How To Hack Anxiety For A More Liberated Life
Anxiety is a regular part of the human experience. The common fear of it, however, makes it often unwelcome. But if you know how to hack anxiety before it overstays its welcome, it can actually become a dependable and helpful friend.
If you aren’t aware of the power of anxiety to be useful, it is only natural that you would want to escape it. Feeling anxiety can be uncomfortable until you learn to befriend it.
But what if you knew that that drop-in visitor is actually showing up as an advisor? That it can help you focus on issues you care most about? That it can help steer you toward solutions? That it can perk up your attention, help you get things done, and inspire personal growth?
And what if you had psychological theory and neuroscienceteaching you how to hack anxiety for a more liberated life?
The key to befriending anxiety is changing the way you label and think about it. As with any relationship, this involves awareness, understanding, listening, compassion and appropriate boundaries.
After all, a relationship with anxiety is ultimately a relationship with yourself.
Despite how it may feel at times, you are not powerless over anxiety. As you learn to control and befriend it, you can actually receive help from anxiety.
Here are some proven methods for how to hack anxiety. Some may work for you better than others, so use the methods that work best for you when anxiety starts amping up the volume.
- Know that feeling anxiety doesn’t make you mentally ill
With all the negative information we take in about anxiety, it isn’t hard to confuse its discomfort with something being really wrong with us. When in reality, most anxiety is completely normal, and can even helpful. It’s when we allow ourselves to fear anxiety that we drive it into something unhelpful, and sometimes symptomatic. One of the leading causes of panic is the fear that anxiety is dangerous, and one of the key steps to stopping panic is knowing anxiety can’t hurt you.
- Deep breathing
Breathing is far more than an involuntary action that keeps us alive. When done fully and with intention, it is scientifically proven to affect the heart, brain, digestion and immune system.
In India, breath work called pranayama (“control of the life force”) is a regular part of yoga because of its ability to affect both the mind and body.
According to Shannon Paige, a yoga instructor and mindful healing expert who started yoga to deal with depression from cancer, the body and breath work synchronistically. Together they facilitate new feeling states and body patterns through the integration of tension and relaxation into the breath.
At the bottom of every breath, just before the inhale, she explains, there is the potential to learn something new. And you, as the one controlling the breath, are the one who decides what you are going to “learn” based on where you choose to place your focus.
If you choose to focus on the message your anxiety is trying to communicate which is always about alerting you to something that is important to you, you will start to befriend it and be able to use it constructively as a positively motivating and focusing tool.
Breath work has also been shown to change blood pressure and blood pH. You can even use it to train your body in the relaxation response.
The sympathetic nervous system charges up the fight-or-flight response with its rapid breathing and accompanying stress hormones. The parasympathetic system, on the other hand, essentially “puts the brake on.” It elicits the body’s relaxation response and calms the mental and physical responses to stress.
There are several ways to practice deep breathing without having to show up at a yoga class. Something as simple as taking five deep abdominal breaths and exhaling slowly in response to a perceived stress or “yelling” anxiety can have a profoundly calming effect which will allow you to listen to anxiety’s deeper and kinder message.
- Step outside
Even a five-minute walk out in nature can work wonders to take your mind out of the “confinement” where anxiety can brew. And once in the expansiveness of the world, you may find that what was a sense of building anxiety becomes a connection with yourself that helps you find the focus you need to accomplish what your caring nature is asking of you.
- Weighted blankets
Almost ⅓ of Americans don’t get enough sleep. Science has found that those who suffer from sleep deprivation may be at risk for more than just being tired. Sleep deprivationcauses a loss in the ability to be positively minded and can aggravate a tendency toward feeling anxious.
One way you may find it easier to get a good night’s sleep is by using a weighted blanket. Weighted blankets are designed to deliver deep pressure stimulation, which can help calm feelings of anxiety and restlessness in much the same way that a comforting hug does.
When the calm descends, you can more easily drift off to sleep. And with enough sleep you will more easily be able to tap into anxiety’s ability to direct you toward solving problems during the day.
- Write about it
There is power in writing. It allows the unconscious mind to surface so that the conscious mind can take action. Keeping a journal will allow you to follow your stressful situations from perception to conclusion.
When you feel your anxiety creeping up, write down what you are anxious about. Then, later, journal about how you dealt with the situation. By writing about your emotional experience researchers have found that it’s likely you will experience a decrease in your stress.
- Smile more
When you genuinely smile you engage the muscles around your eyes and your mouth. This is known as a Duchenne smile and it’s proven to reduce your body’s stress response– even if you don’t feel happy.
As you calm your body’s stress response, it is much easier to befriend anxiety and use it as the motivating and focusing tool it can be.
- Use mindfulness
By cultivating a moment-by-moment awareness and acceptance of your thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment, you can use your feelings of anxiety and stressto motivate productive action.
- Listen to music
If you feel your anxiety escalating, listening to soothing music can decrease the level of the stress hormone cortisol and help you feel more relaxed. (According to WebMD, listening to Miserereby Gregorio Allegri was more relaxing than listening to a recording of rippling water.)
- Tune into anxiety’s meaning
Perhaps the most important element of hacking your anxiety is to get curious about what it’s trying to tell you. No matter how uncomfortable, inconvenient, or distressing anxiety can be, it is always trying to alert you to something that matters to you. Recognizing what anxiety is signaling allows you to hack into its meaning, and understand its purpose.
- Do something to solve anxiety’s message
Science shows us that anxiety can stimulate a drive to do something with it. Because anxiety tends to be an uncomfortable physical state of restlessness and unused energy, channeling its energy into solutions immediately relieves it. Use anxiety’s energy to fuel productive action, and you will find yourself using anxiety to be your best self.
We all have a certain amount of anxiety to deal with every day. It’s not something that sets us apart from the norm or signals a mental illness. It’s always going to be there, even though it makes its presence known more strongly to some than to others.
Knowing how to hack anxiety when it gets a little too excited can keep your relationship with it healthy. By befriending anxiety, you can reap its many amazing benefits and live a more liberated life.
Looking for more help with anxiety? Check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, sign-up for book bonuses including a free mini-ecourse to help you understand how anxiety impacts your life and how to hack its most common challenges, or subscribe to my biweekly newsletter.