Let’s face it, the world can be terrifying. Do you know what you’re going to be doing next month, six months from now, or even a year? At the moment I certainly don’t.
I’m moving around, without a base of operations, freelancing out of coffee shops for clients that I’ve never met. Some days I get a little bit anxious. I wonder if I’ll ever see enough money to pay for my train ticket that I put on the Discover Card to Chicago. I wonder if I’ll ever eat again. I wonder if the sky will fall, and if I’ll be run over by a bus, or maybe I’ll never find happiness or success. Oh my god, panic!
And then I think of these 10 simple ways that I can calm myself and bring my confused mind back to reality. I remember that I am responsible for saving myself from this situation, and that I’m the one who that put me here anyway.
Anxiety is largely a construction in our minds. It’s a self-preservation instinct left over from when lions were lurking around the next bush and we didn’t want to be eaten. No one is going to eat you, in actuality, the world is pretty damn safe in most places.
The other horrifying truth is that anxiety can prevent us from achieving our goals. Have you ever stayed home, not returned a call, or even sent an email because you got scared? I know I have.
This supposed self-defense reflex is really costing us something: opportunities.
Here are the ten techniques that I use to eliminate anxiety:
1, Take ten deep breaths.
This is one of the most important practices you can do for yourself. So often we rush around doing repetitive things endlessly, with no break for ourselves and our minds. A lot of anxiety stems from being simply overwhelmed. Start by taking one natural breath in, hold it for a second, and then blow it out. Repeat, this time a little bit longer on the inhale. Good! Now do that seven more times. You’ll notice your mind begin to clear and the world will start to seem a little bit lighter.
2, Go on a walking meditation.
One of the best ways to eliminate anxiety is just to drop everything you’re doing and go for a walk. Don’t aim for any one place, and don’t put a time limit on how long you’ll stay out. Leave your technology at home (but don’t forget your keys!) or at the office. Just walk, breathe, think. The world will start to calm and you’ll be able to see clear solutions overcoming difficult situations.
3, Turn off your cellphone.
Phones can make anyone overwhelmed. I like to turn mine off, or just ignore it. When the cellphone rings, 9 times out of 10 it’s just going to add one more thing for you to do. You’ll either have to dodge drinks with your old buddy, or another work problem will surface. Just let every incoming call go to voice-mail. Set aside a time later in the day, once you’ve calmed yourself, to catch up the calls that are actually important.
4, Stretch your body.
This can alleviate a lot of stress and help your body regain it’s natural balance. Start by doing a forward bend, just touch your toes, and stay there. Relax. If touching your toes is difficult, touching your knees is fine. Don’t judge the forward bend, just do it. This will relieve a lot of tension that’s built up in your back and hamstrings. Stay in the bend for two-five minutes, slowly roll back up to standing. Are you calmer? Yes!
5, Make every action deliberate.
Think about every action that you take, and move through it with precision and mindfulness. Do NOT multitask, instead single-task. Do NOT do anything faster than you need to, instead slow down. When you take the time to do every action with completeness, you’ll be so much more effective. You will start to see progress in your actions, which will relieve your anxiety.
6, Remember one time you overcame anxiety in the past.
Recall that one time that you called that beautiful girl you wanted to ask out, and she said yes? Wasn’t it scary? It worked out in the end didn’t it? Remember that job interview that you were so scared you wouldn’t get, and you prepared, and sweated, and walked four times around the block before you went in? You nailed it didn’t you? You can replicate that moment, you have to try first though.
7, Go to a public place.
I like being surrounded by tons of people as they go about their lives. Grand Central Station in New York is good for this, Powell’s bookstore cafe in Portland is good for this. Navy Pier in Chicago is good for this. I like to go to a crowded public place and then just stand still and watch the people swirl around me. I observe how stressed everyone is. How serious they are. And I realize that I’m just one small part of a bigger picture, and that everyone is freaking out too, this makes me feel better.
8, Stop doing so much.
We all do way more than we need to. We’ve got the Twitter window open, with our email, with our Facebook, with that spreadsheet we’re working on, with the copy of the book proposal that we’re writing. Stop doing so much. We expect way more of ourselves than we can ever expect to handle. Take a moment a eliminate a few tasks that you do every day that you’re doing out of obligation, not because these things you’re doing are actually important.
Here is what is important to me: cooking food, writing on this blog, working on projects that are remarkable, completing projects that end in paychecks, yoga, meditation, sleeping, reading. I have to ask myself hard questions before I engage in anything outside these activities.
9, Take a moment to contemplate what’s most important.
Do you have a larger goal in your life? If you don’t then don’t think about this, because it’ll just make you more anxious. If you do have a goal, think about that end result. Everything you’re doing should lead to that point, don’t deviate from your plan.
10, What’s the worst that can happen?
When all else fails, I ask myself the above question. Because seriously, in most cases it’s not that bad. I try to envision that worst possible situation, and I realize that there’s no way it’ll end up as bad as I think it will. In most cases the projections that our brains are making are overestimating the challenge or the danger, and the future will be so much brighter than you imagine.
If you know someone who’s having trouble overcoming anxiety, do them a favor and send them this post! Don’t be scared, they’ll appreciate it.