The Anxiety Toolbox
How to beat anxiety in minutes each day
I feel like the guy in the commercial who says, I’m not only the president of the hair club for men, I’m also a member. I have been an anxiety disorder club member since childhood. As a happiness and success coach, I usually write about ways to be happier and more successful. However, anxiety and depression are currently at an all-time high and the “club” now has millions of members of all ages, including kids. This has prompted me to share what I have learned, formally and in decades of my own personal experience, halts it in its tracks and reduces the time and energy lost in battle with chronic anxiety and depression.
I want to share my secret weapon- a daily routine- that can help you win against anxiety and stress. I have found in my own life that when I get off track, as in everything’s going great so I give my routine a vacation, I not only become more complacent on my goals, dealing with minor daily stressors becomes more effortful as well. If multiple stressors occur in that time or ones of bigger magnitude, I can find myself in the adrenaline overload of multiple anxiety attacks a day or a continuous, heightened feeling of anxiousness, which wreaks havoc on my mind and body. If you experience this too, you know that this adrenaline and cortisol overload affects our natural problem-solving abilities. Hopefully, you have a good support system- close friends, family, minister, therapist, or coach. But you need more. You need a daily tool box to rely on. It’s your guide out of the black hole. Routines are not only the preventative, they’re also part of the cure.
If you battle with anxiety, know you’re not alone. There are millions of us. People say I look completely calm, happy and confident. I am happy and outwardly calm and confident, but I do the work to be as inwardly calm and confident. These are skills rather than traits. Having had conversations with others who have either situational or generalized anxiety and through my own lifelong experience with both, here is what I know works well when done regularly:
1. Take things off your plate. Take a step back and make sure you are saying yes to things you really want to say yes to, and no when you really mean no. Set boundaries that are self-protective. You don’t have to say yes to tasks just because you can do it or because you think no one else will. If it’s something you love or like, say yes. If not, say no. Reduce or eliminate time spent with things and people that cause you to feel more stress, especially the news, violent shows, and negative people.
2. Learn something new. Read a book, watch a video or Ted talk that teaches you something for at least a few minutes every day. Focus on something that contributes to your goals, motivates you, and focuses you to you be your best self.
3. Meditate. Learn to have a calm mind when you are not in the midst of severe anxiety attacks so that you have power over your mind when you are. There is a mountain of research found by a quick Google search teaching the numerous health benefits of a meditation practice. You may be thinking that you’re not good at meditating. I wasn’t good at in the beginning either. I fell asleep or my mind wandered endlessly. Keep at it. You will get better at with practice.
4. Get your body moving. Have a routine that includes some brisk cardio and physical exertion. Yoga is great, but the cardio is what kicks the stress out and releases endorphins which help you feel better. Even in the throes of anxiety attacks, get up and do jumping jacks. Make sure you’re not holding your breath while doing them. Do 25 jumping jacks, take 5 deep breaths, do 25 more. Or do as many as you can until you feel less anxious. Cleaning your house vigorously also works and, simultaneously, takes items off your “To Do” list.
5. Breathe. Practicing counted breaths, breathing in for 6 counts, breathing out for the same 6 counts. Whatever you breathe in, breathe out for the same count. Taking deep breaths that expand your belly and diaphragm also works wonders as anxiety encourages shallow breathing and hyperventilating. Breathing deep into your lungs.
6. Pray or have some sort of spiritual practice. If you are religious or spiritual, lean into your faith. Press on it with all your might. Even prayers as simple as “help me”, “show me what I need to know”, and “guide my footsteps” are enough.
7. Have a support system. This is so important. Connection helps us to feel safe, supported and loved. It’s worth your time to nurture great relationships- those with equal give and take. You need to know you’re not alone. Make sure you reciprocate when your inner circle needs connection too. You may also want to talk to a therapist, coach, doctor or spiritual leader.
8. Spend time in nature. Disconnect from technology, walk outside and breathe. Take time to notice the clouds, birds and bugs moving about around you. It helps keep the world in perspective to be reminded that you are just one small part of a very big world. Allow your mind to be still and observe.
9. Adopt a pet. Dogs and cats can be therapeutic even if they’re not certified therapy animals. Dogs and cats can make us feel calmer and happier. They also give meaning to our lives and walking or running with your dog can help you with number 4 above.
10. Create a plan. Remember what you have done before to win the battle. You have fought anxiety and depression before and won. You have faced challenges and been victorious. Anxiety and depression request us to create a plan. What worked before to alleviate the anxiety and move forward? In addition to using the tools here, what change can you make in your life to answer anxiety’s request? If the source of your anxiety is a lack of money, how will you fix or improve the situation?
11. Find meaning in your life. Understanding what gives your life meaning allows you to nurture that aspect and to expand it. If your family is what gives your life meaning, for example, nurture it. Expand it, when you’re ready, by helping other families in some way through volunteering.
12. Change your story. If the picture of you shows anxiety on top and you on the bottom, flip the sign. You have faced this before and won. You are a warrior. Get paper and write the story of how your day, your week and your year is going to go. How will you feel? What is your mantra? Describe it. Create powerful affirmations and say them many times a day. You’ve got this!
Anxiety can make us forget who we really are. It makes us think “I can’t” when really our motto is “I can”. These twelve steps are the best of what I know works. And, except for number nine, they’re free. You don’t have to do all of them every day but experiment and know which ones work best for you. Exercise has been my number one go-to anxiety-buster since my most difficult years with an abusive, alcoholic mother. I rely on simple jumping jacks and squats during anxiety attacks and cardio, weightlifting and yoga as a regular practice. My daily routine also focuses on my spirituality and my connection to my closest friends and family. When I am feeling more anxious, I incorporate more of the steps and spend more time doing them. What I know for sure is, you can’t control what shows up. But you can control what you do with it.
Please note that this information is not intended to be medical advice or therapy, or to take the place of consulting a medical or therapeutic professional.