How to Overcome Your Anxious Thoughts
Anxiety is the universal shared experience that we never talk about. I have traveled to 13 different countries. I have started my own business. Then I started another one. I do things that seem fearless from the outside. But, on the inside, I have been practically paralyzed with anxiety and self-doubt every step of the way. And one thing I have noticed is that almost nobody speaks about these struggles that make even the littlest things sometimes seem insurmountable. But, when the topic is brought up, so many people agree and understand. Humans are scared! Like, all the time!
Every time I go through customs, I feel sick. My palms are sweaty, my body is clammy, and I start to feel nauseous and know that I’ll have to pee as soon as I get to the front of the line. No matter how many times I have done it, it doesn’t seem to get any easier. I am terrified of customs. And I am an avid rule-follower! I am certain I’m doing nothing wrong. But, I am also certain that because of my clammy hands and the fact that all color has drained from my face, I definitely look like I am hiding something. By being terrified of looking suspicious, I essentially make myself look suspicious. Then, I am certain I’ll be swept away to an interior room, separated from my group, searched, detained and questioned for hours, and possibly arrested. I’ll be thrown in jail in a foreign country and no one will even know how to begin the process of getting me out.
But, my anxiety isn’t limited to travel! I’m afraid of meeting people in a business setting. I am worried about how they will perceive me, how I’ll be able to represent myself, what if I accidentally offend them, what if they hate me? I’m afraid everyone will discover that I’m faking it. Imposter syndrome is real my friends!
I am in a constant battle with anxiety and have been for years. I was so lost, and I thought I had tried everything to make it better, and nothing worked.
Things I have tried to quell my anxiety
- Meditation – too anxious to sit alone with my mind
- Running – too much time to think, and if I missed a day I’d be anxious about that
- Yoga – anxiety about going to the classes and being bad at yoga (which I was)
- Deep Breaths – just made me feel nauseous and light headed
- Medication – worked temporarily, but then just made me sleepy
- Just “getting over it” – the thing most often suggested, and least helpful
- Change in diet – did literally nothing
- Cut out coffee/caffeine – just made me more sleepy
- Avoiding situations that cause me anxiety – didn’t leave my house for a bit, but that isn’t sustainable. And caused me anxiety about everything I was missing.
I had all but given up and resigned myself to just being a person overwhelmed with my anxiety all the time when I was finally taught something that actually helped.
How to Combat Anxiety When Nothing Else Works
My therapist told me five words that have changed my life: name it to tame it. That’s it. Name it to tame it. This means that when you are feeling overwhelmed with anxiety about something, find a trusted person and say the thing out loud.
It is easy to just lean into your feelings of panic and become totally overwhelmed by a situation so that even if a person asks you what’s wrong your only answer is “everything!” But, when you start to feel the familiar tendrils of anxiety and you recognize that it could catapult into something bigger, stop the thing in its tracks by naming it out loud.
Here is an example scenario that has actually happened. I was sitting in my car feeling nauseous before going into a meeting with a new client. My brain was shouting “You aren’t professional enough! Your outfit sucks! They are going to think you are too young and inexperienced! You don’t even know how to talk to these people.” The presentation I had perfected and practiced over the last week didn’t matter. The fact that these were people I already knew and had a good rapport with didn’t matter. All that mattered was that my brain was trying to convince me that I wasn’t enough. And it is really hard to shut your brain up. So I called my partner, Mr. X, he answered the phone, and I said:
I’m feeling anxious and overwhelmed. I am afraid they won’t think I’m a professional and that I am not qualified to take this meeting. I am afraid of sounding and looking stupid, and my brain tells me I am definitely going to do both of those things. Help.
He reminded me that I was entirely prepared and experienced enough for the meeting, along with the other kind things you want your partner to say to you in time of crisis. But, the comforting thing wasn’t just hearing it from him. The real trick is that saying it out loud depletes the thing’s power.
How you can stop your anxiety in its tracks
When you say what you are feeling anxious about out loud, it takes away the shame from what you are feeling, and it forces your adult brain to hear your fears. And when your adult brain hears your fears, it automatically starts to argue with your inner critic brain that tells you that you aren’t good enough. Because you are good enough! And somewhere inside you know that too. The problem is, your inner critic has a louder voice than your adult brain.
So, next time you are feeling that familiar wave of anxiety starts to overwhelm you, find a trusted person and say out loud what you are anxious about. You may be afraid to say it, but if you have a trusted person, they will be happy to help talk you down. If you don’t have access to a trusted person, write down exactly what you are anxious about in a notebook or notepad app on your phone. Plus, it is so simple and catchy, you can even remember it when you’re spiraling out. Name it to tame it!