“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” ― Jodi Picoult
I think I left the house just a dozen times during my 5 consecutive years as an anxious recluse. This withdrawal from the world occurred during my twenties soon after I had finished college when I found myself at the mercy of multiple anxiety disorders.
Anxiety had been something I’d suffered from since childhood but the loss of the stable framework that education had provided left me suddenly adrift and directionless. Intense fear filled my mind every hour of every day, and soon I was plummeting into a downward spiral of acute anxiety and depression.
My parent’s home offered a retreat from reality which seemed like a blessing at first but which later turned into a self-imposed prison of isolation and excuses, which was very hard to escape.
But escape I did, and recover I did as well. After 5 years of missing out on life, I decided enough was enough and began doggedly working on myself and rebuilding. I researched and found as many ways as possible to rid my mind of the terrible anxieties which afflicted it. I put into practice what I found and within a year I was living in a foreign country, working in a job I enjoyed, and meeting wonderful people from all walks of life.
Not bad for someone who’d been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder a few years before.
The following are just a few of the techniques and philosophies I incorporated gradually into my then anxious life which were to have such an amazing transformation on the way I saw the world and my place within it.
Leave the past behind
I found anxiety could not be fixed by raking over old memories and feelings. Anxiety is reduced by tackling present day thought processes and emotional reactions to events. It might be nice to think a therapist can rid you of acute tension, apprehension and panic by having you talk about your past, but it doesn’t usually work like that.
Only you can rid yourself of your anxiety disorder and that is done by focusing on the here and now.
When we relive our past in a negative way, we are subjecting ourselves to a cinema screen of failures and horrors which go on to reinforce our present reality. By doing this day after day, we build up a habit of fearful thinking.
Leave the past in the past and refuse to let it negatively influence your today. Otherwise you will find yourself like the Greek Titan Atlas, forever holding celestial spheres of anxiety and fear upon your shoulders.
Tomorrow can wait
It’s all too easy to imagine future events ending in catastrophe. When anxiety is swishing around in your mind, everything before you becomes a portent of doom. This can result in days, weeks and months of fearful worrying and dreadful apprehension before an important occasion or event. More often than not, the object of our fears turns out to be a damp squib and we’re left wondering what all the fuss was about.
A way to reduce focusing on the future is to take each day as a single compartment, like those of a train. All you need to think about is the 24 hours of today, from one midnight to the next, and nothing more. Wait until you are in tomorrow’s compartment to worry about tomorrow’s problems. Focus on today instead.
As Buddhist practitioners know all too well, living in the present moment is highly compatible with relaxed feelings and general contentment.
Edit your thoughts
What we think directly influences what we feel. When you imagine in your mind’s eye something scary, you’ll find yourself beginning to exhibit the symptoms of fear and anxiety. When you visualise a pleasant sunny beach scene, the opposite will happen and relaxation will sweep through your body.
In my view, the best way to reduce anxiety and render it impotent is to edit your habitual thinking patterns. If you discover they are generally of a negative and stressful nature, then replace these fearful mental images with more relaxing and positive ones.
By changing the way we think, we can indirectly change the way we feel and this is a very powerful tactic to develop if you suffer from chronic anxiety, as I found out. Refuse to be a slave to your emotional habits otherwise you’ll find yourself at their mercy forever.
A goal is everything
“Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.” – Aristotle
Anxious people are frequently people without long-term goals or a focus. We humans are natural goal-striving beings and require a focus in life in order to develop a deeper sense of wellbeing and confidence. When we lose sight of where we are going or what we are doing, anxiety and depression are often the result.
The reduction of anxiety can be a goal in itself and a very worthy one to have. The development and practice of relaxation techniques can provide an incredibly beneficial focus with which to move forwards.
Keep the focus strong and imagine all problems which arise being overcome and defeated, whether you genuinely feel confident about the situation or not.
Patience is key
Trying to force relaxation is rather like pointing the barrel of a gun at your head. It just causes extra anxiety and frustration. Changing anxious behavioural patterns takes time and the key to managing this is patience. With the right techniques however you can begin to notice a reduction in anxiety levels within a relatively short period of time.
Being relaxed is a state of mind which requires continual reinforcement in the initial stages. The more you can find moments of peace and tranquillity within the storm of an anxiety disorder, the longer and more frequent you can make these moments last as time goes by.
Take each day as it comes and focus on increasing the ripples of relaxation just a little bit more. Worrying about being anxiety-free by a certain date or timeframe will inhibit any progress.
Include these 5 techniques and philosophies into your own life over the next week or two and see if you notice a difference in general mood. I’m pretty sure you will.
What are some of your personal philosophies for reducing anxiety, stress, and tension in your life?