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Episode 84: Countering Anxiety

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.


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.

Learn more here:

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Episode 52: Nine Benefits of Thought Modelling

Today I want to talk about the benefits of thought models, which are so important for  coaches to use both with their clients as well as in their personal practice. 

What is a thought model?

Let’s step back for a moment to see that a lot of time in our lives is spent in our own mind. We spend time thinking about ourselves and our problems, catastrophising things, judging ourselves, worrying what other people think of us. Feeling confused, scared, overwhelmed.

All of that stuff is related to what you are thinking.

For many years I thought that was just the way things were, and that I had to live with it. What I did was try to escape those uncomfortable feelings by doing varying things. And that’s what a lot of people do, turn to over exercising, drinking, drugs, over eating, over working… all sorts of things to escape those uncomfortable feelings. But the consequences of those things are far worse than dealing with the feelings.

So knowing that we all have uncomfortable feelings, what can we do about them?

There are a variety of models, but the principle is this: at any given moment you have an uncomfortable emotional thought that makes you feel a certain way and the goal of using a model is to pull back from the emotion and to look at things objectively so that you can problem solve them.

For example, let’s say you sent a text message to someone and they didn’t reply. At first you think, maybe they were busy. Then and hour later your are wondering why they haven’t got back to you, maybe they don’t like you, and you somehow invest time and energy to create a story around something where you don’t know the answer.

The point of using a thought model is to pull away from that and look at the facts. When you zoom out and look at the big picture, it calms down your brain and makes it easier to let go.

What we are trying to do is turn from catastrophising into factualising. The models are a tool to take that highly emotive thought or feeling and to bring it down to the simple facts.

So instead of thinking “that person didn’t reply to my text message and they are really rude and don’t like me”, you look at the facts: you sent a text message and they didn’t reply.

You see how different that feels?

It’s easy to get wound up about it and it gets in the way of you doing other more fun and important things in your life. The point of using a thought model is to look at things more clearly so you don’t have that intense emotional feeling around it and you can let it go more easily.

It’s about switching off that automatic, compulsive, emotional reaction and becoming a bit calmer about things.

It’s the little things that you do every day that allow you to create a bigger outcome. For me, the bigger outcome of thought modelling is that any of life’s circumstances have become way easier for me to deal with – I spend way less time in my head, feeling uncomfortable, and I have way less anxiety. This is all because I have been doing this maintenance activity of thought modelling.

9 Benefits of thought modelling

  1. Dial down intensity off emotion – instead of turning everything into a catastrophe you can dial down the intensity of the emotion.
  2. Get unstuck – when something goes over and over in your head that stops you from doing something else, or a fear that you have – that’s being stuck. Using thought models can help you get unstuck.
  3. Rewrite thought patterns – rewiring your mental habits so you don’t go down the negative self-critical spiral.
  4. Maintain mental well-being – instead of those huge roller coasters you can level things out by talking to yourself factually about everything. You maintain a sense of calm and peace and level head space.
  5. Take action toward goals – instead of being bogged down with negative though patterns, you can persist until results happen. Thought modelling is so powerful when it comes to helping you take consistent action towards the result.
  6. Better perspective and less judgement – by stripping things back to the facts you have a healthier perspective, you see both sides of the coin, you can be more objective and therefore less judgemental.
  7. Feel calmer and more balanced – you train your brain to see the good and the peaceful, rather than what’s not working, and the fear and the pain which create that fight or flight response in the body and keep you in a state of stress.
  8. Change beliefs  – when you say something more neutral and factual (and eventually more positive) to yourself repeatedly, your brain will start to embed that as a new belief.
  9. Become future self – if you want to make significant changes, you are going to have to become a different version of yourself to adopt the habits of that person that will create that different result. To do this, you’ll need to think differently, as well as act differently. If you truly want to do something different and achieve something big, thought models help you become that future self by practicing the thoughts of the new and improved version of you.

Ready to become your future self?

You may find that thought modelling will change your life. If you’re truly ready to break old habits and get out of the rut I encourage you to check out the Habitology membership.

Learn more here:

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Overcome Negative Thinking

A lot of my Wellness Coaching clients want to stop negative thoughts, because they are feeling overwhelmed and want to learn how to be more positive.

So I’ve written this article to share the simple tools and tips that have worked for hundreds my clients to create more positive and healthy thoughts.

You’ll learn:

  • why we have negative thoughts,
  • whether you’re a glass-half-full or -empty person (take the quiz!), and finally
  • how to rewire your brain, so you can calm down and start being more positive.

To help you start taking action, I’ve listed the 10 most powerful tools you can use to neutralise or stop negative thoughts and start cultivating more positive thoughts.

Startling Facts About Our Thoughts

My fact-finding mission revealed some crazy and startling facts about our thoughts:

Our brains are busy:

  • we have 50000-70000 thoughts per day (Bruce Davis, PhD, Huffington Post online) – that’s 35 – 48 per minute!

Our brains are predictable:

  • around 98% of our thoughts are the same each day. Our brains like operating efficiently, on low power. This is why we form and follow habits.

Our brains run mostly on autopilot:

  • about 95% of our thoughts, decisions, emotions and behaviours are unconscious (Marianne Szegedy-Maszak, Auburn University

Our brains are wired to the negative:

  • Up to 70% of our mental chatter – our thoughts – are negative (Psychology Today online).

So, how many negative thoughts do you have per day? About 42,000 – or 29 per minute.

Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff says that most of us have the ability to catch and re-focus our negative thoughts and make them more positive.

But some of us are in an entrenched habit of ‘throwing more logs on the fire’ and this can affect our happiness, health and wellbeing.

So let’s ask the $100,000 question – if it feels bad, then WHY do we do it?

The positives of negative thinking

  • The first positive is that it helps us to identify threats to our survival and keeps us safe.

Back in the day it saved us from wild animals.

These days, it means we’re on alert and we more easily notice negative words, images, situations, conflict, atrocities and people to be wary or mistrustful of – including ourselves.

  • The second positive of negative thinking is that it teaches us self-compassion, empathy, appreciation and gratitude when things go well. It makes the bright side brighter.

Your Natural Wiring

Cognitive researcher Nancy Etcoff says that we are all wired slightly differently.

Some of us are glass-half-full people, while some of us are glass-half empty people.

Your personal wiring is influenced by:

  • genetics (50%),
  • your environment (30%) and
  • other things you can control (20%)

In other words, you have control of 20 – 50% of the things that influence your natural wiring.

Etcoff also says that your natural drive to seek happiness is affected by how you respond to stress, so this is also something to work on.

How are you wired?

Take this quick quiz and find out or download this worksheet.

For each pair of statements, pick the ONE statement that best describes you – A or B.

Q1 – Thoughts

  1. I tend to notice roadblocks, challenges, obstacles and what’s wrong in life
  2. I tend to be amped up and see the positives in life and the good in people

Q2 – Language

  1. I tend to talk about things I don’t want or want to give up, cut out, restrict or get rid of
  2. I tend to talk about the things I want, love, need and truly desire

Q3 – Feelings

  1. I often feel judged or criticised by other people, based on their words or body language
  2. I don’t notice how other people act around me, or think about what they might imply

Q4 – Actions

  1. I often use food, alcohol, shopping or other tools to shut down my negative thoughts
  2. I often use journaling, coaching, reflection, meditation, yoga, walking, being with nature or connection to redirect my negative thoughts.

For the first three questions:

  • mostly A’s means you might be more of a glass half empty person.
  • mostly B’s means you might be more of a glass half full person.

For the last question:

  • if you answered A (using unhealthy tools) – it means you might lack self-awareness or the skills to change your negative thinking on your own.
  • if you answered B – that you use healthy tools – it means you have the skills to redirect your thinking most of the time.

If you’re one of my self-coaching students, your workbook for this topic has a few extra questions to give you a bit more clarity around how you’re wired.

Why Else Do Your Thoughts Matter?

All that said and done, your thoughts matter because your thoughts and beliefs are what create your feelings.

Following on from that, your feelings dictate how you act, and therefore the results you get in life.

On top of that, the way you respond to stress determines how well you bounce back from negative thinking and get back on your game.

So if you want to learn how to calm down and start being more positive and happy, your best approach is to:

  • learn how to change your thinking and
  • actively build resilience.

After all, the one thing you CAN control in life is what you choose to think.

How often should you work on rewiring your brain?

Positive Psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson gives us some clues in her book, Positivity.

She says that we need at least 3 – 5 positives to outweigh each negative thought or feeling we experience each day.

The number of positives we need is higher when the negatives are experienced in a relationship with another person.

Based on that, I think it’s fair to say that:

  • a daily thought-rewiring practice of at least 10 minutes is a good start (‘housekeeping’), and
  • you’ll get better results if you do resilience-building activities for at least 60 minutes per week (‘preventative’).

The 10 most powerful tools to rewire your thinking and build resilience

Best Ways to Rewire Your Thinking

1) Affirmations and Inspirational quotes

When it comes to affirmations, I personally think it’s important to create your own positive affirmations using words that are meaningful to you.

That’s because part of your learning is becoming skilled at developing your own believable, authentic, meaningful and relevant thoughts and statements.

I believe it will help you to rewire your brain quickly and more easily if you choose your own words.

2) Clean up your environment

Your surroundings have a huge and largely subconscious effect on your thoughts and feelings. We are intrinsically wired to respond subconsciously to the people and things around us.

That’s why Marketing Psychology is an industry – it’s about using sights, sounds and words to appeal to our inner decision-maker.

The important thing is that we can change our environment to trigger more positive and helpful thoughts and feelings, and avoid environments that are unhelpful.

I recommend you start with an audit of your work-space, bedroom or main living areas.

What are the sounds, colours, clutter or objects that support positive thoughts, or create negative thoughts? Identify them and make a plan to change.

Consider what you wear and your personal grooming. How do those things make you feel? What works, and what needs to change?

I know that having a shower or putting on stylish clothing makes me feel great. 

Having a good hair day makes me feel way better than having a bad hair day. 

And so on.

Look at your media diet. Where are the negative influences coming in? How many positive podcasts, books or magazines are you exposing yourself to?

I feel fantastic when I listen to inspiring podcasts, and anxious when I go near email and social media, or read the news.

For me the decision is simple – get rid of the negatives and connect with the positives.

Your environment potentially influences up to 30% of your wiring, according to Nancy Etcoff. That’s a big chunk of your mood and it’s something you can change.

3) Using a thought-change model like ABCDE, or Brooke Castillo’s CTFAR

A subtle but extremely powerful exercise is spending just 10 minutes rewiring your thoughts in writing.

Follow this 3-step process to get started simply and easily:

  • At the end of the day, write down one negative thought that came up for you
  • Then, write an alternative thought statement – neutral or positive
  • Make sure the new statement is something you feel you believe

This exercise it will plug this into the GPS part of your brain as a new instruction.  Like brushing your teeth each day, the result will be a powerful shift in your thinking habits.

4) Self-coaching, gratitude or appreciation journaling

This is another writing exercise, because writing and seeing what you wrote has the most impact on your brain wiring.

Writing down three successes, achievements, things you are grateful for or that you appreciate helps bring an intentional, positive perspective to counteract your automatic negative thinking.

Try it and you’ll see the difference.

5) Make plans for fun

When you feel overwhelmed it means you are lost in a spaghetti bolognaise of intangible thoughts and have no concrete direction or clarity on what to do next.

The simplest thing you can do is make a short list of things you can take control of or do within the next 24 hours. Like washing the dishes, or folding the tea towels.

Even better, make a longer-term plan for a wonderful holiday break, or to attend an event, or to meet up with a friend. The good feelings will flood in immediately and help you to calm down in that moment, so you can function again.

Best Ways to Build Resilience

1) Plan Your Time, Schedule Everything

Overwhelm is when we have seemingly so many things to do and no clear path to complete them. 

It happens because most of us have no plans, or inadequate detail in our plans, and/or unrealistic expectations.

The first step is to break down a bigger task (like building a website) into the many small tasks that are involved.

The second step is to schedule each sub-task or any small tasks into your calendar.

Three important master planning principles are:

Keep it keen (stay on track):

  • At the start of each month, allow an hour to make a detailed plan
  • At the start of each week, briefly review and tweak your plan if necessary.

Keep it lean (focused and clear):

  • Write each task in an explicit, specific way in your schedule
  • Aim to finish ONE task per day and you’ll always feel like you’re winning
  • Some tasks may become redundant or are irrelevant: delete or delegate them

Keep it clean (simple and achievable)

  • Leave plenty of white space in your diary to account for inevitable delays.
  • New tasks always take longer than planned – allow perhaps 50% extra time

2) Meditate – passive or active

Creating quiet time for your brain is a must. Meditation is a great tool for this, and you can create the version that works best for you.

It could be sitting and meditating quietly or with music or a guided track. There are some free apps like Headspace that can guide you through it.

It could be walking in nature, swimming, surfing, fishing or having a warm bath, or listening to music. You get to decide.

Just 10 minutes (as relevant to the activity) is an achievable start. Focus on being in the moment and sitting with the thoughts, or doing the movement, nothing else.

3) Schedule time off

Relentless work, chores and responsibilities wear us all down like soap on a rope.

Being pro-active and planning weekend breaks (even if just a no-chores weekend, with some different activities) is essential down time.

Consider what sort of time off is most energizing for you; when does it happen, how often, and what are you doing?

4) Say no, delegate, delete

Often, we have so many responsibilities because our default position is YES.

I have often realised I didn’t mean to say yes. I meant to check my schedule first and see. I meant to think about how much time that would take, how much energy I would realistically have, and whether I could really do what I said I would.

Thought watching is the first step to noticing those automatic yeses. Then, practice pausing for a moment and asking yourself three questions:

  1. Do I have the energy for this?
  2. Do I have the time for this?
  3. How do I feel about committing to this?

If you get a negative answer for any of these, reconsider what you can commit or what the other options might be.

5) Breathe

Negative thinking is exhausting, and partly because it creates a stress response that can lead to fast, shallow mouth breathing.

That type of breathing is an energy drain!

A quick way to calm down and feel more stable is to follow Dr Weil’s 4-7-8 breathing exercise which is summarised here as:

  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound.
  • Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose to a count of four.
  • Hold your breath for a count of seven.
  • Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of eight.
  • Do this a total of four times.

This in itself is a type of meditation!

How to Stop Negative Thoughts - Create a Practice

It’s great to know all of these things, but tools for change are only be effective when you use them.

And if you’ve been an expert in negative thinking for 30+ years, it’s going to take some time to work that out of your memory banks.

Remember that your biology drives you to seek the negative and it does this unconsciously, roughly 35,000 times per day.

While this is a behind-the-scenes occurrence, you need to counteract it with some good stuff.

Think of it as cleaning your mind, working in, or taking control.

Creating a practice achieves all these things.

I recommend choosing one or two of the activities above and scheduling them into your calendar, maybe once or twice, and exploring how it makes you feel.

If it feels good, do it again!

If it has no noticeable effect, choose something else.

Pick just one timeslot to start experimenting and working toward the new you.

After 30 consistent days, I know you will notice a difference.

Expected Results

If you commit to experimenting and creating a practice, building up to at least 3 times per week, you will see these sorts of results:

  • You’ll have fewer negative thoughts
  • Your negative thoughts will be less intense, less severe or less draining
  • You will start feeling calmer, less irritated or frustrated
  • You will feel less reactive and more in control.

You will also enjoy:

  • more positive thoughts and feelings
  • more moments of freedom, relaxation and joy
  • a sense of relief
  • feelings of calmness and wellbeing.

Small things can create big results.

I invite you to try, experiment, and work out what’s best for you.

If you would like to explore a framework and system to manage your thinking, that’s part of what we cover in my monthly Habitology Membership – where you learn to develop and stick to the habits of a calmer, happier and more fulfilling life.

You can learn more here.