“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” ― Jodi Picoult
In the past, I felt as if anxiety were a force that could never be reasoned with.
Other people I know who suffer from this debilitating affliction agree: No matter how hard one tries, anxiety can still push its irrational “what if” agenda past logical thought, drowning one’s mind inside the most dreadful improbabilities.
As both a chronic and acute “anxiety warrior,” I had survived many years in a constant six to ten-plus anxiety level. Within the last decade, it’s decreased to a pretty consistent level two (though certain triggers can sometimes elevate it, the spikes are only temporary now).
What have I done to decrease it? I read many self-help books, dived into my own creative process, and learned self-talk techniques.
Below are three of the most successful—and enjoyable—ways I tame my anxiety. I hope they not only help you, but also provide hope that you can decrease your fear, allowing peace and happiness to tiptoe back into your life.
Reading self-help books about overcoming anxiety reminds you that you’re not alone. Knowing this, I believe, is one of the first steps to healing. Why? Because anxiety sufferers often feel isolated, misunderstood, and hopeless.
After all, how many people understand how much pain you are in as you go about your daily life, covering up the terror? How many people around you act as if anxiety is as easy to get over as the common cold? (If only I had a dollar for each time someone spouted off the well-meaning—yet grossly ineffective—advice: “Just stop worrying so much.”)
When you realize how many others suffer from anxiety, as well as how many people have overcome it, then you won’t feel as alone or as hopeless. In turn, you’ll gain more confidence and energy in which to fight your own battle.
The other way to deflate your fear is to read fiction. Studies have shown that reading literature decreases anxiety because the reader becomes so involved with the protagonist that the brain reacts in such a way that whatever the character has overcome so, in her own emotional way, has the reader. If you want to know more about this phenomenon, research the phrase “bibliotherapy.”
On a personal level, I know that when I wake up in the middle of the night with a wildfire of what-if thoughts burning through my mind, when I turn on the light and read an engaging novel, the storyline douses the anxiety faster than anything else I’ve ever tried.
Diving Into The Creative
Interestingly, I’ve come to learn that anxiety sufferers are often more creative than the average person. After all, it does take a lot of imagination to come up with—and believe—some of our more irrational fears. In my own personal journey, a large part of how I tamed my anxiety was by writing fiction.
How wonderful to discover that the thoughts rushing through my overactive brain could be channeled! I realized that the more I focused on my craft, the less my brain entertained “what-if” thoughts. Slowly, but surely, I was spending less time ruminating about all the horrible things that could happen, replacing it with far more positive and creative thoughts about what I was working on.
I highly encourage anxiety sufferers to engage in some kind of creative endeavor. It doesn’t have to become a career or even an all-encompassing hobby. But think about what takes you out of yourself. Creativity comes in many forms: baking, gardening, painting, even star-gazing. Be mindful of things that have allowed your brain to take a respite from fear and then try to practice those activities on a daily basis.
Self-talk is the easiest, handiest, and I feel, oftentimes the most successful tool in which to decrease anxiety.
It’s simple: What would you say to a beloved friend who was struggling with irrational fear? To start, you would not call him weak—and you definitely wouldn’t agree that just because he’s ruminating about something, he’s going to manifest it.
Rather, you’d remind him of all the times he has worried about horrible things happening and how they never came to pass. You’d support him by commenting on his strengths and how he’s overcome other setbacks in life. Maybe you’d even add how he’s not alone, and that there is hope. To incorporate self-talk into your own life, speak to yourself in the same manner.
My favorite self-talk phrase, which has often pushed back many an anxious thought, is this: “I’m only telling myself a story.” Somehow this simple sentence puts it all in perspective. Please feel free, my dear anxiety warriors, to use it whenever you need to!