If I Started Suffering Daily Anxiety Again, These Are The Exact Steps I Would Take To Overcome It As Fast As Possible...
If I Started Suffering Daily Anxiety Again, These Are The Exact Steps I Would Take To Overcome It As Fast As Possible...
Anxiety has many faces. It may not feel like it but anxiety is an evolutionary process. 

100,000 years ago, anxiety gave us an edge over everyone else. It would have caused you and I to experience a heightened state of alertness. While others would have wandered into danger unaware, our anxiety would have caused us to survey the situation for threats. 

When we were unsure, anxiety would have given us extra energy and focus and the ability to defend ourselves or flee the scene. It still provides us with these same attributes only now the threat isn't standing in front of us, it's in our heads.

Our brains are not designed for the modern world. Our brains expect us to live in small, tight-knit tribes, alongside people who will guide, love, and motivate us daily. We're not supposed to worry about who we are or how we fit in because our purpose is predefined - to work to ensure the survival and growth of the tribe.
Modern Living Is A Recipe For Disaster
While many people are aware of our need for air, water, food, and shelter, what most people don't realise is we also have psychological needs. We have four needs that cause us to feel safe:
- certainty (that we can experience pleasure and avoid pain)
- variety (that we are free to make our own choices and have different experiences)
- significance (that we matter)
- love/connection (having a physical and emotional connection with others)

Our old way of living allowed us to meet all of these needs daily. Our current way of living causes us to meet them sporadically.

For people who are naturally pessimistic (like myself and the majority of anxiety suffers) not meeting our needs triggers a steady stream of anxiety that continues to build until it sends us into hyperarousal (explained in detail in the free guide) or we fix it.
How I Would Overcome My Anxiety
So, if I were to start experiencing anxiety daily, these are the exact steps I would take to fix it:
Step 0: Understand What Is Happening
First, I need to give you a critical piece of information. You need to understand what is happening when you experience anxiety.

Your thinking brain and your emotional brain are 2 very different things. In his excellent book 'The happiness hypothesis' Jonathan Haidt describes the emotional part of your brain as a giant elephant. The elephant represents your subconscious mind and your nervous system. It is big, powerful, and if it gets spooked can be hard to contain.

The thinking or conscious part of your brain is represented as a rider sitting atop the elephant. The rider is intelligent, it can think and analyse situations in order to decide the best course of action. However, compared to the elephant, the rider is tiny and, should the elephant get stressed or scared, the rider is often helpless to stop it until it naturally calms down.

When you experience anxiety, it is important to know that it is your elephant (your subconscious mind and body) having the issue, not you. You are your conscious brain, you are the rider.

Anyone who has experienced heavy anxiety can relate to the idea that it feels like being a rider sitting atop a scared and frantic elephant. Anyone who knows someone who suffers from anxiety (this is also the case for addiction, depression, sadness, fatigue) also needs to recognise the person suffering is not in control of this situation. They are literally sitting atop a wild elephant.

The purpose of this article is to explain how to tame the elephant. The first four steps explain what you can do to reset your mind and body in the short term, the remaining steps are how to fix this in the long term. Most advice stops at the short term but believe me, if you want to overcome anxiety as opposed to just manage it, the long term steps are vital.
Step 1: Get My Head Somewhat In The Game
So, the first thing I do when I feel anxious is to remind myself something is wrong with the elephant, not me. However, as the rider, it is my job to fix it. We humans are very reliant on visuals for motivation, so if I can picture what is happening I reduce my fear just enough to have a little headspace.

Step 1 - Done.
Step 2: Short Term - Shake Off As Much As Possible
This will make sense for all the dog owners out there but I think everyone will understand: If your dog is full of energy and is acting frantic, what's the very best way to calm it down? 

Take it for a walk and let it tire itself out. The exact same thing is true for humans.

What triggers anxiety in the moment is a sudden surge of hormones in your body. Typically cortisol, the stress hormone. When you exercise, not only do you force your body to use up excess cortisol (amongst other hormones), you also force your body to release relaxation hormones.

When you start exercising, your heart doesn't just start beating faster on its own, your body releases hormones to make it beat faster. These hormones force your body to adapt to the exercise you're doing, if they didn't, you would collapse.

When you stop exercising, your heart doesn't slow down at its own accord either. Your body releases different hormones to make it return to a state of relaxation. This is the secret of exercising! 

Let's say your stress level is a 6, if you exercise and force your body up to a level 8, when you stop exercising your body will release hormones in an attempt to bring it down to a level 1. You are highjacking your stress. You cause your body to experience acute stress and trigger the hormones which return you to relaxation. The 'runners high' many people talk about is the feeling they get from these hormones. 

Push your body and before long you will feel it too. Plus you will wash away a lot of the hormones causing your anxiety.
Step 3: Short Term - Refocus My Thoughts
The most common cause of anxiety is the thoughts going through your mind. When you wake up in the morning, do you force yourself to think about painful experiences in your past? How about all the things that can go wrong today and in the future? 

No? That's because these thoughts are automatic. They're called automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) and they're supposed to help you avoid dangerous or painful situations. 

Remember, your mind isn't designed to make you happy. It's designed to keep you alive. In our old way of living, because your psychological needs were mostly met, these thoughts would have warned you against going somewhere new,  eating something you didn't recognise, or approaching an unfamiliar person. 

However today, without the constant connection with other people, they worry that we're not enough, that we have less status than everyone else, that we're not important, and are unworthy of love.

If left alone, these thoughts will send you into a downward spiral. Lowering stress by exercising will reduce these thoughts but my favourite 2 ways to improve them directly are:

1. To allow my mind to vent via free writing. Free writing (also known as 'Morning Pages') was described by Julia Cameron, the lady who taught the practice to me,  as a windscreen wiper for the soul...

In free writing all you do is take a pen and some paper and for about 15 minutes, write out whatever comes to mind. Don't think about spelling, grammar, staying in the lines, nothing. All you have to do is be a vessel for the thoughts that are on your mind. Once your pen hits the page, keep writing, even if you write the same thing over and over. Eventually, your mind will find new thoughts to dump onto the page.

This exercise works tremendously because modern society has taught us to bottle and put a lid on our negative emotions. Research has shown time and time again that this only makes them worse. It's like holding down the lid on a pot of boiling water, eventually, the pressure builds and the lid either flies off or something breaks. This way you release the pressure and lower the temperature.

2. To focus my mind on positive aspects of my life. I do achieve this by writing down a list of things I truly appreciate and love in this world. I write things I'm looking forward to, things that are going well for me, ways that I am growing, people that I care about and why I care about them, great things I want to see happen to other people, goals that I would love to achieve. Write down anything that gets your mind to focus on positive thoughts.

Imagine your mind is a garden. When you get stressed or anxious, your mind will focus purely on a negative aspect and it will ruminate on that again and again until the stress passes. This is akin to focusing on a bunch of weeds in your garden. What this exercise does is recognises there are weeds but also appreciates the good in the garden.
Step 4: Short Term - Remove Stimulants
If I started experiencing daily anxiety again I would cut out all stimulants from my diet. That includes alcohol, caffeine, and sugar. Many people feel anxious in the morning because they drink at night. Alcohol may make you feel better in the moment but over the course of 24 hours, it takes that back and then some, and significantly reduces the quality of your sleep.

This is true for caffeine and sugar. Avoid them both a minimum 10 hours before bed and within a couple of days you will notice a big improvement in the quality of your sleep and an accompanying drop in stress.
This Will Work In The Short Term But Won't Overcome Anxiety In The Long Term
If you have a big event coming up or something relatively important that is causing your anxiety, these first 4 steps should be more than enough.

However, if you have chronic anxiety you need to go far deeper. This advice will not overcome your anxiety because your brain and body have shifted in such a way the stress will continue. 
Step 5: Long Term - Set A Target For The Future
You may not realise it but in the back of your mind, you have an image of your future. You have a general assumption of what your future is going to look like.  This image will make a huge difference in your ability to overcome your anxiety, so we need to manually create a positive one.

I remember a few years into studying psychology, I discovered that I am naturally pessimistic. Left to its own devices, my mind does not think I am capable of very much. It will automatically assume a negative outcome of an important future event. These thoughts are called automatic negative thoughts (ANTs).

I'd never heard of ANTs, I thought the doubts and worries in my head were mine. It turns out they're not. They are the result of elevated stress hormones. This is true for many anxiety sufferers. Although most don't know it. 

It makes sense that this would hold you back, doesn't it? If you have an image in the back of your mind casting doubt on your ability to succeed, connect with others, or live a happy, anxiety-free life, you're not going to have the motivation and courage to try.

We have to consciously install a new image. You need to think about what you're actually capable of and see that life in your mind. Your emotions are going to get in the way because this new image will conflict with your current image, but that's exactly what we need to change. A great way to do this is to write out a paragraph or two about your future. How does it look? What is your day to day? How do you feel?

The deeper you go (and the more you read it back to yourself) the more you will sway your mind to this new image.

Genuinely one of the most motivating sources for working out what you want your image to be and having the belief that it makes a difference comes from the movie 'The Secret'. Don't get me wrong, I don't believe you can achieve your goals just by thinking about them. However, as we've said here, the difference between having a positive image of your future vs a negative one is life-changing.
Step 6: Long Term - Support That Target
The number one way to subconsciously believe you can achieve this target, that you can become anxiety-free, is to work towards it. Your actions decide who you are. 

Picture two people, one believes they can overcome their anxiety and the other believes they have to live with it for life. What things would the overcomer do differently? They would probably be like you, reading up on how to cure their anxiety, and would then take these steps in faith and implement them.

If I started suffering anxiety again, I would be moving towards my target knowing I can overcome it, I just have to do the right things.
Step 7: Long Term - Assess My Psychological Human Needs
As we discussed at the start of this article, all humans have psychological needs that allow us to feel safe:

- certainty (that we can experience pleasure and avoid pain)
- variety (that we are free to make our own choices and have different experiences)
- significance (that we matter)
- love/connection (having a physical and emotional connection with others)

If I am experiencing anxiety, it is more than likely I have an issue with one or more of these. During the pandemic, while locked down and on my own I know I had a big dip in my levels of love/connection and variety. I had cabin fever. I was stuck in my apartment 24/7 and didn't physically touch another human being for weeks. 

So, for step 7, I need to assess these 4 needs and try to figure out which ones I'm currently suffering in. Do you have financial or health worries? Your level of certainty is likely low and causing you subconscious stress and worry. Have you been trapped in the same 4 walls or following the same routine for months on end? Your level of variety may need attention. Have you been bullied or suffered an embarrassing experience? You may have low significance (this is also a very common issue for influencers and people who post regularly on social media). Have you gone through a breakup, lost someone important to you, or not had quality time with friends and family lately? You likely need to focus on love and connection.

Certainty is often improved by getting clarity around a situation. Is the situation as bad as your automatic negative thoughts are making it out to be? It rarely is. Variety can be improved by changing up your routine and doing something new. Significance can be improved by recognising the positive aspects of yourself and your life. Love and connection can be improved by spending quality time and touching other people. Dogs can also provide a good source of love and connection.
Step 8: Long Term - Focus On Contribution
The first 4 psychological needs are required for us to feel safe. Once you achieve a certain level of these 4, your mind automatically shifts its focus on the final 2 needs which are needs for evolution.

These two needs are:

- growth (feeling like we're growing and becoming more)
- contribution (feeling like we're contributing to others)

Contributing to others is the fastest way to clear anxiety. The best part is you don't have to satisfy the safety needs in order to benefit from it. If I started feeling anxious, once I had worked through the previous steps, I would start focusing my mind on what I can do for others. 

What can I do today to make other people feel good? Can I pay someone a compliment? Can I help someone with a task? Can I hold the door open for someone? Would someone I know appreciate a loving hug and some quality time? 

Your brain will reward you for performing acts of service. Plus, by focusing your mind on the needs of others it no longer ruminates on its own issues. This breaks the cycle of thought driven anxiety and sends you into an upward spiral.
Step 9: Long Term - Focus On Certainty
Uncertainty about yourself or your future is often the biggest cause of anxiety in most people. So, once I have lowered my stress and anxiety by performing acts of service for others, I will take a solid look at the areas of my life where I feel uncertain.

Am I uncertain about my relationship? Is it my finances? My health? My career? The best way to improve your certainty in all these areas is to write down the scenario your mind is creating and ask yourself, 'is this 100% true? What is the reality of the situation? How do I want it to look? What can I start doing right now to make it better?'

I am basically pulling my worries out of my head and confronting them on paper. This is a very quick way to improve your level of certainty because the brain always makes things out to be far worse than they are.
Step 10: Long Term - Physical Health
Now it's time to focus on my physical health. Where am I at right now? How much am I exercising? What is my diet like?

As we mentioned earlier, exercise is about far more than being in shape, so is diet. The main areas of your physical health that you want to address are:

- the level of stress hormone in your body (this limits your natural release of 'happiness hormones')
- the levels of inflammation in your brain and body (this causes significant wear and tear and increases stress)
- the health of your gut (this impacts virtually every area of your physical and mental wellbeing)

This is obviously such a huge topic, it would take several articles just to come close. We cover these areas in detail in the challenge. 

However, if I was feeling anxious again, I would commit to spending at least 14 days improving my diet. I would stock my fridge with green, red, and yellow veg. I'd eat dark blue fruits. I'd buy probiotic-rich yogurt. I'd have a daily collagen shake (filled with amino acids). I would blend the shake with added flaxseed (for omega-3) and cacao nibs (for vitamins and minerals). I would remove all processed food including cereals, bread, drinks, everything. I may even start with a 3-4 day water fast (definitely not for everyone).

I would also start doing cardio 4-5 times per week. For me, that would be a 5-6 mile run but could be anything that is going to get my heart pumping and induce acute stress so I can benefit from my body bringing me back down afterwards.
Step 11: Long Term - Make A Morning & Evening Plan
The first and last 30 minutes of your day are incredibly important. By the time I reach step 11, if I have done it properly, my stress and anxiety should have dropped significantly. Now, I want to come up with a plan for what I do in the first and last 30 minutes of the day.

I want to set a time that I will wake up every morning. I'm getting up at the same time every day because this allows my brain to get into a rhythm that maximises my sleep. 

The morning plan also includes activities that get my mind focused on positives. Writing down things I appreciate and love in my life is a great way to do this. Thinking about the ways I am growing and things that are improving will put me in a positive state too. I will also do the morning pages mentioned earlier in order to empty all the mental clutter from my mind. Some people like to exercise, others like to meditate, maybe do some light stretching, whatever works for you.

In the evening I want to have a set bedtime that ensures I get close to 8 hours sleep and have a 30 minute routine pre-bed which helps me drift of naturally. You want your bedroom to a symbol for sleep. As soon as you walk in at night you want your mind to be thinking sleep. So, there's no tv, no sitting on the phone or laptop whatsoever 30-minutes before bed. 

The evening routine is designed to prep your mind and body for sleep. You can take a shower, read a book, follow a skincare routine,  do some light stretching, meditate, journal, anything you find helps you unwind. If I was experiencing chronic anxiety I would personally do them all.
Step 12: Long Term - Uncover Old Beliefs
As this is a long term plan it may be 2 or more weeks before I get to this section. By this step, I know things are looking up. 

My physical health is improving. My mind is focusing much more of its energy on positive aspects of life. I have a positive outcome that I'm working towards. I have clarity around areas that have slipped in my life and am working on them. I am having lots of positive interactions with other people. My brain is now releasing increasing amounts of positive chemicals.

From this positive platform, it's time to look back and see if I have any old beliefs or mental habits that are holding me back in life. We all have them. When we're little our brains are like a sponge, we soak up everything around us from the way we speak to the way we behave. 

You come into this world as pretty much a blank slate (you can be born with a heightened susceptibility to stress and anxiety but that's for another day). Imagine, from the moment you're born, your mind is trying to paint a clear picture of where it is and how to survive in this place. How do we communicate? How do we treat each other? What do we spend our time doing? What is important? What's not important?

We answer those questions by studying the people around us. The problem is we treat the answers we witness as gospel. They become part of our blueprint for surviving in this world which we subconsciously follow for the rest of our lives.

With your enhanced level of calm and clarity, it's time to look at your life, your beliefs, your thoughts and your actions and see if you can spot areas of your blueprint that are holding you back.

Do you have certain beliefs about your ability to earn money? What you're capable of achieving in life? The type of person you can have a relationship with? The way other people treat you? Your ability to greatly improve your circumstances? Your ability to overcome anxiety?

These beliefs shape who we are because they decide what actions you take and it's your actions that determine your results. We all have the belief that if we jump out of a window, we're going to fall towards the ground fast, so we don't do it. Many people have the belief that they are unintelligent. As such, they don't push themselves because they naturally believe they are incapable of learning and any attempt at growth will end in pain. It sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? But that is how strong these beliefs are.

So, in order to uncover my limiting beliefs, I look at my actions and results in life. Am I where I want to be in my career? Is my health as good as I want it to be? Do I have the kind of relationship I want? Am I having the experiences I want to be having? When I find an area I'm not where I want to be, I ask myself why. What am I not doing in that area? Am I holding back? Am I following the wrong plan? Do I have a particular belief about myself or the world in general? Then I think, where did this belief come from? Is this something I picked up from my parents? Did I pick it up from school? Did they truly believe it or did they inherit it too?

Once I have an idea of beliefs that are holding me back, I ask myself, how is this belief limiting me? I want to flesh it out and get this out into the open. Then, do I know this belief is true? What is the opposite of this belief? Is there evidence to suggest that is true?

Once you dismantle a belief in this way and exposure your mind to an alternative truth, the belief cannot have the same hold over you. This exercise cleanses your mind and starts sending you in a new direction. If you repeat this exercise regularly and take steps to solidify the new direction (like we did in step 2) you will find this belief taking over.
Step 13: Long Term - Explore Old Resentments
By this step, I am ready to dive deep into painful experiences in my past that are lingering and causing me to suffer. We all have resentments from the past floating through our minds that are completely opposite to how we consciously feel about a situation. The only way to clear them out is to think about them.

Are you still holding onto the pain of an experience when you were young? Did someone say or do something that hurt you? Has an experience in a past relationship left its mark?

These resentments can lurk in the deepest part of your mind for as long as you let them. The heartbreak you felt at 22 can still be weighing on you at 52. Consciously, you know resenting this experience years later hurts nobody but yourself. So, I ask myself, what resentments am I still holding on to? (I can hear a couple as I write this.) Then, how willing am I to finally let this resentment go? How will holding onto it affect my thoughts, feelings, and behaviour? What would it take for me to let this go?

One exercise that has been shown to produce fantastic results is free writing. You can let the thoughts and feelings flow from your mind onto the page. Remember, they don't have to be positive. If letting go of resentment means you chew someone out on the page for 5 minutes then that's what it takes. I would express my feelings on the page and then try to understand their side. What was it that drove them to do this? Were they in a difficult place? Were they acting a certain way as a means of coping? 

After going through this exercise I feel like a weight has been lifted. It's unlikely the resentment will be totally gone in 1 session but it weighs a lot less now.
Step 14: Long Term - Work On My Self-Esteem
When I first started studying happiness, I would frequently come across principles relating to the self which I had heard before but apparently never truly understood. 

For example, I could explain the meaning of self-esteem but I didn’t actually know how self-esteem was built. I could explain self-confidence but I thought it was either something you had or didn’t have. I could explain self-love, but my understanding was completely wrong. The problem is that most people who talk about self-esteem don’t know where it comes from or how to improve it. It’s not something you decide; it is something you build. 

This might sound like a scary idea, but anyone can develop high self-esteem. If you felt your elephant get a little anxious about the idea of you having high self-esteem, that’s a sign you have been exposed to the wrong ideas dominating modern society. Self-esteem is not flamboyant. It's not egotistical. It is not about being the centre of attention. People often mistake high self-esteem with narcissism. Narcissism is a product of low self-esteem.
 
High self-esteem is silent. It doesn't need attention. It doesn't need admiration. It doesn't need to be flattered. It simply is. The higher your self-esteem, the less your mind is concerned about how people perceive you. It is safe. It is confident. It is sure of who it is. And because of this, it is free to pursue its hopes and dreams.

Self-esteem is based on two factors: 

1 - How well you are meeting your six human needs 
2 - Your level of self Love

We're already working on human needs so now we're going to focus on the building blocks of self-esteem: self-love, self-understanding, self-compassion, self-discipline, self-appreciation, and self-confidence.

Self-love is not something you feel, it's something you do. Working to improve your wellbeing is an act of self-love. Taking a relaxing bath is an act of self-love. To improve self-love, start focusing on things you do.

Self-understanding is often called self-acceptance. I'm not a fan of acceptance because it suggests things cannot be changed. Self-understanding means getting a clear image of where you are now, what things you like and what you want to improve. 

Self-compassion is fairly straightforward. It means recognising things like your blueprint, your beliefs, and your habits are not always under your control and you shouldn't beat yourself up over the results they create. Self-compassion is giving yourself a break, understanding all you can do is work to improve them.

Self-discipline means doing the things the elephant doesn't want to do. It takes discipline to complete the exercises we're discussed today. The elephant doesn't want to do them so it will resist. Self-discipline means you coming up with a plan and following it even when your thoughts, feelings, and emotions are trying to stop you.

Can we take a second to appreciate all the great things about you please? We are wired to focus more on negative aspects of ourselves (and life). Self-appreciation is taking a moment to balance the books. If you and I met I can assure you I would see so many positive qualities in you and be amazed at some of the things you have achieved so far in life. Self-appreciation is you taking a moment to recognise those things too.

Finally, self-confidence. Self-confidence isn't you being confident about the things you have or how you look. Self-confidence is you knowing that if you set your mind to something you're going to get it done, no matter what it takes. Think of all the areas you have genuine self-confidence. 1000 things on your to-do list? You know you're going to get them done. Important presentation to create? You know you can make something great. A giant issue in your life? You know you'll find a way.

The biggest aspect of improving self-esteem is understanding what it means and how to improve it. After reading through this step I assure you you are well on your way.
Step x: Where Do You Go From Here?
As we discussed throughout the article, your thoughts and emotions control your mental health. The natural processes within our minds, combined with our modern way of living cause many people to eventually reach a state of anxiety. This is why mental health issues continue to rise.

The only way to overcome this state is to use the tools and techniques outlined in this article. These tools will send your thoughts and emotions in the direction of happiness, confidence, and peace of mind. Setting yourself a goal to follow this process, one step per day, will lead to a significant shift in your mental fitness and lead you to achieve what I call mental wealth.

If you are ready to start seeing improvements now, join the free webclass to uncover additional insights that are key to overcoming your anxiety:


Remember, never give up. You can do this.

Always in your corner,
Lee
Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.

Need help? help@mentalx.com

Need help? help@mentalx.com

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved.