Defeating anxiety, stress, negative thoughts, procrastination and fears has never been easy. And it never will be. Not because there is something wrong with us, or because we are doing it the wrong way, but because it is something that indeed requires from us conscious effort, time, practice and a lot of mental energy.
We are actually rewiring our brain: changing the neuron paths existing since childhood which take us a certain way, into a different path, where things happen in a different way and are linked to different thoughts.
In order to build that new path, we need to develop some specific skills. Attention: don't go into "all or nothing" thinking, saying to yourself "I don't have that skill, so I will never beat anxiety". It's not "you either have it or you don’t". We all have these skills, each and every one of us, at a different degree. And we can all work on these skills, a little bit every day, some skills more than others. There is no recipe here. No one is master in all of them - we are all trying our best.
1. The ability to tolerate and accept uncertainty.
There are circumstances where we don't know what will happen tomorrow, neither the outcome of our actions, or what the decisions of others will be. Having control over everything is beyond our ability. Let us accept that. We are responsible for only half of what's happening around us (at times even less) and there are situations where we can only wait and see. And there's nothing wrong with that.
Ask yourself: "I cannot do anything right now to change what is. Can I let go for now and see what will happen tomorrow?"
2. The ability to defend your story.
It is quite common for people with anxiety to ruminate over worst-case scenarios. They blame themselves for the mistakes or the neglect. What about we stop putting all the blame on ourselves and accept the story as it is. "Yes. I did my best." or "I am sorry but that was what seemed to me the right decision back then". Defend yourself and your side of the story. You are only human.
Ask yourself: "I did my best. I cannot undo it. Am I ready to defend myself if something goes wrong? Am I willing to own my decisions?"
3. The ability to choose your battles.
Joggling with more balls than we can handle is a sure deliverer of stress and anxiety. When we want to be prepared for all possibilities, it makes sense for us to fight on many fields and try to cover our backs. The need for self-protection is very strong in people with anxiety, however it backfires when we struggle 24/7, even for the least important tasks in our lives. Time-wise and energy-wise,it is not possible. Choose your battles. Prioritize tasks based on what matters right now and what doesn't. Focus only on what's important, and keep the rest on "a low flame".
Ask yourself: "Are all the things I worry about right now equally significant? If I could put them in order, what would be No1? Or my top three?"
4. The ability to work on something without seeing the result of it.
Sometimes we are so caught up working on an important task that we lose contact with the effort we put in. We focus only on the result: "What if I fail? What if it goes wrong?.." And all the negative scenarios flood into our minds. What if we forget about the final outcome? We can not fully predict what will come out of our effort, but only have a rough idea. The only thing we can focus on, is what we do now.
Ask yourself: "If nobody sees the end product, do I still want to keep on doing it? Do I still find pleasure in it?"
5. The ability to let go of perfectionism.
Allowing yourself to make mistakes is a keystone in our lives. You are allowing yourself to be imperfect. You are allowing yourself to feel vulnerable and at the same time you are "permitting" others to be imperfect, to make mistakes, to be who they are as well. Suddenly your high -unreachable and exhausting- standards will drop and you can sigh with relief. Suddenly you don't need to change either yourself or others. You realize that there is a limit to what you can achieve at this moment. Perfectionism is not about delivering perfect results. It is about struggling to reach perfection and beating yourself up for failing to do so.
Ask yourself: "What is more important? Pinpointing mistakes in myself or in others in order to improve myself/them or to stop judging and save this relationship by accepting human nature as it is?"
6. The ability to recognize your thoughts and your thinking patterns.
In the rush of everyday life and when life overwhelms us, we hardly ever have time to stop and reflect. However, seeing your thoughts as an observer (this is called "metacognitive skills") is a skill that will give you great insight on how you feed your brain. For example, if you are using words like "always" or "never" (e.g. "I will never succeed", "I am always the last one", etc), you are over-generalizing and treating yourself in an unfair way. You are exaggerating your weak parts and ignoring your strengths and achievements.
Ask yourself: "Am I talking to myself in an unfair way? How is this helping me right now?"
7. The ability to be in the present moment.
An anxious mind is hardly ever in the present moment. It always "travels" to scary thoughts about the future, making up scenarios where things get worse, preparing for all probabilities and trying to minimize any possible risk for the future. There is nothing wrong with that per se. However, something is missing: the present moment, the joy, the surprise, the agony, the unexpected moment.
Ask yourself: "What is the point of caring so much about the future, if I am missing the present moment and the opportunities that it brings?"
8. The ability to stop caring about what other people think.
"People will think that I am sloppy", "People will talk behind my back", "People will not approve of my decisions". Everyone, more or less, tries to take the opinion of others into consideration in an attempt to behave within the "norms" of society. However, when these rules overwhelm us, and we find ourselves thinking more about other people's opinion and tailor our life to their standards, then we are left with anxiety, frustration and inner conflict.
Ask yourself: "I cannot always please others and be happy with my life. What do I choose?"
9. The ability to reframe.
Not getting a promotion is a negative experience in life. Divorcing is definitely one of the worst experiences to go through. However, if you turn this around and reframe it, it can be a great opportunity to see if you really fit in this company, this job or even this marriage. It may be the chance to look for other alternatives, to find a job or a relationship that really gives meaning to your life.
Ask yourself: "Can I turn this around? Can I see even a small positive outcome of this situation?"
Plus ONE: The ability to share.
The burden we usually carry is even heavier when we carry it alone. Or when we think that this is the right way to do so. The truth is that you don't have to do everything by yourself. Asking for help doesn't mean you are weak. It just means that you don't have all the solutions to all problems and that's OK. Nobody will think badly of you or try to diminish your efforts. On the contrary, they will be happy that you include them and that you share what is important to you.
Ask yourself: "What will I gain if I share my worries and ask for help? What will I lose if I continue struggling on my own?"
Take action now.
TAKE CONTROL OF YOUR LIFE.