The world…and you…are facing anxious times.
And anxiety can affect EVERYTHING in you! In fact, anxiety can be a many-headed beast! And any single technique for managing it probably won’t be enough.
However, over the past few decades, studies have revealed what common sense and ancient wisdom told us long ago: that our well-being depends on three simple practices: 1. Minding our thoughts, 2. Facing our fears, and 3. Being in the present.
1. Minding our thoughts
Anxiety is always making predictions, and we often mistake those predictions for reality. For example, anxiety says, “You’re going to fail,” and we take that statement as a fact. BUT ANXIOUS PREDICTIONS ARE NOT FACT any more than weather forecasts are weather.
However, when you pay closer attention to what your mind is up to, you’ll discover that it’s a reliable source of fake news. It has a strong Things-Won’t-Work-Out-for-You bias that comes through in every headline. You have Covid 19. You’re going to get Covid 19. Your loved ones are in danger. All of this will turn out badly.
However, when we recognize anxious thoughts as only stories, we can start to question their veracity. Is your anxious prediction the only possible outcome? Or are there alternative endings that anxiety has not imagined?
So start here:
What are the odds? When you notice your anxiety: Think about how likely that outcome really is. Has it happened many times in the past? Is it the most likely outcome? Are there other things that could happen instead?
According to Robert Leagy in The Worry Cure, 85 percent of what subjects worried about never happened, and with the 15 percent that did happen, 79 percent of subjects discovered they could handle the difficulty better than expected, or the difficulty taught them a lesson worth learning. This means that 97 percent of what you worry over is not much more than a fearful mind punishing you with exaggerations and misperceptions.
So redirect your energy!
2. Face your fears
Anxiety compels us to avoid the things we’re afraid of. However, avoidance only leads to more fear! The more we avoid, the more we reinforce what we are afraid of. For example, if we avoid certain social interactions because we’re afraid they’ll be awkward, we’ll strengthen our fear of those situations. Avoidance can also lead to more avoidance.
Each time we avoid something that makes us anxious, we feel a sense of relief. However, your brain interprets this as a reward and this reward makes it even more likely that we’ll avoid again in the future. In the process, our world shrinks and we miss out on positive experiences. (Incidentally, this is the reason that anxiety often leads to depression.)
You may also start to see yourself as inadequate to face life's challenges. However, nothing conquers anxiety so powerfully as facing what you’re afraid of. When you stop avoiding, you give your brain a chance to learn something new. As Leahy discovered, the vast majority of the disasters never come true. What you find instead are manageable problems that you can handle.
So start here; stare down your fear.
Look for ways which fear hold you back—at work, in your relationships, or in your free time.
• Face one of your fears today
• Choose something that is somewhat challenging yet manageable.
• Reach out to someone close to you for support if necessary.
• Imagine what your life would look like if you pushed through one fear every day.
3. Be in the present
Most of our anxieties are based on about an imagined future.
This is not to say that problems never exist in the present. Indeed, life might be seen as a series of problems we must face. However, our amazing mind CAN handle each of our problems as it arises, in real time, using our experience and abilities.
A crucial part of being present is embracing the unknown. When we let go of our anxious preoccupation with the future, we accept that uncertainty is baked into life. We can’t know the end from the beginning, and efforts to do so only degrade our experience.
So start here; embrace uncertainty.
Granted that It is uncomfortable not knowing in advance how our lives will go: Will I stay healthy? Will I succeed? Will people love me? Or on a smaller scale, Will I find a parking space? Will I be late? Yet trying to know in advance how things will go often leads to worry and anxiety. Rather, treat today as an opportunity to be open to—even embrace—the fundamental uncertainty built into our existence.
And when you choose to think this way, your brain says “Ok!” Is what you are saying true? “Don’t care! All I care about is what YOU tell me!”
Steven Campbell is the author of “Making Your Mind Magnificent.” His seminar “Taming Your Mind, Unleashing Your Life” is now available online at stevenrcampbell.teachable.com. For more information, call Steven Campbell at 707-480-5507.