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Last Updated on March 17, 2020

How to Control Anxiety and Calm Your Anxious Thoughts

How to Control Anxiety and Calm Your Anxious Thoughts

Are you facing anxiety that is difficult to overcome?

Anxiety is a struggle we all can find ourselves grappling with. It is debilitating, and easy for others or even ourselves to downplay. It can slowly creep up on you or pounce on you all at once. There is not always one reason for anxiety; there can be a multitude of reasons. However, it is not hopeless when it happens.

When Anxiety Happens, YOU Can Take Control

How to control anxiety? Listen to your feelings. They are trying to tell you something. They are a megaphone for what matters to you, pain screaming to be heard, a problem to be solved, a situation to be bettered or a negative idea about yourself and the outcome that needs to be challenged.

Anxiety isn’t your fault. It isn’t your doing. It may be internal dialogue gone awry, but it is not something you need to beat yourself up over. However, it is a cycle that feeds into itself.

Take a look at the Cycle of Anxiety on Therapist Aid:[1]

    According to the cycle, an anxious person will avoid something each time an opportunity arises, and then anxiety begets anxiety. This is an unhealthy cycle, making it difficult to feel in control of one’s feelings.

    How does one overcome such feelings? The truth is, anxiety may push or pull us, but ultimately we have the say. There are ways to calm anxiety naturally and fast, as well as deal with anxiety and worry to gain greater control of our emotions.

    How to Calm Anxiety Naturally

    “No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen.” — Alan Watts

    Rather than try to solve every problem, remove yourself from the need to be in constant control.

    There’s an analogy for anxiety that can be used. When you are in a current, you sink faster by fighting it. When you learn to float and let go, you will rise to the top of the water and allow yourself to be carried.

    Here’s an example of anxiety begetting anxiety:

    You’re sitting in your car, and suddenly you start to think about presenting for that morning meeting. Why couldn’t it have been after lunch so you could have more time to prepare? You feel stuck, uncertain of yourself and afraid to start driving to work. The closer you get to turning on your car, the more anxious you feel. It is a never-ending cycle as you sit outside your house this morning. Your heart is pounding, your breathing is strained, you feel light headed or dizzy. But… you can’t call off work. You decide to start the ignition and drive a detour to get some coffee, which should help wake you up more this morning. However, after you do that and avoid getting to work, you realized you’re going to be late for work if you spend one more minute trying to figure out what to do. AND you’re even more anxious now! What should you do?

    There are a few things to identify being done incorrectly in this scenario, so we’ll start with that. Caffeine may induce more anxiety. A detour just delays the inevitable and makes the anxiety worse.

    But what we also do not have is the reason WHY we feel anxious identified:

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    1. Figure out your anxiety and anxious habits. Track your anxiety and record the thoughts you are having before, during and after (when it passes), that may help find triggers.
    2. Keep a tablet that you can continually update.
    3. Note the triggers. Ask yourself, “What self defeating thoughts am I having today that enables anxiety to have its way?”

    For example, the scenario just described is most likely a fear of failure along with public speaking. Identifying it is part of solving it. It shrinks back its power that it has over you.

    Once you figure out the pattern of anxiety, you can trap it. Surprise it with your own solutions. And fast.

    How to Calm Anxiety Fast

    “For fast acting relief, try slowing down.” — Lily Tomlin

    Let’s go back to the scenario to right before we start driving around. You are sitting in the car, thinking of your next move once the anxiety has hit. You’ve identified it’s a fear of failure and other such triggers.

    Is your anxiety also progressing into a panic?

    1. Focus on Breathing Only, Not the Problem

    Focus only on restoring and healing your emotional self.

    For a breathing technique, try abdominal breathing. When you inhale through the nose, “your abdomen should expand” and you should “exhale through the mouth.” Try for a few minutes.

    Then, focus on the body’s tension. Where is stress stored in the body?

    Release tension in the body. This is a common meditation. Close your eyes. Start with releasing tension in your face, then your neck, shoulders, back, buttocks, thighs, legs, ankles and feet. Do this until your body is fully relaxed.

    Your mind is still racing with negative thoughts.

    2. Give Time for Positive Self-Talk

    Say to yourself as you sit in the car, “I am capable of doing this. I don’t have to be perfect. I will do a great job either way. I have what it takes. I am prepared. I am adaptable should anything go awry. All I need to do is SHOW UP.”

    Figure out what you can do.

    You may not be ready to give the presentation in this moment of anxiety (or maybe ever ready). But you know what you can do? SHOW UP.

    Once you show up, everything you rehearsed will come back to you. That’s why you have notes. That’s why it’s a team meeting. That’s why you are prepared. So that when the anxiety takes over, you know what to do: SHOW UP.

    Show up to find out what happens. That is the minimum you need to do.

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    3. Combine Positive Self Talk and Deep Breathing

    While doing this, breathe in what you want to say to yourself and breathe out the anxiety.

    Breathe in, “I will show up.”

    Breathe out any negative feelings or thoughts.

    Find out the ending to what is going to happen.

    Show up for the Solution.

    Breathe in the Breakthrough.

    Breathe out the Breakdown.

    Use mantra and meditations that can help. “I don’t have to be perfect” is a great one to start with.

    Come up with a game plan. This is about being proactive. If anxiety hits and you’re unprepared for it, you’re stuck in defense mode. Proactively try to come up with phrases that help you feel better, breathing techniques, mantras and meditations so you aren’t searching around in your mind for it in the moment.

    See how far you’ve come. Recount your life’s wins and major blessings each day before you start, before the anxiety can hit so you can remember you’ve had the tools and what it takes all along.

    Dealing with Anxiety and Worry

    Anxiety and worry are negative stressors in most situations; positive stress is when you feel the pressure and still stay calm. How to deal?

    Anxiety and worry are interchangeable. When we worry, we may feel anxiety. When we feel anxiety, we may worry more.

    Try to set aside a designated ‘worry time.’[2] Quite literally, give yourself permission to be a mess for a while. The release is therapeutic.

    When you cap it with 30 minutes, you find ways to stop yourself from having negative thoughts before and after those 30 minutes. You don’t stay in the mode. You can always reschedule it if something comes up.

    However, if you want to get the most out of this time? Research suggests thinking of solutions. Try to be productive. Before the timer runs out, list as many solutions as possible.

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    Until your worry time, take a vacation from your negative thoughts. Enjoy it.

    Taking Control of Your Emotions

    Your mind is a garden. YOU plant the seeds.

    Emotions need to be released rather than bottled up or what happens? You will explode.

    None of this is easy. In fact, it’s counter-intuitive to calm down when anxiety or worry hit. But if you can master any emotion, let it be this one:

    Gratitude

    The feeling of gratitude can help us overcome any difficult emotion.

    Feeling overwhelmed? “I’m grateful that at least I got myself to this point so far.”

    Feeling lost? “I’m grateful for what I found along the way, such as the lessons.”

    Feeling lonely? “I’m grateful that there is opportunity to meet new people; I just have to show up.”

    Feeling sad? “I’m grateful that at least I’m alive.”

    Feeling angry? “I’m grateful that I have what I have, so I can make the best with it rather than dwell on what I cannot control.”

    Focusing on what we do have enables us to put things into better perspective. That’s part of positive self-talk, too.

    When you have the right perspective, you can release a negative emotion.

    Practice Mindfulness

    Ground yourself immediately by breathing in and out and focusing only on the moment.

    Methods of mindfulness include grounding.

    For example, small children may play I-Spy. The game goes “I Spy with my little eye…” and then they describe an object in the room. Other children have to guess the object. The one who guesses correctly gets to go next. And so on…

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    Grounding yourself is a little like playing the I-Spy game with yourself. You look at objects around you and focus only on their description. You may even say them out loud.

    “Black pen.”

    “Brown table.”

    “Blue tablecloth.”

    And so on. Focus on the senses.

    The point is you must bring yourself totally into the present in order to ground yourself. This brings you out of the anxiety and into reality and be mindful. Once you are able to pull yourself into the present, begin or resume positive self-talk and continue deep breathing.

    It’s important when feeling emotions, to start with securing the self. The emotions may be there, but they do not own you. Do not over-identify with your emotions. Feelings are not facts and rarely do they drive our fate.

    You must focus on self-care as well. That’s what this is all about!

    Self-care or care of your emotions is meant to be a healing journey. There are coping methods to be used for self-care:

    • Writing in a journal
    • Venting to someone you trust
    • Playing a game
    • Listening to music

    Anything that is a hobby can also be a coping method. There are millions to try, and here’re 30 Self-Care Habits for a Strong and Healthy Mind, Body and Spirit.

    Final Thoughts

    It’s true, your emotions can help guide you to what you want… but the reason they are there? A certain thought of yours was planted and provoked them.

    Anxiety isn’t random. It shows up to try to dictate to us what we are, what we can feel and how to live our lives. It would rather have us hiding in the dark than reaching for the sunlight.

    You have everything within you capable of searching for that light. In fact, you are a light. Let that be the final mantra you think upon as you work through your anxiety…

    “I am a light…and I am worth being here.”

    What you will do is become that light in the times you feel in least, and you will rise because of it.

    More Tips for Calming Your Mind

    Featured photo credit: Ümit Bulut via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Sarah Browne

    Sarah is a writer, speaker and activist who promotes the end of stigma for mental health.

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    Last Updated on July 8, 2020

    18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

    18 Benefits of Journaling That Will Change Your Life

    The act of writing in a journal often seems daunting or unnecessary to many people. Even authors who work on novels might shun the idea of daily diaries. What purpose does jotting down words on a regular basis do if not contributing to the next novel, play or song? I know from experience many benefits of journaling that I wish to share.

    1. Understand Yourself Better

    Though many people and even writers avoid keeping journals, I vow to do it more often. Not only do I desire to take up daily journaling but also I plan to do it with pen to paper.

    Some of the benefits I’ve found from my more active days include finding myself in the sense of understanding what matters to me and what I want out of life. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to find a spouse who is my best friend and advocate in raising children. I attribute this and much more to what I learned about myself in keeping journals for years.

    2. Keep Track of Small Changes

    I’ll admit that I never got very far with my guitar lessons, but in writing in a journal, I have seen the ability to track small changes like those that come when you practice anything.

    Those learning a musical instrument often fail to see the small improvements that come with regular practice. Writing won’t help you switch chords any faster, but it will help you to develop a better sense for language and grammar just by doing it.

    3. Become Aware of What Matters

    As you continue to write in a journal, following a stream-of-consciousness feel, you can look back on the topics that you chose to write about. Those issues and emotions that poured out of you will provide insight on to what matters most to you.

    You may not even realize that you’re job is depressing you or that you want to spend more time with your kids until you look over your thoughts that you weren’t really thinking about.

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    4. Boost Creativity

    The idea that the brain and its neural activity across hemispheres encourages learning also shows up in increased creativity. Just like with learning an instrument, your increased activity will inspire your thoughts to connect and reconnect in different ways.

    When I wrote in a journal, I often wrote poetry as well as just my thoughts as they came out. I started to hear poems more in my mind; so much so that I took to scrawling lines on napkins and finding metaphors in mundane activities.

    You really are what you do, so writing helps grow more than being a writer. Writing boosts the way you communicate and structure language, which really is a creative process.

    5. Represents Your Emotions in a Safe Environment

    A journal is as private as it gets. You can lock it in a safe or tuck it under a pillow and no one will accidentally share it on social media or have an opportunity to “leave a comment.”

    Write about your sorrow as much as your happiness and frustration and know that you don’t have to keep your emotions inside your body. You can put them on paper.

    6. Process Life Experiences

    When you take the time to look back over what you’ve written, be it a week or a year later, you will have the distance you need to more objectively interpret your raw feelings.

    Everything from losing a job to losing a loved one can emerge in a new light for a fresh perspective. Figuring out how the benefits of journaling affect your perspective on life will create connection and increase creativity.

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    7. Stress Relief

    In combining the exercise inherent in fine motor coordination that comes from the act of writing with the emotional release of self expression, those who maintain a journal relieve stress.

    Try it out. Go home and write about your day. Write about the traffic. Write about the coffee order the barista got wrong but you didn’t have time to change. See how you can physically purge some of that pent-up stress by putting it on paper.

    8. Provide Direction

    Though journaling is often conducted as an activity without much direction, it often provides direction.

    One of the biggest benefits of journaling is that your chaotic thoughts merge to show a direction in which to head. Asking the right questions is the only way to achieve the best solutions, so look to your journal to find your way toward your next goal.

    9. Solve Problems

    Just as in practicing math problems, we all get better at finding hidden solutions through the act of processing.

    Think of your next goal as X and solve your life problems by reading your journals as word problems. The benefit of journaling here is that you write, explore and process to recognize and then solve problems.

    When life is too in-your-face, you have to step back to see reality. Living in the moment allows us to write in the moment and use that expression to solve problems.

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    10. Find Relief From Fighting

    Solving your problems only comes after time to process, recognize and strategize. Just as in the benefit of journaling where relief comes from the act of writing, relief from fighting comes when you decide to “sit this one out” and communicate one-way.

    Fighting is only productive when the fighters care to communicate and find common ground. When the emotions are as high as the stress levels, writing will function as the best time out.

    11. Find Meaning in Life

    Journaling will show you why you are living, whether you are wallowing in things you wish to change or striving to make the changes. Your life will begin to take on new meaning and your own words will reveal the actions that got you where you are so that you can assess and pave a new path for your future.

    12. Allow Yourself to Focus

    Taking even a small amount of time out of every day will provide you with not only peace of mind but also increased focus. Taking a break to meditate in writing and journaling will sharpen your mental faculties.

    13. Sharpen Your Spirituality

    When we write, we allow all the energy and experiences to flow through us, which often provides further insight into our own spirituality. Even if your parents didn’t raise you to follow a specific religion, your thoughts will start to show you what you believe about the universe and your place in it.

    14. Let the Past Go

    I’ve mentioned a few examples where going back over your writing offers advice and direction, but the simply truth is that writing down our feelings can be the best way to let them go. We can choose to literally throw these pages away when they’re filled with negativity and hate.

    15. Allow Freedom

    Journaling is the perfect way to not only express yourself but to also experience the freedom of being who you are. Your books can stay private or you can publish them. Your freedom stems from your sense of self and your perception of your thoughts.

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    16. Enhance Your Career

    Again, the private act of pen-to-paper processing provides the benefits of journaling mentioned above, but you can also enhance your career when you take similar ideas and categorize, edit and publish them in an online blog.

    Your thoughts will often be personal and express emotions, but another benefit of journaling is uncovering fresh ideas about your work.

    17. Literally Explore Your Dreams

    All the benefits I’ve mentioned explore ideas, thoughts and emotions, which is also what our dreams and nightmares do. Through writing down your dreams from the previous night, you can enhance your creativity as well as connect some of the metaphorical dots from the rest of your journal.

    18. Catalog Your Life for Others

    No one wants to think about dying, but we all die. Leaving a journal will act as a way to reconnect with family and friends left behind. The ideas you wish to keep personal while you process the life you’re living will serve to rekindle and inspire those who loved you through the process.

    We consider our partners our life witnesses, but writing provides a tangible mark on the world.

    Now that you’ve learned all the benefits of journaling, it’s time to start writing a journal:

    Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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