This is a very important thing to understand about overcoming anxiety and worry:
It’s impossible to control thinking when you’re anxious.
Anxiety is a “fight or flight” state. It’s do or die, survival…
It’s a state that is intended to save your life. In the modern world we have so many pressures on us that just were not there as human beings evolved.
Anxiety has nowhere to go
And so we become anxious when we cannot fight or run. And all that anxious energy has NOWHERE TO GO. That’s very important background information to know before you can deal with this…
If you’re anxious, you won’t be thinking clearly OR rationally because the fight or flight state is not designed for you to solve problems, it’s designed for one thing only…. to save your life!
Many changes take place in your body in this state, digestion stops (it’s also hard to eat anything), and blood is pumped into muscles and away from inner organs. All sorts of changes happen that will help you run away or fight for your life.
So what to do?
A quick answer is immediate EXERCISE. The way to turn an anxious state around very quickly is to work hard. RUN. That’s what the fight or flight state is designed for in the first place. Exercise (and removing yourself from the triggering event if there is one) will bring your body back to a neutral state, you will feel better fast.
The situation is that you have pent up energy, so exercise is the natural quick solution. BUT if the situation that created the anxiety is still there, then you can go into another anxiety cycle easily, because nothing actually got resolved. SO…
Get pen/paper or open a file on your computer. Start writing, just flow it all out, keep going until you can’t write any more. This will release the pent up energy and will contain the solutions you need to move you forward. It will bring clarity. The stress needs an OUT-LET. It needs to be LET OUT! Some questions you might want to ponder…
- What is the preferred outcome?
- What actions can I take?
- What is the path of least resistance?
- Am I creating stress by being attached to certain outcomes when it doesn’t matter?
- If I stopped thinking about this completely, would anything bad happen?
It’s dysfunctional, don’t stress the stress
If you can’t exercise or let that energy out by writing, then simply KNOW, that this anxiety is primitive, it’s your mind and body perceiving a threat, but there is no action you can take right now. Go into pure AWARENESS, where you are just aware the anxiety is there, you see what it is, you are not RESISTING it.
Once you stop fighting it, it doesn’t feel so bad, it just feel like a very high energy pent up state but not so bad. If you get stressed that you’re stressed, then you just add another layer of stress on top! As soon as you can get to write or exercise or both… do that.
One of the big problems in modern life is that our natural behavior so often isn’t allowed. So we aren’t ALLOWED to act in the moment if we’re stressed, there are so many expectations on us of how to behave. That’s when repression causes problems, it’s unnatural, so we need a safe outlet. You can’t just ACT OUT because you will create a lot of collateral damage, you know this, that’s why you can end up like the proverbial swan… graceful on the surface and paddling like mad underneath.
Long term solutions
The long-term answer lies in good lifestyle habits. Regular relaxation, changing the way you react to anxiety triggers, exercise, diet and organization habits that massively reduce or remove anxiety and stress in the first place.
In every single moment, your current STATE is moving you into the next moment. If you are in a bad place, that state causes everything to start to go pear-shaped, every relationship becomes strained, every decision unsteady, poor sleep, etc. Because everything affects everything else, we can start to self-destruct.
For example, you are feeling bad, then some interaction goes badly and you upset someone, now you’ve added another stress, and then you don’t sleep and so-on.
So the opposite is also true. If you focus on being a happy person, then every event builds even more happiness. Every moment becomes joyful. So the long term solution is to live right and think right so that you are happy.
A multi-pronged strategy is the way to go
Everything affects everything else!
All SIX lifestyle elements I recommend you pay conscious attention to have a powerful influence on how you feel:
- Drugs (get rid of)
- Live in the moment
Start a walking program, eat lots more fruit and veg, get plenty of sleep, de-stress, learn to relax, drink lots of pure clean water, look at your caffeine intake — many people are sensitive to it, learn how to let go of compulsive thinking, spend time with loved ones, get more organized.
It’s especially important for any kind of anxiety disorder to correct magnesium deficiency too. Do all these things and see for yourself.
Removing the trigger
And let’s not forget the obvious. Where possible avoid the triggers of stress. Now a lot of people will tell you you have to “face your fears” and that is partly true. You don’t have to face it in one go! That doesn’t work!
What works is WINS. Getting a win and moving forward is what works. So don’t put yourself in stressful situation that you can avoid unless it’s a baby step, unless you are fairly confident of a win.
- Exercise to burn up adrenaline and return to neutral.
- Creative flow to let out pent up energy and creative clarity about solutions.
- Non-resistance to your state, pure awareness, don’t stress the stress.
Long-term there’s lots you can do so that you never get into a deep hole again. Look to your lifestyle and learn new coping strategies for dealing with anxiety and one day you’ll see it as a distant memory.
The lifestyle elements are powerful influencers of your mood and your state. You CAN be relaxed and happy again.
Michael Kinnaird is the author of Happy Guide, the result of a 20 year exploration into what works for health and happiness.
Read Chapter 1 “The Happiness Secret”
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19 thoughts on “How to overcome anxiety and worry”
I would like to interject if I could, I have suffered from anxiety off and on for years, and, while I agree with the information given on this blog, there are some situations you cannot run from or exercise through (i.e. drs. office, grocer store, in a quiet setting surrounded by ppl). I heard a psychologist say that while in fight or flight mode, HALT, sit, if you can, and let your body droop into the chair, close your eyes and examine your symptoms, if you can, say them out loud, such as, “my heart is beating fast, I feel as though I can’t breath”, by doing this, you are no longer running away from what is scaring you. And therefore, retraining your brain, by telling it, that you are in no danger, no matter how frightening the effects of a panic attack, no harm can come to you, you are not, and cannot lose your mind or go crazy or die. Your symptoms are merely the effects of an adrenaline rush, and the more tense you are, the more what ifs swirling around in your brain, the more intense the feelings of the adrenaline. But, take heed, your body is not a machine, so therefore, it can only produce so much adrenaline. And you have probably already experienced the worst that will ever happen during a panic attack. It’s the memories of the way you felt and the way you reacted that were so disturbing, and the fear that it could somehow get worse keeps those fears alive. If you were to change your mood about anxiety, it really is effective. It takes time to work up the courage to accept the way you are feeling, but your nerves are ready to heal at any time that you are prepared to stop fighting and stop flighting. And at first, it may seem as though your symptoms are a bit worse, but, your nerves become sensitized from time to time, and on the other side of that panic is recovery.
“The only way out, is through.” -Robert Frost
“The mighty oak was once a tiny nut that stood its ground.” -Unknown
This is a great blog site, with lots of wonderful information. I hope this info might help others.
One more thing, I read some of the comments of the people speaking about their vision playing tricks on them. This is also a very common symptom of anxiety, during an adrenaline rush, your lungs constrict a bit, nothing to be concerned about, you will still be able to breath, no matter what, and normally our reaction is to breath harder which causes us to diffuse a lot of carbon dioxide, which can tend to make us feel faint or giddy, which affects our vision. Much like how you would feel after blowing up balloons or something like that. Blowing into a small paper sack will help to diffuse this feeling by forcing you to focus on your breathing patterns and therefore you will no longer be diffusing so much carbon dioxide so quickly. The paper sack is not to keep you from fainting or passing out. It is impossible to faint or pass out during a panic attack, as your blood pressure is up a bit, your blood pressure would actually have to be low in order be capable of fainting. Also, I have read blogs where ppl were claiming to have anxiety, and fainting randomly, my own personal opinion on these, after reading thoroughly is low blood sugar. I couldn’t believe that my trembling hands, which I thought were a symptom of anxiety, because that’s what everyone else told me it was, where in fact a symptom of low blood sugar, and when I started eating small snacks every few hours, and eating regularly and healthily, my trembling hands were steady as never before.
I am also more apt to become anxious when my blood sugar gets low. I hope this information helps some people and please forgive me for going on and on.
Thanks for sharing your story Sarah-Lee. Anxiety is such an awful state to be in. It’s essential that people get the clear advice they need, there’s so much misinformation, and too much, too confusing, information. It’s ironic that your anxiety started in a psychology class!
Hello Mike…(Sarah Lee)
I just wanted to tell you my story and hear some of your thoughts. First off I just want to let everyone know that there is HOPE for anxiety. My anxiety started after attending a psychology class when the teacher started talking about schizophrenia and if you’ve done drugs and someone in your family has it then you could get it too… and my uncle had it (not sure what from) and I had did a lot of drugs, I never had a bad trip or a bad time and anything at all that would even relate to having schizophrenia at all.
IT just honestly freaked me the F* out. I started getting super bad floaters and after images (like hyper sensitivity to light). I went to the neurologist dr. anxious as all hell and told him everything I had done trying to figure out what was up with all the after images and floaters and tracers… he told me I had hppd which freaked me out even more. I hadn’t done drugs for three years so it didn’t make sense…
For the next two years I was EXTREMELY ANXIOUS.. i would think I heard something or saw something or whatever and I would get so upset that I THOUGHT IT WOULD NEVER END… I would stay up nights crying trying to think myself out of my problems tracing back all my steps to that day… Trying to change my past (which is impossible), thinking i ruined my life… researching things I didn’t need to be researching (because it would just intensify my anxiety).
I didn’t feel comfortable alone for the longest time. I lost myself in fear. I started to get really bad anxiety attacks. I went to therapists and told them my situation and they told me “You don’t have schizophrenia,” you have anxiety, but I still let my thoughts run wild.
I let these “what-if” thoughts run my life. I was constantly scared… what if this happens or what if that happens. I had nightmares of me going crazy and i thought “oh no, what if its a sign”… etc. But the point of me sharing this story is to help others… The whole time I was going through this (very hard but worthwhile JOURNEY), I learned a lot of things and I always told myself that I am going to share what I learned so that others can find hope and never give up, because you can get past this bump in the road too. Use the hard times in life to make you stronger…
BUT most importantly i spent this whole time (constantly) researching trying to understand what’s going on with me; why did i have to be in that psychology class, why do I see afterimages, tracers etc. But after two years of researching I found Happy Guide — unwanted thoughts and something clicked.
I didn’t need to figure out where it all started or try to think my way out of it, I just needed to stop giving it the attention… I guess I had to hear the advice of someone who new this is how it works and it truly does… JUST STOP giving it attention, stop trying to figure it out, just stop…
And as far as the after images and sensitivity to light goes (that used to be my main thing that threw me right back into ANXIOUS THINKING)–why do i see these afterimages or tracers , there must be something wrong.etc… But ANXIETY can bring on a lot of different things and I truly believe it’s the anxiety that brings these on… there are many people who get this who have anxiety and have never touched a drug in their life… BUT once again, the point is, is that when i follow the “ignore anything you don’t want rule” I notice these too fade and are not as important. I just wanted to share what helped me get over this bump and move on to live the amazing life I deserve.
I talked to people/I asked for help/ went to friends, family and therapists (I let it out I asked for help even though i was scared and it’s not weak to ask for help, its a strength and a strength that will help you many times throughout your life). If you can’t figure it out on your own you might as well ask for a new perspective.
I always looked up positive quotes about loving life etc
I listened to Ajahn Brahm from Buddhist society religiously
I stopped watching movies or things that i knew would bother me
I wrote down things I wanted to do in my life
I got out of the house and went for a walk, run, etc
I cried when I needed to cry
I faced my fears
I started doing things on my own (so that I could start loving my own presence again)
I sent love and compassion towards people (in my mind all the time)
I did kind things for others
I decided to use this as a learning experience and “Live the rest of my life with new strength and courage.”
I STOPPED FOCUSING ON THOUGHTS I NO LONGER WANTED AND CHANGED MY ATTENTION, (after years of worrying, I improved with this one almost instantly).
Thank you Happy Guide from all my heart… I really think it’s amazing how much you helped me and probably so many others to learn to let some things go… I knew I needed to let them go all along but I didn’t know how, but thanks to you guys, I feel like I can finally be the amazing person I was meant to be.
For everyone else still working their way up… PLEASE DON’T GIVE UP… not everything is cured with Western medicine… I believe many things can be cured with living and thinking right and it’s not always easy but you will get there if you keep pushing along even when you feel like giving up… I send out lots of love, goodness, kindness and positive energy to everyone!!!!
So your afterimages got better? Also, do the afterimages ruin your overall vision or night vision?