by: Tanya J. Peterson, MS, NCC, Guest Author
The year 2020 has challenged us in extreme and previously unimaginable ways. We’re facing uncertainty in almost every area of our lives. While there’s potential for growth on personal and societal levels, many of us naturally feel either new or heightened anxiety in the face of all this. I offer you here three practical ways you can replace anxiety with feelings of competence so you can be in control of your own life despite 2020.
You Really Can Be In Control, Feel Competent Despite 2020’s Anxiety
If you feel that you’ve been shaken to the core and each day is a struggle, know that you’re not alone. With society turned upside down due to the pandemic and unrest (health and safety not guaranteed, schools closed, activities for all ages cancelled or restricted, finances challenged, and passions put on hold), it is okay to feel unsettled, upset, and anxious. It’s normal. That said, this state of being doesn’t have to be come your new normal.
While it might not always feel like it, you are strong and competent. You’ve got this. You can be in control of your emotions, thoughts, and immediate life experience. These three action tips to be this way despite the uncertainty and anxiety of 2020 come from the book 101 Ways to Stop Anxiety: Practical Exercises to Find Peace. It’s a collection of the anxiety-beating, stress-reducing strategies I’ve found to be most helpful in creating wellbeing no matter what we face. They come from my education and professional experience, and they also come from my own personal life. My own anxiety used to be high, and it often interfered in my life. I’ve learned and grown, and now I want to help others do the same.
3 Ways to Stop Anxiety and Be Competent, in Control
These tips involve attitude and actions, and they’re things you can do now to take charge of your mental health and wellbeing. That said, they’re not quick-fixes. Really, when it comes to our total health and quality of life, we deserve more than quick-fixes. We deserve deeper, lasting strategies. Try these three, and implement them into your inner self and daily life. Start with just one, or pick and choose personal gems from among the three. After all, it’s your self and life!
For the sake of space, these are just excerpts from the full tips presented in the book.
1. Respond Rather than React
Anxious thoughts, feelings, and beliefs interfere in our ability to be fully present and attend to conversations and other information we take in. It talks over everyone, interrupting and imposing its own negative thoughts and creating emotional assumptions. These anxious thoughts and feelings can make us react emotionally rather than respond calmly to people and problems.
Try these tools to get around anxiety so you can respond rather than react to others:
- Pause and take a few slow, deep breaths. This nourishes your brain with oxygen, and it provides some space for you to gather your thoughts.
- Be mindful. Ground yourself in the present moment by bringing your attention to what you can see, hear, and touch. this chases away thoughts about past issues and worries about the future.
- Now that you’re more centered, respond thoughtfully to a person or situation. In a heated conversation, you may need to ask the other person to repeat what they said so you can listen fully without negative thoughts interfering.
- Responding calmly doesn’t mean abandoning what’s important to you. When you know you can stand up for yourself and your beliefs, it’s easier to stay calm rather than reacting emotionally.
2. Resistance Can Be Futile
If you reflect on your life with anxiety (especially right now, in 2020!), you may notice that it’s been rocky and full of strife. Consider how fighting with and resisting anxiety works for you. chances are, it doesn’t solve anything and may even make anxiety worse. Resisting anxiety can be futile.
When we struggle against anxiety, arguing with it and cursing it, where is our focus? It’s on our anxiety (and the problems we’re facing right now, many of which are out of our direct control). What we focus on is what strengthens and grows. When we shift our attention to something else, such as positive things that will replace our anxiety, problems get smaller and things important to us get bigger.
Some of the ways to stop resisting and move forward include:
- Approaching acceptance as an attitude, a mind-set that you can hone by reminding yourself that anxiety and problems are present, but you can move forward anyway.
- Approaching acceptance as a behavior, acting in a way that supports what’s important to you even though you’re facing barriers (each morning, reflect on a value–something you want for yourself or your family–and choose small actions within your control to create it).
By accepting anxiety, you replace its control with self-control. You’re in charge of what you pay attention to and the actions you take regardless of anxiety’s presence or absence. Accept your power!
3. Reason with Your Thoughts
Anxious thoughts are often out-of-control thoughts. They ricochet in your head, colliding and escalating. Sometimes, you need to be the voice of reason in your relationship with anxiety.
Reasoning with your anxiety is a way to help you deal with it logically. It’s a process of reducing it to manageable bits and then deciding upon a course of action. Try this procedure:
Step 1: List some of your most persistent and bothersome thoughts.
Step 2: Choose just one to start.
Step 3: Determine what is bothering you about the idea by breaking it down into small chunks. For example, worrying about going to an event because you’re afraid you might embarrass yourself is both too big and too vague to easily handle. (In 2020 amidst the pandemic, this event might be online, such as a Zoom meeting. These online events can be just as anxiety-provoking as in-person events, and sometimes more so because they feel unnatural.) List things about the situation that are causing anxiety.
Step 4: Question each item on your list. Ask such things as, “How would the embarrassment happen?”, “What would happen to me because if it?”, “What’s the worst that could happen?”, “How would it really affect me?”, etc.
Step 5: Consider your answers and list your options. What could you do about the event you’re worried about? What reasonable steps can you take to address and handle the answers to your questions?
Step 6: Decide the steps you need to take to move forward. Keep in mind that action steps don’t have to be dramatic. Further, you might reason that, after looking at the individual components of your worries, you don’t want to take any action now. What matters is that you’ve made a choice based on reason rather than on fear.
Step 7: Act without second-guessing yourself. You’ve decided; now, follow through without worrying about whether it’s right. You can move forward confidently because you have thoroughly considered and reasoned with your anxious thoughts.
This reasoning process can be effective because, in working through it, you pause to fully consider your anxiety. Listening to and questioning your thoughts leads to fresh insights. The more deeply you understand your fears and worries, the better you can handle anxious thoughts. As your anxiety improves, so, too, does your ability to live and think freely.
You Are Competent, Strong, and In Control Despite Anxiety (and 2020)
There’s a lot to deal with right now, and so much of it is unknown and out of our control. Despite this, you do have what it takes to create wellbeing and take charge of your life (your thoughts, emotions, actions, and the quality of your situations). All it takes are strategies and tools to boost your belief in yourself. You are competent and in control, and you can create true joy and wellbeing for the rest of 2020 and beyond!
Tanya’s purpose in life is to equip people with the information and tools they need to create their version of a quality life despite obstacles and challenges. Her books—whether non-fiction or fiction—and articles are meant to empower. She’s faced challenges of her own and is thriving anyway, enjoying new interactions with her adult children, loving the outdoors, and living fully in each moment no matter what that moment brings.