If you don’t buy the happy-clappy BS that typically comes with positive thinking and being more positive, I don’t blame you.
I've never been one for jumping high-fives, affirmations, and all the other stereotypes when it comes to positive thinking and being more positive.
(Give me a break.)
But (and there is a big BUT) while we're trying to lower our anxiety, we have to make an effort to become more positive with our thinking and attitude – whether or not we believe thinking more positively is a pile of bollocks.
When you’re feeling anxious, it doesn’t take negative thoughts much effort to take over, right?
One negative thought leads to the next, and before you know it, you hate the world and every mo fo who lives on it.
Life is shit, everything is shit, and nothing will ever change.
I get it.
But if we don’t try and counteract these shitty negative thoughts with better ones, you’ll stay trapped in a cycle that takes you deeper into an anxious and a stress-filled hole.
Assuming you don’t want to stay in this hole, you gotta start thinking different.
Because I don’t buy into the whole positive thinking stuff myself, I prefer to think of it as being more optimistic.
Be More Optimistic
When you're anxious, your glass of milk is always half empty. (Actually, it's more like completely empty!)
We always believe the worst and expect the worst to happen.
This attitude is not only fuelling our misery and anxiety, but it's also attracting some serious negative energy into our lives.
Anxiety will have you believing all sorts.
Most of it is rubbish, and you'll know to dismiss it. Most anxiety-induced negative thoughts shouldn't concern you.
The thought that we're going to focus on here is the one that relates to us believing that our lives will never change. The one that convinces us that we're destined to live an anxiety-ridden life and nothing will ever change.
It goes a little like this:
'My life will never change. This f'ing anxiety just won't budge. I had an alright day yesterday. I don't understand why today is so bad again. My life is a f*ing mess. Nothing will ever change.'
(Or something similar to that.)
You're going to have good and challenging days.
The challenging days will become fewer and far between when we stop allowing anxiety to trick us into believing that our lives will never change. These statements and ways of thinking only serve to fuel the negativity and anxiety further.
It's time for some more optimism.
Emotions are Temporary
You have every right to be more optimistic.
I mean, you're one of the few that have been clever enough to come across my blog – that puts you close to genius!
I'm not naive to believe that the challenging days aren't the most difficult. Everyone has challenging days, including me. But they affect me a lot less than previous because I remember one vital piece of information.
A bad day is just that - one bad day.
Tomorrow is a new day.
We've all had those days when we've felt like we could kick a wall down in anger. Or when we've been in a spiral of anxiety that doesn't seem to end. But it did end - didn't it? It always does.
That's because our emotions are temporary, including feeling anxious and stressed.
That piece of information alone should be enough to get you on the path of more optimism.
Do you remember a time when you felt terrible, but felt completely different the next day?
Maybe you felt different because something positive happened, or you decided that feeling like crap just wasn't worth it.
Sometimes changing how we feel requires time, but the better you get at remembering all emotions are temporary, the quicker you can change your state of mind - including having more optimism and less anxiety.
The next time anxiety starts to bite, remember that it is temporary.
The next time you have a challenging day, remember that is also temporary.
The same goes for any situation or period of time.
It's as temporary as you make it.
It’s true what they say – life does begin at the end of your comfort zone.
The more you suffer from high anxiety, the more it will take a chunk out of your comfort zone.
Anxiety will chip away at your confidence, and every day your comfort zone will get smaller and smaller until your confidence is completely gone.
THIS IS A BIG DEAL. Why? Because the smaller your comfort zone is, the more anxiety will take over your life and the harder you’ll find it to cope.
To get back in control and stop the high anxiety from taking over, we have to stop our comfort zone from shrinking by doing the opposite and expanding it.
What is a comfort zone?
We all live within a comfort zone that we've created. Everyone's comfort zone is different.
To some people, jumping out of a plane is 'normal' - so it's within their comfort zone. To others, just the thought of doing it is enough to create panic.
Our comfort zones are the reason some of us feel anxious in certain situations and places, and why some of us don't have a care in the world.
Let's use the supermarket as a common example.
To most people, going to the supermarket is an everyday, common scenario. But if you've had a panic attack in a supermarket, or become highly anxious while you've been there, that will induce fear - so you’ll avoid going.
The fear will make you believe that a supermarket is a threat to your survival, and you'll keep avoiding it.
The more you avoid going to the supermarket, the less likely it will be that you will ever want to go again.
Your comfort zone is shrinking every time you make a decision not to go.
You'll get comfortable using avoidance as a short-term solution to your high anxiety, and so you'll avoid more things (which will continue to shrink your comfort zone further).
After a period of time, your comfort zone might get so small that you don't want to leave your house - or bedroom. Your house or bedroom becomes your 'safe place', and everything outside of it is perceived as a threat to your survival.
Now, do you see how quickly your anxiety-based comfort zone can shrink, and how quickly it can become an issue?
It starts with something like the supermarket, but before you know it, the fear has spread through your life like wildfire until you can’t leave your house and do normal everyday things.
If this sounds familiar, don’t worry - there is good news!
The good news about this shrinking comfort zone is it can be expanded again.
By using time, practice and small steps, you can stop your comfort zone from shrinking, and with a bit of confidence, you can grow your comfort zone – to the point where you might even get comfortable doing the things you've never done before. (Before high anxiety became an issue.)
You might get so good at expanding your comfort zone that you're able to do things you've never done before.
Maybe that skydive is closer than you think? :)
How to expand your comfort zone
Let's start with a simple question: What have you been avoiding?
Is it the supermarket?
Is it a conversation with someone?
Is it leaving your house?
Is it your boss?
Is it paying a bill?
Whatever 'it' is, facing it holds the key to you expanding your comfort zone.
The more we use avoidance, the more the situation gets out of control. Very much like when we internalise our feelings by bottling things inside and not communicating what's on our minds - they end up becoming bigger than they are.
When we take action by making small steps, we expand our comfort zone.
The bigger our comfort zone, the more capable we are of dealing with the challenges that life will inevitably throw at us - including high anxiety.
Step into a new comfort zone
Over the next 5-7 days, we're going to expand your comfort zone a little more every day by doing these three simple things.
1. Take what it is you've been avoiding.
2. Come up with the next small step that you can take towards getting it done.
3. Take that small step, and once you accomplish it, move onto the next small step.
Keep making steps until your comfort zone has expanded to where it is you want it to be. (You'll know when your comfort zone has expanded because you won't feel as anxious about doing the thing you were avoiding.)
Your comfort zone will naturally expand as you continue to take the small steps towards achieving it.
Each goal will have a different timescale dependent on how big your comfort zone needs to expand. For example, if your goal is to go abroad and you're currently struggling to leave your home, this won't be an overnight process. But as long as you keep making those small steps to make it happen, it WILL happen.
It's just a matter of time.
The more you expose yourself to whatever it is you've been avoiding, the quicker you'll overcome it. For example, if you want to overcome a fear of driving on a motorway, you have to keep exposing yourself to the motorway as often as you can - even if you don't need to go on the motorway.
Think of it like this.
How much quicker will you learn to play the guitar if you dedicated three hours every day to it, compared to just one hour a week?
The same principle applies to anything you want to get better at - including overcoming high anxiety. The more you expose yourself to it and, the more you practice it, the better you'll get and the quicker it will happen.
At first, you might need support, so don't be afraid to ask for help (if that is an option).
Just be aware not to become dependent on the person(s) offering you help. That will defeat the object, and your comfort zone won't grow unless you have a level of independence.
If you've been avoiding a place, like a supermarket, while you're expanding your comfort zone, take your headphones with you. Listening to music or an audiobook will help.
How did 2017 treat you?
How were your levels of anxiety? Did the year have lots of ups and downs? Of course it did – because that’s normal.
Good days. Crappy days. Happy days. Anxious days. It’s all par for the course.
The trick lies in getting the balance right – even better when you can tip the balance in your favour. How? is the question.
Here are seven suggestions to help you get 2018 off to the right start and manage your levels of anxiety.
1. Expand your comfort zone
When I look back at the year, I asked myself the question: Did my comfort zone increase or shrink? The honest answer is it stayed about the same. I did some things that expanded my comfort zone and other things I’ve always done – including procrastinating on a few things that I knew I needed to work on but tried to avoid. A life with healthy levels of anxiety is a life that grows – and that includes a growing comfort zone. The more your comfort zone shrinks, the more you’re allowing anxiety to dictate what you’re doing. Make 2018 the year you continue to expand your comfort zone.
2. Try something new (and different)
Talking of expanding comfort zones, I’m going to set you a challenge for 2018. I’ve even got a good name for the challenge: The Expand Your Comfort Zone To Increase Your Healthy Levels of Anxiety and Decrease Your Bad Anxiety challenge. (I tried to think of a more obvious name but couldn’t come up with one.) The way to win this challenge is simple. Do one thing that you wouldn’t normally do - something that takes you out of your comfort zone - something different. Take the class you wanted to go to but haven’t got around to booking. Ask her out on a date. Change your career and tell your boss to do one. (OK, so that’s maybe a step too far?) Do something new and different, and 2018 will be a better year than you think.
3. Worry a lot less about what people think
This is a subject I’ll be talking a lot about in 2018. Why? Because of how much it’s linked to our levels of anxiety. Social media. The way we look. What we say. The fear of people and what they think is way up there when it comes to causing high anxiety. When you sort your self-confidence out and worry a lot less about what other people think, you feel a hell of a lot better – including a lot less anxious. What other people think is none of your business. Focus on yourself. Concentrate on you and what you can control. Watch this space for lots more advice and info.
4. Laugh more
When I think about the times I was most anxious in 2017 it was when things felt serious. There are things in life that are no joke, like the a-holes who continue to do their best to bring you down. But being Mr or Mrs Serious won’t make things better. When you feel things getting on top of you in 2018, lighten the mood. Put on your favourite comedy, and have a laugh. Make 2018 the year you laugh more.
5. Get out and about
Your brain likes routine, and having a routine is good for reducing anxiety. But Groundhog Day, including being stuck in the house, is a guaranteed way to induce anxiety. Get out the house. Stop looking at the same four walls. Take a break. Get in the car and drive somewhere you’ve never been. Take a walk and get some fresh air. Book a weekend away. Do something spontaneous – something that will help you break the monotonous pattern.
6. Stop doing things you hate
We all need to do things we don’t like doing. Life is far from perfect. But life is also short. Don’t believe anything other. It is way too short to continue doing the things you hate with a passion. When you look back at 2017, what causes a bad taste in your mouth? Change it. It might not change overnight, but just identifying that you want to change and taking action to change it means you’re already steps ahead of where you were last year. Just keep making those small steps and keep taking action. Change will be inevitable.
7. Be more grateful
Think about the times you were angry, resentful, and jealous in 2017. What did these emotions do for you? Make you feel good? Make you feel less anxious? Nah. Don’t get me wrong – it’s normal to feel these things every now and again. But let these emotions take you over, and it’s game over. You can guarantee that bags of relentless anxiety come with them all. For 2018, focus on being more grateful. You can’t be anxious and grateful at the same time. A little bit of gratitude a day goes a long way.
I would have also included eating better and exercising more, but you’ve already seen this advice a thousand times already. You’ve likely got the exercise DVDs scattered over the living room floor already. But this advice is for a good reason. Just by making a small improvement in your diet and doing more exercise can massively lower your anxiety. They’re on my action list for 2018.