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4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

4 Things I Wish I’d Known About Managing Anxiety

I’ve recently turned 30 and I thought I’d take a moment to reflect on my misspent youth – more specifically, on the moment I decided to slap the ugly mug of anxiety with my glove of self-belief!  I’d like to think that I handled this duel with the wit and finesse of a young Cary Elwes ala The Princess Bride, but if I’m honest it probably looks more like an ungodly montage of Mr Bean and Bridget Jones’ Diary – complete with binge eating and drinking, ineptitude, embarrassment, and clumsy attempts at fitness.

Anxiety is one of the most common mental disorders in the world, and according to Beyond Blue 1 in 4 people will probably experience it at least once in their life.  For some of us, this monster will be ever-present and it takes considerable energy to keep this beast subdued and chained up somewhere to keep it from hurting us, our loved ones and even our professional aspirations.  At the time, I had no idea anxiety was even a ‘thing’ and completely thought that there was something physically wrong with me. Fortunately, I sought help and have since learnt a thing or two about making this condition sit and play dead.  Of course, everyone is different and you’ve got to tailor your own approach, but if you’re reading this at 2am and feel like your head is rotating like that girl from The Exorcist, don’t start climbing the walls just yet!

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1. The old switch-a-roo!  Stop, breath, distract, relax

You want to be loving life like a mighty Gyarados, but instead you’re a Magikarp hyperventilating on the floor.  We can all agree that panic attacks are the worst.  The important thing to remember (unless you have been medically diagnosed with heart condition!) is that you’re not having a heart attack – you’re just having a crappy moment.  One of the first things my psychologist told me to do was take care of my physical symptoms first.  Stop for a moment and take slow, deep breaths so you don’t feel light-headed.  Once the world has stopped spinning, pop on your favourite tune, or do some light domestic task – basically anything simple that will distract your brain from freaking out.  When you’ve got this technique down pat, you’ll feel like Houdini!  Your brain will be tricked into thinking everything is fine and dandy (at it will be!), your heart rate will regulate itself and you’ll start to feel normal again.  At this point, choose a safe activity that you find relaxing and treat it like a mental reward for getting through it.

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2. Get a little help from a friend

You’re never alone, and remember that you are surrounded by people who care about you!  Some people are better at understanding and talking you through your bad days than others.  Reach out to a good friend or family member who has this gift of empathy to help you get back on track.  Surrounding yourself with positive people who have a balanced and chilled out view of life will also help you get perspective.  If you’re convinced that nobody you know can help you or you don’t feel comfortable talking to someone close to you, ask your GP to recommend a psychologist.  Many healthcare schemes can offer a certain number of sessions at a reduced rate depending on your circumstances.  There are also a growing number of online resources to help you understand what may be causing your anxiety or depression, and what steps you can take to control it.

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3. Don’t focus on yourself too much

When you’re constantly facing a barrage of things to worry about, you can easily become self-absorbed or use it as a crutch to avoid getting out of your comfort zone.  This is not to say you’re a self-centred or weak person for having anxiety, but you can affect others by constantly finding nothing positive to talk about or focussing only on the negatives.  These thought patterns don’t help anyone, least of all you!  I’m guilty of falling into this trap, and it was only by recalling past conversations to my psychologist that I began to see that I was becoming a person I wouldn’t want to hang out with.  You can turn things around simply by being kind to yourself and others – post or tweet about something inspiring or beautiful, keep tabs on your nearest and dearest; organise a dinner, catch up over coffee or suggest a group activity you haven’t tried before.  Alternatively, you could try volunteering for a cause you feel passionate about.  When you hear news of your friends’ successes or tales of daring-do, don’t be envious – be happy for them!  This proves that if they have the power to create their own happiness, so do you.

4. Don’t let anxiety define you

When I was younger, I let my anxiety stand in the way of a lot of my goals in life – namely to travel overseas by myself.  Well, I’m happy to say that I have now completed 5 months’ worth of travel around Europe with my sister and on my own!   While it wasn’t completely anxiety-free, it all worked out fine in the end and I am a stronger person for it.  Each year since being diagnosed with anxiety at 24, I’ve set myself challenges to help me develop and broaden my perspective.  Take a look at what’s blocking you from your goals and start taking action by breaking those goals down and assessing what’s really stopping you from achieving them.  If you’re worried about how anxiety might prevent you from a rewarding career, consider this – all the people I know with anxiety have been some of the most talented and hard-working people I’ve come across.  Anxiety still has an unfortunate stigma attached to it causing some ill-informed, upper-management types to think that an employee with anxiety can’t handle pressure.  Think of it this way – you’re already lion-taming this beast and compiling that end of year report due Friday at the same time.  Pressure?  You eat it for breakfast!

I hope these tricks help you calm the farm!  However, any mental disorder can and should be dealt with before it takes over your life.  There are a number of ways you can address the effects of anxiety and no two journeys to recovery will be the same.  To find out more about this condition, there are few great online sites such as Beyond Blue, Headspace and Mind.org that will help you understand the symptoms and causes and where you can go to find help.  I hope you make 2016 the year to kick arse!

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Last Updated on October 14, 2020

The Art of Humble Confidence

The Art of Humble Confidence

To be confident or not to be confident, that is the question. I’m not sure about you, but I’ve been a bit confused about all this discussion about the subject of confidence. Do you really need to be more confident or should you try to be more humble? I think the answer is both – you just have to know where to use it.

East VS West – Confidence, It’s a Cultural Thing

In typical Western countries, the answer to the confidence debate is obvious – more is better. Our heros are rebellious, independent and shoot first, ask questions later. I think this snippet of dialog from The Matrix sums it up best:

Agent Smith – “We’re willing to wipe the slate clean, give you a fresh start. All that we’re asking in return is your cooperation in bringing a known terrorist to justice.”
Neo – “Yeah. Well, that sounds like a pretty good deal. But I think I may have a better one. How about, I give you the finger”
[He does]
Neo -“ …and you give me my phone call.”

In Eastern countries, the tone is often considerably different. Elders are supposed to be revered not dismissed. The words ‘guru,’ meaning a teacher, and the philosophy of dharma, loosely translated to mean ‘duty,’ come from here. In Eastern cultures humility and respect are more important than confidence.

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These perspectives are generalizations, but it shows how the confidence debate goes back deep into our culture. I think that both extremes of pure confidence or pure humility are misguided. Instead of rectifying this situation by simply blending the two: becoming somewhat humble, somewhat confident all the time, I believe the answer is to know when to be confident and when to be humble.

Humble Confidence – Know When to Use It

I’m going to make another broad generalization. I believe that virtually every relationship you are going to have is going to fit into one of two major archetypes, either master or student. In peer relationships this master/student role may switch frequently, but it is extremely rare that the relationship never leans to one side.

In the master role, you are displaying confidence to get what you want. This is public speaker, leader or seducer. Being the master has advantages. You have more control and ability to influence from this role.

The student role is the opposite. You are intentionally displaying humility. This is the student, disciple or follower. Being the student has advantages too. You can learn a lot more in this role and are more likely to win the trust of the other person.

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Know When to Shut Up and Learn

If you are a typical Westerner, you are probably already thinking about which role you prefer. Being the leader is great. You get respect and a higher status. Most of all you get a greater degree of control.

But the problem is that you can’t and shouldn’t always try to be the leader. Trying to assume that role without the skills, resources or status to back it up will lead to conflict. More importantly, there are many times when you purposely want to display humility. Some of the benefits to the student role include:

  • You learn more.
  • Smooths relationships.
  • Makes others more willing to lend a helping hand.

Knowing when taking the humble route is to your advantage. It is far easier to get mentors and advisors if you use humility rather than arrogance. A small sacrifice to your ego can open up the potential to learn a lot.

Confidence to Persuade, Humility to Learn

In reality almost no relationship is as clearly defined as master/student. Within our connections, people have overlapping areas of expertise. I might be an expert in blogging to a non-blogger, but they might be an expert in finance. In each area there are different roles to take.

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Before any interaction ask yourself what the purpose is. Are you trying to learn or persuade?

Persuasion requires confidence. If you are trying to sell, instruct or lead you need to display the confidence to match your message. But learning requires humility. You won’t learn anything if you are constantly arguing with your professors, mentors or employers. Taking a dose of humility and temporarily making yourself a student gives you the opportunity to absorb.

Persuade Less, Learn More

Persuasion is great for immediate effect, but learning matters over the long-haul. Instead of washing over all your communication with pure confidence, look for opportunities to learn. Persuading someone to follow you may give you an immediate boost of satisfaction, but it doesn’t last. Learning, however, is an investment for the future.

Whenever I make a connection with someone and realize they have a skill or understanding I want, I am careful to express humility in that area. That means listening with what they say even if I don’t immediately agree and being patient with their response. This method often drastically cuts down the time I need to spend on trial and error to learn by myself.

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Confidence/Humility Doesn’t Replace Communication Skills

This approach of selectively using confidence and humility for different purposes doesn’t replace communication skills. Humility isn’t going to work if the other person thinks you’re an irritating whiner. Confidence won’t work if the entire room thinks you are an arrogant jerk. Knowing how to display these two qualities takes practice.

The next time you are about to enter into an interaction ask yourself why you are doing it. Are you trying to persuade or learn? Depending on which you can take a completely different tact for far better results.

Featured photo credit: BBH Singapore via unsplash.com

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