For those who struggle with feeling anxious, many of these unwitting thought patterns are major contributors of the build-up of anxiety. Sometimes, it really is a matter of perspective. Make a point to become mindful of how your thoughts affect your feelings and your actions. Here are some simple ways you could be making your life harder than it needs to be:
You’re driving and someone cuts you off. You send a text to your friend and two days go by without a response. Friends get together for dinner without you. You’re offended by a million other things on a daily basis. What causes you to feel this way? You ascribe negative intent to each of these otherwise innocent actions. You take them personally, as if they are happening to you on purpose. And then you feel anxious. What did I do? Is so-and-so mad at me? Why does this keep happening to me?
People who are content and manage stress well do not ask these questions; they don’t feel as if the world is out to get them. They don’t take personally the unintentional actions of others.
2. You think you’re too important.
You have a plan. Your plan revolves around you. You know how you want things to go. And they would go that way, if only everyone else would do what they’re supposed to. It’s kinda like being the star in your own movie. Except you’re the only one who has the script. So others in your life don’t always play along. Plus, they might be following their own scripts. It gets messy, and you feel anxious when things go “off-script.” There’s no denying that every experience you have ever had involves you, usually at the center. But, that doesn’t mean you’re all-important. There are no “supposed-tos” in life. Plans change…on a regular basis. Others are not around to play supporting roles in The Story of Your Life.
So, let go of some of the “shoulds.” Let others be in the spotlight every now and again. Be open to changing your plan, or scrapping it all together. You’ll calm down and feel better.
3. You catastrophize.
You assume the worst possible outcome of a situation. You even plan for it. You have a headache, which means you have brain cancer, so you’ve already identified the top three specialists in your area who treat brain cancer. Your partner forgot to pick up the milk on his way home, so that means he really doesn’t listen to you; he must not love you; you’re gonna have to move out, and how are you going to pay rent? You’ll have to move back in with your parents. In your mind, you’ve already redesigned your childhood bedroom to make it livable. You have plans A, B … all the way to X, Y, Z of what you’ll do “if _____.” You get yourself all worked up over something that has less than a 1% chance of occurring. And then you have to deal with the anxiety that’s caused by obsessing over the thing that isn’t going to happen anyway.
Negative thought patterns like this only create more negativity. Sometimes a headache is just a headache. Sometimes forgotten milk is just a result of being caught up in the daily grind and not a statement on the health of your relationship. Learning how to disengage from the endless cycle of “what ifs” isn’t the easiest, but it’s better than planning how to handle your own demise multiple times a day.
4. Your expectations are unrealistic.
Your loved ones are not mind-readers. Nor are your friends, neighbors, co-workers, doctors or anyone else that you interact with on a daily basis. If you continue to assume that they “should just know” what you need, what you want, or what you expect without you ever having to communicate it to them, you will continue to be disappointed. Repeatedly. Unmet expectations, lack of communication and assumptions made based upon both these two account for most of the unhappiness in your life. Create realistic expectations, communicate them and observe how much smoother your life becomes. And notice how much better you feel.
5. You spend a lot of time waiting for a sign.
You struggle to make a decision until you have the perfect sign… from the universe, from God, from your loved one in the great beyond. Only sometimes the sign doesn’t come and the opportunity passes you by. Or maybe it really did come, and you didn’t recognize it, and then you spin off into that whole anxiety cycle of dissecting every single event in your life over the past week where you could’ve missed the sign, and what could it have been. Sometimes waiting for a sign is just another way to avoid making a decision, and it can be paralyzing. Have you ever heard that God helps those who help themselves? I’m not knocking that fate or a higher power plays a role in our lives; I believe that it absolutely does. I’m just suggesting that it’s better to help mold fate than be controlled by it.
6. You’re afraid of taking a risk.
Remember that movie Dead Poets Society with Robin Williams? “Carpe Diem! Seize the day, boys. Make your lives extraordinary.” Seize the Day: Words to live by. Seize each day, each moment, each opportunity. Live boldly. We can’t rewind the clock, and don’t often get second chances. Life is too unpredictable to constantly be asking yourself, “what if?” Every time you are offered an opportunity try to meet it openly. If you have a chance to take a risk, take it. It’s better to take a risk and lose something than regret the things you didn’t do. And who knows, you may even gain something! No risk = no reward.
Your best friend has a nicer house. Your sibling has a better body. Your neighbor’s garden is a horticultural feat to be reckoned with. Your co-worker has a better car, better wardrobe, better spouse… Do you see the danger in constantly comparing yourself to others? It leaves you feeling less than. No matter how great things are going for you, when you play the comparison game, you will always find reasons to come up short and reinforce that you are not good enough. Stop it! Most of the time it’s like trying to compare apples and oranges anyway. As Steven Furtick said, “the reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” If you really want to gauge your progress, look at where you are now, as opposed to where you were 3, 6, 12 months ago. Stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, or who has what. Look at how much has changed in your life. Did you even realize you accomplished all that in those few months? Feel better? I thought so.
You take numerous precautions to safeguard your assets: your home, your family, your money. You have plans in place to protect them should something happen to you, insurance against some unforeseen disaster. But how many of you safeguard your time? One of my mentors once said, “we all have all the time there is.” No one gets any more hours in a day than anyone else. You can always make more money. But once thing you can’t make more of is time itself. It’s a fixed commodity. 24 hours. That’s it. So invest it wisely. Look for areas where you’re just giving it away– to selfish, egotistical or arrogant people who don’t appreciate you. Look for where it’s being drained– time spent with negative people who bring you down or just keep going on endlessly about the same old thing. Look for the ways you waste your time– on social media, watching mindless tv, arguing with your partner because you’re bored. Your time is yours alone. Treat it like the precious asset it is. Guard it closely and give it only to those people who truly deserve and respect it.
9. You can’t or won’t let go.
Are you holding onto something or someone that’s long gone? Do you need to forgive a loved one? Or yourself? (It’s often ourselves that we need to let off the hook before we can move forward.) Or maybe you’ve stayed in an unhealthy relationship for far too long and it’s time to cut your losses. Maybe someone close to you died and you haven’t been able to come to terms with their passing. The refusal to let go creates a lot of stress. Unprocessed grief masquerades as anxiety. To feel better, you have to remember that birth and death are flip sides of the coin called Life. Therefore, life and loss are inextricably linked. If we haven’t lost or grieved, we haven’t truly lived. Letting go isn’t easy, not by any means. But it is necessary. You may have heard that “there’s no weakness in forgiveness” and that’s true. It takes immense courage to face our losses, grieve them and move on. In doing so, we open ourselves up to the possibility of strength, growth, empathy, joy. As Ernest Hemingway once said, “the world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.” So, you’re not alone in your loss. Risk letting go, and reach out for support when you need to.
10. You don’t invest in your community or give back.
A little over a year ago, I was at my local community market picking up a coffee on my way to work. A contractor was also getting his coffee at the same time. We chatted about the unseasonably warm weather. I finished stirring in the cream and went to the register to pay. When I got there, the cashier informed me that my coffee had already been paid for by the gentleman (the contractor) who cashed out before me. I still smile when I think about that small, yet significant gesture. It made my day! One of the best ways to feel better about yourself and your life is to so something to help someone else. Make someone else smile and try not to smile yourself. I dare you. Joy is contagious. So get out there, people! Pay it forward. Do good. Volunteer. Get involved in life. It doesn’t have to be anything major. It’s okay to start small. Next time you’re picking up coffee, pick it up for the person behind you in line. It’s $3 and you’ll be feeling good all day. You’ll also have an active part in helping them feel good too!
In the words of the Buddha, “Thousands of candles can be lighted from a single candle, and the life of the single candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.”
If you’re struggling with anxiety and feel you may benefit from further assistance and support beyond these 10 tips, please contact us here. We’d really love to help!