I’ve had anxiety now for about 6 months. It started getting out of control when everything seemed to come at once including a house move and new job. I’m living with it but I really don’t want to. How do I get rid of my anxiety?
This is a very common question, but let me tell you why it’s the wrong question to ask – it’s the same reason why so many of us fail to deal with our high anxiety (including me when I was suffering).
You can’t get rid of anxiety.
What you can do is manage it.
So, the real question here is: ‘How can I manage my higher than normal anxiety?’
When you understand and appreciate that anxiety will always be part of you (which is a good thing), you can begin to do something about it. Before anything else, changing your life begins with changing your mindset.
I’ve emailed you the section of Anxiety Rebalance that will help you understand this better.
Turns out you can’t.
This week I had an interview with Nick Coffer (@nickcoffer) on BBC Radio discussing my personal experience with anxiety, and the recent release of my book Anxiety Rebalance.
I loved every second of it – not only because I was able to reach out to all the listeners that are suffering with anxiety, but also because very early on in our interview Nick confirmed he’d personally suffered with anxiety and panic attacks for many years.
It never ceases to amaze me the different types of people affected by anxiety, no matter their age, gender, appearance, or profession. As a live BBC radio presenter (which comes with a massive amount of pressure), Nick proves the fact that anxiety can affect anybody.
But here’s the interesting thing – as Nick and I chatted in between the records playing, he confirmed that the studio was one of the few places he felt most comfortable. Doesn’t that make you question how Nick can comfortably work in a highly pressurised environment that is a live BBC radio studio and feel as calm and relaxed as he does, all whilst suffering with high anxiety and panic attacks?
Here’s what I think:
Anxiety is a matter of perception.
Practice and time play their part (the more you practice something the easier and less stressful it becomes), but I also think so much of our anxiety is down to our perception, and what we think (and believe) is safe.
In other words, if you believe that working in a live radio studio is safe, then it is. If you believe that leaving your house isn’t safe, it’s not. If you believe that a supermarket will cause a panic attack, it will.
What do you think?
On your journey of discovering BALANCE, you are going to have good and bad days (you need the bad ones to help you appreciate the good ones!). The bad days can make you feel like you’re going backwards, however, that’s normally far from the truth.
Seeing evidence of your progression on paper will help you realise that the bad days are just a small part of the bigger picture.
I found the easiest way to track my progression was using an excel sheet – here’s a template you can use.
For the next few weeks, write down the date, day, a rating from 1-10 (where 1 is absolutely abysmal, and 10 is the best day you’ve ever had), and a short note highlighting what you did on that day (like a diary entry).
After a few weeks, take a look at your results.
Were there particular days that scored well, or badly? What were you doing?
Did you feel better on Wednesdays because you’d been to the gym?
Did you feel bad on Sundays because you had nothing to do?
Ask yourself questions based on your results and look for clues.
By writing down the reasons behind your moods, you can make the changes needed. For example, if on Monday you felt particularly anxious, write down what you were doing (or not doing) on that day. Do the same if you were feeling particularly good on Thursday.
When you track what you’re doing, the facts speak for themselves. Those bad days that make you think you’ve gone backwards are easily contradicted by actual results. You might be pleasantly surprised by your progress.
It doesn’t matter what your sheet looks like. The only thing that counts is that you see progress. If you don’t, keep looking for those clues. If you can’t find them, look harder – they’re definitely there. They hold the key to your change.
If you need to, go back to the ten actions to achieve BALANCE (in the book Anxiety Rebalance), and keep taking action. Positive change will come.
I’ve mapped out a daily routine which I found ideal – and easy to follow – over the first three-month rebalancing period. I understand that, due to work/life commitments, you will have to make some modifications (such as when you start work), but try to stick to the core activity as much as possible – the more closely you can follow it, the better.
By following these few simple instructions you will instantly begin to feel more energetic, vibrant, motivated, positive and enthusiastic – key ingredients needed for BALANCE. Over time, the routine will become easier to follow, eventually becoming second nature. Keep it up, and you’ll be rewarded with a lifetime of change.
Gaps in the routine should be filled by work or a focused activity or hobby.
6.30 am: Get out of bed
6.45 am: Exercise
7.45 am: Shower
8 am: Healthy breakfast (no caffeine)
10.30 am: Snack
12.30 pm: Healthy lunch
3 pm: Snack
6 pm: Healthy dinner
6.30 pm: Plan for the next day
7 pm: Wind down and relax until bedtime
10–11 pm: Go to bed.
Get out of bed as soon as you wake up
Start your day as you mean to go on. As soon as your alarm goes off or you wake up naturally, get out of bed. Don’t lie in bed procrastinating – it allows anxious thoughts to creep in. Concentrate on the plan you made yesterday and go for it.
I find that exercising in the morning before I eat breakfast gives me the best results. It also sets me up for the day by keeping me energised.
Shower every day. It’s not only important for hygienic reasons, but it will refresh you and help wake you up, ready for your day.
Keep your energy levels up throughout the day by snacking regularly on fruit (a banana is ideal) and nuts. If it helps you to stay organised, set your alarm or set an alert on your mobile phone when a snack is due.
Plan for the next day
You already know how important it is to have focus, and planning for the next day is the most effective method of getting it right. If the next day is a work day, plan what you need to do. If you’re not at work, plan your activities in advance. Book something (if possible) and commit to it.
Find time to relax
In a busy schedule that includes family and work, it can be very easy to forget about your own needs, only to regret it later when you’re overstressed and exhausted. Even if it’s only half an hour, take time to relax every day. Put your feet up, make yourself a hot drink (no caffeine!), and shut yourself off from the world. Read a book, or do something that allows you to wind down. If it helps, close your eyes – and if you doze off, so be it!
Go to bed at a reasonable time
Aim to get eight hours of sleep every night. Some people need more, some less. Establish what you need by how you feel when you wake up, and aim to get that amount of sleep daily.
While on my three-month rebalancing routine, I stuck to these tips. I found that they helped me so much that I now follow them daily.
1. Eat breakfast
Anxiety will deplete already low levels of energy, so you want to make sure you start your day off right. Breakfast helps fuel you from the get-go, making it the most important meal of the day. Choose something high in energy like granola or porridge, and include a banana.
2. Cut out caffeine
If you think caffeine helps to wake you up, you’re wrong. All caffeine does is bring you back to the state you should already be in. Yes, it’s a stimulant, but you don’t need it. All caffeine is good for is fuelling anxious thoughts. Be aware that tea, like coffee, contains high levels of caffeine. Ideally, seek alternatives like decaffeinated drinks and herbal teas.
If you can’t imagine a life without caffeine (and I’m including this section because there are plenty of people who think this), the theory of BALANCE means you should be able to do what you like, including drinking caffeine. My advice is to do your best to cut out caffeine in the rebalancing period (around three months), because it’s highly likely, in your anxious state of mind, that caffeine will have a negative effect on you. Like anything else, if you choose not to change your habit and continue to drink caffeine, please don’t waste your time wondering why your anxiety isn’t improving. Change often means sacrifice. All sacrifices are harder to make at the start, but get easier with time.
3. Drink lots of water
Drink lots and lots of water throughout the day. It flushes the toxins out of your body and gives you energy – which compensates for the fact you might visit the toilet a little more frequently!
4. Snack at regular intervals
Keep your energy levels consistent throughout the day by snacking at regular intervals. Snack on nuts, vegetables, fruit or any food that is high in energy.
5. Eat bananas
Potassium in bananas helps to balance the sugar levels in your blood, and the carbohydrates in bananas help keep energy levels consistent, so try to eat two or three spread across the day. I appreciate that eating lots of bananas isn’t easy, but make an effort to eat at least one (in the morning). You can also vary it a little by eating other foods that are high in potassium, such as deep-sea fish, yogurt and avocados.
I struggle to fit the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables a day into my diet, so I came up with a solution – juicing. I have a set vegetable juice I drink every day that includes:
It takes me fifteen minutes to make, and seconds to drink. My big tip is to get a decent juicer. Cheaper juicing machines tend to make a mess and don’t do a great job. Try not to juice too much fruit, because it’s not good for you (I’m told it has something to do with the high sugar content). If you find an all-veg juice not sweet enough, add an apple. Experiment and see what you prefer!
7. Cut out junk food
Eating too much unhealthy junk food will slow you down, reduce your energy levels and make you feel sluggish – the perfect breeding ground for anxiety. It’s also worth noting that spicy food can increase anxiety. (Like caffeine, it can produce symptoms associated with panic.) I’ve never fully trusted fast food for a number of reasons, including animal welfare and what actually goes in the food, so it’s easy for me to avoid it. I can appreciate its convenience, but it can be just as quick and easy to prepare healthy, nutritious meals at home.
If you do decide to treat the kids at the weekend, or avoiding fast-food outlets is impossible for you, most chains have picked up on the fact that people want a healthy alternative to their triple decker, double- bacon-and-blue-cheese special burger. For example, you can buy a salad bowl at Subway. These can be just as fulfilling as one of their foot-longs. They fill you up, they’re a lot healthier, and they don’t make you feel as bloated – all perfect for reducing anxiety, increasing your energy and achieving BALANCE.
8. Chew your food and eat more slowly
Make your food easier to digest by chewing it more and eating more slowly. By chewing more you also trick your brain into thinking you’re eating more than you actually are – which is great for losing a few pounds.
9. Get a good night’s sleep
Your body needs sleep for effective digestion. Poor sleeping patterns (or no sleep) will disrupt the process and aid the fear cycle. The average amount of sleep an adult needs is eight hours, although we’re all different, so you should gauge what you need based on how you feel when you wake up. Sleeping too much, or too little, will not only affect your digestion, but also cause other anxiety-related symptoms. If you choose to prioritise any of these tips, it should be this one – without it, none of the other tips are useful.
Keep suppressing your feelings. That’s how you’ve always coped so don’t change it now. It might not work if you change it.
Suppressing my feelings is why I feel the way I do. I need to start talking. I need to get it out, no matter what people think. It’s the only way I can move forward and be myself. I need to change.
Stick to what you know – at least you know what it feels like. Changing things might make things worse.
Changing things could make things worse, but they could also make things a whole lot better too. I’ll take the chance.
It’s OK to be scared. It’s a sign things are moving forward in a positive way.
Changing, talking, and opening up can be scary, but no scarier than living a life filled with anxiety, stress, and fear.
Who are you going to follow – the old you or the new you?
I’m currently at college and being bullied in class and through social media mostly on Facebook. I’m used to it as I’ve been bullied throughout school as well and can deal with it but it’s the anxiety and panic attacks that really gets to me. I’m always nervous and anxious about attending classes and checking my Facebook in case I get horrible comments. I know if I can deal with the anxiety and panic attacks better I’ll be able to get through college easier.
Firstly, I’d like to say how brave I think you are. Being bullied is horrible, and nobody (including you) deserves it, whether it’s in class or through Social Media on Facebook.
Don’t concern yourself about why they bully you – in most cases, it’s not personal. It’s just a reflection on how they feel about themselves, and bullying is a way for them to get it out.
Here’s the thing about bullies – they need fuel to stoke their fire.
If you show a bully they really bother you, they’ll keep doing it, because they get their pleasure from seeing the distress. When you don’t give them fuel (by showing them that their actions and words don’t bother you) it puts their fire out. They’ve got nothing to work with, so on most occasions they stop.
That’s the same with panic attacks, which is why I describe panic attacks as ‘psychological bullies’. Panic attacks also need fuel (a reaction from you) to work. When a panic attack begins and you react to it with more panic, it fuels it. Instead, don’t panic and accept the feelings that come with it rather than fight them, and with a bit of time they disappear.
Action for Change
Stop fuelling the bullies fire (by bullies I’m referring to both the ones at college and panic attacks). Don’t give them the reaction they’re looking for. Don’t give them your energy – they don’t deserve it. Starve them of oxygen, and they’ll disappear.
YOU ARE BRAVE. You proved that by looking for help. Use this courage to move forward.
It might take the bullies a little time to adjust to the fact that things are going to change, so be patient. With a bit of time, things will change.
If you need that extra bit of help, you might find this link to Bullying UK helpful.
I’m proud of you. Keep going, you can beat them.
I don’t know about you, but I’m always happy to hear about foods that can enhance my mood.
Low levels of folic acid has been linked to depression, and the good news is asparagus has plenty of folic acid, which means asparagus could be good for depression and lifting your mood.
Apparently, asparagus is also good for increasing libido (I’ll leave that with you).
Instead of using bread as dipping soldiers for your egg, use asparagus.
Here’s a recipe from Jamie Oliver: Dippy Eggs & Asparagus Soldiers
The best way to connect with Carl and join the discussion is on his Facebook page