3 simple mental exercises gave me the freedom from anxiety
We’re going to start with the most important thing and that isn’t super cool tips on how to deal with anxiety, that will follow, it is something else.
There is nothing wrong with you! You hear me? I don’t mean it in a sense that you are imagining your symptoms, but in a sense that there are tons of people like you that are dealing with the same issues day in and day out. It’s like a really bad cold.
You are not less of a person just because you suffer from anxiety, you are not worth less in this society, because sometimes due to your panic attacks you have to take a break for an hour or two (or more). There are lots of famous people that are dealing with anxiety like: Emma Stone, Jennifer Lawrence, Beyonce, Adele, Chris Evans and many more.
- 1 Main Causes of Anxiety disorders
- 2 What to do when you are having a panic attack?
- 3 How to deal with anxiety in the long run
- 3.1 3 Mental exercises to reduce anxiety
- 3.2 Healthy habits to reduce anxiety
- 4 The most important thing
Main Causes of Anxiety disorders
Anxiety disorders right now are so widespread, they affect over 40 million adults in the USA alone. That is over 18% of population. The worst part is that the trend keeps going up! More and more people are being affected by anxiety and depression.
Why did people back in the day didn’t suffer so much from anxieties. It is because we are living in an information age and they weren’t. Our brain is not supposed to take in as much information as it is doing now. There are some articles that go so far as even saying that modern westerner consumes more information in one day than the average citizen would in a lifetime in 15th century.
I can’t vouch for if that information is completely true, but it probably has some point to it. We are being overloaded and that burns our “internal computer” that we call our brain and then we get glitches like anxiety and depression. These are just the symptoms of your CPU going too hard!
What to do when you are having a panic attack?
First things first, let’s talk about the most immediate solutions for the most burning problem. How to deal with panic attacks in the moment.
Those who have experienced them know that it can strike you at any moment. You might be working, sitting in school, walking around in the grocery store, before a job interview or even when you try to go to sleep and seem to be somewhat relaxed.
The most important thing to understand: You have to break the cycle.
You get the panic attack -> You start breathing shallowly, you get mind fog, your brain stops working -> you start to worry about these symptoms -> this leads to more anxiety and therefore stronger panic attack -> the symptoms above increase in intensity and the cycle repeats itself.
To break the anxiety cycle there are two things that you can do Distract yourself and Breathe correctly.
If you are prone to panic attacks I highly suggest that you carry with you one of these following things.
- Rubik’s cube
- Small, but complicated puzzle
- Sudoku app in your phone
- Coloring book (you can place this at work or school)
Once the panic attack strikes you pull them out and start focusing all of your mental energy on one of these things. If you think that your panic attacks are too severe and you can’t do anything during them, it doesn’t matter if you can actually do the distraction. It is important that you focus all of your mental energy to that one tasks.
Put some good music on, and just do your best. If your mind wonders back to the panic attack, which it will when you first try to do these exercises then just gently pull your attention back to the task at hand. Don’t scold yourself or remind yourself that you can’t do this.
While you focus all of your mental energy on the distraction you have to remember to breathe correctly while you do it. The best way that I’ve found in my experience is using the “box technique”.
4-4-4-4 – While you inhale you count until four, then you keep your breath for four seconds, then you exhale for four seconds and then keep your lungs empty for four seconds. Repeat.
I would suggest that you get to the distraction and breathing when you feel that your panic attack is coming, not in the middle of it. This will help you to avoid a full blown panic attack.
How to deal with anxiety in the long run
Usually, from what I’ve read, the advice that comes is targeted at your physical body – eat healthy, exercise, sleep properly etc. That is good advice, no doubt about that, but that is only half of the battle.
CBT (Cognitive Behavioral therapy) suggests that our anxiety comes from our thoughts and I agree with that. You can ask yourself, what were you thinking last time when you had anxiety or a panic attack? Probably not the best scenarios or maybe you were thinking that you are not good enough in some way.
We should work with our thoughts as well! So let’s start with that and then we will get to more common advice.
3 Mental exercises to reduce anxiety
The first thing that you should do is make sure that you want to get rid of your anxiety.
“You’re crazy Karlo, of course I want to get rid of it!!!!”. Shhhhhh, just listen up. I have no doubt that you want to get rid of your anxiety, but there might be some thoughts or ideas about it that are looming at the back of your head that keep you back from being free.
This exercise is called “Cons and Pros” and is as straight forward as it sounds. Make a table of two columns and write down all the cons and pros that you get from suffering anxiety disorders.
Here, I will make an example:
|I can’t do my work properly||I get extra attention from people|
|I quite often feel like I’m dying and that is really scary all the time||When I don’t do something right, I can blame it on my anxieties|
|I sometimes feel like a burden to everyone else||I always have an excuse to leave if I don’t want to stay|
This is a short list to make you understand that there are some hidden benefits from anxiety. Your list will probably be longer and it should be. Try to think of every positive and negative aspect of your anxiety.
Once you’ve made your list then make a decision. Do your Cons outweigh the Pros and you want to really deal with your anxiety. You see, once you make this list, if you ever have thoughts like “why am I even battling this”, you will always have a list to look at all the things you are fighting for!
Practice letting go your worries and troubles – simple exercise with great results
This is a purely cognitive and meditation like exercise and is better to perform it at the end of the day when you are laying down in your bed and trying to sleep. (If you have trouble sleeping because of your anxieties, this will greatly benefit you).
Lay down and close your eyes.
Now imagine that you are sitting next to a river. The place is super calm. A light breeze is hitting your face. The sun is shining and the skies are blue. You can hear the river slowly flowing. See the trees on the other side of the river. It is important that you imagine this picture as vivid as possible.
Next imagine stretching your hands in front of you and making a cup from both of them. Now form a visual representation of your troubles in your palms. For example if you are worried about what your boss thinks of you, see your boss in your hands, if it is your health that you are worried about, then imagine your potential health problems in your palms.
You can imagine your troubles in any way you want, that is up to you.
When you see a clear representation of your troubles, place them one by one on leaf that is floating on the river and see it float away.
Repeat this multiple times if an idea isn’t leaving your head. It takes some practice and with time it will get easier. Remember, this is not some positive thinking where you are trying to influence the fabric of universe and try to make the problem go away in real life. We are just trying to get rid of the intrusive thought in your head.
This did wonders for me when I was being torn by my anxieties and couldn’t sleep, I’m sure it will help you as well! TRY IT a few times.
Accept your anxiety
This probably is the most trivial thing that I could say, but it is important. When I first encountered anxiety I tried to fight it. I fought as hard as I could, but it just got stronger and stronger.
Once I learned to accept it and greet it as an old friend it started to get less intense. This doesn’t mean that I wasn’t working with it, I still did a ton of exercises and tried to deal with it. But I wasn’t fighting it.
When anxiety came I wasn’t freaking out and telling myself that this shouldn’t happen to me, that there is something wrong with me or that I need to get rid of it as soon as possible. I just let it sit there. I felt it, acknowledged it and let it come over me, but never control me. I wasn’t reacting to it, I was taking action.
Healthy habits to reduce anxiety
Do this especially if you have social anxiety or your anxiety is triggered by world events like wars, earthquakes, tornado's etc.
The problem with social media is that people usually post only their “best” events and quite often they are just half-truths. You can read more on why facebook causes depression and anxiety here.
In one sentence Facebook makes you feel inferior, because you might think that your life sucks compared to others, but that isn’t always the reality, we all have our problems.
Get enough sleep
Lack of sleep can cause your anxiety to worsen. Your body haven’t rested enough, therefore it hasn’t replenished its natural energy levels and you will feel worse which causes groggier mood, which causes more anxiety.
Try to go to sleep at the same time, preferably before midnight and wake up at the same time in the morning every day.
If you have trouble falling asleep use the second mental exercise that was described in this article.
Meditation is a great way to become mindful and this helps you to redirect your thoughts away from your anxieties when they occur. Meditation will benefit in all possible ways so I highly suggest that you do it. Even 5 minutes per day brings good results in the long term.
It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. I know that there are dozens of meditation techniques out there, but there is no need to google for them. Simply sit down in a comfy chair, close your eyes and focus on all the sensations that your body is feeling. If you notice that you are thinking about something else, don’t worry. Just bring your thoughts back to your sensations.
Stop smoking and drinking coffee
This one comes from my personal experience. I noticed that in the mornings when I had my morning coffee with my cigarette I felt extreme anxiety.
At first I thought it was the coffee since I’ve read in the past that coffee increases anxiety so I stopped doing that. I noticed reduced anxiety levels, but when I had my cigarette it still triggered anxiety. So I decided to quit smoking.
It was when I stopped both when I noticed that I don’t experience my morning anxiety anymore.
This should go without a saying. Your body is what you put inside it. So are you chipotle with fries and nuggets?
You don’t have to go full out organic, vegan or other fancy words. Just watch what you eat. Reduce sugar intake, don’t eat much junk food (once per week is totally okay), eat more fruit and vegetables.
It is super simple, but has some great benefits.
Frequency is the key here. You don’t have to hit the gym four times a week to have three hour sessions. Even simple running for 15 minutes every day will be enough to feel some improvement in the long term.
Don’t have anywhere to run? Do push ups, sit-ups and ab exercises at home. All you need for that is a yoga mat.
The most important thing
Don’t stress about this. Don’t get anxiety about curing your anxiety. Remember baby steps. You don’t have to start doing all of these things today. Take it one at a time. Some of these things will improve your condition and some of them won’t.
One size doesn’t fit all. Don’t give up too soon as well. If you’ve exercised for a week and don’t feel any results don’t worry, it takes time. I would suggest that you pick four of these things and implement one per week.
If you skip some days of exercise or have some junk food when you wanted to eat healthy don’t worry about it. Just start again at the next day.