2020 was not a kind year for those of us who struggle with anxiety. The uncertainty that continues to fly around has our nervous system all in a mess. However, changing how my brain learns and thinks when confronted with challenging situations has certainly helped me. Various techniques from mindfulness, dialectical-behavioural therapy (DBT) and cognitive-behaviour therapy (CBT) have given me the know-how I now want to share with others.
Here’s how a mindset shift helped me tame my anxiety — maybe these tips can help you, too.
1. I Learned to Accept
If you have ever uttered the 12-step serenity prayer, you know the opening line reads, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
Radical acceptance is all about not resisting things that no amount of your effort will modify.
Let’s say you lose your job. You know that no amount of begging or pleading will create work that doesn’t exist. Once you accept the reality of the situation, you can start working on your resume and get out there and start networking.
The same principle helps with managing challenging emotional states. If you recognise your symptoms for what they are, you can take proactive steps to cope.
I employ radical acceptance when I have a panic attack, and surprisingly, it helps me calm down.
Instead of automatically jumping to the worst-case scenario — it must be my heart — I mindfully assess my symptoms. If they match my previous experiences, I use techniques like 2-to-1 breathing to relax.
2. I Learned That Good Enough Is OK
Does nearly every self-help article you read leave you feeling vaguely guilty? Sometimes, they make me feel like I have really failed at life … you want to give your all to some things — like your career, or your exercise regime. However, what’s the worst that can happen if you miss a workout on a day where you simply feel too exhausted to go for a run?
Perfectionism can cripple you.
Consider the words of Malcolm Gladwell, who reminds us that Hamlet was miserable because he overanalysed everything in search of elusive, impossible ideals. Wanting everything to be just-so keeps you mired in a vicious spiral of anxiety and indecision.
I’ve altered my mindset to take more of a “big picture” approach when my inner stress demon whispers, “I don’t care if it takes until 1 a.m. — you can’t go to bed until you finish everything on your to-do list.”
Instead of frantically trying to decide what to tackle first when I’m already exhausted, I take the break I need and prioritise when I’m refreshed.
3. I Learned to Accept Negative Feelings
Positivity is a marvellous mindset, but too much of it can turn toxic. It’s one thing to express gratitude for the good things you have in life, but it’s quite another to invalidate yourself by repressing negative emotions.
If you lost your job amid the current pandemic, it’s stressful and heartbreaking. Unemployment remains high, and any government help is late in arriving — if it ever does. Don’t add to your sorrow by feeling guilty for having a working spouse or eating in to your savings. Pain isn’t a competition, and the fact that others have it worse doesn’t make your upset any less real.
Instead, acknowledge your negative feelings and do what you can to process them. Meditate — where do you feel things like fear and frustration in your body? How can you ease the physical symptoms so you can clear your mind sufficiently and chart a path forward?
4. I Learned the Value of Doing Nothing
I’m a problem-solver, and I pride myself on it. Therefore, when a crisis occurs, my instinct is to jump in and take immediate action. However, experience has taught me that doing so isn’t always the best course. Sometimes, impulsivity only creates more stress.
Instead, I have learned how to apply a bit of mental triage to stressful situations. If no one is bleeding or in immediate danger, I ask myself if it will make any difference if I deal with the issue tomorrow.
Doing this reduces my anxiety by freeing me from potentially unpleasant conflicts spurred by heat-of-the-moment emotions.
For example, I know that dealing with a telco, bank, or utilities provider often makes my blood boil. So I give myself 24 hours before calling when I receive a surprise bill, and take a constructive “how can we fix this” perspective on the call instead of letting my attitude accomplish nothing but frustration for the representative and me.
Can a Mindset Shift Help With Your Anxiety?
Changing my mindset has helped me manage my anxiety. Take some time and examine how you think about the circumstances that trigger your worst symptoms. Could changing your attitude about them help you, too?