Life is unpredictable and uncontrollable. Everyone would admit that to be true, but few of us like it. Anxiety is what we feel when the uncertainty of life becomes overwhelming. Our minds frantically bounce from one thought to the next trying to fix, repair, predict, prepare, relate, or overcome. As our inability to control everything becomes apparent, so does our discomfort. Soon the headaches, backaches, or stomach pains set in. The small healthy fire that burns inside of us to be productive, rages into a forest fire that consumes all of our thoughts and energy. If your anxiety has become a common companion during your week, try out these three things to help control the flames:
Divide and conquer.
It seems impossible to ignore our anxious thoughts for an entire day, but 10 minutes is a reasonable start. When today’s anxious thought comes crashing in on you, decide to set it aside for 10 minutes. For example, if you are stressed about how you’re going to pay for your child’s college education in a few years, resolve to set the issue aside for 10 minutes. Say to yourself, “I will not think about the college issue for the next 10 minutes”. If after that time, you decide to pick the thought back up, you can. If you would like to set it aside for another ten minutes, then that’s your prerogative as well. Remember, it’s not laziness or procrastination to set aside a topic until a time when our brain can think more clearly about it! Once your mind is clear enough to find the first step in the task at hand, you are ready to proceed. One step taken is better than 10 steps obsessed over. Often times the overwhelming size of the forest keeps us from chopping at the first tree.
Give yourself permission to rest.
The more exhausted we become the more intense our anxiety can be. When we are tired, we are unable to think as clearly and life feels like nothing more than 1000 issues that we can’t resolve, swirling around all at once. Battling anxiety requires a great deal of mental energy. So, as hard as it can be, set a time to be in bed and stick to it. Tell yourself (out loud if necessary) that your day is over and you cannot accomplish anything else until morning. At that point, stop making lists (either on paper or in your head), let go, and go to sleep. This may take some practice and could include a few nights of staring at the ceiling, telling your brain to knock it off! But stay committed to the routine and your body will adjust.
Repeat after me: “who I am is more than what I do”.
It’s incredibly tempting to believe that I am only doing well when I have done everything, and have done it perfectly. But that’s just not the case. Life is hard and we are imperfect. Even at our best, some tasks are impossible. Who you are is more than just a reflection of how well you perform. You can control your effort but not always the outcomes, so show yourself a bit or mercy. Think of all of the imperfect people that you love, odds are, several of them love you back just the way you are.
Implementing these three things into your life will reduce your anxiety and give you greater clarity in your thinking. We may not be able to avoid all anxiety in life, but we can keep it from controlling us!