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Published on May 2, 2019

How To Overcome Anxiety and Feel More at Ease (Part 1)

How To Overcome Anxiety and Feel More at Ease (Part 1)

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent mental health challenge we face. Globally, an estimated 275 million people, or 4% of the population, were affected in 2016.[1] In the U.S., 18.1% of the adult population suffers every year and 30% of people will experience anxiety at some point.[2] Anxiety disorders touch 25.1% of children between 13 and 18 years old and women are almost twice as likely to experience anxiety disorders than males.

So if you’re feeling anxious or suffering from anxiety, YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

Not only is anxiety highly common, it is also highly treatable. Yet less than half of people suffering seek treatment.

Having been there myself, I know it is scary, confusing, frustrating and challenging. At times, it feels like it’s going to suffocate you or swallow you whole; and you fear you’ll never feel like yourself again.

I remember a time when I stood at the front door sobbing because I didn’t want my husband to leave for work in the morning. It was not me. I have always been laid back, easygoing and fearless. And all of a sudden I was anxious, scared and full of fear.

What made it even worse was feeling terrified I would feel that way forever. I remember calling a good friend on my way home one day from therapy. She’d suffered from anxiety too. I’ll never forget it what she told me. It was a turning point in my healing.

“It WILL get better; you won’t always feel like this. I know it feels like it now, but you won’t. I promise, you will get better”.

Those words resonated deeply and stuck with me through the toughest of times. I desperately needed to know there was hope.

Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s suffered from anxiety says something similar. I thought it would never end. I thought I was going to have to live like that forever (and I knew I couldn’t). I had no idea how I was going to get out of it. But they all got through it.

In this article, I’ll share real stories and recommendations from those who have been through anxiety, as well as tips and strategies from mental health professionals.

All of them share one common sentiment: anxiety is common and can be treated. If you can summon up the strength and courage to take a few steps out of the darkness, you will find light.

So if you’re out there wondering if you will EVER get through this, wondering if you will EVER feel like yourself again, wondering if this will EVER end…It CAN and it WILL.

For those of you facing anxiety on any level, my hope is that you find at least one of these stories, strategies or resources helpful and supportive in working through your own process and journey.

What Is Anxiety?

People use the term ‘anxiety’ to describe everything from a stressful feeling or situation to a severe feeling of anxiety, and even anxiety attacks which can come out of nowhere and closely mimic the same symptoms of a heart attack.

According to David Carbonell, PhD.(The Anxiety Coach):

“Anxiety is a set of emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations typically centered on some apprehension about a future event or potential occurrence. Anxiety is an ordinary emotion which is part of life. We would have trouble functioning without it.

An anxiety disorder, on the other hand, is a condition in which a person has literally become afraid of their experiences of anxiety and tries to resist and prevent those experiences in ways that make the problem worse rather than better. People develop an anxiety disorder for various reasons. It seems clear that there are genetic predispositions to develop them. People who score high on a measure of ‘anxiety sensitivity’ are more prone to develop one.”

There are several major anxiety disorders including Panic Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, and specific phobias of all kinds. When talking about overcoming anxiety, since there are such varying levels and degrees of what that means, there are also varying levels of treatment and support.[3]

    What Causes Anxiety?

    Here’s the technical answer from Jennie Morton:

    “The experience of anxiety emerges from a cascade of events that are triggered in the body by the activation of the sympathetic nervous system (or fight/flight mechanism) in response to a threat. This is a very natural reaction that is designed to ensure our survival when under attack from a predator. An area of our brain called the amygdala acts as a kind of ‘smoke detector’ for environmental threats and plays a key role in triggering the fight or flight response.

    The amygdala[4] is also involved in emotional learning and, based on our experiences from childhood onward, will label certain places, people, situations, etc. as either safe or unsafe.

    So while for many the experience of anxiety may seem irrational or illogical, there will be a reason why the amygdala has chosen to spark this sensation. Somewhere along the line it put a red flag warning on an event or even just a particular aspect of a threatening situation which it is then conditioned to repeat.”

    In my experience, if you’re suffering from anxiety, something bigger is going on. Anxiety is not the problem. Anxiety is a symptom of something.

    There are many complex and varying causes for anxiety, including;

    • Life experiences and events (including trauma)
    • Genetics and upbringing
    • Brain chemistry
    • Medical conditions (including blood sugar imbalance, thyroid dysfunction and gut imbalance/food sensitivities), and
    • Forms of stress including unhealthy relationships, demanding jobs, and financial obligations.

    More often than not, anxiety is a sign you are out of alignment or out of balance in some way shape or form – mentally, emotionally, physically or even spiritually.

      It’s your body’s way of telling you something isn’t’ working. Something is not right. Our bodies are quite amazing. They have a way of telling us to slow down, do something different, pay attention or make a change. And if we don’t listen, guess what? They yell louder. And often, they speak the language of anxiety.

      Remember, anxiety is a message. To honor this message, look deeper into what may be out of balance in your body, as well as your life. This may feel scary at first, but remember, the life you want is on the other side of fear! — Dr. Kelly Brogan

      How to Heal Your Anxiety

      I’d like to introduce Erica Phillipson. Erica is a Graphic Artist, Yoga Instructor & Retreat Facilitator (and former Club DJ & Radio Show Host).

        Here, she shares her personal story and recommendations for overcoming anxiety:

        At the height of my anxiety, I thought I would never get through it. I didn’t just have anxiety, I had Panic Disorder. On bad days, I would have 6 or 7 panic attacks. They would sometimes last for over an hour and often it would take me a few hours to recover. The trauma I experienced took a toll on me both physically and mentally. Eventually, everything became too much for me. I didn’t want to get too excited/nervous/scared, I didn’t want to put myself in any situation that could trigger my panic, I didn’t want to leave the house. I felt like I had short-circuited. I even got to a point where I would worry that merely thinking about a panic attack was going to bring one on.

        I thought it would never end. But it did. It may have lasted 6 years, but I haven’t had a panic attack for over 6 years now!

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        Having Panic Disorder pushed me to work through so much ‘stuff’. It forced me to really go deep within myself. Looking back at how much I evolved during that time, I can honestly say that my Panic Disorder has been one of my life’s greatest gifts. Without it, I would have stayed in a career that was not working for me; I would not have found balance in my life; I would still be saying yes when the answer in my heart is no. I would probably not be as grateful for the little things that make our lives so beautiful; I would not be the person I am today.

        I know who I am. I know what I want. I know what I am willing – and not willing – to put up with. I am happy! If I can get through it, you can, too.

        This anxiety you are facing is a tool for growth, but you need to be willing to work with it. Your body has given you anxiety because it is trying to tell you something but you have not been listening. It’s time to listen.

        As I went through my healing process, I tried every type of therapy out there, including: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Tapping, Vitamins, Homeopathy, Yoga, Hypnosis, Art processes, kundalini, Breathwork and medication (for a few months).

        I’m hoping that the knowledge I gained from these therapies will help you to heal quicker than it took me.

        The biggest thing I want you to know is that no one can heal you but you.

        Here are my recommendations:

        1. Know your triggers.

        Get to the root issue of what’s not working and what’s causing anxiety.

        For me, there were a few triggers. I was working too much, not sleeping, traveling every week and stressed out. I was afraid of flying (from a past experience as a child), so having to perform in a new city every week became a massive trigger for me.

        Living on my own became a trigger because I would arrive home in the early hours of the morning when no one was around (in one of the most dangerous cities in the world, Johannesburg).

        My radio show also became a trigger because it was naturally nerve-wracking for me. DJing at clubs became a trigger for me because it’s stressful having to keep a dance floor full and happy.

        Compounding these triggers resulted in the perfect recipe for Panic Disorder.

        I also used coping mechanisms to keep me going. I would get ready to DJ a show by drinking Coke and a shot of tequila so that I was ‘awake and smiling’. Now this may sound extreme, but my guess is many of you have your own versions of this – taking medication for that headache every day, having one too many glasses of wine every night, taking sleeping pills so you can sleep or drinking way too much coffee to get through the next hour of work. All of those things are masking something that’s not working.

        Find out what they are and eliminate those things from your life. Make the changes step by step, and eventually you will begin to understand your anxiety and get what your body is trying to tell you.

        It’s not going to be easy, but it’s going to be a heck of a lot easier than living the way you are right now.

        2. Find what brings you JOY and add more of that to your life.

        Find what brings you balance, makes you feel good, or brings positivity.

        Do what you love. Find things that are aligned with your heart, your soul, your purpose.

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        3. Surround yourself with people that ‘get you’.

        Unless you’ve had anxiety, you can’t really understand how it feels. Not many people got what I was going through.

        So many times I suffered panic attacks ‘in broad daylight’. I would be hosting my show, DJing to a thousand people, at a fundraiser for the “South African Depression and Anxiety Group” (ironic!), and wouldn’t tell a soul.

        Others would try and help by telling me ‘it was going to be ok’ or ‘I must think about something else’, but they had NO idea how dark it was. I thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to lose my mind and never come back.

        It’s important to find your people. Maybe they have gone through it themselves, maybe they just know how to support you unconditionally, maybe it’s a therapist who can support and normalize what you’re facing.

        My husband was my rock, his love helped me heal. My best friend was incredible, she took my panic attacks seriously and that meant the world to me. I also found immense comfort in my dog, Nala. She truly was my emotional support dog.

        4. Take care of your body.

        Eat healthy foods, practice yoga, journal, exercise, breathwork, sleep… These were critical in my healing.

        5. Acceptance.

        When I stopped fighting my panic attacks and faced them, they moved through me much more quickly.

        Being aware of what has triggered you and how you are feeling will help you to gain perspective and slowly. But, surely you will understand that you are safe and nothing is going to happen to you.

        6. Get to know yourself.

        This was the single most important factor of my healing. So much of my anxiety was caused from being out of alignment with who I was, I had to get REAL.

        I found myself in a life that was NOT working for me. I was in a job that wasn’t me. It was glamorous, fun and amazing from the outside; it looked like the dream job. But it wasn’t me. It wasn’t what I wanted to do or how I wanted to do it.

        I had to look at who I was, what I wanted in life and what truly made me happy. I had to dig into my beliefs, values, and moral compass.

        Please, as you go through this, don’t be so hard on yourself. Be gentle and nurturing. This is a process and takes time. There is no one way to heal from anxiety. The root cause is different for different people and the solution will be as well. Try everything. Note what works and let go of what doesn’t.

        Lastly, consider that the universe might just be giving you a gift. Maybe say to yourself:

        “Here’s a gift. It’s called anxiety. Let’s see what it brings me”.

        I wish I had that perspective and I hope it helps you.”

        Conclusion

        I love Erica’s incredible story and am so thankful she’s shared it with us. It’s a poignant reminder that there’s a reason you have anxiety and that there are things you can do to overcome it.

        Personally, I addressed my anxiety from an integrative, holistic approach as well. I stepped back and assessed my life and looked at what needed to happen mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. I went to therapy, worked with a coach, made some important life changes, got bodywork, read books, did yoga, and practiced meditation.

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        I learned grounding techniques. I changed my eating. I cut out alcohol, caffeine and artificial sweeteners. I tried everything I could get my hands on. I kept what worked for me and let go of what didn’t.

        I was able to work through my anxiety too…and though I can’t pinpoint exactly what helped the most, I know it was this integrative, multi-faceted approach that made a difference.

        Today, I wouldn’t say I’m back to my old self. I’d say I’m happy to be my new self.

        As Nietzsche so wisely said many years ago, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”.

          It’s true. My experience with anxiety has helped me evolve into the more conscious, thoughtful, connected and compassionate person I am today.

          For those of you facing anxiety on any level, my hope is that these stories and recommendations are supportive in helping you work through your own process so you can move forward and uncover that ‘gift’ Erica spoke about.

          Your next step? Take a step forward — any step. That may mean trying one of the techniques you’ve read here or reaching out for help. There are many forms of fantastic therapies that can help – but they can only work if you do.

          Don’t miss PART 2 of the Anxiety Series which includes additional stories and lots of great strategies from mental health professionals and experts.

          And below are some additional resources to support you in your healing.

          Resources and Websites

          Therapists

          If you’re experiencing persistent and excessive levels of anxiety, I highly recommend you reach out to your doctor, therapist or specialist for support.

          To find a therapist near you, reach out to someone you trust who can make a recommendation, contact one of our professionals above or find someone here:

          Additional Websites

          Featured photo credit: Anthony Tran via unsplash.com

          Reference

          [1] Our World in Data: Anxiety Disorders
          [2] Anxiety And Depression Association of America: Facts & Statistics
          [3] Anxiety and Depression Association of America: Understand the Facts
          [4] Science Daily: Amygdala

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          Tracy Kennedy

          Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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          Last Updated on August 20, 2019

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          How to Control Your Thoughts and Be the Master of Your Mind

          Your mind is the most powerful tool you have for the creation of good in your life, but if not used correctly, can also be the most destructive force in your life.

          Your mind, more specifically, your thoughts, affect your perception and therefore, your interpretation of reality. (And here’s Why Your Perception Is Your Reality.)

          I have heard that the average person thinks around 70,000 thoughts a day. That’s a lot, especially if they are unproductive, self-abusive and just a general waste of energy.

          You can let your thoughts run amok, but why would you? It is your mind, your thoughts; isn’t it time to take your power back? Isn’t it time to take control?

          Choose to be the person who is actively, consciously thinking your thoughts. Become the master of your mind.

          When you change your thoughts, you will change your feelings as well, and you will also eliminate the triggers that set off those feelings. Both of these outcomes provide you with a greater level of peace in your mind.

          I currently have few thoughts that are not of my own choosing or a response from my reprogramming. I am the master of my mind, so now my mind is quite peaceful. Yours can be too!

          Who Is Thinking My Thoughts?

          Before you can become the master of your mind, you must recognize that you are currently at the mercy of several unwanted “squatters” living in your mind, and they are in charge of your thoughts. If you want to be the boss of them, you must know who they are and what their motivation is, and then you can take charge and evict them.

          Here are four of the “squatters” in your head that create the most unhealthy and unproductive thoughts:

          1. The Inner Critic

          This is your constant abuser who is often a conglomeration of:

          • Other people’s words; many times your parents.
          • Thoughts you have created based on your own or other peoples expectations.
          • Comparing yourself to other people, including those in the media.
          • The things you told yourself as a result of painful experiences such as betrayal and rejection. Your interpretation creates your self-doubt and self-blame, which are most likely undeserved in cases of rejection and betrayal.

          The Inner Critic is motivated by pain, low self-esteem, lack of self-acceptance and lack of self-love.

          Why else would this person abuse you? And since this person is actually you– why else would you abuse yourself? Why would you let anyone treat you this badly?

          2. The Worrier

          This person lives in the future; in the world of “what ifs.”

          The Worrier is motivated by fear which is often irrational and with no basis for it. Occasionally, this person is motivated by fear that what happened in the past will happen again.

          3. The Reactor or Trouble-Maker

          This is the one that triggers anger, frustration and pain. These triggers stem from unhealed wounds of the past. Any experience that is even closely related to a past wound will set him off.

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          This person can be set off by words or feelings, and can even be set off by sounds and smells.

          The Reactor has no real motivation and has poor impulse control and is run by past programming that no longer serves you, if it ever did.

          4. The Sleep Depriver

          This can be a combination of any number of different squatters including the inner planner, the rehasher, and the ruminator, along with the inner critic and the worrier.

          The Sleep Depriver’s motivation can be:

          • As a reaction to silence, which he fights against
          • Taking care of the business you neglected during the day
          • Self-doubt, low self-esteem, insecurity and generalized anxiety
          • As listed above for the inner critic and worrier

          How can you control these squatters?

          How to Master Your Mind

          You are the thinker and the observer of your thoughts. You must pay attention to your thoughts so you can identify “who” is running the show; this will determine which technique you will want to use.

          Begin each day with the intention of paying attention to your thoughts and catching yourself when you are thinking undesirable thoughts.

          There are two ways to control your thoughts:

          • Technique A – Interrupt and replace them
          • Technique B – Eliminate them altogether

          This second option is what is known as peace of mind!

          The technique of interrupting and replacing is a means of reprogramming your subconscious mind. Eventually, the replacement thoughts will become the “go to” thoughts in the applicable situations.

          Use Technique A with the Inner Critic and Worrier; and Technique B with the Reactor and Sleep Depriver.

          For the Inner Critic

          When you catch yourself thinking something negative about yourself (calling yourself names, disrespecting yourself, or berating yourself), interrupt it.

          You can yell (in your mind), “Stop! No!” or, “Enough! I’m in control now.” Then, whatever your negative thought was about yourself, replace it with an opposite or counter thought or an affirmation that begins with “I am.”

          For example, if your thought is, “I’m such a loser,” you can replace it with, “I am a Divine Creation of the Universal Spirit. I am a perfect spiritual being learning to master the human experience. I am a being of energy, light, and matter. I am magnificent, brilliant, and beautiful. I love and approve of myself just as I am.”

          You can also have a dialogue with yourself with the intention of discrediting the ‘voice’ that created the thought, if you know whose voice it is:

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          “Just because so-and-so said I was a loser doesn’t make it true. It was his or her opinion, not a statement of fact. Or maybe they were joking and I took it seriously because I’m insecure.”

          If you recognize that you have recurring self-critical thoughts, you can write out or pre-plan your counter thoughts or affirmation so you can be ready. This is the first squatter you should evict, forcefully, if necessary:

          • They rile up the Worrier.
          • The names you call yourself become triggers when called those names by others, so he also maintains the presence of the Reactor.
          • They are often present when you try to fall asleep so he perpetuates the Sleep Depriver.
          • They are a bully and is verbally and emotionally abusive.
          • They are the destroyer of self-esteem. They convince you that you’re not worthy. They’re a liar! In the interest of your self-worth, get them out!

          Eliminate your worst critic and you will also diminish the presence of the other three squatters.

          Replace them with your new best friends who support, encourage, and enhance your life. This is a presence you want in your mind.

          For the Worrier

          Prolonged anxiety is mentally, emotionally and physically unhealthy. It can have long-term health implications.

          Fear initiates the fight or flight response, creates worry in the mind and creates anxiety in the body.

          You should be able to recognize a “worry thought” immediately by how you feel. The physiological signs that the fight or flight response of fear has kicked in are:

          • Increased heart rate, blood pressure, or surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tense

          Use the above stated method to interrupt any thought of worry and then replace it. But this time you will replace your thoughts of worry with thoughts of gratitude for the outcome you wish for.

          If you believe in a higher power, this is the time to engage with it. Here is an example:

          Instead of worrying about my loved ones traveling in bad weather, I say the following (I call it a prayer):

          “Thank you great spirit for watching over _______. Thank you for watching over his/her car and keeping it safe, road-worthy, and free of maintenance issues without warning. Thank you for surrounding him/her with only safe, conscientious, and alert drivers. And thank you for keeping him/her safe, conscientious, and alert.”

          Smile when you think about it or say it aloud, and phrase it in the present tense; both of these will help you feel it and possibly even start to believe it.

          If you can visualize what you are praying for, the visualization will enhance the feeling so you will increase the impact in your vibrational field.

          Now take a calming breath, slowly in through your nose, and slowly out through the mouth. Take as many as you like!

          Replacing fearful thoughts with gratitude will decrease reactionary behavior, taking the steam out of the Reactor.

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          For example:

          If your child gets lost in the mall, the typical parental reaction that follows the fearful thoughts when finding them is to yell at them.

          “I told you never to leave my sight.” This reaction just adds to the child’s fear level from being lost in the first place. Plus, it also teaches them that mom and/or dad will get mad when he or she makes a mistake, which may make them lie to you or not tell you things in the future.

          Change those fearful thoughts when they happen:

          “Thank You (your choice of Higher Power) for watching over my child and keeping him safe. Thank you for helping me find him soon.”

          Then, when you see your child after this thought process, your only reaction will be gratitude, and that seems like a better alternative for all people involved.

          For the Trouble-Maker, Reactor or Over-Reactor

          Permanently eliminating this squatter will take a bit more attention and reflection after the fact to identify and heal the causes of the triggers; but until then, you can prevent the Reactor from getting out of control by initiating conscious breathing as soon as you recognize his presence.

          The Reactor’s thoughts or feelings activate the fight or flight response just like with the Worrier. The physiological signs of his presence will be the same. With a little attention, you should be able to tell the difference between anxiety, anger, frustration, or pain:

          • Increased heart rate and blood pressure; surge of adrenaline
          • Shallow breathing or breathlessness
          • Muscles tension

          I’m sure you’ve heard the suggestion to count to ten when you get angry—well, you can make those ten seconds much more productive if you are breathing consciously during that time.

          Conscious breathing is as simple as it sounds; just be conscious of your breathing. Pay attention to the air going in and coming out.

          Breathe in through your nose:

          • Feel the air entering your nostrils.
          • Feel your lungs filling and expanding.
          • Focus on your belly rising.

          Breathe out through your nose:

          • Feel your lungs emptying.
          • Focus on your belly falling.
          • Feel the air exiting your nostrils.

          Do this for as long as you like. Leave the situation if you want. This gives the adrenaline time to normalize.

          Now you can address the situation with a calmer, more rational perspective and avoid damaging behavior.

          One of the troubles this squatter causes is that it adds to the sleep depriver’s issues. By evicting, or at least controlling the Reactor, you will decrease reactionary behavior, which will decrease the need for the rehashing and ruminating that may keep you from falling asleep.

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          Master your mind and stop the Reactor from bringing stress to you and your relationships!

          For the Sleep Depriver

          (They’re made up of the Inner Planner, the Rehasher and the Ruminator, along with the Inner Critic and the Worrier.)

          I was plagued with a very common problem: not being able to turn off my mind at bedtime. This inability prevented me from falling asleep and thus, getting a restful and restorative night’s sleep.

          Here’s how I mastered my mind and evicted the Sleep Depriver and all his cronies.

          1. I started by focusing on my breathing—paying attention to the rise and fall of my belly—but that didn’t keep the thoughts out for long. (Actually, I now start with checking my at-rest mouth position to keep me from clenching.)
          2. Then I came up with replacement strategy that eliminated uncontrolled thinking—imagining the word in while breathing in and thinking the word out when breathing out. I would (and do) elongate the word to match the length of my breath.

          When I catch myself thinking, I shift back to in, out. With this technique, I am still thinking, sort of, but the wheels are no longer spinning out of control. I am in control of my mind and I choose quiet.

          From the first time I tried this method I started to yawn after only a few cycles and am usually asleep within ten minutes.

          For really difficult nights, I add an increase of attention by holding my eyes in a looking-up position (Closed, of course!). Sometimes I try to look toward my third eye but that really hurts my eyes.

          If you have trouble falling asleep because you can’t shut off your mind, I strongly recommend you try this technique. I still use it every night. You can start sleeping better tonight!

          You can also use this technique any time you want to:

          • Fall back to sleep if you wake up too soon.
          • Shut down your thinking.
          • Calm your feelings.
          • Simply focus on the present moment. 

          The Bottom Line

          Your mind is a tool, and like any other tool, it can be used for constructive purposes or for destructive purposes.

          You can allow your mind to be occupied by unwanted, undesirable and destructive tenants, or you can choose desirable tenants like peace, gratitude, compassion, love, and joy.

          Your mind can become your best friend, your biggest supporter, and someone you can count on to be there and encourage you. The choice is yours!

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          Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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