Trying to explain how anxiety feels is like trying to explain how water tastes. Right? It is often misunderstood by others. A common response is “just relax” or “don’t stress so much” with nothing to add after.
The purpose of this article is to provide you with actionable ways to reduce anxiety. This content comes from a collection of sources including both blogs and proven case studies related to anxiety.
If you decide to take anything from the next 2 minutes, let it be this – be patient and don’t seek instant results, dealing with anxiety is continuous.
So what are we going to cover?
- Mastering the Monkey Mind
- Taking Control
- 6 Tools to Keep Your Cool
Mastering the Monkey Mind
Our brains talk to us all day every day, yogi’s call it our monkey mind, and it has a big effect on how we feel if we pay attention and attach to what it’s saying. It talks in a positive, neutral and negative tones such as:
“I better get ready for this exam”.
“Will I be on time if I do this”.
“That was smart”.
“I’m an idiot and I can’t do this”.
Nothing new here, that was pretty obvious…
But when anxiety is involved, it can send us into a downward spiral of extreme negative thoughts that has the power to paralyse us and draw drastic conclusions far from the realistic situation.
To tackle our monkey mind we must understand it first…
The book titled ‘The Chimp Paradox’, by Steve Peters, uses scientific fact to help us understand the human brain and thought processes. Steve highlights that our thought processes come from 3 areas:
- The human (the frontal lobe of your brain)
- The monkey (the limbic part of your brain)
- The computer (the parietal cortex part of your brain)
We’re going to focus on 1 & 2 here.
Human thought processes usually support logical and factual thinking but monkey thought processes are usually based on emotional thinking, feelings and impressions. The monkey is usually first to respond to situations, it’s the quick to judge part of us before our human, and reasonable, brain can take effect.
The first step in managing your monkey mind is to acknowledge it just as passing thoughts. Don’t pay them much attention, allow one to flow through and another separate thought to flow after it. We’ll discuss how meditation and mindfulness can be of use for this later.
The monkey is not always helpful but it is a part of the process, so its best to be comfortable with it and understand it than let it swallow us up. By treating your initial thoughts as what they are, initial thoughts, you prime yourself to stay in control of your response.
It may seem difficult to control now, but with practice we can make it a useful tool in our daily lives.
In this section we’ll discuss the importance of tracking triggers and how to do it. But first, what are triggers? Once we gain an understanding of triggers and how to track them it can go a long way to us taking control of our mindset and daily habits.
Triggers don’t cause anxiety, they act as anxiety activators in our daily lives. Triggers can be a person, situation, thought or action.
We have already covered one common trigger which is initial negative thinking that leads to a spiral of extreme and irrational thoughts. Others include skipping meals, financial concerns, social events, caffeine and conflict.
These triggers are different for every person, so how do we go about identifying them?
It’s so important to look inward and understand what your triggers are, acknowledge them so you can manage them. Similar to what was discussed in the negative self talk section.
The most important thing when identifying them is to be honest with yourself. When we are anxious we asses ourselves poorly so we need to be patient and consistently track anxiety and potential triggers.
An excellent way to begin identifying triggers is to start journaling. Consider waiting for the right time to journal to avoid poor self-assessment. We can’t remember every mental state we go through which makes journaling an invaluable source of information, as it can help us recollect and draw conclusions at future dates as well as find patterns in our behaviour.
Task: If you find you’re anxious at various points throughout the weeks, jot down on some paper, the following when you feel anxious.
Day/Time/Event Taking Place
Gathering this information each week and month will give us the ability to find out the regularity of our anxiety and the possible causes for it.
6 Tools to Keep Your Cool
Now that we have a better understanding of our monkey mind and the triggers which may send it in to overdrive, we’d like to discuss with you some tips on how to keep a cool head. If you find anxiety is a prevalent part of your day/week/month, there are plenty of practices you can do to try and alleviate or combat it.
We’ve dug into some here, and there’s no wonder these have popped up in our blogs before, it’s for good reason. These tips actually work.
Mindfulness teaches us to interrupt our automatic reactions (monkey brain) which can lead to anxiousness, which when practiced regularly, helps us act with conscious control. It helps us to allow feelings to pass through us. The paralysis of anxiety softens when we take a step back from what we’re experiencing.
3 mindfulness techniques to aid anxiety
Breathing mindfulness – breathing exercises regulate the amount of carbon dioxide in your blood which can help any negative outcomes that come from hyperventilation. Find a comfortable position, focus on the air entering your body and be kind to your wandering mind. It also goes a long way to helping us focus on the now, which alleviates the thoughts associated with past or future matters that may cause us anxiousness.
Sensory mindfulness – sometimes we get lost in our monkey’s thoughts and fears so it is important to take a few moments to register what you hear, see, smell, taste and touch. Take it all in one by one and root your mind and body firmly in the now.
Journaling – this was mentioned before in the trigger sections. It is being mentioned again as a mindfulness exercise because journaling allows you to recognise your feelings and let them go.
You don’t have to pump iron to gain the benefits of exercise, studies show that just a brisk 10-minute walk can be enough to reduce symptoms of anxiety. It is only a temporary effect so it’s best to introduce consistent exercise to your lifestyle. There are countless articles that discuss exercise and anxiety.
Seeing improvement in our physical ability and achieving milestones within our fitness discipline also goes a long way to help us feel more satisfied and confident, which both help combat anxiety. We wrote an article that you can check out here
Yoga is a wonderful tool because it can relax your body and focus your mind. It may not be an option to get a massage every day but fortunately you don’t need to. The best daily fix for the mental and physical strain caused by anxiety is yoga. You don’t need a classroom to do it either!
3 simple yoga poses
Child pose – this pose helps relieve tension in the back, neck and shoulders which is where most people hold stress. Begin on your hands and knees. Your hands should reach out along the ground while your feel slightly touch each other.
Leg up the wall pose – this is great for relieving lower back pain and leg strain. Simply lay on your back while your legs are straight against the wall.
Bridge pose – this pose is energising, rejuvenating and restorative. Begin by laying on your back, bend your knees and place your feet flat on the floor. Push your tailbone into the air while your arms and feet are flat on the ground.
Focus on your breath and posture of the body here, nothing else. When you find your mind wandering come back to your breath and let it hold you in the now.
Body Language Practice
Our body language is often controlled subconsciously and it has the power to alter our thoughts. But it doesn’t need to be subconscious to have that effect. A study found that posing somewhat like a superhero improves our perception of ourselves, reduces stress hormones and increases confidence.
Self-affirmation refers to the process of reflecting on your own personal values. Research shows us that simple reflection about who you are and what you value can reduce stress and anxiety levels by grounding ourselves in the truth of our own stories and experiences. There are countless celebrities that are advocates of self-affirmation including Jim Carrey, Conor Mcgregor, Oprah Winfrey and Denzel Washington.
It may sound silly, but spending 30 seconds to 5 minutes of your day saying what you are thankful for and what you want to achieve will go a long way to putting you in a grateful and positive mindset.
Jim Carrey famously wrote himself a cheque, when he was broke, for $10,000,000 for acting, and said he will cash it one day. That was his affirmation, that he would be a success and guess what. He was.
The first step to tackling anxiousness & anxiety is understanding your thoughts. You are not responsible for how your monkey mind thinks but you are responsible for managing it. Don’t fight it, just acknowledge it so your human mind can take over.
Triggers are the things that anger your monkey mind. It’s so important to learn what exactly they are so you can understand it better.
Regardless of the type or level of anxiety you may have, the activities mentioned in this article are proven to benefit wellbeing either by releasing tension, producing endorphins, clearing your mind, increasing focus or simply reducing stress hormones. And most importantly by adopting these positive habits you will have more things to look forward to throughout your day or week, which will go a long way to helping your mind find balance and flo.