Coping With Anxiety So You Finally Stop Suffering, And Thrive
Coping with anxiety isn’t something that is so easy to do. Those sleepless nights, that pit in your stomach or that catch in your throat can test even the most self-aware person, making coping feel seemingly impossible. If we aren’t careful in how we approach anxiety, it can quickly become something we associate with suffering and misery.
And yet, effectively coping with anxiety can transform it from something miserable to something that can help us. Anxiety doesn’t have to cause us suffering. Far from being a burdensome deficit, anxiety can be a powerful tool we can use to become our best selves if we know how.
I know, this might sound far-fetched, and even fantastic, but a hard look at the emerging science of anxiety and stress indicate its experience may have more to do with how we think of it than how it actually feels. This puts us in the drivers seat of our experience, and is perhaps the most powerful coping tool we can use when anxiety strikes.
Here are 8 ways to cope with anxiety so you can finally stop suffering, and become a better you.
1. Recognize that how you think about anxiety matters.
If there is any core construct from the science of positive psychology that affects anxiety, it’s the consistent data that underscore how important our thinking is to our experience. We are in so much more control of our emotions – and anxiety – than was ever thought possible. Researchers have even estimated we can control as much as 40% of our experience by how we think, and what we do with it. When it comes to anxiety, changing how we think about it can not only make it more tolerable, it can transform it into something we can use to our advantage.
2. Embrace the positive elements of anxiety.
Anxiety is a reflection of caring about something enough that we want to protect it in the face of potential harm. Anxiety doesn’t have to mean there is anything wrong with us at all – instead we can view it as a reflection of how much we care. Stress and anxiety are well known to accompany a full and meaningful life. Anxiety accompanies caring.
3. Recognize discomfort isn’t necessarily unhealthy.
Like with exercise and strength building, discomfort doesn’t have to be a bad thing and can in fact be necessary for growth. Just because anxiety’s uncomfortable doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, though it’s discomfort often triggers additional fear and concerns that add to its distress. The more we fear anxiety, the worse it gets. Whereas thinking about anxiety as a resource, and something that is good for us, can help make it so.
4. Aim to think about anxiety’s impact in a positive way.
A large-scale study found that when it comes to the effects of stress, how we think about its impact on us can actually determine whether it is healthy or unhealthy. The more people believed stress was unhealthy, even in small amounts, the more dangerous it was to their health, whereas the more positively they thought about stress, even in large amounts, the less dangerous it was to their health. The research is clear: how we think about the impact of stress and anxiety can determine its impact on us.
5. Take care in how you label anxiety.
Research further suggests how we label our emotions determines how we experience them. When we label anxiety as something terribly frightening and horrible, we make it so, whereas when we label it as something more positive (like excitement, motivation or a nagging pull for focus), we experience its affects more positively.
Joseph LeDoux, the foremost researcher on anxiety, has recently asserted that all emotions are a mixture of physical stimuli and the meaning we assign to them. If we feel a twinge in our throat or belly, and assign it “fear” or “angst”, we will experience fear and angst, whereas if we feel that same twinge and assign it “excitement” or “motivation” we will feel excitement and motivation. When we think about, and label, anxiety as positive, it will be.
6. Understand the right amount of stress and anxiety is good for you, and being at your best.
Almost 100 years ago, researchers discovered that a moderate amount of stress was correlated with maximum performance. Named the Yerkses Dodson curve after the two researching psychologists who defined it, it is an upside-down U shape indicating that maximum performance occurs in the sweet spot of moderate stress and stimulation – neither too little nor too much. Many people have built on this science, and experts now believe optimal stress is understood to be a key factor in peak performance.
7. Beware of fearing anxiety, even if it’s uncomfortable.
While it can be counterintuitive to embrace anxiety, doing so is an important key to unlocking its ability to help you. It is a powerful information and energy source that is understood to drive attention and motivation – not fear. Fearing anxiety weakens our ability to use it effectively, grows our discomfort, and can ultimately make it harmful. Whereas embracing the discomfort, working with anxiety – instead of against it – can allow us to harness it to be our best selves.
8. Look for ways to out anxiety into action.
Instead of resisting anxiety, and fearing its impact on us, aim to use it for problem solving and solutions. With its aim to help motivate and activate us toward protection, anxiety is there to help give you the boost you need to take action. Using anxiety to solve the problems it signals is arguably the best way to utilize its energy, and thus discharge its purpose.
Anxiety can be powerful tool we can use to become our best selves if we work with it, and keep our mind focused on its positive aspects. Coping with anxiety fundamentally requires taking control; contrary to how anxiety feels, we have far more control than we may believe. Taking control of our thinking about anxiety allows us to unlock its usefulness.
Motivating us to pay attention and notice the things that matter to us, anxiety has a purpose. The key to coping with anxiety is to recognize the power we have over our experience, and seize it when anxiety strikes. Science shows us we are in control – and taking control helps direct it toward becoming our best self.
For more help with managing stress and anxiety, check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, where I discuss these points in greater detail, as well as offer a toolkit at the end that walks readers through key steps. A free mini-ecourse is also available to help you understand how to hack anxiety’s most common challenges along with my free ebook designed to help you boost your emotional vocabulary. Finally, feel free to sign up for my biweekly newsletter here.