Stress and anxiety need no invitation to hassle us and invade our day-to-day lives. Very few of us are immune. If we are fortunate enough that the underlying causes are less serious, it would usually be a great help if we could do something to quickly reduce the anxiety we are feeling.
Over time, I’ve gathered a few ideas that have worked for me, none of them original I’m sure, on how to beat anxiety and feel calmer. You may have discovered other helpful ideas as the same strategy doesn’t work for everybody, and it would be a great bonus to hear about them.
There are real advantages in being able to put an end to or at least reduce the discomforting feelings around stress and anxiety. Even better if it doesn’t involve popping pills or reaching for something to numb the senses.
Anxiety around college exams and job interviews, hardly catastrophic but useful to avoid, was what originally got me looking for a better approach. I had felt, and there is lots of evidence, that going into these things in a relaxed, confident frame of mind usually produces a far better outcome.
But anxiety’s an easy trap to fall into, and mood seems to be contagious. To rise above all that and take control of the mood agenda, for ourselves at least, is way more challenging and needs conscious, wilful effort. But it’s far more rewarding in the end.
So, let’s look at a few of these ideas.
The basic plot here is to give the mind a handful of positive, compelling, and engaging distractions to replace its preoccupation with what’s bothering us.
I found the best way to do this was to draw on a handful of the most positive, vivid, and memorable highlights from my own life. Things that have already happened. That are easy to recapture in terms of the positive sensations that I felt at the time.
For me, a list of four or five highlights works well. It’s likely almost everybody can look back over their lives and come up with some highlights that have taken place. That they can replay and make real in their own minds again, with all the feeling, detail and texture.
Write them down and think through the sights, sounds, people, the feelings and emotions of the occasion. Go through them often, polishing and adding to the detail so that it can all be re-lived on demand.
These good memories are ours and ours alone. They don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ideas or standards. We have a deeper connection with them than some imagined scenario, and they are there for us to re-live whenever we want to use them to distract from tension and anxiety.
No! Like some taxes, if we can avoid them, it just makes sense. Legally, of course! I think it’s a great idea if we can do the same for some of the anxieties, tension and stress we experience.
A good chunk of that comes from the endless stream of bad news and sensationalism we expose ourselves to on TV, the Internet, stuff shared on smartphones, etc.
It’s easy to get the impression that the world is in a bad place and getting worse by the day. Yes, of course it’s important to be broadly informed about and engaged in what’s going on in the world, where it’s in our interests. But whose interests are we best serving by over-consuming? Certainly not our own, and not likely the unfortunate victims either.
A while back, I read a great book called Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World by Hans Rosling, a brilliant doctor, statistician and public speaker. Unfortunately, he’s now deceased. Recommended as an antidote to help us avoid a lot of the sensationalism and misinformation that bombards us 24/7/365.
And the other great antidote is the “Off” switch. It isn’t used much, but it’s there somewhere! Use it!
Ok, so we’ve learned about the “Off” switch. But nature hates a vacuum. How can we fill it with something better?
It may be different for others, but I have found that some smooth classical music playing softly in the background, and engaging, entertaining reading by a good writer quiets a fussy inner voice.
In a past life, I listened quite a lot to the wonderful evening ‘Smooth Classics at 7’ program on Classic FM radio in the UK. In Portugal, I can still listen on the GlobalPlayer app either on the move or via audio cable through HiFi. Wonderful! I could be wrong, but I think it can be accessed from anywhere with a fast Internet connection, or mobile. You’ll need to sign up for a free account.
Same goes for reading material – light, entertaining, that takes the mind on interesting journeys.
For me, great choices in terms of genres are travel, history, biographies and the works of some respected writers such as Walter Isaacson or James Michener. Engaging, enlightening, and thought provoking without getting the adrenalin pumping. Bill Bryson is untouchable for relaxing entertainment in the travel space.
Actually, trainers are just fine in most cases! So many sources recommend that just getting the body moving, the lungs and muscles working a little does wonders for the mood. Moderation is important, of course. Just walking and getting fresh air is all it takes. Or gentle cycling.
The challenge, certainly in my own case, can be inertia. When we are feeling anxious or under the weather, it seems to pile a big weight on our shoulders. Our vitality and energy levels suffer. Getting moving seems all the harder.
It’s just a question of overcoming initial inertia, and once we have got going, the clouds usually give way to sunshine. It’s a great remedy for anxiety and a lot more.
The heart rules the head – usually. Maybe cold logic and reasoning rule the roost in science and technology circles, etc. But they’re way down the pecking order in day-to-day life. Still, if other approaches are not hacking it in calming the nerves, maybe we should give them a try.
We can ask ourselves simple questions about our feelings of anxiety. Does it make sense, is there some real, material benefit to us? Is there a logical and valid reason to feel like this? Or is it something we don’t know why we are feeling, and we wish we didn’t? Etc.
Sometimes, unfortunately, what we are feeling is justified. In which case the only reasonable thing we can do is try to deal with the underlying cause. But if we think carefully about it, these circumstances are few and far between.
On the other hand, it seems that on a day-to-day basis most things that cause us anxiety and stress are less serious or do not materialise. So “Que Sera Sera” might be a worthwhile solution to consider.
A lot has been written about self-talk. A perpetual talker (Self-1) and a listener (Self-2) that seem to sit above and behind our brow line. That’s the prefrontal cortex of our brain, the area that’s most affected by stress.
It’s long been clear that self-talk can work for us or against us. If it’s not directed and curated to work for us, Self-1 can get carried away and load up the subservient Self-2 with endless anxiety-related baggage.
We need to step in and direct the dealings of Self-1 with Self-2. For example, some of the suggestions in the sections above may be a good starting point in coaxing Self-1 onto the right track.
A great book on the whole Self-1 – Self-2 dynamic is The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey. Its focus is tennis, but his fascinating ideas have much broader scope than trying to be the next Roger Federer.
I recommend Gallwey’s book. In my golfing days, I used his techniques to improve my game, and enjoyment of playing, rather a lot. I even attribute my one club championship to his guidance, and it’s one of the highlights I love to re-live!
Is anxiety your constant companion? Have you found ways to put it aside? What strategy has worked for you through the years? Have you tried new methods to beat anxiety?