9 Steps to Tackling Anxiety

9 Steps to Tackling Anxiety

According to Anxiety UK, there are as many as 3 million people living with a debilitating anxiety disorder. This figure does not include the many that suffer in silence.

Tackling an anxiety disorder, wading through panic attacks and trying to pull yourself out of an all-encompassing state of mind be one of the hardest things to endure. Every day can feel like a one-step-forward-two-steps-back manoeuvre, with your self-critical voice doubling down on every mistake and shrugging off the small steps of progress. But it’s vital not to give up. Here are some top tips for tackling anxiety:

1. Understand how you became anxious, uncover the root causes and seek appropriate treatment.

Many are born with a natural predisposition to anxious thoughts, whilst others develop anxiety through bad experiences, unchecked and unhealthy thought patterns or through drug abuse. In some cases, anxiety can be purely situational. Whatever the cause, on your own personal journey out of anxiety it is really important to pinpoint the attributing factors, to begin to slowly undermine its foundations. Seeing a counsellor, therapist or psychotherapist can help with clarifying your relationship with anxiety.

2. Know yourself.

Nothing is more important than knowing yourself when finding your way out of anxiety. Often, we take it for a given that we know who we are, but this perception can be made up of distortions and a number of negative voices that we have absorbed throughout our lives.

Knowing your true personality, what your strengths are and what your weaknesses are can help you centre yourself in times of heightened anxiety. When you have rejections or knocks in life, you’ll be able to say: “That’s okay I know that I am not a failure because of …”; “This doesn’t define me, this doesn’t make me inadequate because…”. You’ll find it helpful to write a list of all of your good qualities and all of your accomplishments, to use as ammo against your anxious thoughts. If you find it difficult to do, you can create the list with a friend, a family member, or a partner.

3. Challenge, challenge, challenge (that devil on your shoulder).

For anxiety sufferers, anxiety is a never ending loop of self-criticism. Ruby Wax describes it like having the devil stuck in your head, except the devil has Tourette’s. Anxiety is all the horsepower in your brain driving just about every negative thought about yourself. You’re not good enough. You can’t do it. You’ll fail. You don’t deserve it. You’re a fraud. Nobody likes you. You’re inadequate.You must use every bit of willpower you have to challenge those voices one by one. Even if that challenging voice starts out small.

Using the list that you have written for yourself, challenge the ingrained negativity – am I that bad? Am I stupid? Am I ugly? Does this stack up against the available evidence? Think of what positivity came out of every bad situation – did it make you stronger, more perceptive, better equipped? If it didn’t, think about what you learned through your bad experiences that can be positively applied to everyday life.

4. Rebuild.

Essentially what you’re doing is building a new self-perception, slowly changing the lens by which you see the world. By challenging each anxious thought you are slowly deconstructing the mental picture in your head that has led you to this point. You are, in turn, replacing the stubborn negative neural connections and replacing them with positive ones. However, you can only start to build a new perception by challenging those thoughts constantly.

Think of it like revision. You sit with a list of things that you are proud of, that you’re good at, things that you have accomplished. Every time an anxious thought arises, bombarding you with ‘you’re not good enough’ be ready to consciously recite the list of positive things about yourself. Or as my favourite drag queen Katya Zamolodchikova says, name your negative voice – call it Brenda – and tell Brenda to shut the fuck up when she’s being negative. Name the other voice Karl, he’ll be the kind voice in your head, telling you that it’s all okay, telling you that you are good enough, etc.

5. Reinforce, reinforce, reinforce.

Nobody will claim that this is an easy fix. It isn’t. That voice telling you that you aren’t good enough will always be there – think of it as a natural part of the human condition. It can, however, with the constant repetition of your accomplishments and capabilities, be weakened over time.

Many of us have deeply unhelpful thoughts that we’re not good enough. This comes from a cacophony of different voices in society and in the media telling us to be richer, better looking, more physically fit, etc. We are told that true happiness will reach us once we possess those things and suddenly our nagging sense of doubt will dissipate. Unfortunately, this is a lie.

Life can sometimes feel like a never-ending pursuit of the Übermensch: we must be the best looking, the cleverest, the richest and be adored on a mass scale and once we have achieved this our insecurities will supposedly melt away. The very foundation of our economic system is sustained by enlarging those insecurities so we are compelled to consume more and more. Reinforcing your positive qualities  and your accomplishments can help to alleviate your insecure thoughts, as you are replacing them with affirming, positive ones.

6. If you’re taking recreational drugs and feeling anxious. Just stop it.

This doesn’t include clinical drug addicts who need serious treatment for drug addiction – ‘just stopping it’ is often unrealistic and requires separate tailored support. But if you are smoking weed, drinking excessively or taking coke, MDMA or any other kind of recreational drug, it is very unlikely to be doing your mental health much good, especially if you already have issues around anxiety and depression.

If you’re taking drugs recreationally as an escape from anxiety, sooner or later you’re going to have to face what you’re running from. It will only increase your symptoms, your paranoia and will make your feel like a deflated balloon after a shit office party. At some point, it’s a good idea to put your long-term mental health over a good night out. Cutting out drugs won’t necessarily produce instantaneous effects, but day by day your anxiety levels will reduce. Of course, this isn’t enough by itself, but it is a start.

7. Help other people.

Helping other can be a great way of distracting yourself from your own problems and can subconsciously reinforce your ability to overcome your own problems. If you can solve another person’s problems, on some level of your subconscious it will register that you have the strength to understand and problem-solve your own.

8. Find safety in your friends and/or family.

Talk to them. This is one of the most important parts of recovery. They can be the clarifiers, the support network and the people who can help to reinforce positive thought patterns. They know you best, therefore they are in a prime position to help. If your anxiety is being caused by the situation that you’re in, it is important that you recognise this and take steps towards addressing the situation.

9. Breathe and stop beating yourself up.

Beating your anxiety won’t happen overnight. It is okay to have set backs and it is okay that you’re not completely balanced at this moment in time. Try breathing exercises to calm you down during an overwhelming anxious moment (it won’t immediately solve everything, but it can really calm you down).

1 in 4 people experience a mental health issue each year in the UK alone, and if you’re finding it difficult to reach out to those around you, there are helplines like the Samaritans that can offer an anonymous, non-judgemental ear. There is no guaranteed “cure”, but it can be managed – and recognising it is the first step.