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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Control Anxiety and Calm Your Anxious Thoughts

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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.

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    More Tips for Calming Your Mind

    Featured photo credit: Ümit Bulut via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Sarah Browne

    Sarah is a speaker, writer and activist

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    Published on October 15, 2021

    Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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    Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

    When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

    After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

    Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

    1. Stress Hormone Overload

    Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

    When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

    The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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    You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

    2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

    Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

    Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

    Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

    3. Negative Mindset

    Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

    Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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    Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

    4. Digestive Issues

    It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

    The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

    GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

    You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

    5. Depression

    Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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    Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

    Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

    Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

    6. Breathing Problems

    Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

    This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

    End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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    There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

    7. Sleep Issues

    Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

    Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

    One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

    You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

    Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

    Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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    More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

    Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

    Reference

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