Help Yourself: Tips to Alleviate the Humdrum of Anxiety
A no-fluff approach to lead a more peaceful life.
Prologue: Choose Peace Over Happiness
Peace is something that is obtainable in any moment. Happiness on the other hand, is overrated. If you car gets stolen, of course you won’t be happy. In life it’s guaranteed that things will go better and things will go worse and undulate somewhere in between. Any state of ‘happiness’ is decidedly temporary. Eckhart Tolle describes things like getting one’s car stolen, losing one’s job and ending one’s relationship as part of our ‘life situation‘ not our ‘life‘ itself. Our life situation is all that is around us and our life is all that is within us. Our life situation may affect our levels of happiness but our life can maintain our inner peace. Are you alive? I expect so if you’re reading this (and that is a blessing!). Are you at peace? Perhaps not, and maybe that’s why you’re reading this article. I will define anxiety here as a departure from peace. This article intends to help you maintain a level of peace despite what your life situation may be; through immediately actionable steps.
1. Get off social media
‘I can’t stop feeling like I’m not good enough,’ I used to tell my ex-boyfriend after spending hours-on-end watching YouTube beauty gurus embellish themselves in their lavish homes with their perfect features and physiques. ‘Well, you do spend hours engrossed in content about superficial aspects of other people. Why don’t you help yourself and STOP watching those videos?’
Stop watching those videos? I thought to myself. Why? They’re like friends that I hang out with after a busy day. Watching these videos helps me to relax.
Maybe in small quantities watching so many beauty-related videos would have been so, but my excessive consumption of purely aesthetics-based content wasn’t relaxing at all. I felt inferior and it turns out Jeremy was right.
For all of the hours we spend on social media, imbibing creations by and about others; we consciously or subconsciously create judgement about whether or not someone is better off or worse than we are. And this seriously tarnishes any chance we may have at acquiring peace. My advice?Be very conscious about the time you spend on social media – limiting browsing to just a short window everyday. Perhaps you have specific days when you allow yourself to go onto FaceBook or Instagram, perhaps you utilize an application usage tracker on your phone. Whatever it is; be highly attentive to the content you consume. If someone’s posts disturb you in anyway, delete/block that person from your account. You don’t need to prove anything or explain yourself. Take control of your life by monitoring what and when you consume. I try to spend the first few hours of my day away from social media. I’m not very consistent with it but the days where I don’t go onto Instagram within the first 2 hours of waking up are always better days. This one change can make a massive difference to our humdrum of anxiety. In his book, ‘Deep Work,’ Cal Newport suggests that the use of social media is the number one contributor to anxiety and it has contributed to our decreasing ability to work effectively. Sometimes it’s not about what you do but what you don’t do. Setting up constraints can be freeing as I wrote about in this article.
I would love to say tell you to quit all social media now but the truth is that I can’t tell you to do anything I don’t do myself. Generating awareness and making an impact is much easier with tools like Instagram and FaceBook. Am I only using these platforms for these purposes? Unfortunately not. But I have become intensely aware of how scrolling through other people’s highlight reels and comparing them to my ‘behind-the-scenes’ affects my inner state. For this reason, I havevery controlled and limited usage of social media and this is the only way I can remain (at least partially) sane.
2. Identify your physical expression of anxiety
Everybody shows and feels their anxiety in different ways. For me, it’s with an elevated heart rate and tight shoulders. I can immediately sense stress within myself when my shoulders are tight and raised and when my heart is pounding at a noticeably higher rate than it does when I’m at rest. These physical responses have made it possible for me to notice when I’m feeling anxious and plan a course of action. Pay careful attention to the sensations in your body and start to notice the physical locations where you hours stress and anxiety. These will be triggers to do one of the things on this list – or whatever else has worked for you.
3. Do the thing you feel like doing the least
I know what you’re thinking, ‘Do what I want to do least? Are you frikkin’ kidding me? I’m anxious dammit; help me.’ Now before you click away from the page; hear me out.
I’m of the belief that our minds are our best personal assistants. In general they know what is best for us to do at any point in time but WE are very, very good at ignoring our brain’s suggestions. Whenever I feel anxious, a subtle thought comes to mind with a remedy of what could help me: ‘If I did some yoga I would probably feel better’, ‘maybe I’m feeling this way because I haven’t yet called my guitar teacher like I said I would’, ‘I wish I had started this project earlier, then I wouldn’t have been this stressed’. Time and time again, I get messages from my personal assistant; trying to help me out. But I often neglect her. Mostly because of the inertia within that lies with doing the one task that seems so highly undesirable but in reality is the very thing my body and mind needs me to do in order to acquire peace.
If you want to know more about how doing the least desirable of all the options can thrust your life into uncharted and spectacular territories; check out Leo’s video on One Simple Rule for Acing Life on Actualized.org. While you’re at it, subscribe to his channel if you haven’t already. This man knows what’s good and I harness a lot of fodder for my YouTube and blog content from his channel.
4. Invoke better emotions with motion
When last did you skip? Not with a skipping rope I mean kindergarten skipping as you would do on the playground when you were 5 years old. Try to skip around the room that you’re in. Now try to do but without a smile on your face. If you’re any sort of homosapien sapien, you’ll find that it is virtually impossible to move in this manner and not be happy. To paraphrase from Tony Robbins – it is no coincidence that motion and emotion are basically the same word! If you want to alter your inner state, change your outer state. It is ludicrous to feel a negative emotion for a prolonged period of time without trying to it through physical movement. Go for a run, swim or do yoga – just move. It helps. A lot.
5. Get outdoors
Have you ever felt worse after going for a walk outside? I didn’t think so. (Other than if you were hungover and even then, I’m not sure I believe you.) Fresh air, sounds of nature and the beauty of our world will help to alleviate some of the incessant thinking that is often a route cause of our anxiety. As an added bonus, make your walks meditative by gently observing the detail of things as you walk by.
Reconnecting with nature will take us out of our overly self-absorptive states and enable us to resonate with the beings and species that are built out of the very same atoms as we are. Paying attention to this inextricable connection will have a profound effect on your inner state that I don’t think is suitably captured by anything science has thus far been able to explain. Rather than being overly consumed by the future or the past, get consumed by the beauty of this world.
There shouldn’t be any surprises that meditation made it to this list since it is mentioned in every self-improvement video, book and article out there; but it really is for good reason. Meditation practice develops the skill of separating our life from our life situation as was described in the prologue of this article. Through daily meditation, we begin to acquire a state of peace and contentment that leaves us feeling less susceptible to outside disturbances. It’s called meditation practice for a reason – the more regularly you practice, the better you will get it. Start off by setting a 2 minute timer on your phone and sitting or laying down silently, settling in to a deep relaxation. Do this everyday, adding one minute as you go. In a month you’ll be meditating for 30 minutes everyday if you like. My preference is to meditate for 10-15 minutes two times a day. Find what works for you, be self-compassionate, find joy in everything that you do. As soon as meditation becomes yet another task on the slew of things you have to do, it is robbed of its calming and healing effect. Take it easy and savor the moments to yourself.
7. Drink less coffee
This is always an unpopular suggestion whenever I say it to people and I understand why – a good cup of coffee tastes and smells spectacular and leaves you feeling sprightly in the short period after drinking it. But for me, the negative effects far outweigh the positive effects of drinking coffee.
I started noticing a murmur of discomfort settling in my chest every morning and this feeling pretty much staying with me until I fell asleep. I realized I was suffering with a sense of anxiety but I did not want to be one of those people that had a permanent treatable ailment, especially one of the mind (because I like to think I can heal myself from any mental condition). But the feeling of impending doom was there and I couldn’t deny it.
Eventually I stumbled across a YouTube video about coffee anxiety and I realized I had severe coffee-induced anxiety. I tried to cut down but no matter how much I reduced my coffee intake; even a single cup would rob me of relaxation. So now I drink herbal tea and the occasional decaf cup of coffee and it has made a marked difference to my overall state. It may not be the cure for everyone but it certainly has helped me a lot to say goodbye to my old friend. If you drink a few cups of coffee a day, try cutting down or cutting it out altogether – I think you may be surprised how something seemingly so harmless can actually be harming your inner state.
8. Try not to judge others
Humans rely on the skill of discernment. We need to use our judgement about situations to not get driven over when we cross the road and to know when we need to see the doctor. However, the habit of developing opinions outside of the realm of danger-inducing situations has serious implications on our mental state. Really, the more we judge others, the more we judge ourselves. Each time you form an opinion on someone, you are forming an opinion about yourself. If you form negative opinions about people, you are planting seeds of pessimism within you that lead you to have a gloomy view of yourself. Unfortunately forming opinions is a habit that is so deeply ingrained within us that it is unrealistic to believe that we can magically stop negatively judging people suddenly.
Instead of trying not to think any thoughts when your mind is tempted to form a judgement, try instead to think loving, compassionate, understanding thoughts. Rather than thinking, ‘Look at him. He’s huge! How do people allow themselves to get so overweight? He is just lazy and I don’t feel sorry for him.’ Think to yourself, ‘I hope that he learns to love himself so that he may seek the help he needs and find the will to change his life with movement and healing food.’
Developing a habit of putting out the most affectionate judgements about people will neutralize the seeds of negativity we have planted habitually over the years. If you show understanding towards others, you will show more understanding to yourself. It is this outward-inward principle that can set us free when directly showing self-compassion feels impossible.