You know that feeling in your chest that’s hot and buzzing around?
I call it excitement.
Most people call it nervousness or anxiety. 🙂
As you probably know, I’m not a physician. But I am a mental health expert.
I study the brain, and I know how to help you manage your mind so you feel better.
I’m a proponent of going to a doctor or a psychiatrist and getting help, including medicine if you need it.
But for everyone else, thought work is where freedom is at.
It’s what you have control over right now that can help you with that little buzz of uncertainty that you want to go away oh so badly.
Let’s chat about what anxiety really is, then I’ll teach you how to manage it…
If you want to listen instead of read, here’s the podcast episode that goes along with this post — Anxiety.
What Anxiety Really Is (And Where It Comes From)
Let’s start with the basics.
Anxiety is a feeling.
All feelings are caused by your thoughts.
If this is a new concept to you, check out these resources:
- Uncertainty (podcast)
- Your Brain And Uncertainty (blog post)
- When Life Is Uncertain (YouTube video)
- Grow You (coaching)
What you think creates how you feel.
For example: It’s not coronavirus causing you to feel anxious, or your job loss, or your money, or something someone said to you… it’s your brain.
Your brain defaults to thinking thoughts that trigger emotions.
Your thought creates a feeling in your body.
It’s helpful to understand where anxiety and fear come from and why our brain defaults to thinking thoughts that triggers those emotions.
So, let’s start by talking about the brain…
Humans evolved with a new part of the brain on top of the primitive, survival brain.
This new part is called the prefrontal cortex.
It’s the human part of your brain.
The prefrontal cortex is future focused, slower, and is used for creativity and planning.
Take your dog for instance. Unlike you, your dog, doesn’t have a prefrontal cortex. She is only thinking about sleeping, going on a walk, and treats — the primitive survival thoughts.
Your prefrontal cortex also predicts what will happen in the future for you.
It does this by using what it knows in your memory bank. It can recall from your previous experiences.
If you don’t have an exact experience like the one in front of you, your prefrontal cortex will make its best guess at the most likely outcome.
It does this by looking for similar previous experiences and combining them to come up with the best option.
This is where anxiety comes in.
So what exactly is anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.”
Notice, the first three words in this definition, “a feeling of.”
It’s a feeling in your body about something uncertain.
When your prefrontal cortex struggles to create thoughts about a certain future, your primitive brain is triggered.
Your prefrontal cortex goes offline, and you go into survival mode.
Your primitive brain says “okay I better jump in, fight or flight, and make sure you survive.”
This was really useful and important hundreds of years ago. It’s not today (most of the time).
We don’t need that level of fight or flight in modern society.
Today, there are so few times we’re being attacked physically.
Instead, what we’re anxious about is…
- Losing a job
- Not making enough money
- The health of our relationships and our marriages
- Our weight
- Having kids
- Getting older
- Being able to retire
- Our kids not making the team
None of these are emergencies.
Take Coronavirus as an example.
The circumstances around Coronavirus quickly changed and it’s very likely your brain was triggered to focus on the unknown (which it thinks is terrifying) and you wound up feeling anxious. Rationally, you’re aware of how illogical you’re being, such as stockpiling when the grocery stores are still open, yet you can’t seem to get out of acting that way.
It’s simply because you’re in survival mode. No matter how much you rationalize it.
The brain is so interesting, isn’t it?! We’re hoarding toilet paper and can’t seem to find a way to stop. Amazing.
So how do we reduce and lessen this problem?
Start by understanding how your brain works so you can see that when circumstances change.
When your brain sees something new and different and it is uncertain about the outcome, that it can’t make sense of, it’s a lot harder for it to stay calm.
It’s not impossible, it’s just harder.
You don’t need the reaction of fight or flight anymore. You’re not being physically attacked.
Instead, you need to do the opposite and relax into it and have awareness of what is happening.
But most people don’t know this, so instead they make one huge mistake…
- When Your Brain Tells You Something Is Wrong (blog post)
- When It’s Hard And Problems Are Forever (podcast)
- Scarcity Vs. Abundance (YouTube video)
- Grow You (coaching)
The Mistake You Might Be Making With Anxiety
Most people will resist their anxiety and make it worse.
Then, they will avoid it by escaping it with false pleasures.
You can feel a little anxious, worried, uncertain — that’s not a problem. But if you don’t know that’s not a problem, you may think it’s a huge problem.
The biggest problem with anxiety is that you think it’s a problem. This creates resistance. Instead, accept it as if you chose it.
You make anxiety worse when you start to think about all the worse case possibilities. This increases your anxiety.
Then you do things that validates your worst fears, like turning on the news that affirm these thoughts. These small feeling of discomfort turn into panic.
Panic is defined as the “sudden uncontrollable fear or anxiety, often causing wildly unthinking behavior.”
It’s magnifying that anxiety. It’s making it worse.
You’re compounding that anxiety and turning it into panic.
At best, you escape that negative emotion with some sort of external pleasure, such as eating, drinking, shopping, or Netflixing. At worst, you amplify your feelings so much you get sick or hospitalized about it.
All this because we don’t know how to feel our feelings without thinking they’re a problem. It’s such a silly misunderstanding!
I have some great news for you, though, my dear friend… I have a solution that works…
Check out these resources on negative emotions:
- Processing Negative Emotions (podcast)
- What To Do About Negative Emotions (blog post)
- Why Feelings Matter (YouTube video)
- Conquering Anxiety Free Course (free training)
What To Do About Anxiety
Ready for the solution?! I got you.
Here is what you need to do when you feel anxious (this is the process I teach in a full course in Grow You)…
First, name the emotion.
Name it with one word like, “anxiety”, “fear”, “frustration”, “worry”. Naming it in one word is SO powerful. The reason it is so powerful is that it give you authority over the emotion.
Think about how you might be feeling right now with regards to coronavirus. It could be that you are feeling uncertain, worried, anxious.
By naming the emotion you are giving yourself authority to control your thoughts. Don’t skip this step. It’s really powerful for you to name it in one word.
Second, describe the emotion.
Describe the emotion in detail.
This isn’t where you explain it. It’s where you describe the characteristics of it.
This is the step most of us haven’t done before. You will say, “oh yeah, I feel anxious,” but then you often look for reasons outside of you to validate this emotion. Instead, I want you to turn inwards.
Do you feel it in your chest, your jaw, your hands? Describes the characteristics of it.
For example, when you feel anxious you may notice the following bodily characteristics:
- Your palms get sweaty.
- Your legs become shaky.
- You clench your jaw.
- Your heart rate might speed up.
- You feel sick to your stomach.
This will be very different for you if you’re new to this work, but it’s really useful. The reason this is important is because it connects you with you body so that you can see that the emotion itself is harmless.
You’re essentially separating yourself from the emotion. You’re becoming the watcher of it instead of being it.
Third, allow the emotion.
This is where you break up the intensity of the feeling by actively breathing into the emotion. It’s simply reminding yourself that this is an emotion. And you can feel any emotion.
I like to think of befriending the emotion, even if it’s uncomfortable.
When you actively observe your anxiety or your anxiousness you change it. You will experience a moment of relief and perspective. This enables you to separate yourself from your feelings.
You get authority and feel empowered.
It’s very important that you completely allow the emotion before moving on to the fourth step. Sometimes it takes an hour to allow the emotion. Sometimes it takes a day or two.
You must allow it before moving on to explaining it.
Fourth, explain the emotion.
What thought is causing you to experience the emotion of anxiety? What am I thinking that’s causing me to feel this way?
It is important that you identify your thought.
Remember, your thoughts create the feeling.
For example, you might be thinking, “I’m scared everything is so uncertain right now, I don’t know what to do.”
Write down exactly what you’re thinking. You have over 60,000 thoughts a day! Without identifying and writing it down, there is a lack of clarity.
So write down the exact thought that is causing the feeling of anxiety.
Don’t try to change them. Simply notice them.
Be curious and compassionate with yourself.
You can have compassion about the thoughts by telling yourself, “that’s so interesting, silly, or wild that I am thinking that.”
Don’t try to change your thoughts. You have to have contrast in life. There is no bad without good, and no good without bad.
You want to acknowledge some things as bad.
Take Coronavirus for example. You can interpret this as something you don’t like. That’s okay.
You don’t want to change this thought to emotion.
You want to have the full human experience, not be a robot.
Fifth, befriend the emotion.
What’s your thought about your feeling (of anxiety)?
How you think about anxiety matters.
Anxiety is not a problem. It’s our reaction and resistance to it that’s a problem. It’s fighting it that’s the issue.
So, when you feel anxious, how do you want to think about it?
It’s like saying, “oh hi anxiety, I see you there, it’s okay, you can come along with me today. I know you’re just trying to protect me.”
Nothing has gone wrong.
You can tell yourself — I am safe today. I can handle today. I’ve got this.
Decide on purpose what your thoughts are going to be about your anxiety. Befriend it.
If you see it as a problem, you’re going to resist it. You’re going to avoid it and become dependent on external pleasures like alcohol, eating, or spending money, to feel better.
Finally, tell a new story.
Think about how you want to feel about your circumstances.
That story can look like this, “My body always wants to heal. I take good care of it. I’ve been washing my hands and staying clean. I’ll be able to handle any illness that comes my way when that time comes. There’s no need to worry about it prematurely.”
The story you tell about your emotions will determine how you feel. If you think anxiety is a good thing and isn’t a problem, you’ll lean into it.
But you have to believe that this new story is true. You have to come up with the new story that you believe, that serves you. The story you tell (i.e. the sentences in your brain) are always causing your feelings.
If you want to feel better, take a step back, take a broader view of what’s going on, and decide on purpose how to think how you’re feeling in a way that serves you.
That is how you manage your anxiety via thought work.
Simple, but not so easy! 🙂
- How To Stop Worrying (blog post)
- Worry (podcast)
- How To Stop Worrying (YouTube video)
- Personal Development Master Class (free training)
5 Bonus Tips
The work above is just that: it’s WORK. It’s the best work, and it will change your life if you practice it.
I also couldn’t help myself in wanting to share some super easy, quick practical tips that you can do right now as a bonus…
Here are 5 bonus tips…
- Use the 1:1 Constraint Rule of limiting your input and output daily (for every 1 negative, you have 1 positive).
- Decide ahead of time what you want to think, feel, say, and do when you’re around other people who have different opinions than you (especially during a particularly sensitive time for most people, like Coronavirus).
- Notice what the result is when you feel anxiety and resist it. If you panic, what do you do? Can you see how this is showing up in your life negatively? For example, is it negatively affecting your health? Are you eating more sugar or drinking more alcohol? When you see the results of resisting anxiety are negative, you’ll be more incentivized to do something about it.
- Tell yourself anxiety is normal and not a problem. This sentence alone is life changing.
- Stress (podcast)
- The Hidden Benefits Of Stress (blog post)
- The Hidden Benefits Of Stress (YouTube)
- Grow You (coaching)
A Final Note!
One final piece of advice: be kind to yourself.
Know that your body wants to heal and take care of itself.
Know that your emotions are nothing to be afraid of. The more willing you are to experience them, the better.
You can choose your thoughts and manage your mind and body, regardless of what’s going on in the world.
In fact, when circumstances show up that you don’t want, such as stay in shelter or COVID 19, it’s often the best opportunity to do this work.
Is it easy? No. Is it worth it? 100% of the time. You got this, friend.
Up Next, watch the YouTube video…