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Published on September 18, 2019

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 must 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.

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

    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.

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

    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.

    How to Deal 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.

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    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.

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

    How to Be in Control of 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.

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    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…

    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.

    Featured photo credit: Ümit Bulut via unsplash.com

    Reference

    More by this author

    Sarah Browne

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

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    Last Updated on January 3, 2020

    The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

    The 10 Essential Habits of Positive People

    Are you waiting for life events to turn out the way you want so that you can feel more positive about your life? Do you find yourself having pre-conditions to your sense of well-being, thinking that certain things must happen for you to be happier? Do you think there is no way that your life stresses can make you anything other than “stressed out” and that other people just don’t understand?  If your answer is “yes” to any of these questions, you might find yourself lingering in the land of negativity for too long!

    The following are some tips to keep positive no matter what comes your way. This post will help you stop looking for what psychologists call “positivity” in all the wrong places!  Here are the ten essential habits of positive people.

    1. Positive people don’t confuse quitting with letting go.

    Instead of hanging on to ideas, beliefs, and even people that are no longer healthy for them, they trust their judgement to let go of negative forces in their lives.  Especially in terms of relationships, they subscribe to The Relationship Prayer which goes:

     I will grant myself the ability to trust the healthy people in my life … 

    To set limits with, or let go of, the negative ones … 

    And to have the wisdom to know the DIFFERENCE!

     2.  Positive people don’t just have a good day – they make a good day.

    Waiting, hoping and wishing seldom have a place in the vocabulary of positive individuals. Rather, they use strong words that are pro-active and not reactive. Passivity leads to a lack of involvement, while positive people get very involved in constructing their lives. They work to make changes to feel better in tough times rather than wish their feelings away.

    3. For the positive person, the past stays in the past.

    Good and bad memories alike stay where they belong – in the past where they happened. They don’t spend much time pining for the good ol’ days because they are too busy making new memories now. The negative pulls from the past are used not for self-flagellation or unproductive regret, but rather productive regret where they use lessons learned as stepping stones towards a better future.

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    4. Show me a positive person and I can show you a grateful person.

    The most positive people are the most grateful people.  They do not focus on the potholes of their lives.  They focus on the pot of gold that awaits them every day, with new smells, sights, feelings and experiences.  They see life as a treasure chest full of wonder.

    5. Rather than being stuck in their limitations, positive people are energized by their possibilities.

    Optimistic people focus on what they can do, not what they can’t do.  They are not fooled to think that there is a perfect solution to every problem, and are confident that there are many solutions and possibilities.  They are not afraid to attempt new solutions to old problems, rather than spin their wheels expecting things to be different this time.  They refuse to be like Charlie Brown expecting that this time Lucy will not pull the football from him!

    6. Positive people do not let their fears interfere with their lives!

    Positive people have observed that those who are defined and pulled back by their fears never really truly live a full life. While proceeding with appropriate caution, they do not let fear keep them from trying new things. They realize that even failures are necessary steps for a successful life. They have confidence that they can get back up when they are knocked down by life events or their own mistakes, due to a strong belief in their personal resilience.

    7. Positive people smile a lot!

    When you feel positive on the inside it is like you are smiling from within, and these smiles are contagious. Furthermore, the more others are with positive people, the more they tend to smile too! They see the lightness in life, and have a sense of humor even when it is about themselves. Positive people have a high degree of self-respect, but refuse to take themselves too seriously!

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    8. People who are positive are great communicators.

    They realize that assertive, confident communication is the only way to connect with others in everyday life.  They avoid judgmental, angry interchanges, and do not let someone else’s blow up give them a reason to react in kind. Rather, they express themselves with tact and finesse.  They also refuse to be non-assertive and let people push them around. They refuse to own problems that belong to someone else.

    9. Positive people realize that if you live long enough, there are times for great pain and sadness.

    One of the most common misperceptions about positive people is that to be positive, you must always be happy. This can not be further from the truth. Anyone who has any depth at all is certainly not happy all the time.  Being sad, angry, disappointed are all essential emotions in life. How else would you ever develop empathy for others if you lived a life of denial and shallow emotions? Positive people do not run from the gamut of emotions, and accept that part of the healing process is to allow themselves to experience all types of feelings, not only the happy ones. A positive person always holds the hope that there is light at the end of the darkness.  

    10. Positive person are empowered people – they refuse to blame others and are not victims in life.

    Positive people seek the help and support of others who are supportive and safe.They limit interactions with those who are toxic in any manner, even if it comes to legal action and physical estrangement such as in the case of abuse. They have identified their own basic human rights, and they respect themselves too much to play the part of a victim. There is no place for holding grudges with a positive mindset. Forgiveness helps positive people become better, not bitter.

    How about you?  How many habits of positive people do you personally find in yourself?  If you lack even a few of these 10 essential habits, you might find that the expected treasure at the end of the rainbow was not all that it was cracked up to be. How could it — if you keep on bringing a negative attitude around?

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    I wish you well in keeping positive, because as we all know, there is certainly nothing positive about being negative!

    Featured photo credit: Janaína Castelo Branco via flickr.com

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