Getting hit by anxiety isn’t a good feeling. In fact, it’s a bad feeling. It can be frightening, and your first inclination may be to panic and worry, making the anxiety all that much worse. Stop right there! Panicking is the worst thing you can do in this situation. Here’s what I want you to do instead. Take a deep breath.
I’m serious. The best thing you can do when you start to feel the anxiety rising is to take a deep breath and calm yourself down. The problem with fear and anxiety these days is that it is often unfounded or nearly as serious as we may think. Back in the cavemen days, it made a lot of sense to put our bodies and minds on high alert when faced with a threat like a wild boar about to attack. Our life was in danger, and we needed to either be ready to fight or run for our lives. A fast beating heart increased breathing, and a big boost of adrenalin made sense in those days. There was even a good reason to lose your lunch. But today, when the fear and anxiety is about getting up on stage, being able to make the next car payment, or going on a blind date, those responses aren’t quite as helpful anymore.
Secondly, when we are in this fight or flight state, it’s hard to look at the situation rationally. We aren’t very good at objectively judging danger and make rational decisions when we are anxious and stressed out. Everything is much worse than it is in this state of mind. That’s why it’s important to start by calming down. And the best way to do that quickly is to stop and take deep breaths.
You can do this anywhere, anytime. When you feel the anxiety rise, stand or sit comfortably, close your eyes if possible, and slowly breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth. Repeat a few times until you can feel yourself starting to calm down. We’ll talk more about breathing exercises in a couple of days. Think of this as the simplest version.
As with many things, it becomes easier and more natural, the more you practice. Get in the habit of closing your eyes and taking a few deep breaths whenever you start to feel a little anxious or wound up. It also helps do this breathing exercise when you first wake up, before you sit down to get to work, and even before bed. Start practicing and keep up with it until it becomes a habit.
Going forward, whenever you get anxious or fearful, your first reaction should be to stop and take a deep breath. After that, you should be able to look at the situation more calmly and be better able to judge if there is anything to worry about. You’ll also find yourself calm and collected enough to start making a plan and working through whatever issues arise, instead of simply reacting from a feeling of anxiety.
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