This past week has honestly been a bit off for me, as I have been experiencing some anxious thoughts. For the first few days of having this anxiety, I simply wallowed in it and allowed it to spiral--it's easy to give in to negative emotions and worry. Eventually, I set up a life-coaching call, talked it out with friends, as difficult as it was to do and mindfully practiced reframing my thoughts. I'm still working through this anxiety and dedicated today to practice the following exercises listed below that have, in other events, helped me calm and return to the present.
I share that I experience anxiety because I think it's important for others to understand that everyone, from time to time, experiences worry and anxiety--they're normal, human emotions. Even someone who regularly practices mindfulness can experience that knotted feeling of anxiousness, and find their thoughts spiraling.
A quick disclaimer: I am not a licensed therapist and am still working to receive my BA in psychology. Everything I will be sharing on anxiety is derived from my personal experiences, books I've read, videos I've watched, or based on theories and research I've learned in classes. Take everything with a grain of salt, and if your anxiety worsens, I suggest seeking professional help! There's no shame in doing so.
Before we dive into this post, let's first talk about what anxiety is in relation to worry and fear. By understanding anxiety, releasing anxious thoughts can be easier and we can better work to find long-term solutions.
What is Anxiety?
In the book, Every Word Has Power by Yvonne Oswald (which I wrote a review on here), Yvonne describes anxiety by comparing it to fear. Fear is when something is happening to us, while anxiety is the worry that something could happen. For example, fear is when a lion is charging at you, while anxiety is looking at a lion at a zoo and worrying that it could charge at you. But, it may still feel like we're being charged by a lion, and let me explain why.
Our subconscious brain is a filing system, not a place for cognitive thinking. Therefore, our subconscious cannot differentiate the past, the present, and the future. If you see a lion, your brain may present images of a hungry lion tackling you to the ground, therefore flipping on your stress signals and causing you to panic. Our minds are much more powerful than we realize!
When I think of anxiety as the stress of something, not the actual action, I feel much more relaxed and can better reevaluate my anxiety. You can assure yourself that you're not in pain or danger--it's only your thoughts and your subconscious feeding you images.
Of course, anxiety can also be good for us. When we're walking the streets at night, alone, we may be anxious and worry that we'll be attacked. Our stress signals turn on, causing us to be aware and cautious. We may even grip our pepper spray a little tighter. Anxiety is your body's natural response to stress and, like all emotions, it is there to guide us and protect us.
But we don't always need it. By practicing the following exercises, you can shift your thoughts from an anxious, fear-based state to a calm and present state.
The Choose-Again Method
Gabrielle Bernstein teaches the Choose-Again Method in her most recent book, Super Attractor. She also taught it in-depth at her conference I was so lucky to attend with my mom! The Choose-Again Method is the easiest and simplest exercise and can help release anxious thoughts in a matter of moments.
Think of the worry and fear, and forgive yourself for feeling this way, as it is completely normal. Then, replace the anxiety with love. An example of this would be fearing the future, or what may happen down the road. Rather than sit and feel fearful, shift your focus to feel excited about the future! Maybe fantasize about your future romantic partner and children, and visualize the life you do want, not the life you fear. If you're worried about an exam, think about the best-case scenario and envision yourself holding up an A+ on your report card! Regardless of the anxiety, we can use this method to simply reframe our perception, and go on feeling thrilled, rather than fearful.
For more on this topic, check out my post: Why your self-talk could be blocking your happiness.
What can I do about this?
Meghan Livingstone presented this idea in one of her videos. There's no title for it, so I hope you enjoy the title I chose, aha. Basically, you ask yourself the following questions:
Is there something I can do about this anxiety?
If yes, what is it? Jot down an action plan or reframe your thinking. Find a positive solution! Then, let it go.
If no, maybe dive deeper into why you're feeling this way, then let it go.
Regardless of your answer, in the end, you must let it go.
Sometimes, there's nothing we can do about a situation. In these cases, we have to simply turn away from it and find something else to focus on, as hard as it may be. One example of this is dying--one of my main anxieties. As difficult as it is to imagine, dying is inevitable and life is only a short gift for each and every one of us.
What we can do when faced with death anxiety is to make it a priority to enjoy all the little things of life and go out and live happily and fearlessly. Make this life a great one that leaves a great impact. Perhaps expand your spiritual beliefs and connect to your guardians. Then, let it go.
Letting it go may sound challenging, but remember: we don't always need anxiety. And it doesn't feel too good to have it lurking around, anyway. It's okay to say goodbye to worry. By doing so, we can continue onward to a fulfilling and joyful life.
A "calm" meditation
Sit back, and close your eyes. Breathe in for the count of four, hold for the count of four, and breathe out for the count of five. Do this five times, or until you feel completely relaxed.
Imagine the word "calm" appearing before you. What color is it? What is it's texture? What does it look like?
Now, think of a place or a moment that reminds you of calm. Perhaps the beach, or a cozy spot in your home, or sipping morning coffee as the sun rises. Think of the way this place, this calm moment makes you feel, and visualize yourself there now.
Return to your breath when you are ready. Breathe in calm and clarity, and breathe out anxiety, worry, fear, and negative thoughts. Do this until you feel at peace.
Open your eyes, and observe your surroundings for a few moments until you feel ready to return to your day.
Focusing on the breath is a great way to bring calm and clarity to your racing mind. Visualization, too, is incredibly powerful because the subconscious truly believes you are in that place, in that calm moment. If you do try this mediation, let me know how you enjoy it!
I hope these exercises help calm your anxious mind so that you can return to the present moment and truly enjoy right now. There is so much to enjoy, anyway!
Feeling anxious isn't fun in the slightest, I know first-hand, but remember that it's also important to pay attention to these thoughts and figure out why we're feeling this way. If the thoughts continue appearing, maybe journal about them, or as I mentioned in the beginning, seek professional help. Then, while aware of possible triggers, it'll be easier to combat the anxiety and feel calm.
How do you release anxious thoughts? Let me know below!