Get Off the Anxiety Hamster Wheel

Four steps to leave fears, worries and worst-case scenarios behind.

Posted Dec 19, 2018

Gabriel Matula/unsplash
Source: Gabriel Matula/unsplash

In college, I struggled with algebra. I sweated, prayed and ugly cried through every test, quiz, and random question asked in class—until that Tuesday I got smart and showed up at Professor Johnson’s office. To paraphrase the good doctor’s wisdom: Applying mathematics is to follow a series of basic structures and patterns. You employ critical thinking to find balance and predictability. Each step builds on previous steps. Always come back to problem-solving.

Ironically, I now teach a similar set of skills applied to a different life problem: how to quiet the anxious mind.

Conquering my fear of numbers came by way of slow, deep-breathing, reminding myself I was not, in fact, math-impaired, and taking it one step at a time. You can do the same to reduce anxiety by applying the following strategies:

1. Recognize the fight-flight response. Too often we overreact to the sudden onset of physical symptoms (easy to do when your heart threatens to jump out of your chest and your breath is stuck in your throat). Instead, know when your body and mind are conspiring to keep you overly focused on fears, worries, and worst-case scenarios. Deep-breathing, meditation and grounding exercises are your go-to's.

Take control question: Is there an actual threat to my personal safety or survival, or am I unintentionally panicking myself?

2. Spot the hidden culprits. The anxious response is not random, rather, our under-attention to problem-solving is finally catching up to us. All feelings go somewhere.

Take control questions: What boundaries do I need to tighten up? Are there others that could be loosened?

3. Stop with the indecision, already! A hallmark of the anxious mindset, if ever there was one. Talk about a time suck—not to mention a sure-fire method of losing social contacts. Employ rational thoughts to make a sound decision.

Take control questions: What’s the expedient take on my situation? Who can I talk to for perspective?

4. Problem-solve, instead of engaging in habitual activities that get you moving but get you nowhere. The task here is doing differently in the face of stress, worries, and uncertainty. The challenge is to summon the energy to show up and execute, rather than sink into that passive space that anxiety prefers. Acting with intention and positivity takes more mental strength than defaulting to a negative, hopeless mind space.

Take control question: If I follow the same steps when stressed out, is this likely to get me through or keep me stuck?

The road to calm can be bumpy, but sequential steps will get you on the right side of inner peace quicker. Not as elementary as 1, 2, 3, but easier and faster than learning algebra.