Updated: May 21, 2020
The magic of overcoming anxiety is incredible. Overcoming your anxiety will be life changing for you. It enabled me to make some real shifts in my career and move more into the space that was more aligned with my strengths and this then ultimately that then led to me then taking a leap and setting up the Happiness Branch.
I couldn’t have done any of it if I hadn’t applied any of these amazing techniques to overcoming my anxiety. I also wanted to share that sometimes the anxiety isn’t ours and that’s been a really important lesson for me. Especially if you are HSP (Highly Sensitive Person).
So, let’s start with the anxiety. Let’s start with the science. When we experience anxiety, our body does not know the difference between real danger and perceived danger.
So, I’m sure you have heard me talk about the tiger before. With the anxiety, what happens is our brain thinks that a tiger is attacking us. It may be a stressful meeting that we need to go to or it might be an argument that we’ve had, whatever has happened that is triggering that fight or flight response. Our brain thinks there is a tiger attacking us. It does not know the difference between a real and imagined experience.
So, because it thinks there is a tiger attacking us, it basically shuts our brain down and it goes, “Do you know what? You’re in danger. So quick, run away!”. Sometimes for me, this used to literally play out. So I used to be sat in a meeting, really anxious, naturally I’m an introvert anyway. I used to be waiting for that creeping death, coming round the table, everyone sharing their input.
I could feel it rising in me and feel myself thinking, “Oh my God! I don’t know what I’m going to say,” and I’m worried my words are going to come out in a jumble and I would literally feel like getting out of that room and running away. So that’s what’s happening with the anxiety. It’s just our brain and our body trying to keep us safe and it’s going, “There’s danger. There’s a tiger attacking you!”
So, we know that science behind why we are feeling anxious. Knowing that science can really help. So, it’s about flipping us out of that fight or flight response. There's a couple of things.
The first one is flipping it out. So we know that our brain is in shut down mode. We know that the fight or flight response is really triggered for us and that comes from a part of the brain called the amygdala, you can actually shrink that amygdala down in size and that is completely incredible, you are actually changing the brain structures.
I posted on my stories the other that that I was actually taking new pathways through the woods and I thought it was super ironic because this is what I talk about all the time in my TEDx, creating new pathways. So what we are looking at doing is shrinking that amygdala down by creating new pathways for happiness and mindful awareness and there’s three top tips that I want to share with you on that:
1. Meditate – I cannot emphasise this enough. Meditation has changed my life. In particular, mindfulness meditation. You need to be doing meditation as a regular habit. Even if it’s just a few minutes a day because what this will do is it will train your brain to switch between alert and relaxed states. When you need to be alert, so when you’re working, when you need to be productive, when you’re doing the hoovering, whatever it is that you’re doing, that you need that energy and brain state to be working and that you can be switched on. When you need to relax and when you need to sleep, then it will be able to switch it into that state, so that’s why regular meditation is important. I’m still hearing from a load of you that you are only using meditation as a tool to go to sleep. I’m not saying don’t do it; it’s a lovely sleep aid, but this is really about proactively creating habits and if you are doing mindfulness to help you fall asleep, you’re not proactively creating that habit throughout the day. You’re just seeing it as a sleep tool, rather than seeing it as an awareness tool. So meditate, meditate, meditate – I cannot emphasise this enough.
2. Be friends with it – it's going to be there for us sometimes. What I found super useful was almost treating it like you would a friend. So what I used to do is I used to treat it like it was an enemy. I used to be like for goodness sake, I’m trying to sit here in this meeting and all you’re doing is making my heart pound and you’re making me feel really anxious. You're making me sweat and all I really want to do is run away. I just need to be here in this meeting. I’m clever, I’ve got those thoughts in my head, but I’ve just got this brain fog and they won’t come out right now.
In particular, that was worse when I used to go to London as well for my corporate job. By being able to make friends with it, this is what shifted everything. I was like, Ok, ok hello anxiety, my friend. Are you going to be here with me today? So what is it that we need to do. So if you had a friend with you, and your friend was feeling really anxious and saying Oh my god, I need to go to London, what am I going to do? You wouldn’t say ‘Oh don’t be so ridiculous, go away!’ Would you? Well, you might do... you’d say ‘come on, let’s go together. Let’s get a cup of tea. What do we need to do for you? Do you perhaps need to leave a little bit earlier today?’
So that’s what I started to do. I started to notice it and actually even sometimes set a boundary and kind of go, do you know what actually I don’t really need to be in London today and I’m really not feeling it, so I’m going to be really bold and say no and dial in on Skype.
By making friends, we turned towards rather than push away, so this element of non-judgement, which really sits right as a key theme through my Finding Your Calm course. For those who have completed it or in that at the moment, you will know exactly what I’m talking about, stepping back, that making friends, it’s that non-judgmental awareness.
3.Finding joy – this is why I talk about a well-being rebellion. This is why I talk about anxious to amazing. Because finding joy is the key to flipping this anxiety. So it comes into positive psychology. As you know, my background is in positive psychology. I’ve studied psychology and then I went on to study positive psychology and it was when I was in depth studying this that I discovered mindfulness and it unlocked this whole world for me.
So in positive psychology, what we are doing is we are fuelling those creative and productive parts of the brain, its about finding joy. The reason why we find joy because when we find joy we experience positive emotion. This is about fuelling your brain to help you be the best version of you and hacking that anxiety, flipping that brain. Happy chemicals get released when we experience joy, when we use our strengths.
Okay, so meditate, make friends with it and find joy. Those are your three keys to overcoming anxiety.
Meditating regularly, not just using it as a sleep tool. If that doesn’t make sense, send me a message and I will explain that and we can chat about that because that’s a really really important one.
Making friends with it, turning towards it rather than away, and then this finding joy. So literally just asking yourself, what can I do to find joy in this moment? What do I need to do now? Yes there may be moments where I need to wallow in it and I may need to journal on it and kind of see what’s coming out, what I need to release, what I might need to focus on and maybe what I haven’t let go of but then flipping it into joy and in particular, if you are working with others, flipping this to joy is really important because of emotional contagion and the social connection element to joy as well. If you are joyful then people you are connected to are also joyful and this has a ripple effect on flipping anxiety in everyone.
Let me know how you get on, what will you find joy in today?
To find out more about how you can work with me, if you are ready to invest in yourself and overcome your anxiety then book a discovery call here https://calendly.com/gemma-sandwell/discovery-call