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3 Specific Ways to Reduce Anxiety

3 Specific Ways to Reduce Anxiety

I want you to picture this image as vividly as possible in your mind:

You’re about to go on stage and deliver a speech to an audience of 100 people.

Quick – what just happened to your heart rate? Check your palms – are they sweaty? Are you breathing faster than you were prior to the visualization?

Congratulations! You’re human!

The vast majority of us become anxious when we are asked to do public speaking. But there are a multitude of other situations in our lives that can bring on this same experience of sudden nerves.

Since anxiety is a particularly uncomfortable emotion to experience, I thought I’d share three quick ways to reduce those feelings down to a much more manageable level. These methods are particularly useful for anticipatory anxiety when we need to compete, perform, or be tested in some way.

1. Why taking a deep breath is an annoying but essential piece of advice.

Don’t you just hate it when you’re nervous about something and someone says, “Just take a deep breath . . .?”

It’s annoying because it seems trite, but the reality is that taking a deep breath is helpful on many different levels.

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First, taking a deep breath stimulates the Vagus nerve. This is a nerve that starts in the brain and wanders throughout the body to just about every organ.

The Vagus nerve is part of the parasympathetic nervous system, the system that our body uses to rest-and-digest, as opposed to the fight-or-flight mechanism of the sympathetic nervous system.

So, activating the Vagus nerve helps to calm us down. And one of the ways it does this is quite noticeable: it slows down your heart beat. This is particularly helpful because it’s very easy to feel your heart rate rise and become more anxious because of it.

The best way to activate the Vagus nerve is to take a deep breath through your nose such that you engage your diaphragm (stick your belly out on the in breath), hold it for a few seconds, then release the air through your mouth in a big sigh as though you were extremely relieved about something.

One of the other benefits of taking a deep breath is that you can use it as a reminder to stay in the present moment. Anxiety is often triggered by fretting about the past and worrying about the future.

Allow your deep breath to remind you to stay fully in the present moment. That breath can easily cue you to get out of your head and back into the world that is currently in front of you.

Finally, a deep breath just feels really good! And there’s certainly nothing wrong with that. When your body feels good, your anxiety will diminish.

2. Use positive visualization.

When you are feeling anxious because of an upcoming event, use visualization to boost your confidence and rein in your nerves.

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Picture yourself engaging in the event, feeling confident, and performing well. You might also visualize a similar previous situation in which you did well and replay that in your mind several times.

Make sure you don’t replay negative events!

Another method of visualization is to use the “as if” technique. Act “as if” you have already achieved the outcome you want.

For example, the other day I presented a workshop to dog handlers who participate in dog sports such as agility competitions. Sometimes they or their dogs will have a trouble spot on the course that causes them to be disqualified from that particular event. Rather than focus on the trouble spot, I encouraged them to act as if they and their dogs had already mastered that skill. The increase in confidence of the handler is then picked up by the dog.

Try the “as if” approach the next time you face your own difficult course!

One caveat about visualization though: it is a technique that needs to be practiced. Unlike the deep breath which can be used anytime and anywhere, visualization takes a bit more time and is most effective if practiced at least on a daily basis.

3. Get some perspective.

Many times we get so hooked into our anxiety and the thoughts that accompany it that we lose perspective on the source of our anxiety.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst thing that can happen?”

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If the answer is, “I could die,” then you have something to worry about!

But the reality is that most of the time the worst thing that can happen is that we might be embarrassed, be disappointed, or have to revise future expectations if we didn’t pass a test or something similar.

We don’t like to be embarrassed, be disappointed, or have to change plans, but it’s not going to kill us. Besides, I bet you’ve been through all of those things at some time in your life already, right? And here you are still able to read this post! (i.e., you didn’t die from it.)

Another question that is not only helpful to get anxious events in focus, but also life in general is:

“What do you want on your tombstone?”

Do you want people at your funeral to say,

“Yes, she passed that test way back in 2013. I’ll always remember her for that.”

“Remember the time he asked for a raise so calmly? What a guy.”

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No, you want people to remember you for your values. For who you truly were as a person.

“She was so kind and loving to everyone she met.”

“He was always so genuine and authentic with people.”

So, in the long run, it’s likely that the event you are so anxious about today won’t be the thing that you are remembered for.

A little perspective can go a long way in helping you reduce your anxiety.

So remember: Take a deep breath, practice positive visualization, and get a little perspective. You’re well on your way to setting those butterflies in your stomach free!

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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