Anxiety isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Anxiety helped our ancestors guard against lion attacks, avoid poisonous foods and ward off general threats to their existence – and it functions much the same way for modern humans. Problems arise however when we are unable to qualify the threats to our existence. This can lead to panic or an anxiety attack.
If you are a worrier prone to the occasional or regular anxiety attack, you probably know it. You probably worry about all the big things (nuclear war, death of everyone you know, end of the world) as well as many small things (what to wear, what to read, hey did she look at me funny?)
That’s not to say we don’t have things to make us anxious. Modern humans have plenty to worry about, from terrorist threats and wild gunmen to heart disease, breakups and death by PCBs. But they don’t have to lead to an anxiety attack.
Anxiety is defined as “an unpleasant state of inner turmoil, often accompanied by nervous behavior, such as pacing back and forth, somatic complaints and rumination.” “Somatic complaints” is a fancy way to say bodily illness – meaning that your anxiety can actually contribute to sickness, disease and even death.
Anxiety is a natural response to perceived threats, so learning to ax your anxiety requires a little effort to tamper your mind’s predisposed path to worry. Try these following strategies to reduce your anxiety and live a more carefree life.
1. Decipher between rational fears and irrational fears – and kick irrational fears to the curb. Perhaps you just received a doctor’s report that you have a mysterious lump that needs to be checked out. Fearing disease is rational at this point. Perhaps you also fear that your family will be killed by a terrorist attack. But in reality, terrorist attacks are few and far between – the Global Terrorism Database tells us that only 30 Americans have been killed in terrorist attacks inside the U.S. in the last 10 years.
This fear is fairly irrational, which is true of most fears involving the future: I will never get married, I will never get out of debt, I will never find a good job. Newsflash: you don’t know the future. Write a list of all your fears, from the small to the large. Which ones might be irrational? Cross them off. This doesn’t mean you’ll never worry about these threats again, but when they pop into your head, you can train yourself to recall your list – and visualize that many of your worries have been literally crossed off.
2. For rational fears, assign each one a “next action.” Look at your list of rational fears and think of one action you can do to regain a bit of power over the situation, no matter how small. Add these into your to-do list bit by bit, and watch your anxiety dissipate. Schedule the doctor appointment to check out your lump. Sign up for a self-defense class to learn how to protect yourself. Eat more fruits and vegetables. Have that talk you’ve been meaning to have with your loved one. Feeling powerless creates fear and anxiety. You may not be able to eradicate heart disease from your family history, but you can start exercising and eating better.
3. Realize that you will never be anxiety-free. And that’s okay. Anxiety serves a purpose. Learn to recognize when anxiety is starting to get the best of you: you’ve been thinking about a conversation all night, you can’t sleep because you’re worried about a relationship, or your thoughts become ruminations. Check in with yourself on a regular basis, so you can stop your anxiety attack in its tracks. Almost everything in life is beyond our control – except for our thoughts. You are 100 percent in control of your thoughts – isn’t that reassuring?
4. If nothing else works, understand that no one likes a worrier. No one has ever said, “I wish s/he worried more” or “I’m looking for a friend who isn’t easygoing.” Your negative emotions are contagious. No one wants to hear somebody complain about anxiety-provoking situations that we all must experience. If you are prone to “bitching and moaning,” ask your close friends and families to give you 5 minutes to vent – and then cut you off.
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