Freeing yourself from anxiety - woman holding her head, stressed dictionary definitions of stress and anxiety in background

Freeing Yourself from Anxiety

Freeing Yourself from Anxiety

How do you free yourself from anxiety? Many of my clients who struggle with executive functioning also struggle with anxiety. Of course, I’m not a therapist, but I often talk about how to ease anxiety so you can function better. More often than not, anxiety is coupled with other issues like ADHD and depression. Depending on the situation, anxiety will often take the front seat, making it nearly impossible to function, let alone function well.

Freeing yourself from anxiety - tips and strategies to help you control your anxiety
Freeing yourself from anxiety

Misconceptions About Anxiety

Before we talk about ways to free yourself from anxiety, we need to address some common misconceptions or beliefs about what anxiety is. Like many things, anxiety is a disorder that only people who have anxiety can truly understand. This makes it really hard for others to empathize with you because they have not experienced it themselves.

Because of this, many people start to buy into misconceptions they hear. As a parent, we need to be cautious not to do this. Our kids will feel invalidated for what they’re experiencing. If you have anxiety, however, you are in a good position to help your kid because you know how it feels.

Here are some things that are often said about anxiety that are simply not true. It helps to understand them when you are on the path to improving your own mental health, or you know someone else struggling with anxiety.

Anxiety is Just Worrying Too Much

Anxiety and worry can often happen at the same time, but they are not the same thing. For example, if someone is nervous about giving a presentation, they might say they’re anxious. That’s not the same as anxiety. Some of the feelings might be similar, but it’s not the same.

Having anxiety is NOT just being worried about something and definitely not something you can just will away by “not worrying as much.” Being worried about something and having anxiety are not the same thing, though you can definitely experience both simultaneously.

When you worry, it’s usually linked to something specific. Often, anxiety is just a feeling you have and you might not have any idea what triggered it.

You Can “Get Over” Anxiety

Anxiety is a mental illness, just like depression and bipolar disorder. While there are many different facets of anxiety disorders, and not everyone needs professional help for anxiety, it is not something you can just get rid of by thinking positively or going for a run. It is important to recognize it for what it is and learn coping mechanisms for dealing with it, but it will probably always be part of your life.

This is also a bit of a gray area since it is possible to reduce the effects of anxiety or reduce panic attacks with daily routines, therapy, medication, and many other treatments. But that doesn’t mean you cure your anxiety or get rid of it completely.

This is another thing that is difficult for others to understand. When you have a handle on your anxiety and you have strategies for dealing with it, they think you’re “cured” and anxiety is no longer an issue. It’s hard to explain that it doesn’t just go away.

Anxiety Isn’t a Serious Mental Illness

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety is the most common mental illness people deal with in the U.S. It affects over 40 million adults in the U.S. alone, even though less than 40% of these people get treatment for it.

Why is that? Because the general consensus is that it isn’t that serious. People assume anxiety is just stress or worrying. Others think they’re just overreacting to situations. Personally, I was never diagnosed with anxiety, but I know I have it. It’s mild and I recognize when it’s been triggered. I didn’t realize what it was until I was an adult.

Then I saw similar reactions in my kids, and rather than ignoring it (as I had for years), I got them help.  If you think you have anxiety, you should think about getting help for it. It doesn’t mean you have to get on meds. It might be just seeing a therapist who can help you with tools and strategies to help.

Avoidance is the Answer

You can’t avoid anxiety and hope it will get better on its own, just like you can’t avoid stress, depression, PTSD, or any other mental health issue you are facing. Just pretending your anxiety doesn’t exist is only going to exacerbate it because you aren’t learning coping techniques for dealing with anxiety attacks.

Whew, boy. Do I feel this one. I’m not gonna lie. Avoiding is easy and for a while, it will work. But sooner or later it fucking catches up to you and it can be bad. Instead of dealing with just the immediate situation, you have a whole mountain of shit to unpack and address.

Tips for Freeing Yourself from Anxiety

Anxiety and worry can take over your life if you let it. Whether we like it or not, constant stress and worry can take a physical toll on us. The good news is that there are ways to help alleviate anxiety.  

The first step is to figure out exactly what you're stressing about. Is it something you can change? Is it something you have no control over? By determining the root of your anxiety, you can better understand how you can overcome it.

For example, if you're feeling anxious about losing your job, you have the capability to change this worry. You can work harder to prove that you're an indispensable part of the team or you can start searching for a new job. Taking action is the surest way to defeat anxiety. Allowing yourself to wallow in the worry will just let it multiply and worsen. Taking action gives us a sense of control.

The truth is, there are plenty of situations in your life that you can change with some effort. You have to decide to make changes. Sometimes making a decision can feel overwhelming and make your anxiety worse. Take a breath. Pick one thing that you want to change. Brainstorm ideas of how to change it. What will it take? Even the act of making a plan is a step in the right direction.

By determining the root of your anxieties, and developing ways to turn them into something positive, you can often overcome them. I offer a printable Worry Journal and Workbook that can help you discover and track some of the causes of your worry and anxiety.

Freeing yourself from anxiety - woman holding her head, stressed dictionary definitions of stress and anxiety in background

Here are some tips and techniques to help you manage your anxiety:

1.   Know your anxieties. Write down exactly what's causing your anxiety. What has triggered these feelings? Then write down ways you can change the outcome. Knowing what you're up against is the key to feeling better about yourself and your current situation. If you’re not sure where to start, you might want to check out my Worry Journal. It has workbook pages, journaling pages, and coloring pages (we all need to relax a bit, right?)

2.   Breathe. Once you've pinpointed the things you need to change, sit back and take a breath. This form of relaxation can help you calm your racing heart and give you peace of mind.

Rapid breathing from anxiety can lead to a panic attack. Don't let it get that far. Breathe deeply and slowly as soon as you feel yourself become worried or anxious.  Try the Take 5 method of breathing: trace up and down each finger of your hand for a breath. Breathe in and go up your thumb. When you breathe out, go back down. Breathe in, move on to the index finger. It’s a slow process, but the breathing in conjunction with the tactile experience of running your finger across your hand will help you focus and clear your mind and calm your emotions.

3.   Visualize. Perhaps one of the most effective ways to overcome anxiety is the technique of visualization. Choose a quiet space in your home, light some candles, and close your eyes.

Imagine yourself in your ideal situation. Feel how calm you are and visualize letting go of your worries. Think about how happy you'll be once your source of stress has been diminished. Positive visualization can help you move toward the happier vision you've created in your mind. It is possible to manifest the life you want, but you have to believe in it for yourself. Remember, it’s not about “curing” your anxiety, but gaining control over it.

4.   Use positive affirmations. When things get tough and you feel yourself losing control, repeat a positive statement over and over in your head. For example, if you're in need of a job, you can repeat something like: “I am a valuable and hard-working individual who is worthy of a fulfilling new opportunity!”

Reaffirming positive thoughts repeatedly can help you believe that anything is possible. The power of the mind is endless. Positive affirmations are a great way to improve your overall mindset.

5.   Diet and exercise. Eating a well-balanced diet and exercising can physically help you handle stress and anxiety. The stronger the body is, the stronger the mind is. I know that sometimes when your anxiety is spiraling out of control, you might forget to eat or drink water. You don’t feel hungry because your gut is filled with a great big ball of stress. This is where having a routine comes in handy. If meals are planned to occur at set times, you’ll be more likely to eat. Even if you don’t feel hungry, you’ll probably at least eat a little.

Take good care of your body and it will help take care of your worries.

6.   Seek support. Talk to someone who has been in the same situation. Reaching out to friends and family or seeking professional help can do wonders to help you get rid of your anxiety. As I’ve said, it’s never going to go away, but if you get some help and develop strategies, it will get easier.

Anxieties are a part of everyday life. How you choose to manage them is what makes the difference. Stop letting anxiety control you. Freeing yourself from anxiety means taking the reins and letting anxiety and worries know that you are the one in the driver's seat of your life.

How to Use 30 Minutes to Stop Worrying

Freeing yourself from anxiety takes work. You cannot just will it away, Worry can derail an entire day if you let it. However, you have the power to stop it in just 30 minutes of your time, which will free up the rest of the day to really live your life.

When you become accustomed to worrying, you gain a constant stream of negative feedback and information in your brain. It’s like leaving the TV on to a channel designed to inform you of every worst-case scenario, only personalized to make all those dire predictions all about you.

Sounds pretty horrible, doesn’t it? But this is what worry and anxiety can do to you.

But by designating 30 minutes every day for worrying and allowing yourself to worry only during those 30 minutes, you gain back your day and your life simultaneously.

You start by setting a ‘worry time.’ Once you have this half-hour firmly in place (put it in your planner if you need to), you can start kicking every worrying thought to the curb. You tell it, “later.” Then you refuse to give it space in your brain again until it’s your designated worry break.

But, Shannyn, you think, there’s no way I can control my anxiety and worry. And to that, I say, whose brain is it? You’re in charge. You can choose to control when you worry. It just takes practice. (Again, it won’t rid you of all anxiety, but it will help control some of it).

How do you do this? Use these steps:

1. Pick a Time

Grab a half hour when you’re not going to be busy. Be careful not to pick one too near bedtime, though, as it might interfere with your ability to sleep.

2. Become Conscious of Your Thoughts

Every time you have a worrying thought, tell it to go away until later. If it helps, jot the worry down somewhere, so you have a list to look at during your break. Maybe you want to have a worry notebook. You can use this like a brain dump so it’s there, but not taking up space in your mind.

3. Use a Timer

Worries can very quickly take over as much time as you give to them. By setting your timer to 30 minutes, you’re keeping control of just how much time you’re going to spend worrying.

4. Record Your Thoughts

Either write down your worries as you think about them, or if you like, journal about your thoughts during this time. Journaling has a number of benefits for your mental health. Be as detailed as you like. This might also be an excellent time to examine your worries, to figure out if there’s a recurring pattern or theme. Dig down into the heart of what’s really troubling you. This is also a good time to think about what some of your triggers are. What were you doing when the anxiety struck?

5. Stop When the Timer Goes Off

At the end of 30 minutes, you’re done. Any new worries now have to wait until tomorrow. Close the journal, throw away the paper, do what you need to close off the worrying for the day. This is probably the hardest part. It’s hard to turn off part of your brain. That’s why I suggest writing things down. Then you know what to think about, what direction you can take next session, but it won’t have to take over your mind.

I’m not going to pretend that just because I’m telling you to stop when the timer goes off, it’ll work. It takes practice, just like everything else I suggest. You can train yourself to accept that you will deal with the worry at specific times. Kind of like you train yourself to go to sleep at a certain time. When you start that routine, you might have a rough couple of nights because you can’t fall asleep right away. But after some practice, it will take effect.

6. Repeat

Do every one of these steps every single day for at least two weeks. Why? Because it takes time to form a habit, which is what you’re really trying to do here. As I always say, if you have ADHD, it might take longer. Your brain is wired differently. Accept it. Keep going.

In the end, you’ll be amazed at how much freer you feel when you realize you don’t have to worry all day long. You’ll sleep better at night and be much more productive during the day. Not bad for an investment of only half an hour.

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