Ever suffered from anxiety? I have, and it's no picnic. About 10 years ago, I checked into the ER before a speaking engagement thinking I was having a heart attack. The electrocardiogram showed that my heart was as strong as ever. What had happened? I had had a panic attack, which is a sudden, overwhelming surge of anxiety and fear that mimics a heart attack. Doctors told me it had been induced by stress. That made sense. It was one of the most stressful periods of my life.
Numerous speaking engagements later, I had learned how to control feelings that commonly led to anxiety. I had learned that anxiety is often the result of fears (mostly based on things that haven't happened yet) you may have about uncertain situations, places, and even people in your life.
This is a serious issue. A study by Dr. Michael Freeman, a clinical professor at University of California, San Francisco, found that nearly half of 242 entrepreneurs surveyed reported having one or more lifetime mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults, a whopping 18 percent of the population.
If anxiety is beating up on you, you can reduce it with these helpful hacks.
1. Convince your brain that you're safe
The most commonly suggested way to manage anxiety is to calm the nervous system by using diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing). Doing it for a few minutes sends the brain the message that you're not actually in any danger, and in return it will kick your body into relaxation mode instead of fight-or-flight. If any part of your brain is sending signals that you're under threat (and in reality, you're not), kick the fear by gently talking yourself out of it. Convince that part of your brain sending you into fight-or-flight mode that you are just fine.
2. Practice positive thinking
If you're feeling anxious, move. Literally move -- go outside and get some fresh air. Put on your earbuds and start listening to your favorite relaxing music (give the speed metal or gangsta rap a break) while going for a brisk walk. Try to take your mind away from what's bothering you. Focus as you walk on positive thoughts that will make you feel safe, accepted, loved, and honored. When you're at homeostasis, reflect on how fortunate and blessed you actually are.
3. Journal to release your emotions
Journaling about your fears and worries helps you process how you really feel, which can be healing. Use a notebook, and write these headings at the top of a page: 1) Situation; 2) Thoughts/What am I telling myself?; 3) How anxious do I feel? Jot down a short sentence about the situation and the date so you can monitor your progress. Most important, write down any thoughts you're having either in anticipation of or during a situation that causes anxiety. What are you telling yourself? Is it true, or does it come from irrational fear? In the third column, rank how you feel on a scale of one to 10, or write a few words to describe how you feel. Once you get clarity on the situation, you can look at what actions to take to move yourself forward.
4. Accept that you can't control everything
Often, worry is the direct result of trying to control people, things, or certain situations that are actually well beyond your control. Understanding that you can't and shouldn't control everything and releasing your worry will help you manage your emotions better. Focus on the things that are in your control, slow down, and take one thing at a time. Now you can refocus on what's immediately in front of you, and go from there. Releasing your attempt to control will help ease some of the discomfort you're experiencing from your anxiety.
5. Habituate yourself to fear
By exposing yourself to whatever it is you fear, it loses its power and control over you. No matter what it is that you fear, if you literally submerge yourself in it for a long-enough period of time, the illusion of fear (because there's no such thing as fear--it's all in our minds) will eventually be gone. That weakness becomes your great strength. When you figure out the thing that you fear, it's usually the most important thing you need to make yourself or your business successful.
6. Try mindfulness
A growing body of research in neuroscience suggests that mindfulness is one of the best-kept secrets for helping people deal with anxiety. You can practice it by intentionally focusing on your emotions and accepting in a nonjudgmental way whatever thoughts and sensations you're experiencing in the moment. Matt Tenney, author of The Mindfulness Edge, summarizes it like this: "We train our awareness so that we become less distracted by our own thinking, which allows us to enjoy our lives more, to be more present with people, and to see our world, both inner and outer, with greater clarity."