8 Tips To Adjust Your Anxious Brain
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
– Maya Angelou
I’ve been pondering writing this article for some time. What has prevented me is every time I sit down to write, I have an immediate sensation of feeling frustrated which – makes me grumpy. Yes, grumpy.
I hear people constantly complaining about their anxiety. I certainly understand this in our world today: COVID worries – to mask or not to mask – get vaccinated or not get vaccinated – work from home or at the office, people losing their homes, lack of food, raging forest fires, floods, and on it goes.
However, these things are not necessarily what I feel grumpy about.
I feel grumpy because there are so many tried and true mental tools available to help reduce anxiety and, many, many do not take advantage of it.
Perhaps they think their time is too valuable for self-care or that it will not make a difference. Maybe they prefer spending their time trying to control the uncontrollable or perhaps, secretly, they are addicted to anxiety and worry (Yes, you can be.) Or they are plain lazy and expect someone else to help them.
So, please help me reduce my frustration and eliminate my feeling grumpy.
Here are tried and true tools that I guarantee will help you reduce your anxiety. Use them and share them. You can change your brain for the better.
Anxious Brain Tip #1: Gain Understanding into Your Anxiety
What doesn’t get acknowledged and investigated does not change.
Become your own ‘anxiety detective’.
When you feel anxiety, what thoughts are you thinking? What fear-based pictures and images are you holding about the future or regrets from the past?
Take a moment to write down or record your worrisome and anxious thoughts. This should only take a minute or so.
Being your own ‘anxiety detective’ is an effortless way to both reduce the psychological impact of a negative thought and to see your fears from a more dispassionate perspective.
Anxious Brain Tip #2: Challenge Your Inner Critic
This may come as a shock but – just because you think it, doesn’t mean it’s true.
If you fall into the trap of believing all your thoughts, you will be doomed to wallowing in anxiety.
Thoughts can be deceiving. Your thoughts are just your thoughts and that does not necessarily make them true.
As an ‘anxiety detective’ challenge your own thoughts. In Tip #1, I asked you to write down your negative thoughts. At the very least, observe your physical self. If you feel tense, a knot in your stomach, shoulders hunched or your face crunched in a frown, stop and notice what you are thinking.
Next, challenge the thought. Ask yourself, “What is the REAL evidence that my fear-based thought (picture and image) is real? How probable is it that my thought will become real?
Applying this one concept to manage your thinking will lighten you up, ease your pain and lower your anxiety.
Anxious Brain Tip #3: Stop Catastrophizing and Get Grounded
We humans are wired to catastrophize about the future. Thousands of years ago it served our survival, motivating us to prepare for battle or store food. IT’S NOT LIKE THAT ANY MORE!
Notice your negative thought, take a deep breath, observe the thought and say to yourself: “ISN’T THAT INTERESTING!”
This is the perfect tool to ground yourself, return to the present and deal with what can be dealt with now.
Anxious Brain Tip #4: Switch on Your Inner Stillness
What is the single best tool to break the fear-based ‘flight or fight’ syndrome?
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Breathe deeply six times.
You will unconsciously trigger the parasympathetic nervous system to immediately lower your rapid heartbeat, regain focus and balance.
Anxious Brain Tip #5: Visualize Your Anxiety Floating Away.
Your ability to apply your imagination and visualize is unique to you and, like it or not, you do it all the time.
If you are catastrophizing about the future, you are already quite proficient at visualization. So, use your skill for your greater good.
For four decades I have taught an amazingly simple, practical and powerful tool to assist others in letting go of fearful thoughts.
Vividly Imagine/Visualize your fearful, scary and stressful thought trapped inside a large helium balloon. The balloon is floating above you which you are holding by a string. As you picture the balloon with the negative thought inside, a powerful wind comes along and yanks the string from your hand.
You watch as the worrisome thought floats away.
Anxious Brain Tip #6: Stop Being Your Own Diagnostician
We have far too much information at our fingertips, much of which is incorrect.
It is inevitable that those who Google their symptoms end up either scaring themselves or treating a malady incorrectly. This is a surefire way to increase your anxiety.
It’s OK to use the internet for your general knowledge, but see your doctor for his/her opinion and diagnosis.
Anxious Brain Tip #7: Smash Apart Black and White Thinking
As the self-contradicting adage says, “Always” and “Never” statements are always false and never true.” “Always” and “Never” statements are often used by those who cannot live in the ambiguity of the “gray area of reality.”
“Always” and “Never” are frequently used by people when they are arguing in order to emphasize or illustrate the ‘rightness’ of their position. As the writers of the ‘Out of the Fog’ blog observe: “They fit neatly into the split, black and white world of their thinking. They are most often used in an accusatory, argumentative or self-pitying way.”
Consider the following, many of which I’ve heard my private clients use:
- You never listen to me.
- You never say, “I love you.”
- Father never loved me.
- You always insist on having the last word.
- I never get any attention.
- You are always shouting and screaming.
Start to become aware when you say the words “always” or “never” and ask yourself, “Is this real or, am I whining, blaming or mired in self-pity?
Anxious Brain Tip #8: Repeat to Yourself or Others “This Too Shall Pass.”
No matter how much your subconscious ‘flight or fight’ anxiety prompts you to believe that your stress is never going to end, challenge it.
It is simply a ‘feeling’, not reality. Even in the most extreme of situations, even when your mind is going ‘crazy’ with anxiety worries, the truth is – feelings are mercurial and – shift and pass.
So, PLEASE apply these 8 tips for managing your anxious brain and support me to stop feeling frustrated and grumpy.
Thank you in advance.
James Mapes is the founder of Quantum Leap Thinking™, creator of The Transformational Coach™, expert on the psychology of “applied imagination,” best-selling author, highly acclaimed business speaker, consultant, seminar leader and personal excellence coach.