I have been anxious ever since I was a kid but it really started to become an uphill battle when I went to University in 2011. Since then it’s been a long road and I have had to do a lot of work and overcome some not so healthy coping mechanisms to get to the place I’m at now. Over the last two years I have been committed to figuring out how to embrace, manage, and shift out of anxiety, negative feelings, and heavy emotions. Combining everything I have learned through therapy, thought work, books, podcasts, breathwork, meditation and self-reflection I have come up with my own six step process for managing anxiety. This process has had such a profound impact on my mental health and overall wellbeing and I only wish that I had this information years ago. I hope that this finds any other anxious souls out there, inspires you, and helps you heal.
1. ACCEPT IT
I never really understood the concept of “creating space” for your emotions or anxiety, but I really embrace this now.
In order to create space for your emotions you have to be aware of your anxiety, accept that it’s there, and give yourself permission to feel it. We are so used to shutting our negative feelings down but unless we give ourselves the space to experience it, it won’t go away. Make sure to give yourself some time to feel whatever you are feeling. Feelings are meant to be felt and if we try to avoid them it’s like pushing down corks in water…. they will come up again later.
In the book the Untethered Soul, author and spiritual teacher Michael Singer explains that anxiety is energy moving through the body and unless we allow it to flow through us it will cause blockages and manifest as mental and physical ailments. The first step to allowing anxiety to flow through us is accepting that it’s there and giving ourselves permission to feel it before releasing it.
2. SEPARATE YOURself
“Rather than being your thoughts and emotions, be the awareness behind them.” — Eckhart Tolle
You are not your thoughts. You are not your anxiety. This is an important lesson I learned in therapy. Our anxious thoughts do not cause unhappiness but our attachment to them does.
It is up to you whether or not you want to get caught up in your anxious or fearful thoughts! They don’t have to define you.
The best way to separate ourselves from our negative thoughts and feelings is to observe them. What thoughts are you having? Where do you feel it in your body? Have a curious and open mind about where it started and why it may have come up (i.e. what triggered it?).
3. Sit with it
Yes, it’s uncomfortable and might even feel unnatural at first but you have to feel the anxiety in order for it to pass.
In my experience anxiety comes up for a reason, so I explore what it might be trying to tell me and I allow myself to sit with the feeling. The better you get at sitting with your anxiety the less intense it is and the sooner it will pass.
I sit with my anxiety by giving myself permission to feel anxious, writing down how I’m feeling, observing my thoughts, and sitting in a meditation without trying to change how I am feeling.
4. Practice Self Care
As far as I’m concerned my only responsibility when I feel anxious is have compassion for myself.
My initial reaction is usually to feel annoyed, frustrated, and get upset with myself for feeling the way I do. Then I realized if my friend ever came to me and explained that they had anxiety I would be nothing but supportive and kind to them. So why would I be hard on myself?
The best way to have compassion for yourself is to practice self-care. Do something for yourself that is going to make you feel supported. It’s that simple.
Check out my blog post on ‘Self-Care for Anxiety‘ for inspiration.
5. EXPRESS YOURSELF
The only way I have been able to deal with anxiety in a healthy way is by learning to express myself through writing. But maybe you love art, music, poetry, cooking or even exercising. Find your outlet and see what works for you! Whatever you do make sure you are getting out of your head.
6. release and SHIFT
Once I have given myself space to reflect, experience my anxiety, and practice self-care I am usually in a much better space and am ready to try and shift out of the anxiety by reaching for more positive feelings and emotions.
It’s important not to rush to this step because you have to fully process the anxiety before you can move on from it. In my experience trying to release my anxiety too quickly and forcing myself to feel better causes a lot of frustration and makes the anxiety worse. Sometimes it takes days or weeks before I’m ready to do these exercises.
How successful I am at “shifting out” of anxiety obviously depends on its severity it’s not always easy or even possible. It takes a lot of mental strength to pull yourself out of a negative space!
Take it slow. I like to think of it like a staircase. If your feeling negative emotions then your at the bottom of the staircase and won’t be able to reach the more positive emotions at the top of the staircase in one step. Focus on taking one step at a time and make sure to honour where you are at.
The goal is to develop your very own ‘toolbox’ of exercises that can help you move into a more positive space when you are ready.
Here are some of my favourite exercises that I use:
- Meditation and breathwork– in my experience this is the easiest way to release anxiety. I literally visualize the anxiety leaving my body and then try and tap into a more positive feeling. Alternatively, I will find a guided meditation on Insight Timer.
- Journal– Brooke Castillo’s exercise: how do I want to feel?
- Gratitude list– I want to avoid the rhetoric that thinking positive is enough to make you feel better. I know firsthand that it’s not and sometimes it can feel like a lie if you’re writing lists of things you feel grateful for but you can’t actually feel gratitude. However, gratitude is the antidote to anxiety. You can’t worry, stress, and feel negative about something if you are also really grateful for it. Practicing gratitude helps shift my perspective and my energy.
- Focus on your goals– Energy flows where attention goes. Find something to focus on that excites you or that you’re looking forward to. Sometimes I plan holidays and trips I want to go on just to focus on something that brings me joy.
- Affirmations or a mantra– This might be a little woo for some people and I thought affirmations were bullshit too at first. But eventually you really do start believing them and if you start having negative thoughts it’s a good way to counteract them. Whenever one negative thought pops up I replace it with something positive. Easier said than done. It’s a PRACTICE. These are a few of my favourites: I am not my anxiety, good things are on their way to me right now, everything is working out in my highest good, and I love and accept myself deeply and completely.
- The Emotional Guidance Scale– In her book Super Attractor, author Gabrielle Bernstein talks about an ‘Emotional Guidance Scale’ from Abraham Hicks. I use the first positive emotion on the scale (hopefulness) and try to climb up the scale to more positive feeling emotions when I am ready. She has a blog post on this if you are interested in reading more.
I would love to know if this has been helpful. Let me know how you manage your anxiety in the comments below!