From White Knuckling It to Letting Go. My 5 Tips for Alleviating Anxiety
By Matt Rosenman
If you suffer from any level of anxiety, then you and I are very similar. I have never been this candid about my anxiety, but I want to be relatable to everyone else out there suffering with anxiety on some level. I understand how debilitating it can be, but I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be.
For years, I struggled with social anxiety. It started off as something I was able to keep my grip on, but it kept getting away from me.
It got to the point where I couldn’t go the supermarket without having a panic attack or even sit at the dinner table. My life was filled with “what ifs,” and nothing outside of my own room felt safe.
The further I strayed from my safe place, the more worried I became. At a point, I felt hopeless and depressed. I never understood how people could be depressed when life is so great, but all of a sudden, I understood. I wasn’t happy, and I was bringing down everyone else around me, so I decided I really needed to change.
I’m an independent person—I was always one of those students that learned better on my own rather than in the classroom setting. I believe that’s why my countless efforts with the numerous psychologists only took me so far. I finally found a life-changing self-coaching book that helped me tremendously. And, yet, I found that the harder I tried, the more attention I brought to my anxiety and the worse it fought. I wrote a note to the doctor and author of the book, begging for help, who told me that I was trying too hard and that I needed to learn to let go and live in the moment.
Trying too hard? If you want to beat anxiety, is it really as easy as just letting go of it? Actually, yes it is. And I’m going to help you.
How to Live in the Present Moment
We can think of our anxious thoughts as if our mind were running on a hamster wheel. Round and round it goes, and the harder we try to fight the thoughts, the faster our mind races. Every time we try to stop our anxiety, we draw attention to it and spin the wheel faster and faster. If you’re experiencing a panic attack, trying to stop it will often make it seem that much worse. How do you get off the wheel? You stop running.
I will give you the top five ways that I have found work to help you live in the present moment and stop worrying.
1. At least once a day, free your mind and experience the world.
Take any activity you want during your day and try to do it as completely as possible. Using as many senses as you can, try to stay completely submerged in this activity for five minutes. If you are going for a walk, breathe in the fresh air, notice the beautiful clouds above, feel the leaves surrounding you, listen to the birds chirping. You can use this on any activity, even washing the dishes or folding laundry. If other thoughts pop into your head, let them come and go and then refocus yourself on the activity. By activating all of your senses, you will completely engage yourself in the moment. Upon completion, you will find that for those five minutes, all of life’s stressors were nonexistent. Practicing this every day, even for only five minutes, will form a habit and make living in the moment a regular occurrence.
2. Trust your instincts.
As anyone with anxiety can tell you, it’s the “what ifs” that get to you the most. We are worriers, and we are always worrying about something happening to us in the future. What if I make a fool of myself? What if I get sick? What if nobody likes me? It’s tiring and extremely unproductive. But how do you stop worrying and trust your instincts? In the book I read, they give a very simple, yet powerful, metaphor: When you get in your car and go for a drive, do you plan out what you would do at every moment if a squirrel jumped out in front of you? You don’t because you trust your instincts to take over in that moment, and you know you do not need to plan for it. In life, we need to trust our instincts to take over in stressful situations and stop planning ahead so much. Live your life and trust yourself.
3. Stop procrastinating.
A major thing that a lot of worriers tend to do is procrastinate. We will do whatever we can to avoid stressful situations, so we try to put them off as long as possible and hope that they will just go away. However, they never do go away, and we just end up making it harder on ourselves to follow through. Now, make a conscious effort every single day to stop procrastinating. Whatever it is that you are avoiding, drop everything and do it right now. Need to make a phone call? Need to get on the treadmill? Need to write a research paper? Stop reading this and do it right now. No excuses.
4. Do what you love.
It is no coincidence that my anxiety was helped tremendously when I began doing what I love in life. I was on the wrong career path, which was absolutely giving me unnecessary stress. Once I began pursuing a career doing what I love, I found that I didn’t even have to think about living in the moment. By doing what I enjoy most in life, I am able to put my heart into it and completely submerge myself in my work. When I’m doing what I love, nothing else matters, and I forgot about the anxious thoughts. If you’re not going after your dream job, at least make the effort to make time for something you love every single day. Take a walk every morning, volunteer at the animal shelter, read a good book. Whatever your favorite hobbies are, make time for them every day and watch your anxiety take a back seat.
I purposely saved this one for last because I find it to be the most important. Make time in your life for laughter and joy. Surround yourself with people you enjoy spending time with and joke around with them. Or stay inside and watch a funny movie or funny clips on the internet. It doesn’t matter how you find laughter, what’s important is that you find it. Not only do smiling and laughing release endorphins that heighten your mood, they also teach you how to enjoy your life. Give just one minute of your day to laughter and then write down how you feel when that minute is over. I bet your first thought it not about your anxiety.
Anxiety is just a habit that we fuel every single day. And as with all other habits, we have a choice. We can continue to feed it and live with it every single day, or we can let it go. Once you learn to let go, you’ll find just how spectacular life can be.
This isn’t something that can just happen overnight, and it does not mean that you can all of a sudden just choose to drop your anxiety and be “healed.” If you are currently seeing a psychologist or taking a supplement or practicing breathing techniques, continue them. But just remember that we are working toward a goal of letting go. Everything we do to deal with our anxiety, we are doing it to be able to live our lives and not worry anymore. Never lose sight of this goal.
All we have to do is get off the wheel. Once we do, we have the choice to never get back on again.
Matt Rosenman is a web and graphic designer who recently started inspiration4.us to provide online support for the many people out there who are afraid to follow their dreams and go after what they love. He is encouraging those who long for and define success as pure happiness, a comfortable living, and never spending one day feeling like you’re “working” to experience and move through the frustrations and sacrifices because at the top of every mountain, there is a beautiful view to be witnessed. Matt can also be found on Facebook and Twitter.