Overcoming anxiety: 6 practical steps that may help

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Anxiety is a normal part of life, and they can come from around every corner. Everything from deadlines to slow drivers can add a little frustration and anxiety to our lives, and for the most part, we just live with it.

But there are times when anxiety can be too much to handle. Anxiety can freeze you in your tracks, and make it impossible to grow or even participate in any part of your life—work, relationships, hobbies, and even developing yourself. If you find yourself suffering anxiety that cripples you, you might be a victim of clinical anxiety. Some physical symptoms of clinical anxiety include:

  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Problems with your stomach
  • Headaches and tension

Thankfully, anxiety is a mental issue more than anything else, and with the proper strategies, you can get over it yourself.

Before we get into the 6 strategies to get over anxiety, let’s discuss the anxiety trick and why it forces you to believe it’s a bigger issue than it is.

According to the national Institute of mental Health, the percentage of American adults who deal with chronic anxiety disorders is nearly 20%, and these numbers are similar all around the world.

The interesting thing? Chronic anxiety is a fairy modern phenomenon, with numbers rising steadily since the beginning of the 20th century. So what’s causing this worldwide epidemic of anxiety?

One explanation: The Anxiety Trick.

Before we talk about the Anxiety Trick, let’s discuss anxiety disorders. When feelings of absolute fear manifest in the mind, we instinctively believe that we are in immense danger; this is known as anxiety.

The brain is inherently programmed to link fear to actual, physical danger, but when the fear comes without any tangible source of danger, the mind is forced to reason with itself.

It has to convince itself that there is a source of danger, and this danger is not to be messed with.

This is what psychologists refer to as the Anxiety Trick.

The Anxiety Trick at Work

Here are some common examples of the Anxiety Trick at work:

  • Social Phobia is the fear of being around other people, for the possibility of looking bad in front of your community. Your mind forces you to believe that danger will come from the complete humiliation once the community sees you for what you really are, and becoming cast out afterwards.
  • OCD is the need to set everything in order in your own way, and the Anxiety Trick convinces you to believe that a terrible event will take place because of you. You constantly fear the worst from normal situations, from burning your house down with the stove to breaking an object because you set it the wrong way.
  • Agoraphobia or Panic Disorder tricks one into thinking that there is a very real possibility that they are about to lose control of their body, go insane, or fall fatally ill.
  • Specific Phobias work when the Anxiety Trick convinces you into believing that an external object that you fear will suddenly go out of its natural course and cause you immense pain.

In all cases of phobias and anxiety, the brain is forced to deal with fear without actually responding to any real danger.

But instead of learning from these experiences (that this fear is not linked to danger), they become worse, and we begin to fear them even more.

Understanding the Anxiety Trick

The Anxiety Trick causes the experience to worsen because it is an example of the brain reacting with its primitive responses.

When we are faced with danger, we have three choices: Fight, Flight, or Freeze. And because of the Anxiety Trick, we keep responding in the same way every time.

In every instance of fear—whether you’re afraid of a dog, a social situation, or even a clown at a party—we deal with our anxiety with the Flight response.

We flee the situation, running away and protecting ourselves. This results in the anxiety disorder becoming even worse, because the brain becomes convinced that our response—fleeing—was the right one, as the perceived danger never affected us.

This means that we will continue to flee, every single time. Instead of ever standing up to the dog, social situation or clown, we fall back to the response that worked the first time, avoiding the nonexistent danger and letting the situation pass on its own.

There is a reason why many anxiety patients of psychologists and therapists believe the same thing: The harder they try, the worse their anxiety becomes.

Learning to Defeat the Anxiety Trick

Defeating the Anxiety Trick involves one thing, though difficult it may be: breaking the cycle.

Instead of making the situation worse by convincing your brain that Flight is the one and only correct response, you need to choose the other option: Fight, or at least Freeze.

Stay in the situation. Let your anxiety creep up over you, and let the fear eat up your mind, with the danger signals blasting away.

It might feel impossible, but it’s the only way to stop your negative reaction is by training your brain to act differently.

Don’t run away until the anxiety is gone. Instead, stay until the anxiety leaves. Feel every inch of it and suffer with it, until eventually the worst is over and you reach a state known as “floating”.

By desensitizing to yourself to these feelings, you can slowly train your mind into understanding that your fear has no true danger associated to it at all.

Eventually, you will stop feeling that fear completely.

Here are 6 strategies to overcoming anxiety:

1) Understand What Causes Your Anxiety

The first and most important step towards overcoming anxiety is to understand your anxiety.

How else can you cure it if you don’t know where it’s coming from?

Most of the time, patients of clinical anxiety know the major cause of their anxiety—it might be work, family, relationships.

But these same patients fail to recognize smaller causes of their anxiety, because these smaller causes are overshadowed by the major issue.

Identifying every source of stress and anxiety in your life is crucial.

Take a few hours to truly ask yourself—what is stressing you out? Write it down on a list and keep track of everything that might be making you feel weird.

It could be anything from talking to an old friend to worrying about your kids’ futures.

2) Keep Track of Your Thoughts When You Are Most Anxious

Having an anxiety attack is like being another person for a short while. We lose focus and forget what’s happening, and in a way our consciousness blacks out—what remains is our fear and anxiety, and nothing else.

Everything that we think, do and say during these moments of extreme anxiety comes from a place outside of our major personality; it comes from a place of inner fear and turmoil, something we have no control over.

This means that anxiety is controlling you, and this is exactly the opposite of what you want.

You have to control your anxiety, not the other way around, and to do this you have to know what you are thinking and who you become when you are trapped in your own anxiety.

Recognize the biases and the thoughts going through your head during this moments. You might fit into one of the four common categories below:

1) Personalising: “People don’t like me because I’m boring”
2) Catastrophic thinking: “Imagine if this happened, how horrible that would be”
3) Mind-reading: “Everyone thinks I suck”
4) Fortune-telling: “Tomorrow is going to be terrible”

The more familiar you become with your anxious thoughts, the better equipped you are to squash them.

3) Defeat the Negativity

Now that you have done step 2 and you know what your negative thoughts are, it’s time to counter that negativity. Many people find themselves struggling with this step, simply because they do not know how to talk to themselves.

One easy way to hack through this is to change the dynamics of the conversation—just pretend that you are talking to a friend, not yourself.

If a friend approached you and shared a problem similar to what you are experiencing, just ask yourself, what would you say to them?

4) Familiarize Yourself With the Source of Stress

Growth isn’t always going to be easy, and this will be one of the hardest steps you will have to do: familiarization.

Familiarize yourself with the source of your stress, to the point that it becomes less stressful than it once was.

If you have a fear of crowds, then start teaching yourself to be comfortable with crowds by walking through small crowds or putting yourself in uncomfortable situations.

If you have a fear of speaking to your boss or authority figures, then start small—send them emails or call them on the phone, or meet them outside your place of work.

Little by little, it’s all about improving.

5) Accept the Difficulty

It’s not going to be easy. You will want to give up every step of the way. Why? Because this is one of the most difficult things you could do: facing your biggest fears.

Confronting your sources of stress and anxiety is going against every instinct in your brain, and every voice in your head will be telling you to do the opposite.

But growth requires that you face the uncomfortable and get out of your bubble.

So accept the difficult. There will be days where you will want to give up, but giving up means starting back at square one.

6) You Have to Want It

And finally, the most important point: you have to want it.

None of these strategies will work out if you don’t truly want to become a better version of yourself. So ask yourself—are you ready to change?

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Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

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