Life can be a bitch when you're feeling anxious. Anxiety can undermine your confidence like nothing else. When feelings of fear take a serious foothold in your life, you can lose your whole sense of self as your self-confidence quickly heads south.
So here are seven simple steps to overcome anxiety:
1. Ask Yourself What You Haven't Accepted Yet
Anxiety is a clue that you're confused about reality and the way things should be. The problem boils down to distorted thinking which leads to confusion about the nature of reality. You're telling yourself that things should be different to how they are, and that's distressing. Once you learn to accept that things are the way they are, your anxiety will dissipate.
Perhaps you already know what it is that you can't accept about reality, or perhaps you're not sure. Often emotions arise in our subconscious and then our conscious mind attempts to come up with a rational explanation. But we don't always get it right; so maybe the thing you're confused about isn't what you think it is. There are many processes for inquiring more deeply into reality. One of my favourites is The Work of Byron Katie described in her book Loving What Is.
2. Get Out Of Your Head
It's the anxious thoughts running around our heads that drive us crazy. Massage is a great way to get out of your head, stop anxious thoughts, and get more in touch with your body. Plus a good massage feels great: The physical touch generates oxytocin in your brain which creates feelings of pleasure. Plus it can relax your sympathetic nervous system, switching of your fight-or-flight response, while stimulating your parasympathetic nervous system which leaves you feeling calmer and more relaxed.
Exercise is another great way to get out of your head. If you're anxious and on high alert, getting your body moving is important. Your body is probably already filled with the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol which you can burn off via exercise. Vigorous exercise will increase your cortisol level temporarily, but a half an hour or so after you stop it drops to below where it was before you exercised. Moderate exercise will get any nervous energy moving through your body, allowing it to dissipate.
3. Do Something Creative
Anxiety can also be harnessed as a creative energy. Playing music, writing, art and other creative pursuits can all provide an outlet for dissipating anxious energy. Rather than trying to push the unpleasant feeling it away, learn to harness it by creating something that connects you more deeply to your own feelings. If your chosen form of art also connects you to other people, that's an added bonus since we are social animals and feeling connected also makes us feel less anxious; but remember to connect to yourself first. Use the anxiety as a catalyst to explore your hidden creativity.
4. Talk About It
Talking about your feelings with another person can also help clarify and dissipate them. We live in an emotionally repressed society where most of us walk around thinking that looking good by keeping our feelings bottled up inside is the way to win other people's love and approval. In fact, this just leaves us emotionally isolated while creating an emotional pressure cooked inside us.
The key to relieving the pressure is to reveal these feelings to somebody with the capacity to show empathy to you. Empathy is the basis of our most meaningful relationships, and these are what make life most fulfilling. If you don't have any friends who can do this or the anxiety is really severe, find a professional who is good at giving empathic emotional support.
5. Stop Trying To Fight It
If you find yourself fighting your anxious thoughts, they will generally just get louder. Learning acceptance is the key to handling anxiety and other unpleasant emotions. Telling yourself that it's terrible that you feel anxious is likely to just make the anxiety even worse. It's not terrible; it's just how you're feeling. A large part of the problem is that western society has systematically trained us to deny, minimise and internalise unpleasant feelings. We push them away, project them onto other people and do anything we possibly can to avoid actually feeling them.
Our habitual response to unpleasant feelings has become suppression, denial and inner struggle. Even the fact that you're reading this article demonstrates that you're trying to push your anxiety away. So when you apply the other tips I suggest, do them in a happy-go-lucky manner simply because they make you feel good, rather than because they alleviate your suffering. Learn to accept how you feel right now rather than trying to fight it, and you'll find over time that unpleasant feelings like anxiety come and go more easily.
6. Face A Problem You're Avoiding
Do you have a significant life issue or current problem that you're avoiding because it seems overwhelming, unsolvable, or just plain too hard to deal with? Are you feeling lost and lacking in life purpose? Do you beat yourself up about this? Are you in a relationship that isn't working? Are you feeling frustrated with your work? Do you have unresolved family issues from the past which keep rearing their ugly head?
There's a reason that you're feeling anxious. Perhaps the anxiety that you're feeling is pointing you towards some problem that you need to face. Even the most overwhelming problem can be solved and the most difficult goal achieved by breaking it down into manageable steps. When you start feeling anxious, just take the next step towards solving your problem or reaching your goal. You don't need to get there right away for the anxiety to dissipate: you just need to demonstrate to yourself that you're taking action towards it.
7. Ask Yourself “Am I Feeling Something Else?”
Often anxiety can be a cover for some other emotion that we've been taught in the past is unacceptable to express. Many of us have seen anger expressed destructively, or have been taught that anger is bad, wrong or evil in some way. A lot of men have also been taught that sadness is a sign of weakness and that crying should be avoided at all cost; which disrupts our natural grief healing process. As a result we've learned to suppress these emotions, often to the point where we don't even recognise them accurately any more.
Emotional energy always has to come out somewhere. Anxiety is largely felt internally; it's not destructive to anyone else and it's not as obvious to other people, so we often mistakenly see it as a safer or somehow more noble outlet than other emotions. The problem with this is that if the underlying emotion isn't actually anxiety, feeling and expressing anxiety doesn't ever dissipate it. You need to access the primary emotion instead in order to release the energy. This is a big topic in itself, so for more clues on this see Section 2: Emotional Mastery in Confident Man.