You feel sick.
Your mind has been racing for hours.
You can’t stop thinking about what might happen and how terrible things might be.
Your greatest foe has reared his ugly head once again—anxiety.
His main goal?
Shutting you down.
And unfortunately, he wins more often than not.
Is it even possible to overcome him when he strikes?
Luckily, it is.
The secret to overcoming anxiety lies in becoming the master of your own mind.
If you learn how to spot and interrupt anxious thinking patterns, you can stop anxiety in its tracks before it does more damage.
All or nothing thinking tells us that a situation has to be EVERYTHING or NOTHING at all.
One day, I was sitting across from my trusted counselor complaining about my husband.
“He made a list of ten chores to get done on Saturday, and he ONLY DID SEVEN OF THEM!” I cried.
She cocked her head.
“What?! In school, getting a 7 out of 10 is a D!” I said.
She giggled, then burst out laughing.
“Wait...is this about me?” I asked.
She raised her eyebrows.
I realized I had fallen victim to all-or-nothing thinking.
In school, seven out of ten is a “D”, but life isn’t school. We aren’t graded on everything we do.
The fact that my husband completed seven out of ten tasks was actually a reason to celebrate.
The truth is: there is value in recognizing small steps and incremental progress.
High expectations often lead to all-or-nothing thinking.
You want a:
High expectations are great, but it’s crucial that you don’t hinge your happiness on achieving perfection.
You’ll only end up anxious and depressed.
Be grateful for what you have and what you’ve accomplished—even if you don’t hit your initial goal.
Catastrophic thinking makes us think of terrible outcomes—the phrase “making a mountain out of a molehill” sums this pattern up perfectly.
When there’s a situation you’re unsure about and things could go wrong, catastrophic thinking causes your mind to assume the worst outcome will happen.
Are these outcomes possible?
But the truth is: 99% of the time the worst outcome doesn’t happen.
And in hindsight, you often feel like you worried for nothing.
The stories you and I write in our heads about what might happen are almost always wrong.
“What If” thinking is like catastrophic thinking, but causes you to worry about possible outcomes way out in the future.
What’s one thing each of these examples have in common?
Nothing has happened yet to cause the outcome you’re worrying about (and nothing is guaranteed to happen).
“What if” thinking will have you focusing on scenarios that are highly unlikely.
The second step to beating anxiety is interrupting these thinking patterns when you spot them.
Here are 5 ways you can stop anxiety in its tracks:
Anxiety writes stories in our heads that aren’t true.
You can spot the lies in its story by staying in the present.
Whenever anxiety writes its story, stand firm in the present and evaluate outcomes based on what you know right now.
This will help you spot and interrupt the lie before it takes your mind down the wrong path.
There’s a healthy and unhealthy way to view fear—and your view will impact your level of anxiety when you feel fear.
When your body says, “I’m in danger,” you can choose one of two responses:
A woman entering a dark store parking lot feels fear before walking to her car.
She can either move towards anxiety and think about all the bad things that might happen, saying, “I’m going to get mugged. I’m so stupid. Why did I do this?”
Or she could move to faith and wisdom saying, “I have the ability to get to my car safely.”
Wisdom tells her to be intentional about her actions to keep her safe.
Instead of resorting to “what if” thinking, she moves towards faith and wisdom to find courage.
Your response to fear can either relieve or cause anxiety.
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware and conscious of the present moment.
It’s a simple, but powerful concept.
Next time you feel anxious, try this simple mindfulness exercise:
Close your eyes and focus on your breath.
Breathe through your nose and count to 4 as you inhale. Then, count to 5 as you exhale through your mouth.
After a few minutes, pay attention to the sounds you hear around you. List off the things you hear.
This will help you tolerate the stress and anxiety you feel. It keeps you in the present moment and helps you know everything will be okay.
Just like property lines determine where your property begins and ends, personal boundaries give you structure that helps you maintain healthy relationships with yourself and others.
What does this look like?
Set rules regarding your words, actions, attitude, feelings, and relationships.
If a situation or relationship causes you anxiety (or is unhealthy in another way), create boundaries that keep them out of your life as much as possible.
That means doing things like:
Healthy boundaries will help you reduce anxiety stemming from situations in your life you can control.
Margin is the space between our workload and our limits.
We feel anxious whenever we pile too much on your plate.
Which of your current responsibilities can be given to others who can help?
Which ones can be pushed off?
Are there any that really aren’t that important and could be removed from your to-do list altogether?
Constantly monitor your workload and consider which activities are important and which are adding needless stress.
It’s inevitable that your body will go into panic mode at times.
When this happens, you can do a breathing and mindfulness exercise to help calm yourself down.
Step 1: Take several deep breaths.
Inhale while counting to 4, then exhale while counting to 5.
This tells your body that you’re giving it what it needs—air.
Step 2: Push your feet into the floor (or pound your feet if you’re standing) and remind yourself that the ground is strong enough to hold you.
Step 3: Look around the room and name things you see.
This reduces your heart rate and moves your mind into the present.
Anxiety seems like a mighty foe because, after all, it has won many of the battles you’ve fought.
But that doesn’t mean you can’t overcome it.
If you learn to spot and interrupt anxious thinking patterns, you can turn anxiety away before it takes control.
And soon, you’ll learn anxiety isn’t as mighty as it seems.