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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 December 2, 2019

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today

    Plato knew that the body and mind are intimately linked. And in the late 1800s, the Mayo brothers, famous physicians, estimated that over half of all hospital beds are filled with people suffering from frustration, anxiety, worry and despair. Causes of worry are everywhere, in our relationships and our jobs, so it’s key we find ways to take charge of the stress.

    In his classic book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, Dale Carnegie offers tools to ditch excessive worrying that help you make a worry-free environment for your private and professional life.

    These are the top 10 tips to grab worry by the horns and wrestle it to the ground:

    1. Make Your Decision and Never Look Back

    Have you ever made a decision in life only to second-guess it afterwards? Of course you have! It’s hard not to wonder whether you’ve done the right thing and whether there might still be time to take another path.

    But keep this in mind: you’ve already made your decision, so act decisively on it and dismiss all your anxiety about it.

    Don’t stop to hesitate, to reconsider, or to retrace your steps. Once you’ve chosen a course of action, stick to it and never waver.

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    2. Live for Today, Package Things up in “Day-Tight Compartments”

    You know that feeling: tossing, turning and worrying over something that happened or something that might, well into the wee hours. To avoid this pointless worrying, you need “day-tight compartments”. Much as a ship has different watertight compartments, your own “day-tight” ones are a way to limit your attention to the present day.

    The rule is simple: whatever happened in the past or might happen in the future must not intrude upon today. Everything else has to wait its turn for tomorrow’s box or stay stuck in the past.

    3. Embrace the Worst-Case Scenario and Strategize to Offset It

    If you’re worried about something, ask yourself: “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Could you lose your job? Be jailed? Get killed?

    Whatever the “worst” might be, it’s probably not so world-ending. You could probably even bounce back from it!

    If, for example, you lose your job, you could always find another. Once you accept the worst-case scenario and get thinking about contingency plans, you’ll feel calmer.

    4. Put a Lid on Your Worrying

    Sometimes we stress endlessly about negative experiences when just walking away from them would serve us far better.

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    To make squashing that worry easier, try this strategy, straight from stock traders: it’s called the “stop-loss” order, where shares are bought at a certain price, and then their price development is observed. If things go badly and the share price hits a certain point, they are sold off immediately. This stops the loss from increasing further.

    In the same manner, you can put a stop-loss order on things that cause you stress and grief.

    5. Fake It ‘Til You Make It – Happiness, That Is

    We can’t directly influence how we feel, but we can nudge ourselves to change through how we think and act.

    If you’re feeling sad or low, slap a big grin on your face and whistle a chipper tune. You’ll find it impossible to be blue when acting cheerful. But you don’t necessarily need to act outwardly happy; you can simply think happier thoughts instead.

    Marcus Aurelius summed it up aptly:

    “Our life is what our thoughts make it.”

    6. Give for the Joy of Giving

    When we perform acts of kindness, we often do so with the expectation of gratitude. But harboring such expectations will probably leave you disappointed.

    One person well aware of this fact was the lawyer Samuel Leibowitz. Over the course of his career, Leibowitz saved 78 people from going to the electric chair. Guess how many thanked him? None.

    So stop expecting gratitude when you’re kind to someone. Instead, take joy from the act yourself.

    7. Dump Envy – Enjoy Being Uniquely You

    Your genes are completely unique. Even if someone had the same parents as you, the likelihood of someone identical to you being born is just one in 300,000 billion.

    Despite this amazing fact, many of us long to be someone else, thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. But living your life this way is pointless. Embrace your uniqueness and get comfortable with who you really are: How to Be True to Yourself and Live the Life You Want

    8. Haters Will Hate — It Just Means You’re Doing It Right

    When you’re criticized, it often means you’re accomplishing something noteworthy. In fact, let’s take it a step further and consider this: the more you’re criticized, the more influential and important a person you likely are.

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    So the next time somebody talks you down, don’t let it get to you. Take it as a compliment!

    9. Chill Out! Learn to Rest Before You Get Tired

    Scientists agree that emotions are the most common cause of fatigue. And it works the other way around, too: fatigue produces more worries and negative emotions.

    It should be clear, therefore, that you’ve got to relax regularly before you feel tired. Otherwise, worries and fatigue will accumulate on top of each other.

    It’s impossible to worry when you are relaxed, and regular rest helps you maintain your ability to work effectively.

    10. Get Organized and Enjoy Your Work

    There are few greater sources of misery in life than having to work, day in, day out, in a job you despise. It would make sense then that you shouldn’t pick a job you hate, or even just dislike doing.

    But say you already have a job. How can you make it more enjoyable and worry-free? One way is to stay organized: a desk full of unanswered mails and memos is sure to breed worries.

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    Better yet, rethink about the job you’re doing: What to Do When You Hate Your Job but Want a Successful Career

    More About Living a Fulfilling Life

    Featured photo credit: Tyler Nix via unsplash.com

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