All things grow with love, all things shrink with fear, which do you choose?
Like millions of people each year, I write a list of New Year’s Resolutions that I’ll keep up with for a month before that list is forgotten. This past year, I decided to only do two things. I’m going to share the first with you, and steps I took to achieve that goal, because it has changed my life and opened me up to experiences that I never believed possible.
After my anxiety sucked up a good portion of my year, I was tired of how it was wasting my life and robbing me of joy. I started noticing that the more I gave into my fears, the more often they reared their ugly head. It was a vicious cycle, and because I was feeding my anxiety, I was allowing it to control me. So one day, I decided that this year was going to be the year all of that was going to change. I was not going to let anxiety turn me into a blubbering mess, a mere shell of my former self.
I wasted my days being so afraid of things that hadn’t happened yet. Most of these things weren’t even looking like they were going to happen, nor were they within my control. So, with determination, I set out to take control of my anxiety. Within six months, everything had changed. I’m not saying my life got easier; life isn’t meant to be a cakewalk. But, how I dealt with every day challenges changed, and I found myself relaxed and sure of myself for the first time in years. I want to share what I did because these are simple things that anyone can do to let go of their anxiety.
1. Identify the cause
This is an integral part of every journey towards bettering ourselves. Identifying why you’re so anxious and giving the monster a name is a big step towards getting control of it. Are you anxious because you’re afraid? Are you excited about something, which causes you to worry that it’s just too good to be true?
So many factors play into our anxiety. When you can break those down into logical explanations, they lose their power and you can begin to cast them aside. This was the first step for me, because my anxiety had gotten so out of control that I didn’t even know where it was coming from. So, I dissected it, called it what it really was-fear, sadness, excitement and I set out to reduce it to a much smaller version of itself. I was able to shake off a big part of the hold anxiety had on me, and work towards getting rid of it altogether.
2. Release what you can’t control
This was incredibly hard for me. I’m not a control freak, but I am a planner. Nothing set me into a downward spiral like my carefully laid plans falling apart, especially when it was due to things I have no control over. You cannot control the weather, you cannot control time, nor space. You absolutely cannot control other people. Once I decided to let those things that are out of my hands go, I started to feel the tension ease. This segued very easily into the next step I took on my journey to let go of anxiety.
3. Focus on what you can control
Like I said I’m a planner. Focusing on what I could control and really leaning into my strengths was life-changing for me. This was especially helpful for me when dealing with outside forces known as other human beings. Like no other factor, people affecting my plans, or getting angry at me because my plans didn’t mesh well with their ideas, caused me some epic anxiety. I am a people pleaser by nature, which can be exhausting when you’re surrounded by negative people. After reminding myself constantly that I cannot control what other people do, only how I react, I started to find myself more at ease.
Let people do and be who they are without anger. If you make sure that your reactions, your words, and your thoughts come from a place of love and respect, you will never have to live with regret. You’ll stumble a little as we’re all human after all and it is completely fine to make mistakes as this is how we learn. You’re bound to say or do something that you look back on with regret. But, when you start responding instead of reacting, you will find that more things fall into place. As for the weather, traffic, etc., you can plan ahead all you want but those things are not under your control and never will be. The sooner you embrace that, the sooner you can enjoy a deeper sense of calm.
4. Understand that worrying won’t change anything
All of these steps are very simple, but they are weighty none-the-less. I had to remind myself constantly of this fact the first few weeks. I was always told that 90% of the things we worry about never happen. What I’ve found in my life is-in addition to this truth-most of the events that have caused me great anxiety and pain have been completely unexpected. If you can’t plan for it, why worry about it?
I’m not saying quit your job and live freely without taking care of your responsibilities. But, if you do your job, pay your bills, and otherwise live your life without worrying about the “what ifs”, amazing things start to happen. You start to see joy everywhere. Make plans, do things you love, but do them freely and without fear. Worrying robs tomorrow of its joy and ruins today with its sorrow. Don’t let the sun set without seizing your happiness.
5. You have survived 100% of your past
An amazing revelation in itself. Broken down, it’s true that if you’re reading this right now, you’ve survived 100% of every hurdle you’ve ever had thrown at you. Even if you failed miserably, you’re still here and you’re still breathing. Take that in and let it sit deep within your soul. You’ve proven to yourself over and over again that you know what to do and you can do it. You are amazing, you are smart, and you have the ability to move past almost any obstacle.
6. Be honest, is it a disaster or inconvenience?
There are certain tools that helped me more than others. This was a big one for me. My need for planning and organization made everything seem like a catastrophe, when in reality it was just a series of unfortunate inconveniences. When roadblocks get in my way and I feel that tell-tale tension welling up inside me, I stop and I ask myself, is this a disaster or an inconvenience? Almost everything was truly just an inconvenience. Like letting the air out of an over-filled balloon, my anxiety was suddenly manageable. Eventually, after building the habit of breaking things down into their appropriate category over the course of a few months, I found that I no longer panicked when things came up suddenly. Most of the time, communicating the delay solved the entire problem without any issues. The rest of the time, realizing that I didn’t have an epic disaster on my hands made the weight that much lighter, and the problem became manageable.
7. Trust yourself
The older you get, the more life experience you have. This translates into life skills and they come in handy. I’ve twice set my kitchen on fire. Just the stove really, but the potential was there for it to get out of hand very quickly. The first time was when I was 20 and in my first apartment. In my hurry to put the fire out, I grabbed the pot, burned my hand, dropped it on the linoleum floor, and then finally doused it with water from a pitcher of water. The linoleum bubbled and melted, and just like that, my deposit on my first apartment was gone.
More recently, I caught a pan on fire. Almost simultaneously, my toddler tripped and smacked her mouth on the toy she’d been carrying, wailing loudly for me to save her. So what do you do the fire or the baby? With a calm that surprised even me, I put out the fire, walked by the freezer and grabbed a popsicle, threw the kitchen door open to let air in and keep the fire alarm from going off and scooped my baby up, giving her the popsicle for her mouth and calming her cries. The entire disaster lasted less than three minutes and I handled it the best way I knew how. A year ago, I don’t know what I would have done. There’s a real possibility it would have involved tears from more than just the baby.
8. Honor the journey
If you look back on your life, you’re sure to have found things that seemed bad at the time, but with a little distance aren’t that bad at all. Maybe you learned a valuable lesson that made you stronger. Or perhaps that disastrous date led to you meeting the love of your life. There are so many variables in life, and as I look back I can’t think of a single thing that has happened to me, or that I’ve caused and regretted, that hasn’t shaped me into the person I am today.
I’m not perfect, but I definitely like the person I’ve become and I’m proud of all I’ve achieved and lived through. Without a little darkness, we cannot appreciate the light. There will be pain, and things will go horribly, but you’ll find you don’t fear the future when you accept that these things are often unavoidable. Seize your joy wherever you find it don’t wait for it to come to you. If you start to seek out joy in the sorrow, you will find yourself seeing light in every dark day.
9. Ask for help before it becomes too much
Have you ever had a friend who had an awful experience and you realized if she or he had just asked for help, the experience could have been lessened or avoided altogether? Don’t be that friend. Suffering is not heroic and there is no shame in asking for help. When things start to get to be too much, ask for help as soon as you feel that tension gathering.
This can be applied everywhere; work, home, parties, or anything. When you take on too much, you overwhelm yourself, and being overwhelmed and having anxiety go hand in hand. So if you’re planning a party and you have 50 people to feed, have a sign-up sheet for sides and drinks. If you have to move everything out of your apartment by tomorrow, enlist the help of friends and family, or hire movers. You never know how much people are willing to help if you never ask them.
10. Learn to let it go
This was the hardest for me by far. I’m by nature fiercely loyal, and that loyalty extends to everything in my life, including anxiety. It wasn’t until I practiced all of the other ways to reduce my anxiety that I was able to do this last thing. Because, in the end, there are going to be times that nothing you do makes a difference. If that’s the case, for your sake and your emotional well-being, you must let it go. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the results. It’s a liberating experience like no other.
As with anything, these simple ways to let go of anxiety will require some practice. But, if you commit to the journey and give yourself a chance to succeed, you will find that life opens up in ways you never thought possible. You can do this. I believe in you!