Reducing Anxiety: The 5 Personal Philosophies That Changed My Life

reducing anxiety

“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” ― Jodi Picoult

I think I left the house just a dozen times during my 5 consecutive years as an anxious recluse. This withdrawal from the world occurred during my twenties soon after I had finished college when I found myself at the mercy of multiple anxiety disorders.

Anxiety had been something I’d suffered from since childhood but the loss of the stable framework that education had provided left me suddenly adrift and directionless. Intense fear filled my mind every hour of every day, and soon I was plummeting into a downward spiral of acute anxiety and depression.

My parent’s home offered a retreat from reality which seemed like a blessing at first but which later turned into a self-imposed prison of isolation and excuses, which was very hard to escape.

But escape I did, and recover I did as well. After 5 years of missing out on life, I decided enough was enough and began doggedly working on myself and rebuilding. I researched and found as many ways as possible to rid my mind of the terrible anxieties which afflicted it. I put into practice what I found and within a year I was living in a foreign country, working in a job I enjoyed, and meeting wonderful people from all walks of life.

Not bad for someone who’d been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, and panic disorder a few years before.

The following are just a few of the techniques and philosophies I incorporated gradually into my then anxious life which were to have such an amazing transformation on the way I saw the world and my place within it.

5 Methods for Reducing Anxiety

1. Leave the past behind

I found anxiety could not be fixed by raking over old memories and feelings. Anxiety is reduced by tackling present-day thought processes and emotional reactions to events. It might be nice to think a therapist can rid you of acute tension, apprehension, and panic by having you talk about your past, but it doesn’t usually work like that.

Only you can rid yourself of your anxiety disorder and that is done by focusing on the here and now.

When we relive our past in a negative way, we are subjecting ourselves to a cinema screen of failures and horrors which go on to reinforce our present reality. By doing this day after day, we build up a habit of fearful thinking.

Leave the past in the past and refuse to let it negatively influence your today. Otherwise you will find yourself like the Greek Titan Atlas, forever holding celestial spheres of anxiety and fear upon your shoulders.

2. Tomorrow can wait

It’s all too easy to imagine future events ending in catastrophe. When anxiety is swishing around in your mind, everything before you becomes a portent of doom. This can result in days, weeks and months of fearful worrying and dreadful apprehension before an important occasion or event. More often than not, the object of our fears turns out to be a damp squib and we’re left wondering what all the fuss was about.

A way to reduce focusing on the future is to take each day as a single compartment, like those of a train. All you need to think about is the 24 hours of today, from one midnight to the next, and nothing more. Wait until you are in tomorrow’s compartment to worry about tomorrow’s problems. Focus on today instead.

As Buddhist practitioners know all too well, living in the present moment is highly compatible with relaxed feelings and general contentment.

3. Edit your thoughts

What we think directly influences what we feel. When you imagine in your mind’s eye something scary, you’ll find yourself beginning to exhibit the symptoms of fear and anxiety. When you visualise a pleasant sunny beach scene, the opposite will happen and relaxation will sweep through your body.

In my view, the best way to reduce anxiety and render it impotent is to edit your habitual thinking patterns. If you discover they are generally of a negative and stressful nature, then replace these fearful mental images with more relaxing and positive ones.

By changing the way we think, we can indirectly change the way we feel and this is a very powerful tactic to develop if you suffer from chronic anxiety, as I found out. Refuse to be a slave to your emotional habits otherwise you’ll find yourself at their mercy forever.

4. A goal is everything

“Man is a goal seeking animal. His life only has meaning if he is reaching out and striving for his goals.” – Aristotle

Anxious people are frequently people without long-term goals or a focus. We humans are natural goal-striving beings and require a focus in life in order to develop a deeper sense of wellbeing and confidence. When we lose sight of where we are going or what we are doing, anxiety and depression are often the result.

The reduction of anxiety can be a goal in itself and a very worthy one to have. The development and practice of relaxation techniques can provide an incredibly beneficial focus with which to move forwards.

Keep the focus strong and imagine all problems which arise being overcome and defeated, whether you genuinely feel confident about the situation or not.

5. Patience is key

Trying to force relaxation is rather like pointing the barrel of a gun at your head. It just causes extra anxiety and frustration. Changing anxious behavioral patterns takes time and the key to managing this is patience. With the right techniques however you can begin to notice a reduction in anxiety levels within a relatively short period of time.

Being relaxed is a state of mind which requires continual reinforcement in the initial stages. The more you can find moments of peace and tranquillity within the storm of an anxiety disorder, the longer and more frequent you can make these moments last as time goes by.

Take each day as it comes and focus on increasing the ripples of relaxation just a little bit more. Worrying about being anxiety-free by a certain date or timeframe will inhibit any progress.

Include these 5 techniques and philosophies into your own life over the next week or two and see if you notice a difference in general mood. I’m pretty sure you will.

What are some of your personal philosophies for reducing anxiety, stress, and tension in your life?

Photo by Bryan Rosengrant

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37 thoughts on “Reducing Anxiety: The 5 Personal Philosophies That Changed My Life”

  1. Great post! I notice when I get anxious I hold my breath alot so I have to concentrate on my breathing. To limit my anxiety I deliberately avoid the news. I know most people will be horrified to hear that but I don’t focus on the negative out there. My sister is the exact opposite – she worries about the next earthquake and we live in Va. I’ve only known of 2 earthquakes in the last 10 years and I’m almost 50 yrs old. She makes me sad.

    1. It’s a revelation when you realise you don’t have to hold on to negative thoughts. I once believed I had to experience a certain amount of negativity each day in order to live a balanced life. It was crazy.

  2. Hi Steve,

    What a great article you share. I am an anxiety sufferer as well and I absolutely agree that it is something that we need to work on in ourselves. Therapy may be a guide but without the personal motivation and willingness to learn the proper techniques to overcome anxiety, not much will change.

    The 5 goals you list are so powerful. Sometimes you just have to force yourself, over and over, to “practice” the behavior, aka goal, and eventually, by small increments, it will become a habit. A good habit.

    The obsessive thought patterns of anxiety sufferers make this affliction very hard to overcome but, as you attest hard work and determination are the key.

    Thanks so much for your post, it is very heartening.

    DC

    1. Thank you Darrell.

      Patience is an important aspect of anxiety recovery. It’s a case of taking small steps, with often seemingly little improvement, but maintaining a forward momentum nonetheless. I think that’s where people fall down, when they expect to see a recovery process happen instantly.

      But yes, with hard work, bravery, and determination, you will do it. Just like I did.

  3. My conflict is the concept of living in the moment vs goal setting and long term focus to avoid chaos and anxiety. I have a hard time making that work.

    1. I was thinking the same thing, Beekay.

      Perhaps a solution would be to set time aside to set goals, think of the future, and specify accomplishments that we want done down the road. Then, while we are pursuing these goals we do not worry about them, but trust them, and pursue them fully in the moment.

      It would be like a cycle. Take time to plan once a month, live the plan in the moment during that month, then review and see how you did at the end.

      Just a suggestion, cheers!

  4. Great article!

    You are so right when you wrote, “by changing the way we think, we can indirectly change the way we .

    I’ve noticed that when my clients don’t have a strategy to neutralize their negative thoughts, they remain stuck with their thoughts.

    The first thing that people need to do is to be aware of their thoughts.

    The next is learn some quick tricks- even make up your own- to help you to replace old useless thoughts, with new empowering thoughts.

      1. mahavir nautiyal

        You are endorsing what Gautam Buddha said, ” We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves”.
        I appreciate the five tips given by you, Stephen. Thanks. No change comes over night. It requires patience, persistence, determination, self- belief and , of course, a goal.Times when manna dropped from heaven are , perhaps, over. Now only tiny droplets of rain water fall which have to be collected assiduously and one has to make sure the pot is not leaking !

  5. Anxiety is brutal. I was working as a mortgage broker, and as you can imagine, it was an incredibly high pressure job. Day in and day out. 60 hours or more a week. It’s no wonder I started having panic attacks. I’d wake up, and I couldn’t catch my breath, my heart was racing, and I’d put my hand on the bedroom wall behind me to reassure myself, that the world was still real. I lived with that for about a year, before I heard myself say, “If I have to do this for the rest of my life, I’d rather kill myself.” All of a sudden, warning bells started going off in my head and I realized I needed to make a change.

    So, I shut down my practice, but I didn’t know what to do next. I had been working so hard for so long, I didn’t even know who I was anymore. I didn’t know what I liked to do and I certainly didn’t know what I should do next. So, I spent the next two years “discovering” myself. I went on spiritual retreats and meditation retreats. I read, I listened, and I travelled. And I still didn’t know.

    I had this idea that spending a month alone looking out over the stormy ocean would be just the ticket, so I rented a house in Newport, Oregon for the month of November. While I was there, I would walk my dogs past the corner convenience story and chat with the older man who was living as a care taker.

    The store was closed because there weren’t enough tourists in November to justify keeping it open, and he was always alone. We’d chat for a few minutes before I continued on my way, and I learned a little about him and his story. I learned that he was a recovering drug addict whose family no longer spoke to him. I learned that he spent most of his evening watching t.v., and I knew he would be alone for Thanksgiving.

    I nervously invited him to spend Thanksgiving dinner with me at a Chinese restaurant. A part of me hoped he’d say no, and I could feel good just for asking. But he said yes, so I picked him up and we drove into town where we shared plates of sesame chicken and beef with broccoli while he talked about his kids. When I looked across the table, I didn’t see a man I barely knew. I saw a father who was proud of his kids. I saw a man who regretted his past. I saw a human being who rarely had an opportunity to talk with someone who cared about him and what was important to him.

    That was the moment I became committed to giving, because I realized that taking him out to dinner was such a little thing for me. But it such a big deal for him.

    Once I stopped focusing on me, my panic attacks went away. I still get anxious, and then I step back and say, It’s not about you. Everyone is just like you. Everyone is afraid. What can you do to help?

    1. That’s a wonderful story Sharon. You’re right, I think the act of giving and focusing outwards rather than inwards is a great technique to cultivate when tackling anxiety. From my own experience, I know it’s very easy to become preoccupied with oneself when suffering anxious feelings, which just heightens the symptoms even more.

    2. mahavir nautiyal

      Wonderful comments, Sharon. You have unintentionally discovered the joy of unconditional giving which has the effect of wiping out anxiety to some extent by shifting focus from self to others. Chances are that by giving to the deserving we unknowingly invite God to be on our side.

  6. I agree with everything you’ve written in this article Stephen and only wish I could articulate it so clearly! I used to suffer terribly with anxiety (since childhood) but have learnt how to very quickly calm myself by using many of the ideas you write about. Another technique I use is to recognise that my anxious part is just one part of me and then imagine it is a very young child. I then use my adult self to reassure that part – it works for me!
    I’d love to share your article with some of the people I coach if that is okay.

    1. Gina, thank you, and yes, of course, share it.

      You make a great insight into anxiety Gina when you describe it as a young child. Anxiety stems from the more simple and dare-I-say animalistic part of our brains and definitely needs a good dose of adult logic bestowed upon it at times.

  7. Thank you for posting this. Sometimes I feel like I decide to worry about something. Sometimes I look with regret at the person I used to be. Both are bad and rob me of the day.

    1. I understand Therese. I remember feeling the exact same thing, that I’d decided to worry when I need not have. It was a habit, very much so, even when destructive. And once you start, it colours the rest of the day.

  8. So clear!!!! Thankssss! :) i l live in southamerica and this anxiety issue affects people from around the world! I would love to help others by teaching this techniques, i learnt that when you teach, you learn even better. Any advise?

  9. You have such a serene writing style, Stephen. Just reading your words makes me feel less anxious! I find that staying in the present really helps me to stay calm and carry on. I work hard to interrupt negative thinking. I used to have a Happy List on the fridge which was just a list of activities I could choose from which would take me out of my current thought patterns and into something productive. I work a lot at home, and sometimes I simply just grab my husband and go out for a tea at a local cafe. It works every time!

    1. Thank you very much Tammy.

      Yes, thinking too much about the past or future possibilities can be damaging, especially when anxiety is already present. It’s like adding more fuel to the fire.

      What you’re doing sounds great and is obviously working for you. Keep interrupting those negative thoughts!

  10. Stephen –

    That was a great post. I can truly relate to you and empathize with your struggles. I too have suffered from an anxiety disorder which started when I was young and got worse over many years. I feel like I went through hell and back trying to get it under control (including losing jobs). Now I am a completely different person than I was years ago – I am MUCH better. But, it has been a long process of trying different supplements, trying different medications, doing counseling, meditation, acupuncture, research and the list goes on and on.

    Although I am much better than I was doing before, I am still a work in progress and I have good days and bad days. I still do harbor some of the same fears and phobias that I had before. One is a fear of going back to a corporate job that left me an anxiety ridden mess with no self-esteem. I am doing my own independent job now, but the money is definitely not what it used to be. The thought of going back to that old job and environment literally strikes terror in me. I developed a strong fear of failure. I still have work to do on myself, but I have come a long way. It is amazing to look back to see the journey.

    I do really like your advice and I can completely relate. I believe that a lot of fear/phobia/anxiety has to do with looking at the past and projecting what happened then into future situations. I think the best thing and the thing that has really helped me is to focus on the moment – take life moment to moment. All we have is the now. It is amazing how things just flow better when you can really get into that state. Also, I think having defined goals and really knowing who you are can help this process. It can also increase your confidence. Also, one suggestion is to not read everything you can get your hands on about anxiety. I made that mistake. I think that it can exacerbate the situation and make you think about it all of the time.

    I have learned so much through my process of self-discovery and through understanding the cause of some of my anxieties. I know that I was not on the right path career-wise as well and I have learned a lot about what I want in life. I have a lot of work left to do, but I can empathize with anyone who has lived through something as terrifying and debilitating as anxiety.

    I am so happy that you have come so far. We are a work in progress. But, let’s celebrate the ride!

    1. Hi Lisa.

      It sounds like you have come a really long way in your battle with anxiety. A ‘work in progress’ is better than a stalled atempt that’s going nowhere.

      What you say about taking life moment to moment I think is one of the keys to success when reducing anxiety, and indeed in increasing levels of general satisfaction.

      Plus, as you say, having defined goals which you focus on and work towards.

      Good luck Lisa and keep doing what you’re doing. :)

  11. Could I offer the contents of this blog in SPANISH for latinamerican people? What you think about it? I understand that I’d need to quote the author and what else?

  12. Hello Stephen,

    it is a very nice post and I think you helped for a lot of people now.

    Just some thoughts about your story: I always thought I have something like you, a kind of anxiety disorder but in my 30 year I finally realized that my only problem is that I am not able to step outside my comfort zone because of my internal dialogue which is always analyzing every single situation.
    If the contras are more than 50% in my mind in terms of a particular situation, I become completely unmoved, and I am not able to get rid of the neverending internal sentence: ‘I desperately need preparation before I step outside my boundaries’. And with the preparation, I kill the precious and exciting attribute of a spur of the moment act. And saying goodbye to things what would have possibly been available is one of the most unbearable moments of my life…

    So your paragraph about ‘Edit your thoughts’ is the most important thing what everybody can do to change their life for better. Because there is a strong connection between our thoughts and feelings.

    Keep going, I check your website as well. :)

    Thank you

  13. great post! having goals and watching my anxious thoughts as they come and go has really changed my life.

    Not saying i was diagnosed with anxiety but what really helped me when I really was anxious was noticing why I had anxiety at that moment and just learned to let it go.

    I recommend everyone to try mindfulness meditation it helps a lot :)

  14. I can completely relate with this post. After college I found myself filled with anxiety. I no longer had a schedule to keep, classes to worry about. I had entered the next stage of my life and that was scary, I was lost. I began to focus on my feelings and the way i felt physically. to the point of making myself sick. I was fearful of going out and of what if’s. My comfort zone was at home, and I just wanted to stay there and sleep through the feelings of anxiety. I gave anxiety way too much importance and that only made it worse. Now, I am no longer a sufferer but I cannot say that I am recovered either. There are times when I feel it creeping up and it takes all I have to acknowledge these feelings and think positively. Its a long process to recovery.

    Thank you for the post, Its always nice to know that we are not alone out there and that we are not crazy.

  15. These might seem like little things, but they definitely add up to a lot. It is hard to overestimate thinking patterns and patience, which one learns with age. Have also suffered through these kinds of things. Would add to these having a spiritual base and watching the diet. A lot of little things add up to a lot. Your article has meaning for those who experience it. Interesting stuff, good post and keep up the good work.

  16. I have my own issues, but my question is about my son. He is 18, he graduated high school in June. of this year. He has never worked, we were fine with that, because he needed to focus on school work. He is a whiz on the computer, and hopes to have a career in some type of editing. He is really creative. So he spends hours on end on the computer alone in his room, he has friends, but is happy to stay home. He isn’t very motivated and shows little desire to grow up. He has expressed some concern to me over not really knowing what he will do, or what he will become, a sort of fear maybe. He is a very sweet person, who cares about others, and gets along well with others. We have expressed our concerns about the amount of hours he spends in his room ,alone and on the computer. He is actually doing things that relate to the field he hopes to get in to. He doesn’t drive, except for a learners license, and doesn’t seem concerned about not having his drivers license, and no job, to work for money to get a car, I offered to match any money he saves towards a car. He has half heartedly applied for some jobs online, but with no experience, and little ambition, he seems fine not really having money, Should I be worried? Or is this behavior normal for a young man? I don’t want to contribute to his being late growing up, but he knows I would never really make him leave. I could use some advice on what Im doing wrong. There have been times when I have to disconnect the internet before I go to bed, or he will stay up all night and sleep until after 2. the next day. It has almost become a cycle, that is difficult to break. thanks for listening, and I am glad I found your blog. Glenda in Savannah Ga. PS …we live in walking distance of a plethora of businesses, and restaurants.

  17. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I instinctively practiced cognitive behavior therapy during my period of life that I experienced increased anxiety and panic. For example, at the grocery store when I would feel like running out of the store or that I might die or pass out, I made myself finish my shopping. My self talk would be “so what if you pass out or die” Then as I faced more challenging things in life, I could recall the harder times that I was able to work through and survived and it almost enabled me to have a “bring it on” type attitude. But, I do not want to experience it again and I can empathize with others who are going through this. Thanks

  18. Great article- I definitely need to work on my patience and not trying to force a relaxing moment when under stress.

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