for the conference room phobia, but it wasn’t until I discovered some self-help videos on YouTube that I became aware of the idea that my thoughts produce my reality.
As in, everything around me is a direct result of the thoughts I have: this beach apartment I hate, the tendency for certain subjects to escalate into screaming matches with my husband, the constant repairs my car seemed to need at the time, the lack of the money I wanted in my bank account, my perpetually-anxious mental state – all of it.
To some, this might seem really offensive. All of us have found ourselves in shitty situations that seemed completely random and no fault of our own. Several times in my life, I’ve been the target of bullying, and it’s hard to think that, somehow, I was responsible for that.
Not to mention, most of us also understand there is a physiological correlation between our emotions and chemical reactions in our body.
But when I thought more about this concept, I actually began to feel empowered. My thoughts can create my reality?
Awesome, because I have a great imagination.
So I made the choice to do whatever I could to take control of how I felt. Here are the 5 steps to reversing your anxiety.
STEP ONE: PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR THOUGHTS
Since I now believed that my thoughts were responsible for everything, I started paying more attention, and that’s when I realized I was constantly anxious.
My thoughts had been running dire scenarios through my head, like the information ticker at the bottom of the screen on CNN. I could function, but everything was tainted with worry, apprehension, resentment and jealousy. Becoming aware of these patterns, and just how often I was thinking negative thoughts was a major eye-opener.
STEP TWO: JOURNAL IT OUT
Once I became aware of my thoughts, I was shocked. When I got the chance to identify a specific thought out of it’s abstract, cerebral state, and I could see it for what it was, it was usually the most absurd thing. Yet, I had been thinking it and accepting it as truth. No wonder my life was so fucked up. Journaling helped me see that many of my thoughts were unhelpful and actually harmful.
When I journaled, it was like having a conversation with myself:
Me: What kind of thoughts are you having?
Also me: I’m afraid that, if I say this thing that’s on my mind to someone, they’ll hate me?
Me: What’s that all about?
Also me: I guess I just want to be liked by this person.
Me: And why is that so important?
And so on.
Asking why things were important to me, and also best and worst case scenarios, was helpful in showing me that my worries were actually nothing to be concerned about. And it also shed a lot of light onto something I had feared for a while: I was insecure. Once I could identify the thoughts that were based in insecurity, I could reverse them and think new thoughts.
STEP THREE: CRAFT AND RECITE AFFIRMATIONS
I know you probably don’t want to hear this, but affirmations are the most powerful tool we have.
Still, when I think of affirmations, I think of Al Franken as Stuart Smalley on SNL, gazing into the mirror, and repeating:
“I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and – doggonit – people like me.”
It was hilarious in the 90s, and it still is! But you shouldn’t let the cringe-worthy humor of that skit, or anything else, scare you off from an affirmation practice.
Here’s how it works:
Follow the steps thusfar: pay attention to your thoughts and journal it out.
Once you have a few fearful thoughts identified, ask yourself how you can reverse those into positive affirmations.
Example: my business is going nowhere.
Affirmation: every day I’m growing my exposure and connecting with potential clients.
But here’s the tricky part – you actually have to say these things to yourself. Preferably aloud.
I’m not going to lie, it feels weird. You’re literally talking to yourself. But, think about it like this …
You’re already talking to yourself. All day.
Remember the CNN ticker? Broadcasting negative thoughts along the bottom of the screen of your mind?
Affirmations correct that. So do your affirmations.
STEP FOUR: MEDITATE
Another priceless trick in the anti-anxiety arsenal is sitting down and shutting the fuck up, otherwise known as mediation.
Much like affirmations, there’s a ton of resistance to this one, primarily:
“I can’t.” or “I don’t have time.”
Bullshit. You can and you do.
You can sit or lie for 15-30 minutes and think and do nothing. At least, you can try. The scarier and more difficult it seems, the more you need to do this.
Yes, you’re going to feel like you’re doing it wrong and that it’s absolutely not working for you. Keep doing it. Eventually, you’ll crave it. Here’s why:
When you meditate, you carve out space in your mind for inspiration and thoughts from the divine, Source, God, whatever. If you’ve ever gotten a brilliant idea while soapy and soaking wet in the shower, you know what inspiration feels like. Same for when ideas (or worries) assault you the moment you lie your head down on your pillow to sleep.
Meditation creates the space for you to receive those ideas when your brain is active, versus inactive – when you’re trying to relax or not think of anything.
It also quiets your mind, acting as an effective pattern interrupter for any nagging anxious thoughts trying to dominate your headspace.
STEP FIVE: COMMIT TO THIS (OR ANY) PRACTICE
This won’t work if you try it for a day, declare it doesn’t work, and go back to allowing your anxious thoughts to run your life.
Over a lifetime, you’ve developed some damaging thought practices – regardless of whether these practices are caused by or correlated with chemical reactions in your body – and now it’s up to you to do your part to change them.
Continuing to believe that your mental health is a condition over which you have no control does nothing but hurt you.
Instead, I’m asking you to BELIEVE you have the power to change anything in your life you don’t find desirable. And, if you’re here, reading this, you probably want to change your mental health for the better.
The 5 steps might be enough, or you might also mix the 5 steps with medication and/or cognitive therapy. There is no wrong choice, as long as you’re making a choice to be in control of your mental health.
I’ve given you my 5 steps for taking control of your anxiety, now I’m going to give you some truth:
Implementing these 5 steps is a practice. Take it from me, if you’ve been dealing with anxiety all your life, these 5 steps are unlikely to “cure” you. Instead, you’re learning to operate your mind in a different way.
However, in the learning and implementation of theses practices, you’re making the choice that having sound mental health is a priority for you.