3 Strategies To Reduce Anxiety
Tried and tested that are simple and powerful
It’s not about if you’ll suffer anxiety, but more about when you’ll go through it on some level or another. It could be in situations where you expect, such as before a job interview or on your wedding day or taking the step to work for yourself.
Or it could be on a chronic level such as fear of what people think of you, anxiety of going into work everyday or fear during this period we are all in right now during 2020.
I remember having an interview for a job I wanted desperately. I literally crumbled under the pressure. Forgot words, couldn’t speak and came across like a someone the panel didn’t know.
Luckily I had been working in that role before so had built relationships, therefore the people knew me away from pressure.
So I’m going to teach you 3 strategies to help you ease and get control back from the anxiety you experience.
Someone I love to hear talk is Dr Andrew Hubberman. He studies many things including the fear response. And he defines fear as:
Anxiety + uncertainty = fear
Uncertainty is the unknown:
How are you going to make an income if you leave your job to pursue the business you’ve always wanted?
What will happen if you begin to express how you really feel?
Will you achieve that dream if you go for it?
We can put our best plan in place, and still not know if it’s actually going to work out as intended or not.
Now one of the fundamental truths is that in actual fact the answer to all of these questions lays within you.
Because really they are all states of being… whether you perceive positive or negative outcomes, it’s all just a mindset that enables us to be deeply fulfilled or not.
Michael Pollan quote from “How To Change Your Mind”:
“The efficiencies of the adult mind, useful as they are, blind us to the present moment. We’re constantly jumping ahead to the next thing. We approach experience much as an artificial intelligence (AI) program does, with our brains continually translating the data of the present into the terms of the past, reaching back in time for the relevant experience, and then using that to make its best guess as to how to predict and navigate the future.”
“One of the things that commends travel, art, nature, work, and certain drugs to us is the way these experiences, at their best, block every mental path forward and back, immersing us in the flow of a present that is literally wonderful — wonder being the by-product of precisely the kind of unencumbered first sight, or virginal noticing, to which the adult brain has closed itself. (It’s so inefficient!)
Alas, most of the time I inhabit a near-future tense, my psychic thermostat set to a low simmer of anticipation and, too often, worry. The good thing is I’m seldom surprised. The bad thing is I’m seldom surprised.”
Simply, we are only in 1 of 3 places:
a) Painful past or perfect past
B) Fearful future or fantastic future
C) The deep now
We can look at anxiety as a physiological state that’s linked to a set of thoughts or beliefs.
Stress hormones, changes in heart rate, blood pressure, breathing patterns. And so this leads us into strategy 1:
- Breath Practice
It’s the most simple, immediate and universal tool we have access to. Something I talk about a great deal… you have it with you wherever you are so learning to use it to manage your state is a no brainer.
Changing the way you breathe changes you’re physiology. It helps dampen the affects of the stress response in the moment in real time. It helps build your ability to tolerate stress.
Monitoring our body tells us what’s going on. This is the idea of something called interception: We feel in our body first, and then we put stories onto those feelings. If we can develop our interoceptive perception, we can begin to steer ourselves out of anxiety.
And a breath practice brings our focus into the present moment.
3 things you can do now:
- Breath through your nose most of the time
2. In the moment, double your exhale to inhale — 3 second inhale, 3 second hold, 6 second exhale x 5–10 rounds
3. Soften your vision (closed eyes, nature)
I wrote previously about breath v meditation and what’s better for our minds.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
1. Where in my life am I coasting — not receiving enough challenge — bored, you look for distraction,
2. Where in my life am I overtaxed and need to back off?
3. What are my default habits in each situation?
Chances are your default habits help perpetuate an anxious state. Excessively numbing out where you prioritise convenience food, excessive alcohol, binge TV, poor sleep, less exercise, less time in nature.
You see how this begins to perpetuate anxiety. All things that help ease it suddenly get dropped off.
So learning the power of a positive no to things that fill our time unnecessarily, which reduces our self care time for ourselves.
Warren Buffets 20 slot rule is a great exercise to do:
- Identify 5 things that currently take up a “slot” in your life that you would choose to say “No” to.
- Now pick the most pressing 3 slots.
- Which things are currently taking up a slot in your life that you would say no to?
Feeling your feelings.
This is arguably the toughest strategy. Feelings hurt, yet grief of losing my mother to cancer taught me that feelings are transitory. They pass like the weather and when you begin to feel this, you begin to understand them. When you understand them and recognise them they then dissipate as they’ve been honoured.
That’s my experience.
And so here’s an exercise that I still use and find it exceptionally powerful:
Round 1–3 minutes, eyes closed, and you’re paying attention to what primary emotions you feel — love, fear, sadness, anger, joy… that’s it. Record what you find.
Round 2–3 minutes, eyes closed, and you’re paying attention to what secondary emotions you feel. (guilt, shame, excitement etc). Record what you find.
Round 3–3 minutes, eyes closed, and you’re paying attention to what you physically feel. Record what you find.
This is a powerful exercise. It allows you to really distill what is actually going on for you at a core level. We are story telling beings, and every emotion and feeling we feel leads to a narrative to fit.
Our physical perception otherwise known as Interoception is a sense that helps you understand and feel what’s going on inside your body.
Kids who struggle with the interoceptive sense may have trouble knowing when they feel hungry, full, hot, cold or thirsty. Having trouble with this sense can also make self-regulation a challenge.
The research in this field shows that as beings, we feel first and then make our narratives fit the feelings of our body. So it’s important to build that awareness of what our bodies are saying so we can begin to focus on regulation, rather than getting lost in our narratives.
Interoception in the domain of neuroscience is the Western objective way of saying what has been practiced in Eastern wisdom traditions like Vipassana meditation for thousands of years: emotion is the physical sensations, the physiological state, in the body, and we can observe it directly, subjectively.
Richard has coached at the highest level of Olympic sport in the U.K, China and Japan. Having been successful in these high performing environments due to his ability to manage stress effectively... with inspiring and creating environments that encourage and support people accessing their best.