Is your relationship with anxiety making you miserable? To celebrate Valentine’s Day, here are 7 ways to break up with anxiety… and start to fall in love with yourself.
1. Stop telling anxiety to stop
Have you ever said to yourself ‘I just need to STOP feeling anxious’ – ?
Try this: Do your best NOT to think of a pink sparkly elephant sitting in the corner. And whatever you do, don’t give it a fluffy yellow jumper to wear. And definitely don’t imagine it smoking a pipe.
Our minds are constantly creating; it’s just how we’re designed. I find that the people who come to see me for anxiety counselling usually have extremely vivid imaginations which are unfortunately being used in unhelpful ways.
As you can probably tell by the elephant example, just telling these thoughts to stop is kind of futile. But what we can do is divert them. We can shift anxious thoughts around, scramble them, weaken certain thought patterns and train ourselves to think in more positive ways. NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming) gives us many easy and fun ways we can do this. (Want me to show you how? Click here to book a session.)
2. Disown that anxiety
Have you fallen into the habit of referring to any form of uncomfortable or nervous feelings as ‘MY anxiety’? Do you find yourself frequently dropping the words ‘my anxiety’ into your everyday speech?
The words we use in our day to day language can really send a powerful message to our minds and affect how we feel and behave. So if you suffer from anxiety, you might want to pay attention to the way you talk about it.
Instead of ‘my anxiety’, start to refer to it as ‘this anxiety’, or ‘that anxiety’. Then imagine pushing the feeling away, shrinking it down, throwing it into the sea like a pebble, or kicking it miles away like a football.
Playing around with how you perceive anxious thoughts can start to teach your brain alternative ways to think about it, and lessen the impact it has on you.
3. Unmask the anxiety
Next time you feel an anxious emotion building up, take a few moments to check out what else it could be masking. Is there another feeling hiding behind it, such as restlessness, impatience, or even excitement?
By placing less emphasis on the word anxiety and gaining more clarity around what that specific feeling is, then you can start to gain control of your thoughts and feelings.
When you suffer from chronic anxiety it can really take over your thoughts, to the extent that any kind of heightened sensation seems to indicate one thing: ‘my anxiety has struck again’.
In reality, there are many reasons why nervous or anxious feelings can start to arise. We might be about to do something important for instance, and so our body gives us an extra little shot of energy. It’s easy to misinterpret these kind of signals as ‘my anxiety’ if we’re not used to communicating with our bodies.
It might even be that your body is asking for some basic need such as food or water. We can often ignore feelings of hunger or dehydration if we’re busy or not paying attention. After a while the body has to shout louder to get us to take notice. And it’s easy to misinterpret these urgent requests as stress, anger, or anxiety. Hence words like ‘hangry’ have started to enter our language.
Basic physical requirements can often lead to strong emotions if they’re ignored for too long. If you don’t believe that, think back to the last time you really needed to use the bathroom but you weren’t able to get to one quickly. How stressed did you feel? I think we can all relate to that one!
The practice of mindfulness can be invaluable when it comes to sorting out ‘actual’ anxiety from other feelings. If you suspect you have trouble identifying different bodily sensations, what they mean, and what you can do about them, then I encourage you to begin a daily practice of checking in with your body and asking what it needs from you.
4. Add the magic word
Do you ever find yourself asking apprehensive questions in your mind which start with the words ‘What if…?’
If so, you’re not alone, as this is a very common thought process amongst anxiety sufferers. They constantly ask themselves questions based on an imaginary future episode which they have no control over.
‘What if they don’t like me?’
‘What if they think I’m lazy/stupid/ugly/old/fat?’
‘What if I fail?’
Here’s a magic word to add to those sentences: SO. Just pop this little word in front of any of those sentences to give yourself a totally different perspective on it all:
‘So what if they don’t like me?’ (They obviously have terrible taste)
‘So what if they think I’m ugly?’ (I don’t need judgemental people in my life anyway)
‘So what if I fail?’ (I’ll just learn some valuable lessons then try again)
Adding the magic word ‘so’ will help disempower those ‘what if’ questions and get you shifting your thinking to a much more positive, solution-focused place.
5. Stop feeding the anxiety
Us humans have a tendency to replicate and recycle information. We take in what we see and hear around us, distil it, then put it back out again in our words and actions.
Think of babies and children: they learn how to talk, act, and think, by watching the big people around them. As we grow older ‘the mould sets’ to a certain extent as we establish our patterns and behaviours.
But we’re still open to new information coming in and affecting our way of thinking. For instance, if we move to a different country we may pick up certain words, a different accent, or other ways of being.
And it’s not just other people who have an effect. TV, movies and other forms of media are also constantly providing information for our fertile minds. If that information is scary or dark, it’s perfect fodder for an anxious mind.
So it’s useful to have a think about what kind of ‘programming’ you’re exposing yourself to. Do you watch a lot of horror movies, or disturbing documentaries? Maybe it’s time to switch to a more light-hearted kind of entertainment and feed the more playful side of your mind instead.
6. Lose your interest in anxiety
Do you keep asking yourself WHY you have anxiety?
There are often underlying reasons for anxiety, that’s for sure. And talking about them during counselling can be a very useful part of the healing process.
However, examining the reasons over and over can lead us deeper into the maze of anxiety, re-triggering and reinforcing those uncomfortable thoughts. We can end up bogged down in the whys and wherefores of anxiety, scrutinising our thoughts and feelings to check whether they’re anxious, and constantly wondering ‘why am I feeling this way?’
So why not change the question?
Rather than ‘why?’, what about asking yourself ‘how?’
How do you create that thought/feeling?
This is one of the first questions I ask my clients. And at first it might seem a strange thing to ask. But it can unveil some very useful information.
Everyone has their own way of creating anxiety. For some, it might start as a voice; an internal dialogue that continually asks panicky questions or criticises your every move.
Others may experience anxiety as a physical sensation in their stomach or chest.
It can often be a combination of a few things that all feed into each other.
Once we know how it’s being created then we can get to work unravelling it and training your mind to create different thoughts.
So, lose your interest in the ‘why’, and develop a curiosity in the ‘how’ instead.
7. Stop giving it time
Time is a great healer, it has to be said. But when it comes to anxiety, unfortunately this is not always the case. Simply put, the longer we spend thinking anxious thoughts, the better we get at it.
It’s like we’re training our minds to run that specific pattern of thinking over and over again, until we become champion worriers.
The best thing to do is get straight in there and start retraining your brain as soon as you notice anxious thoughts setting in.
So, are you ready to break up with anxiety?
My online anxiety course will help you get started. CLICK HERE to join my newsletter and gain access to it completely free.
Or if you’d like to get personal support and guidance in beating your anxiety, send me a message below to book an appointment with me. We can work face-to-face in the Glasgow area, online via Skype Counselling, or on the telephone.
Lisa Murphy is a counsellor and hypnotherapist based in Glasgow who specialises in anxiety, anger management, and weight loss.