Did you know people with anxiety tend to notice changes in facial expressions quicker than those without anxiety? However, their perceptions don’t always match up with reality, according to a study published in the Journal of Personality. Those with anxiety tend to overthink and easily jump to conclusions, which can lead to conflict in personal relationships.
Anxiety can wreak havoc on someone’s life and can become debilitating without proper treatment. Anxiety usually presents with some or all of the following symptoms:
- Excessive anxiety and worry – about various different activities – occurring more days than not for at least six months
- Difficulty controlling the anxiety
- Difficulty falling or staying asleep
- Easily fatigued
- Trouble focusing
- Muscle tension
- Significant impairment in work, school, and/or relationships
The above symptoms describe generalized anxiety disorder. Anxiety can present with other symptoms as well, depending on the diagnosis. For example, if a person suffers from social anxiety, he or she will find it difficult to converse with others and may sweat, blush, or have a rapid heart rate when talking to people.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the U.S., with over 40 million people suffering from one in a given year. Unfortunately, many people don’t seek treatment for anxiety; if left untreated, anxiety can lead to depression, suicide, and other health problems. Not everyone has access to quality health insurance, which can make conventional treatment out of reach for some people. In this article, we will go over some natural ways to deal with anxiety so you can gain control of your mental health.
Here are 5 ways to overcome anxiety and increase mental strength:
Take action, even if you don’t feel ready.
Many people with anxiety suffer from what’s called “analysis paralysis,” or feeling so overwhelmed by all the choices in the world that they remain stuck in one place. In other words, they cannot make a decision because the fear of making the wrong choice stops them from trying. This way of thinking causes you to ruminate on every possible choice you could make and consider every outcome, but paralyzes you from taking action.
The solution: Write down all the possible outcomes or solutions to a problem and then consider the pros and cons of making each choice. This way, you have a visual in front of you to bring clarity to the thoughts in your head. You could also just try out a few of the options on your list without writing them down. Remember: you don’t have to stick with any of the ideas, but it will feel better to move forward with your life and at least try out something new. It might actually work in your favor!
Don’t get caught up in perfection.
An obsession with being perfect can also paralyze you with fear and overthinking, causing you to remain stuck in life. Perfection doesn’t exist, yet we all strive for it. Wanting better for yourself in life isn’t a bad thing, but there’s a thin line between making progress and obsessing over your performance. Many people with anxiety feel like they have to achieve perfection 24/7, which can lead to burnout and unhappiness.
The solution: Don’t focus so much on the outcome; instead, pay more attention to the journey. Actually enjoy the process, whether you’re trying to climb a mountain or finish your thesis in college. Simply take action instead of sitting for hours worrying about how to do something or what step you should take. “Doing it badly” will serve you much better in the long run than doing nothing at all. That way you can learn from your mistakes and change what you do the next time around.
Become your best friend.
A lot of people with anxiety, particularly social anxiety, don’t practice self-love regularly. They allow negative thinking about themselves to distort their self-image, which can make them spiral into further self-doubt. If you had a friend who constantly doubted you and put you down, you probably wouldn’t remain friends with them for too long. However, we allow the voices in our heads to destroy our self-image without even thinking twice about it. This can cause a lot of damage to our self-esteem.
The solution: Studies have shown that self-compassion can work wonders for people with social anxiety. You might very well be your own worst enemy, while others don’t judge you so harshly. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Realize your strengths and good qualities, and focus on those instead of all your perceived flaws.
Have a set “worry time” each day.
If you allow yourself to worry at all times throughout the day, you’ll quickly become burnt out and overwhelmed with fear. Unfortunately, those with anxiety have a difficult time turning off their brains from the thoughts that seem to run on autopilot. Controlling the thoughts will help you get your anxiety under control.
The solution: We set times for doing a lot of different tasks, from cleaning dishes to reading a book to doing laundry. So, why can’t we do the same with worry? Theoretically, we can. Just as you set your alarm for work or school, you can set your alarm for a specific “worry period” during the day. Doing this during the morning might work best since you can get it out of the way and focus on the day ahead. Worrying at night too close to bed may keep you up with ruminating thoughts, so try this in the morning when you feel fresh and renewed.
Commit time each week to volunteering.
It’s written in our DNA to help others; after all, we need each other to survive. If you spend all your time just worrying about yourself, part of you will remain unfulfilled. Whether we realize it or not, we crave social connections. We need other people to need us and our strengths. Connections to others can help shield us from mental illness since we then have someone else to focus on besides ourselves.
The solution: How can you find purpose in your life with others in mind, you ask? You could volunteer at a nursing home or hospital or read books to children in foster homes. If you’d rather work with animals, you could visit a shelter for dogs. No matter what you choose, having a purpose in your life and making yourself important in the eyes of others will take your attention off of yourself and place it on meeting the needs of the people (or animals) who depend on you.
Other ways to decrease anxiety:
- Avoid thinking of the worst-case scenario. People with anxiety like to think of the worst possible thing that can happen so that they can prepare for that event. However, most of the time, the terrible thoughts they’ve allowed to fester don’t become reality, anyway. The mind suffers greatly when fear becomes the driving force of our focus and attention, even if you think that you’ll have a better handle on a situation because of your anxiety.
To overcome this, mental health expert Alicia Boyes says, “I use suddenly feeling overwhelmed as a cue to hunt for thinking errors. If I ever feel overwhelmed by an email, I tell myself, ‘There’s a ninety percent chance my reaction is just my good old anxiety brain, and that the request will seem easy when I look at it with fresh eyes tomorrow.’ I’ve had enough experiences of this alternative thought being true, to believe it!”
- Don’t fear criticism. People with anxiety, particularly those with social anxiety, have an intense fear of negative judgment. This usually means that the sufferer will respond in one of two ways: either avoid the anxiety trigger altogether (ex. people), or become a people-pleaser and forget about their own desires.
Unfortunately, even people with anxiety disorders must deal with the stresses of daily life, and this often means coming face-to-face with what triggers them, such as people. Anxiety can cause people to become very critical of themselves and second-guess their decisions and work.
Alicia says, “If the occasional reaction or feedback I get is negative, it’s not the end of the world and is typically something I can learn from. I also remind myself that when something I’ve done wrong is pointed out, it’s usually fixable rather than a catastrophe.”
We hope this article helped you see anxiety in a different perspective and realize that you can get a handle on it with some simple, but powerful, shifts in thinking. Positive thinking and reframing thoughts so that you don’t get stuck in black-and-white thinking can do wonders for your anxiety.
Mental illnesses such as anxiety might seem overwhelming and debilitating, but they only take control of you if you give them that power. Remember your own strength and you can take control of your mind and regain your life.