How to Get From Anxiety to Zen

Intentional focus on four areas which promote calm, confidence and control.

Posted Apr 14, 2014

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.” ~Bruce Lee

The best wellness tools involve mind games to keep us calm, focused and productive.

But what happens when life gets stressful, as it inevitably does?

~Do you forge ahead despite the distractions?

~Do you wallow in nothingness and overwhelm?

~Do you give in and let anxiety control your body and mind?

The following calmness hacks are designed to keep your head in the game when the going gets tough.

Anxiety-Hack #1: Remember That Calm is An Inside Job

If you’ve ever suffered panic attacks, you know how scary the experience can be. Maybe you thought you were having a heart attack, or worse—felt like you were knocking on death’s door.

That’s your mind-body connection playing tricks on you.

Back in the cave dwellers day, we had to hunt for food. We were chased by wild animals and faced death at any moment. The fight-flight response was activated during times of stress, and our brain sent signals to our body preparing us for an adrenaline-surged run for our life, or it screamed “Fight back!”

The modern day problem is our physiology hasn't changed with the times. The vast majority of us don't encounter life-or-death situations, but our brain doesn’t know this.

So how can you exorcise your inner-cave dweller?

Focus on your breath.

When we're stressed out, we tend to over-breathe (rapid, shallow breaths that resemble panting) which can lead to panic attacks, or under-breathe (hold our breath) which can cause dizziness or hyperventilation.

Practice breathing slowly and deeply. Exercises like the 4-4-4 help you get in touch with your body:

Inhale for a count of four. Hold for a count of four. Exhale for a count of four.

Remember to practice when you’re calm, too. This will train your brain to use breathing as a relaxation tool throughout the day.

Anxiety-Hack #2: Leave the Past and the Future Alone

If you want to feel more calm, confident and in control you must be comfortable with the present. It’s the only time we actually “own.”

Focusing on the here-and-now is crucial because constant worrying about the future contributes to anxiety. Living in the past creates depression when countless hours are spent rewriting, reliving and recreating past events and relationships.

Mindfulness, meditation, breathing exercises, and visualization tools are wonderful for keeping us grounded in reality.

Anxiety-Hack #3: Tackle Anxiety’s Hidden Emotion

Do you know the primary underlying emotion of anxiety? Take a guess:

a) Fear

b) Jealousy

c) Regret

d) None of the above

If you guessed d), you’re correct.

There’s a price to pay when you're the go-to guy when a friend, family member or coworker needs help moving, or the gal who's there for everyone else, but herself.

And that price comes courtesy of anger.

This may sound counterintuitive since anxious people are often kind, nurturing and nice. But anger comes in many shapes and sizes, and it's not necessarily all bluster, loudness and emotional intensity.

The key is expressing anger at the right time, in the right amount, and to the right people.

Above all, you want to manage your anger so it doesn’t manage you. 

Anxiety-Hack #4: Build Your Boundaries

Boundaries are like invisible circles you draw around yourself to identify what’s acceptable and what’s not. Make a list of what and who you want in your life based on the following categories.

Physical boundaries pertain to privacy and personal space. What's the acceptable distance between you and another person? Are you comfortable with affection, or are you more reserved? Do you shake hands upon meeting someone? What does your home decor reveal? Are you organized or prone to clutter?

Mental boundaries include your thoughts, values, and opinions. Are you capable of having an open mind and a flexible attitude?

Emotional boundaries define your ability to withstand opposing opinions. Other signs of emotional wellness include resisting the urge to constantly dispense advice or try and “fix” someone else’s problems.

Financial boundaries center around how you spend, save, give and budget money.

Moral boundaries are those principles which align with your core values.

Sexual boundaries are defined by your comfort levels around physical touch, intimacy, and sexual behaviors.

Spiritual boundaries are based around your religious (or non-religious) beliefs about life, death, God(s), deities, or supernatural powers.

Setting and establishing firm and consistent boundaries takes effort, so give yourself a lot of time for this exercise.

In summary, there’s no quick-fix or 7-step strategy to go from anxiety to zen overnight. But daily focus on the four steps above will get you on the other side of stressed out.


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Copyright Linda Esposito, LCSW