The ultimate currency in life is happiness. Experiencing joy, doing things you love which matter to you, and making meaningful connections with others – that’s it! These are what we should all be working toward, and understanding this is the greatest gift any of us can ever give ourselves or our kids.
Life is not a path to happiness; happiness should be the path to life. It’s not something we should hope to get in the future, but something we can and should experience constantly.
The quality of our life, then, is the sum of the moments we experience.
Each moment can range from extreme joy to paralyzing fear – and our ability to manage our experiences of these moments to the positive end of the spectrum is the most important work we’ll ever do.
The great saboteur of these efforts is anxiety. We’re remorseful over the past and consumed with worry about the future. We care too much about what people think, we grow angry too easily, we obsess unnecessarily, and we let negative situations take root and expand into every area of our lives.
Nearly one in five Americans have been diagnosed with some major anxiety disorder. These range from panic attacks and post-traumatic stress disorder to social phobias and obsessive-compulsive conditions.
This doesn’t even include Generalized Anxiety Disorders (GAD), which affect a much larger percentage of our population. GAD cause people to anticipate catastrophe and worry excessively about many things, from overarching stress sources like health, money and work to routine concerns like car repairs or appointments.
So the obvious question is, in this fast-paced world, how do we begin the process of getting the moments of our lives back?
Here are 10 ideas to utilize the thinking to overcome anxiety so you can change your perspective and manage the anxiety in your life.
1) Revalue anxiety – There are times when anxiety is good. For example, in fight or flight situations. However, most of the stress we feel is not centered in the present. It has no value in our lives, and is extremely destructive to our health and wellness. The first step is admitting there is a problem and then understanding the damage stress is doing to your life. Here are some of the more alarming statistics on the effects of stress from WebMD:
- Forty-three percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress.
- 75-90% of all doctor’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
- Stress can play a part in problems such as headaches, high blood pressure, heart problems, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, depression, and anxiety.
- The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) declared stress a workplace hazard. Stress costs American industry more than $300 billion annually.
- The lifetime prevalence of an emotional disorder is more than 50%, often due to chronic, untreated stress reactions.
Understand the damage anxiety is doing to not only your health but also to the relationships in your life and your effectiveness as a spouse, parent or colleague. It should anger you enough to declare an all-out war against this psychological parasite!
2) Breathe – This is an obvious one, but I felt it needed to be said because it’s so basic and yet so effective. Taking a few moments to simply breathe renews focus, propels awareness and centers us on the now. Becoming more present is so significant because it takes our attention off of the imaginary problems of the past or future and brings us squarely into the moment−the only place where we can do anything of real value and impact.
3) Know that this too will pass – We’ve all been through innumerable challenges and stressful moments in our lives, yet we’re still here today. Whatever you’re going through now will one day be history. There will be better times, and you will overcome. Something that can bring great comfort to you in difficult times is the mantra, “This too will pass,” because it will.
4) Take action – For me, there is nothing that makes me feel better than taking action. When I’m worried about money, developing a long-term financial plan or creating a budget is very soothing. It brings the facts squarely into place, but it’s also empowering to begin taking control by doing things to alleviate the situation that’s worrying me.
Next time you feel anxious or start worrying about something, find one task you can perform now that will get you closer to a solution, and then go do it.
5) Understand that you’re exactly where you should be – This is a difficult one because we often find ourselves in places we wish we weren’t. But if we apply the perspective that everything happens for a reason, then the most productive approach is to take full advantage of every situation we experience in our lives.
Recognize that every moment and situation is actually movement toward a better place! Tell yourself that you’re exactly where you should be, and believe it. Ask yourself, “What is the lesson here? What is the opportunity?”
Shift your focus away from anxiety and find the potential for positive growth, even in the most challenging situations.
6) Connect with someone – Anxiety seeps into your life when you disengage. For me, this often happens early in the morning when I first wake up. I’ll have a scary thought, and the next thing you know, I’m racing down the worst-case scenario highway. No chance am I going back to sleep. In these situations, I often lean on my wife and share what I’m feeling, and this helps the anxiety dissipate. Again, a simple technique, but a critical one.
Connection is the antidote to disengagement. The next time you feel anxiety coming into your mind, reach out to someone. And here’s a tip: you don’t even need to talk about the source of your stress. Talk about an article you read, or how your favorite team is doing. Joke around. Just make a connection with another human being, and the anxiety will be far less intimidating as better feelings take center stage in your mind.
7) Get some exercise – The best way to fight a negative mental tendency is with a constructive and empowering physical activity. We know that regular fitness is good for the heart and that it can help the body build muscles and maintain a healthy weight. But it also spurs the release of endorphins, those feel-good chemicals that promote happiness.
Are you noticing a pattern? These things seem simple because they are, and because they work, but chances are that most of us aren’t doing them on a regular basis. So why not change that? Get off your rear end and go to the gym, do some yoga in front of the computer, or get outside and go for a walk.
It’s remarkable how much easier it is to overcome anxiety when you’re flexing those muscles and pumping those lungs!
8) Ask yourself some questions – When you feel severely anxious, have a checklist on hand of questions to ask yourself about the source of the anxiety. The longer the checklist, the more you’ll find that your thoughts become increasingly rational and realistic. Here are 10 good questions to ask yourself:
- Has anything changed?
- Is this real or imagined?
- Is this really a big deal?
- Will worrying help me solve this problem?
- Have I eaten anything bad?
- What evidence exists that something bad will happen?
- Have I had any caffeine, sugar or MSG?
- Have I been getting enough sleep?
- Can this be managed and dealt with?
- What can I do now to make this less stressful?
Chances are that, by the time you get several questions in, you’ll be gaining some perspective on what’s making you anxious. That doesn’t mean the issue isn’t real or worth reflecting on; it just means that it’ll be hard for you to justify unproductive feelings to yourself when you really take a close look at whether they’re doing you any good (because they aren’t).
9) Embrace the mystery – It can be hard to grasp, but uncertainty is essential to happiness. A wise man once said, “Without uncertainty, tomorrow can at best be no more than a stale copy of today.” Who wants that?
An essential characteristic of happiness and success is the ability to find comfort in ambiguity. This means understanding that uncertainty is the foundation for all creativity, for all new experiences and all personal growth.
With our business, many of the new ideas that allowed us to achieve success were reached through moving forward in the dark. This doesn’t mean to never make a plan, it just means you have to get comfortable with the fact that you can’t plan everything, and sometimes just letting circumstances unfold in unexpected ways is the path toward greater things.
The next time you feel stress or anxiety about the question marks in your life, try to trust in your own imaginative and creative abilities to reveal the answers. This confidence will translate into energy, and the surprising answers will often be far superior to anything you could have planned for.
10) Understand the opportunity costs – Perhaps worse than the health-related damage that anxiety causes are the opportunity costs.
Every moment you spend anxious is truly a wasted moment, one you’ll never get back. When we spend our energy immersed in worry, regret or stress, that’s time we can’t possibly be using to our advantage. These are also moments when we’re paralyzed from taking action and accomplishing anything we want or need to do.
The key is recognizing all of this consciously in order to spur yourself into action… any action! Remember, forward motion is at the heart of achieving anything!
Remember, happiness is the ultimate currency, and it can only be recognized in the moment… but not if the moments are bogged down by stress and worry! Please try these suggestions to help change your perspective and begin learning how to overcome anxiety in your life.