That ‘off’ feeling in your gut when you know you have to meet a deadline, or that obsessive-compulsive slant you slide into when you need to be chilling out – those are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the many types of anxiety we all feel. There’s PTSD anxiety, and social anxiety. Anxious feelings over our health, our relationships, and our finances. Just in case all those anxious feelings aren’t adequate, there’s even a ‘generalized anxiety disorder’ described by modern psychology.
With all this angst rolling about, how do we really combat apprehension and unease without turning to pharmaceutical meds, or other drastic measures like pouring hot coffee on the next person who says, “everything will be o.k.”? Anxiety is a state of mind, and though it sounds trite, a state of mind can be changed just as easily as a lightbulb. Using mindfulness techniques and simple life changes, we can obliterate anxiousness in a heartbeat. Here are ten of them:
- Start with an Intention
Intent may sound like a new-age panacea, but the fact is, your intent can free you from feelings of frustration and being out of control, and transform your day into one that offers freedom and resilience instead. Dr. William A. Tiller’s studies have proven that human consciousness “changes space.” Tiller explains that “highly inner self managed people” use intent to change their world.
This is so effective, that in a scientific experiment, people demonstrated mind over matter by creating a specific intention. This intention was then imprinted using a device which was wrapped in aluminum and sent by overnight shipping to a lab 2,000 miles away. Let’s say that the intent was to raise the pH of water. If the device was turned on near a jar of water, and the water’s pH was measured, it was found that it had indeed changed. Many more variations of this experiment were conducted to prove just how powerful our intent truly is.
- Adopt a Beginner’s Mind
An anxious mind can be exhausting to live with. The concept of Beginner’s Mind, called Shoshin in Zen Buddhism teaches us to approach life with the wonder and awe of a beginner. If you’re an ‘expert’ in something, you are more likely to pick it apart and be judgmental, thus creating more feelings of anxiety.
Conversely, racing thoughts that cause an anxious mind are calmed when we see things with fresh eyes, and make space for mistakes. If we aren’t an expert at anything, then we can see each moment as it is happening without expecting perfection. Each moment we begin again, and anxiety simply falls away. There is a Zen saying, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”
- Allow All Feelings
Most emotions are hard-wired into our brains, and can only be managed, not eliminated. We are hard-wired for survival, not happiness, but that doesn’t mean we can’t teach our brains to be happy, too. While we can lessen feelings of fear, anxiousness, envy, worry, or longing with meditation and yoga, and other healing modalities, the best way to combat emotions we don’t want to have, is ironically, to allow them.
Because we were made to pay attention to lingering fears or worries (in order to fight a tiger, or find food in the jungle) we can’t just dismiss those feelings and hope they will go away. If we do, they’ll likely come back stronger, and keep recurring until we give them a physiological outlet. Cry at a good movie, pound a pillow, or talk out some frustrations with a friend. A felt emotion means less anxiety long term.
- Get Moving
Sometimes moving your body is the best way to change your mind. When we engage in moderate physical activities, like dancing, jogging, mountain climbing, swimming, etc. the brain is engulfed in ‘happy’ hormones and stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol are lowered.
Some studies have suggested that exercise is the best anti-anxiety ‘medication’ around, too. Since anxiety and depression is one of the most prevalent diseases in the modern world, affecting more than 200 million people, it is hopeful that simply taking 30 minutes to an hour daily to get some exercise can help drastically curb anxiety.
- Give Up Junk Food
There is a surprising link that researchers recently uncovered between what we eat and how we feel, and I don’t just mean feeling less anxious about our bodies when we lose a few pounds. Researchers from Columbia University’s department of psychiatry found that people who ate diets higher on the glycemic index, including those rich in refined grains and added sugar, were associated with greater odds of depression.
There is also evidence that poor gut flora which causes gut inflammation can cause anxiety and depression, too. That means if you eat more natural, wholesome fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes, and take your probiotics, you’re going to feel so much better.
- Create an Attitude of Non-Striving
Some people who meditate still feel anxious because they haven’t learned the concept of non-striving. Interestingly, the same personality types that are prone to over-achieving in life, are apt to try to over-achieve at mindfulness, missing the point of the exercise.
Creating an attitude of non-striving frees us of the urge to ‘futurize.’ By placing ourselves constantly in the future, we miss out on the present moment, and all that is beautiful within it. Instead of trying to make things into something we want them to be, we also can just accept them as they are now, and this will cause an immediate sense of peace and relaxation. Non-striving allows the nervous system to rebalance, and passion, creativity, intuition, spontaneity, and harmony to prevail.
- Develop Deep Inner-Confidence
What are two of the biggest creators of anxiety? Our own negative self-talk and the constant comparison with our peers as a social norm. When we develop inner-confidence, we stop looking at things, people, or circumstances outside of us to create our happiness and peace.
We forget about being perfect, and simply work at being resilient. With inner-confidence, developed by eliminating negative self-talk, we no longer worry about what others think of us, and find pleasure from simply doing what our own internal compass directs us to do.
- Soothe Your Mind With Music, Laughter, and Nature
A viral video (with over 10 million views and counting) that contains a song which reduces anxiety by 65 percent should be ample proof that music can heal an anxious state of mind. Laughter can do the same, though, as can spending time in nature. Combine all three and you may never feel anxious again!
- Find Self-Compassion
Many experts in the mindfulness field now suggest that we forget about trying to develop self-esteem, and instead create self-compassion. If you are tired of saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and people like me,” you may be on to something.
Having high self-esteem usually means we have to ‘perform’ above average, but its logically impossible for every single person on this planet to be better than everyone else at more than just a handful of things. This goal of “self-enhancement” can cause a lot of anxiety because the goal in unattainable. This pressing need to always ‘be better’ than everyone else also creates a large population of narcissists.
Instead, we can practice self-compassion. This doesn’t mean we relegate ourselves to a life of blandness and stop striving toward any goals, but it does mean that we stop being so damned self-critical and give some of the same compassion to ourselves that we’ve been told to give others. When self-esteem fails, self-compassion gives us a break.
- Be Grateful
Feeling grateful is a science-backed method to reduce anxiety and depression significantly. People who suffer from anxiety often have a negative-bias. That means they are constantly on the look-out for danger. This causes chronic stress and the amygdala in the brain becomes over-sensitive, sometimes even growing larger in size, causing us to be more prone to negative and fearful rumination.
Dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, is usually lower in depressed and anxious people, but gratitude has been shown to increase the levels of dopamine in the brain.
Offering appreciation and gratitude for others also helps free us from self-focus – a world we create for ourselves that is small and without a network of social support. To interrupt this conditioning, we can express gratitude, change our neurochemistry and create lasting friendships that help us through tough times.