How to cope with anxiety might be something that you are struggling with at the moment. I wanted to share my own story of living with anxiety to help others through it. More people need to talk about the pros and the cons of building your own career. And although there are many highs from running your own business, sometimes there are days that can leave you feeling lonely or full of anxiety. The good news is that you don’t have to live with it, and I want to share how.
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What is anxiety
If you suffer from anxiety it helps to know that it is a natural part of evolution. As humans we are hardwired to notice the negative experiences more than the positive (also known as negative bias). This was so that we had a greater chance of survival by learning from bad experiences. Today you’re no longer being chased down by wild animals- well I hope you aren’t! But today we have to make a million decisions an hour which can peak our stress response. So it is no wonder that we feel like only negative experiences filled up our day, which sends us into an anxiety spiral. We forget to notice the positives (we’re hard wired not to!) and we start thinking that nothing good came from the day, or that danger is all around us.
Now it’s fine to understand the science behind it, and to know that it is part of our hard wiring. But what can we do about it?
How to cope with anxiety
Anxiety can strike at any time. One minute you think you have a handle on things and the next minute it feels like you are in a snow storm. I usually feel like confetti falling all around me and each piece has a worry or something written on it that I feel like I need to do. It can feel different for each person. You chest might get tight, or else you see dangers all around you. Friends can feel like strangers and there is a real feeling of panic, and wanting to head to the safety of your home, bed, arms of a loved one.
If you are someone who has never suffered with anxiety this might sound very dramatic to you. I didn’t have bad anxiety until after my son was born. It was a very difficult pregnancy and I lost two of a set of triplets, resulting in only my son. I had over 19 scans at the hospital and stories of baby and child deaths haunted me. I’m not sharing this to scare you, I want you to understand that at times we have no control over where the anxiety begins.
Today I am still working on it and there are ways that I have found to be most useful (which I share in the podcast). There are other ways that might work better for you. One of the best things that you can do is to hit pause when you feel the anxiety getting the better of you. It might feel hard to do it in the moment, but even counting back from 10 to 1 can really help the immediate effects of the panic. While you are counting, try to slow your breathing down.
We forget that we are creatures made of biological compounds and that breathing deeply can help to stop our heart from racing. Our minds are powerful things.
Find the truth
The next thing to do once you have the pause button pressed is to act like a detective. What are the truthful parts of what you are telling yourself. Think about a situation that you have been in when anxiety struck. It could be when you felt overwhelmed with your to-do-list, or when someone gave you negative feedback. What were your thoughts and feelings at that time. Did you think that you wouldn’t be able to get everything done and that you would be late on a deadline. Or did you think that the negative feedback you received meant that you were useless and the person hated you?
It isn’t wrong to have these feelings, but we need to understand if they are true or not. Take the feedback story. Did the person tell you something positive as well, but our hardwired survival system made you only focus on the negative? I talk about this in my book The Business of Creativity, about how you can give and receive feedback in a way that works with our negative bias.
Looking for the truth in each moment of anxiety can help you to really see the reality of the situation and help you to come up with a solution. If it stems from overwhelm, I talked about this is another podcast that you can access here and a free workbook to help you through it.
Seeing what is real, or what we are predicting as a worst case scenario can help you to build up resilience to gain back control of your anxiety. I know from my own experience that it is improving every day and that the things that trigger it are tiredness and saying yes to too many projects.
If you are dealing with anxiety and it is spinning out of control for you. Please do seek professional help and support. You can access a list of counsellors to help you with it if you are based in the USA, and this is the link for UK.
Anxiety doesn’t have to stop you building your big dreams and reaching your goals. You might need a little help to get there, and that is perfectly ok. I’m thinking of you and cheering you on.