Anxiety is really just another word for fear.
Many of us struggle with an alarm system that feels like it never turns off. This is something that may have been with us since our earliest memories, or it may be as a result of later life trauma.
Fear is a normal human response to danger.
We are meant to react if a mugger suddenly jumps out of the bushes. A healthy functioning nervous system returns to rest once the danger is past. For some of us, however, that alarm system is stuck. It feels impossible to find the “off switch”.
An anxious temperament is both inherited and learned.
Highly anxious mothers tend to have children who also struggle. The hormones of an upset mother pass across the placenta, and induce anxiety in the baby even before birth.
The good news is that there is an “off switch”, and I am going to help you to find it!
Step One: Turn and face the fear.
Many anxious people have anxiety about their anxiety! Thus, they have unknowingly set up a cycle, which may lead to a panic attack. They are stuck in a never-ending loop. I know, I was once there! I used to have to take my son grocery shopping with me, as I just knew that I was going to have a panic attack, and he would have to finish the shopping for me. Sure enough, that is exactly what happened, and this pattern became increasingly established in my psyche.
Stop running! Turn and face the beast! It is, after all, our run away imaginations that has allowed it to grow out of control!
Step Two: Write it all down, every last bit of it!
Get yourself into a comfortable, safe environment. Write down all the things that you are afraid of; heart attack, stroke, passing out, being embarrassed, never getting over the panic attacks. Just write freely.
Step Three: Share the list of all the things you are afraid of: Uncover, Discover, Recover!
Share your list with a trusted friend, mentor or therapist. There may be some deep- seated fears buried. It is naming and claiming our thoughts that brings us freedom. Continue to journal on them, daily if possible. They will eventually come to the surface.
I look at this much like cleaning out my closet. This is a process that needs to be done on a regular basis. I take out each item one by one, and discard the items that no longer serve me. Do you believe that you are unable to live a full life because of your anxiety? If the anser is “no,” then let’s continue to clean out our emotional closets!
Step Four: Release the Fears
Once we have shared our fears with a trusted friend, we can release them to our Higher Power. I like to say a prayer like: “Dear God, please take these worries from me. I fully and completely release them to you now. I completely trust that you have taken them. Thank you for giving me freedom from these worries.” Some people like to have a little ceremony, where they burn the list, or rip it into pieces and give it a burial at sea. Do this in a way that is meaningful for you.
Step Five: Practice presence, or mindfulness.
This is such a simple and joyous practice! When we are fully in our bodies, we get to enjoy the precious present! We are not thinking about what has happened in the past, or what might happen in the future. Staying in the moment is a discipline that results in the most wonderful gifts. We are able to really see on the person in front of us, or the experience that we are having. I encourage you to put mindfulness practices into daily activities like folding clothes, cooking, eating, walking, talking and listening. It’s the same as physical exercise, where we need to lift weights or run a few miles every day. The more we practice, the better we get at it.
Step Six: Get some physical exercise every day.
This can be as simple as a half hour walk. Exercise produces chemicals in our brain that lead to a relaxed state.
Step Seven: Pay attention to our thoughts.
Lisa Natoli (40 Day Programme, lisanatoli.com) says to “watch our thoughts like a hawk”. This one practice takes focus and discipline. It is one of the most powerful habits to establish. So many of us have habitual negative thought patterns that lead us to anxiety. We make up stories about other people’s motives. We usually bounce back and forth between being upset about someone else’s behaviour, or feeling guilt over ours. It is possible to change the channel. We can stop making up stories, and step out of fear into a state of love.
Step Eight: Notice our judgments
Judgment is a mental habit! While we need to do this in order to keep ourselves safe, many of our judgments only serve to keep us stuck in anxiety. One of these that causes me anxiety is worry about whether you approve of me or not. Now, in my sane mind, I know that I do not have any power over you. When I remind myself of that, I am able to switch the channel and focus on sending you love. I can also stop judging myself. Whether or not I am behaving in a way that pleases you no longer needs to rule my life. I am free to just be me and to express the deep love that lives within.
Step Nine: Feed our spirit with loving thoughts.
I am here to tell you that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God. No matter how bad we think we are, I know for sure, that when God looks at us, he sees us as His beloved children! When I mess up, I imagine Him saying, “there, there, it’s okay!” This helps me to shift out of self-criticism and into self-acceptance.
The bonus gift is that when we see ourselves through eyes of love, we learn to see others in the same way.
Step Ten: Have a daily morning practice of reading inspirational material.
There are many spiritual masters and inspirational stories. When we start our day by feeding our minds with healthy information, it calms our mind and increases our chances for a good day. I love starting my day by reading A Course in Miracles, but the key is to read anything that lifts us out of our fearful thoughts.
Step Eleven: Meditate on the daily reading.
I meditate first thing in the morning and last thing at night. I also take a few moments throughout the day to reflect on my daily reading. My reading today was: “My God goes with me wherever I go.” I love that! It reminds me that I have absolutely nothing to be afraid of. I am completely taken care of!
Step Twelve: Practice mindful breathing.
Focusing on the breath helps us to distract us from our anxious thoughts. Count to 10 as you inhale, hold your breath for a count of 10, and exhale for a count of 10. Keep doing this until you feel yourself relax. Try this any time that you catch yourself caught in that loop. It really does work!