Let’s look at how to substitute calmness for stress, reduce anxiety, and procrastinate less.
We commonly use the words stress and anxiety to describe unpleasant feelings. There is a difference. When stressed, you are reacting to a change. When anxious, you anticipate that something threatening is coming your way. It often happens, however, that both interplay. Reducing one helps reduce the other.
All living creatures are subject to stress. A dove may feel stressed when predators are near or when temperatures rapidly change or when food is in short supply. A new job is stressful until you adjust. You have a schedule to meet and you are stuck in traffic. That can be stressful.
Your level of stress affects what you do. When distracted by stresses, you are likely to put more things off and suffer from a procrastination accumulation effect. This is where you feel stressed, put things off, and then feel stressed thinking about what you’ve left undone. As you do this, you leave more things undone and feel overwhelmed. This is a classic vicious cycle.
When your mind and body are in a calm place, you are likely to feel in control. You may see opportunities for building a better future. By acting to take advantage of these opportunities, you are in a stronger position to build confidence by meeting challenges. You’ll have less time for procrastination and are likely to procrastinate less. You may still feel stressed by change, but you’ll rebound faster.
You can lessen stress by calming your mind and body. For example, meditation is an evidence-based way to do this. Put yourself in a comfortable and quiet place where you are safe from interruptions. For a five-minute period in the morning and five minutes in the afternoon, in your mind, hum a simple word, such as "One." Over a six-week period, you may find you feel calmer more often.
Many nature scenes are calming. Here are some examples:
- A clutter-free pristine scene viewed from a sheltered vantage point.
- Blues skies and open fields with mountains in the background.
- A stream that winds into a wooded area.
What can you do to attain the benefits of serene nature scenes if you live in an area surrounded by buildings, roads, and malls? Photos of serene scenes have about the same effect as a direct experience. A photo of a waterfall scene might do. A photo of green islands in a bay may do. A painting of mountains rising in the distance may do. You can also visualize serene scenes to bring about a calming feeling.
(For information on how to use scenes for serenity for positive actions, see: "Four Steps to a Calmer, Confident, Creative, Capable You.")
By increasing your feelings of calmness, you build emotional reserves. With deeper emotional reserves, you’re less likely to fall into a secondary procrastination pattern. This is where stress (anxiety, down moods, etc.) precedes delaying and where the consequences of delaying lead to more stress. You can confidently draw on these reserves to overcome recurring anxieties.
Anxiety is a dread of something that can happen soon or in the distant future. You’re vigilant. You’re on guard. This built-in survival feeling is sufficiently strong to cause you to avoid real threats.
Parasitic anxiety is different. When you feel parasitically anxious, you exaggerate risks and dangers or make up ones that don’t exist.
Your parasitic anxieties are normally about you. For example:
- You expect that you won’t cope effectively, and you feel drained.
- You feel anxious about feeling anxious, and think you can’t control these feelings.
- You dwell on the possibility of making a fool out of yourself in public and believe you can’t prevent that outcome.
- You panic at the thought of losing control, and not rebounding.
- You dread failing a test and think you can’t change this outcome.
Each of the above examples suggests powerless thinking with accompanying parasitic anxiety feelings. Is it possible for you to try a different way?
Changing Anxious Thoughts, Feelings, and Actions
Your parasitic anxieties start with a prediction about a danger that is an exaggeration or based on a fiction. One solution is to eliminate the fiction. Let’s look at an example of anxiety at the possibility of making a fool out of yourself in public.
- Psychologist Albert Ellis’ Where’s the Evidence technique can help. For example, where is the evidence that you’ll make a fool of yourself in public? If you can’t prove that you will, what's the point in feeling anxious?
- Revise your self-talk and get specific. If you were to make a fool of yourself in public, what would you have to do to accomplish that feat? By getting specific, you may see that anxiety over something you can predict is something that you can correct before you get to the dreaded situation. For instance, is it possible to imagine yourself acting effectively?
- If you generally feel insecure in groups, consider this as an opportunity to practice feeling secure by mingling in groups. Planned exposure experiments strongly correlate with reductions in fear and anxiety.
- You’ll err through your life. You can cut back on that, but not perfectly so. Here is something you can control. You can practice acceptance. Sure, you'll make mistakes. Some will be consequential. Fix what you can. Acceptance means to take things as they are, not as you think they must be.
- Take advantage of contradictions to unravel fictions. If you believe you are powerless to take constructive actions to cope, you’ve foreclosed on your ability to self-improve. On the other hand, if you believed that you could take steps to self-improve, you have a contradiction to resolve. How can you both be powerless and have the power to take a corrective course of action?
By addressing anxious thinking fictions, you may gain a sense of clarity that leads to a realistic perspective. However, your anxious feelings may not vanish with perspective-changing information alone. Nevertheless, this is a starting point for putting a cycle of positive change in motion.
For a free 23-minute audio presentation that I recorded on anxiety, click on Anxiety Presentation.
For more information on combatting parasitic anxieties, click on The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.
Thumbnail photo by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art and Design, Fayetteville NC
(c) Dr. Bill Knaus 2015 All rights reserved.