Let’s talk about how to identify the signs of anxiety, and some simple daily routines to counter anxiety so you can stay calm, focused and relaxed.

Today I want to talk about staying calm and to talk through some tools you can use to dial down anxiety. 

I feel pretty qualified to talk about this because I’ve had anxiety my whole life. I had anxiety as a small child as a teenager. As an adult it comes and goes, but I largely have a handle on it and I have used many tools to help me manage it.

By the end of this episode I hope that you will have some useful tools to help you to tame the anxiety that you may feel from time to time and especially right now and, to know that you have so much power in you to do this.

Stress versus anxiety

The first thing I want to talk about is the difference between stress and anxiety.

Stress often has a root cause – it is a response to a perceived threat. Anxiety may be a reaction to stress, but it may also have no root cause. Anxiety may be a sense of heightened tension or persistent feeling of apprehension.

Some of the signs of stress include low energy, headaches, upset stomach, aches and pains, heart palpitations, loss of libido, chest pain, skin rashes, insomnia, and frequent colds and infections.

According to Beyond Blue, there are three types of anxiety symptoms.

Physical symptoms could include panic attacks, hot and cold flushes, racing heart, tightening chest, quick breathing, restlessness, feeling wound up and edgy.

Psychological symptoms could include excessive fears, worry, catastrophizing or obsessive thinking.

Behavioural symptoms could include avoiding situations that cause anxiety.

You may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, but aside from that, anxiety is largely caused by our thinking patterns. 

The thing about anxiety is that if you have lived with it a long time, you may not be aware of it or how it’s showing up in your body, your mind or your life – because it feels normal to be anxious.

Now let’s talk briefly about what creates anxiety and what the impact of that may be.

I don’t really want to dwell on this too much but just to say enough about it that you can tell for yourself whether anxiety is something that you need to be dealing with and resolving.

What causes anxiety?

You may have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, but aside from that, anxiety is largely caused by our thinking patterns. 

So if you have a racing mind, or a lot of worries, then you may feel overwhelmed or have a sense that you have a loss of control.

You may find yourself ruminating on things or catastrophizing about things. This can happen at any time but it often likes to pop up at 3 o’clock in the morning when you can’t sleep and suddenly your head is full of busy stuff.

Some people may not be that attuned to those things because it’s normal for you so you don’t notice that there is anything unusual or super challenging – maybe you think that’s just how life is. 

I first noticed anxiety as nail biting, picking the skin on my fingers, endlessly twirling my hair, nervous twitches, shallow rapid breathing and an inability to sit still.

In fact one of the hardest things for an anxious person is to sit still because then we are left alone with our thoughts and our difficult emotions so we prefer to be moving all of the time. 

You may also find yourself reaching for alcohol, chocolate, crunchy foods, savoury foods or caffeine to try and manage your energy and your emotions.

None of this is helpful, so let’s talk about counter anxiety because I think this is where the joy is for us.

How to Counter Anxiety

Since anxiety largely starts in your brain, in your mind, and there’s so much movement and energy around it, then the general principles to counter anxiety are around three things:

  1. slowing down 
  2. single tasking and 
  3. being more mindful.

Here are some ideas to get you thinking about how you can introduce more slowness and stillness and presence into your life in a way that feels safe, comfortable and calm.

It’s really important that you start your day off right in a calm, slow leisurely way. 

Right now I invite you to think about what would create that for you. 

It may involve swapping a caffeinated drink for a non-caffeinated drink. It might be about having breakfast with some protein in it to balance your blood sugar.

It might be about including some movement at the start of the day where you are able to become present and mindful, which could involve a walk, some rhythmic movement in nature like swimming or surfing, or being in the garden. 

For some people it’s meditation or yoga to create that calm mental energy that allows you to be focused and level headed as you start your day.

In terms of getting through your day, I think the key part of managing anxiety is to just take on a bare minimum of things that you need to get done. 

This means leaving plenty of time to do each task, with plenty of white space in your diary. 

Maybe for you that is three things a day for five things a day or one thing a day. You need to experiment to find what your sweet spot is.

Because my work involves a lot of coaching conversations and a bit of teaching, I have worked out that my capacity is about five sessions per day. I’ve realised that if I’m feeling a bit tired or stressed then I will block out a day and reschedule my appointments because I won’t be showing up as my best I calmest to those sessions. 

If I’m feeling rushed or going too fast then it affects the quality of the conversations that I’m having and it limits my ability to truly listen to people.

It has taken a lot of discipline for me to do one thing at a time, but it’s been worth it.

As you can tell the good part of this is about setting boundaries that are realistic and healthy so that you can do what you need to do and feel calm by the end of the day. 

People often ask me how I manage to get so much done and it is simply because I am calm, I don’t take on too much and I finish things as I go. 

It’s been hard to get into that routine but it’s been so worth it for me.

I used to multi-task and it has taken a lot of discipline for me to do one thing at a time, but it’s been worth it.

I now expect less of myself, which lowers my anxiety, and I actually get more done.

In the evening, I find that being organised with meal prep is really helpful for staying calm and eating slow, relaxed meals. To achieve that, I spend about 2 hours on a Sunday night making up some delicious salads and proteins for lunch and thinking about what dinner will involve, depending on my evening work commitments.

Before bed, I like to spend time reading a book to help me wind down and empty my mind, but I might also have a long chat with my husband or take some time to simply stare into space and think of nothing.

There is a great book that I recommend called the Practicing Mind by Thomas M Sterner, which covers a lot of these principles. It’s been a game changer for me.

Summary

Some of us are wired for anxiety and we may be in the habit of creating anxiety with our repetitive daily thought patterns.

But there are a range of things you can do to slow down, simplify and stay mindful, so that you can counter anxiety and remain calm and focused.

 

Ready to counter anxiety?

There are things you can do to slow down, simplify and stay mindful. If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

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