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How to Stop Feeling Anxious

May 12, 2023


So you want to feel less anxious? Are you equally interested in doing the work that it takes to feel less anxious? Because if you aren’t… I have a hard truth to share with you- you’re going to stay anxious. If you want to take control over those anxious feelings or if you want to learn how to stop feeling anxious altogether, you will HAVE to put in intentional effort.


What does this mean? It means that you’ll have to be purposeful in the way you identify your anxiety and in the way you respond to it. Right now, if you’re experiencing anxious, insecure or irritable thoughts about yourself, the people in your life, or about life at large, you’ll have to INTENTIONALLY start thinking thoughts that aren’t anxious, insecure or irritable. If you feel physically anxious in your body, you’ll have to begin recognizing exactly what that anxiety feels like, where it shows up, and how you’re going to intervene in order to help your body feel physically calm.


Right now, you’re not anxious on purpose. You’re anxious on auto-pilot. And if you want to stop feeling anxious, you have to STOP LIVING ON AUTO-PILOT.


How do you stop living on auto-pilot?


Awareness, my friend. Awareness is going to be a key element in your taking control over your anxiety. Here’s a list of things you’ll need to become more aware of in order to take purposeful action to live free from anxiety:


  • what triggers you to feel anxious

  • what anxiety sounds like in your head

  • what anxiety feels like in your body

  • how you behave when you’re feeling anxious


As you become more aware of these 4 major aspects of your anxious experience, you also become more in control of what steps you take next. If you aren’t aware, and if you don’t slow down to PAY ATTENTION, you’re going to continue living on auto-pilot (which is what we need to stop doing if we want anxiety to go away). Since the brain likes what feels familiar, your brain is going to continue looping you back into the same anxious thoughts and feelings automatically; not because your brain is out to get you, but because your brain is trying to help you.


In your brain, you have a survival mechanism- this is your Limbic System. Your Limbic System’s function is to keep you safe and it’ll lead you to fight, flight or freeze when you’re triggered. Anxious people are almost always triggered (even if they aren’t aware of it on a moment to moment basis- hence, why we’re working to increase awareness). Based on your life experience, your Limbic System learned to respond to stress in ways that felt safe for you and then learned to repeat those behaviors over and over again.


Some anxious behaviors you might engage in on auto-pilot (due to your own fight-flight-freeze response) could be:


  • ruminating; thinking about things over and over again

  • taking things personally

  • criticizing yourself

  • trying to keep things as orderly as possible

  • lashing out on your significant other

  • trying to guess what other people are thinking about you

  • trying to constantly think about and plan for worst case scenarios

  • dissociating or zoning out when you’re overwhelmed

  • avoiding your feelings altogether or trying to numb out from them with alcohol, weed or any other substance

  • remaining tensed up in your body


You may not be doing these things on purpose now… but at one point in your life, you probably did do one, more or all of these things on purpose (and your Limbic System learned to play anxious thoughts and behaviors on repeat because it learned to believe they were helpful).


Side note: the Limbic System does not have the capacity to be rational. The part of your brain that thinks rational thoughts (your Pre-frontal Cortex) goes “out the window” when you’re stressed (there’s a whole complex science to this, but in simple terms, rationality vanishes). And in order to get that part of the brain back “online,” you have to create calm in the body (which can only be done on purpose… not on accident).


So here’s the work you need to do: start paying attention to your anxiety. Be the observer, not just the experiencer of your anxiety. How does it feel (don’t judge it, just observe)? How does it make me think (don’t judge, just observe)? How do I act (same thing, no judgment- observation only)?


And next: start identifying what the “purposeful” version of you does in anxious situations. If you weren’t acting on auto-pilot, based on a triggered Limbic System… and you were instead acting with intention by recognizing “oops, I’m on auto-pilot again” what do you do differently?


Here’s what I would do with an anxious/insecure thought:


  • Take deep breath

  • Relax my shoulders

  • Relax my jaw

  • Shake it out

  • Take another deep breath

  • Challenge the anxious/insecure thought with a deliberate calm/confident/purposeful thought


Even if your calm/confident/purposeful thought feels awkward to muster up and connect with, do it anyway. It only feels uncomfortable because it’s unfamiliar (and your Limbic System is like, “Oh hell no, unfamiliar is unsafe”). But remember, your Limbic System isn’t rational- so don’t let it take the driver’s seat as often as you’ve been letting it.


Stop acting on auto-pilot, increase your awareness, and take control over your anxiety.


BOOM. You got this!