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12 Tools To Calm The Anxious Mind (#8 Works Every Time)
No matter who you are, everyone goes through difficult times where anxious thoughts and worries overwhelm you. Sometimes, your mind is so filled with these thoughts that you can’t even make a decision and deal with the problem! Anxious feelings can lead to overthinking, which only makes you more anxious, which leads to more thinking …How do you get off this merry-go-round?! Trying to forget about it will only work for an hour or two at best.
So what can you do to stop that over-anxious mind so you can deal with the problem? We have 12 of the best tools you can whip out anytime you find your mind is racing, and you can’t stop it. If one of these tools doesn’t work, try another one. You can conquer those thoughts if you know what to do. Keep reading! You will sleep better tonight when you aren’t plagued by those anxious thoughts and feelings.
1. Decide if These Thoughts are Helpful
Simply because something is true doesn’t mean that it is helpful to you to be thinking about constantly. For example, if someone told you that your chance of getting that promotion was only 50 percent, even if those odds were true, would you change anything by dwelling on that number? In fact, it can do you a great deal of harm if you allow that thought to ruin your motivation so much that you don’t even throw your hat in the ring. Focus on a thought that is helpful to you, such as, “I’m going to be in the top 50 percent!” If a thought is not helpful to you, drop it and choose another one.
2. Broaden Your View
Many times, anxious people focus narrowly on the threatening or bad parts of a situation, rather than looking at the entire picture. When we feel anxious, it’s easy to look at the threat, but why not look up and consider the whole picture? Ok, so you accidentally accepted two dinner dates with two prospective clients. Rather than figuring that no matter who you choose to cancel on will leave and possibly take your job with them, why not see that this gives you an opportunity to let these clients meet or to try a different venue instead of dinner, making you look creative? If there are tons of ways to see things, why focus on the most negative aspect?
3. Distance Yourself
Imagine that your anxious thoughts are guesses or worst case scenarios, not facts. Your mind will try to protect you by imagining what could happen. This means that just because it could happen doesn’t mean that it will. Try to look at objective facts instead. Imagine that someone else is telling you about this problem: what would you suggest to them?
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These don’t work for everyone, but for those who do use them, affirmations can really help. An affirmation is a simply short sentence that you say to yourself to calm your mind and make yourself feel better. Anything that works for you is fine. For example, you could try “No one has died so it’s really not so bad.” Or “I have a great life and I will move forward.” Or even “This is just anxiety, nothing I can’t work out.” These are only examples. Choose words and phrases that work for you.
5. Defuse the Situation
Try to think of your anxious thoughts as just data passing through your mind and not as objective facts. Like music that passes through your ears, you decide if you like a song or if you don’t. You can look at each thought and decide whether it is worth bothering with or not. Some of our thoughts are nothing more than reactions that are fed to us automatically because our brains have either been conditioned since childhood to think this way, or, it is your brain being overly sensitive to threats and danger as a means of survival. Whichever is true for you, you can choose to see thoughts as things passing through and not absolute truths.
6. Get Up and Get Moving
Sitting there worrying about something and going over and over it in your mind when you cannot reach a conclusion or solution only makes the problem bigger and more difficult to solve. In fact, dwelling on a problem for long periods of time tends to get you stuck in one place, unable to decide anything for fear of “what if.” You know: What if I choose A and it all goes to hell? But what if I choose B, and that would be even worse … What if I make the wrong choice? What if everyone blames me because of this? Blah blah blah. When your mind gets stuck in this kind of loop, you can cut it short by getting up and doing something. Anything! Do something that forces your brain to think of something else. When you come back to the problem, you should have a new take on things.
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7. Label It
Try labeling the thought that you are having, rather than paying attention to it. For example, when you have a thought and make a judgment call, label that thought “Judgmental.” When you are worrying about something (especially things over which you have no control) simply label that one “Worry.” When you criticize yourself, label it “Criticizing.” Try not to notice what the thought is actually about, just label it and move on. If it helps, imagine a box or a file cabinet where you mentally put each thought in its own “file,” then close the drawer.
8. Make a Question Checklist
Begin to make a question checklist every time you start to feel anxiety over a situation. Don’t throw it away when you are done — you will add to it as time goes on. As your checklist becomes longer, you will find that your thoughts become clearer and more realistic, calming your anxiety. Questions you can use include things like: Is there actually something wrong, or am I just worried about something going wrong? What proof do I have that something is wrong or will go wrong? Am I blowing this out of proportion? Do I have other options? What other things should I do if this does happen?
9. Stay in the Present
So much of what we worry about never happens. Your worrying did not change the situation; you only did harm to yourself by going over and over a negative situation that never happened. Even worrying that whatever happened in your past will happen again is a waste of time. Are you the same person now as you were then? Try asking yourself if your circumstances have changed, or if you have changed. Focus on what you can do and what you know today — not yesterday, not tomorrow, but today.
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10. Focus on What Is
Your mind will create stories about who you are, how safe you are in a given situation, and how loveable you are. Note we said your mind “creates” these stories, as they aren’t always true. Due to past negative experiences, our minds become biased in what they believe. For example, if you once ate blueberries on a camping trip and you later broke out in hives, your brain might tell you, “you are allergic to blueberries.” Your brain’s job is to protect you, but is that accurate? Do you know for certain that you are allergic to blueberries? Or did you run into some poison ivy when you were picking them? So when you feel anxious, ask yourself, what is your experience in the present moment? Is this actually happening to you, or is it something that could happen? Notice that these are generally not the same thing, but your mind might try to tell you that they are.
Practice simply watching your thoughts go by, rather than dwelling on them and reacting to them. Picture them as clouds passing overhead. Pay attention to which thoughts make you pause and want to think about them more and which thoughts make you want to run and hide. Is there a way that you can disentangle yourself from your thoughts and simply watch them, rather than react to them?
12. Let It All Out
If nothing else seems to work, just let it all out. For some people, trying to control their anxiety only makes them more anxious. This is most likely because the stress your body goes through trying to control anxiety only makes you more stressed. So, rather than try to deal with it, let it go. Go absolutely nuts and indulge. Find a place where you can be alone and feel free to go berserk. Scream and yell, cry and shake your fist at the sky, imagine yourself dancing on someone’s grave, cover yourself with confetti, sing dirty or angry songs at the top of your lungs, rip up an entire phone book (do they still make those?), and throw it into the air. Whatever makes you feel better, go all the way and do it! Don’t break anything important to you and don’t do something you might regret (like streak across your kid’s graduation stage), but be sure you completely exhaust yourself. As long as what you are doing is safe, you will be surprised at just how relaxed you feel afterwards.
There is no magic pill for anxiety. The best you can hope for is to learn ways to manage it when it strikes.
Ncbi.nlm.nih.gov – health impacts of yoga