FOOLPROOF STRATEGIES TO CONTROL ANXIOUS AND NERVOUS THOUGHTS: SHORT AND LONG-TERM
Learn how to control anxious and nervous thoughts when they start to interfere with your daily routines and taking the fun out of life.
“Feelings are much like waves: we can’t stop them from coming, but we can choose which one to surf.” – Jonatan Mårtensson
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor have any of the suggestions below been evaluated by a doctor. These are my own words according to my own experience as someone who has anxious and nervous thoughts and my experience as a coach to others who have applied these strategies and have seen results.
It has been a common issue lately among my clients, family and friends in requesting some guidance on how to control anxious and nervous thoughts.
The feeling of overwhelm has been intense. Devasting storms ravaging through cities, unknown mysterious diseases spreading fast across the globe, innocent people being hurt by their own government, so much hate and tension over political ideologies. We are all feeling it.
The negativity has, inevitably, trickled down, sipped through and impacted our communities: impatience, intolerance, lack of collaboration, anger, fear, depression, despair.
Anxiety is our body’s natural response to stress. It’s a feeling of fear or apprehension about what’s to come. An event in school, an upcoming game, a test, a conversation, a meeting, a performance review, an interview, a particular visit to a doctor, catastrophic events usually make people feel apprehensive and anxious.
Anxiety can feel different for different people, but generally speaking, we feel:
- butterflies in our stomach,
- increased heart rate,
- rapid breathing,
- restlessness, trouble concentrating,
- difficulty falling asleep,
- we may also feel out of control.
Feeling anxious or nervous, from time to time, is normal and part of daily life. However, ongoing anxiety and constant worry that take control over your regular day-to-day routine should be carefully assessed by and dealt with by a professional.
Constant feelings of anxiety and nervousness may cause:
- breathing issues,
- upset stomach,
- muscle aches,
- even depression.
Besides harming us and negatively impacting our life, our emotions can greatly impact our relationships as well. So it is important to control them when they strike.
Strategies to control anxious and nervous thoughts: short-term
1. Take deep breaths.
Breathing is the key to surviving and being healthy! Most humans can live up to three weeks without food, three days without water, but only three minutes without oxygen. Oxygen revitalizes us, resets our mind, body, and spirit and allows us to feel better.
Breathing helps reduce stress and anxiety, calm our nervous system by activating the body’s relaxation response, alleviate physical pain and migraine, it helps our respiratory system to work more efficiently, and much more!
Breathing is free, location independent, and easy to implement.
- Place your right hand on your heart. Close your eyes and turn your attention to your breathing. Breathe naturally through the nostrils.
- Concentrate on your breathing, if the mind wanders bring your attention back to the breath.
- Deepen your breathing. Long inhales and long exhales, sending air to the belly as well, not only the lungs.
- Inhale to a count of 4. Then hold the breath for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 4. Do it 3 times.
- Practice the belly breathing exercise every day to build muscle memory. When you need to apply deep breathing, your body will know what to do.
Practice. Practice. Practice. Start your day with this belly breath. Do it again during your lunch break. And again in the afternoon. End your day with deep belly breathing.
2. Acknowledge how you feel.
Anxiety is a feeling and all feelings are temporary, not permanent. That means that you feel anxious, you are not anxious.
That being said, we feel how we feel and our feelings are valid. They are a sign that something important to us is at stake. Accepting how we feel is critical to help calm the nervous system, fighting the feeling may only make it worse.
Identify the feeling, the source of your concern and then rationalize whether you need to be feeling this way or not. Tell yourself how you feel and why. Then tell yourself that it’s a little bit too early to feel this way because you actually don’t know what’s going to happen. Assure yourself that you will cross that bridge when you get to it.
Think of times when things worked out well. Or when things didn’t work out how you expected, yet they still worked out in the end; you found another solution. There’s always a solution. Always!
3. Control your thoughts with music.
Music is a great mood buster!
Do you know when you call customer service and you are put on hold forever while listening to the same song, non-stop? What about the elevator song? At some point, your brain ignores the music and just zones out.
Try that. When anxious thoughts start creeping in, “put your brain on hold” by singing the same song over and over and over until your brain zones out.
4. Change your surroundings, activity or perspective.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t seem to calm our body and mind. If possible, change your surroundings or activity. Stop what you are doing and take a break. Making a physical change will force your brain to change track as well.
Go for a walk, to the bathroom, start a new activity, or listen to music and dance.
If getting out of your environment is not possible at the time, change perspective: stand up, turn on your heels 180 degrees. Face the opposite direction you were facing before. Engage your senses: what do you see? hear? smell? taste? feel?
This change in “perspective” will also force the brain to a quick change of track.
When anxious thoughts creep in, lace up your sneakers and go for an aerobic exercise: fast walk, jog, run, bike, or swim.
Don’t like or can’t go for a long exercise? No problem! Studies have shown that a 10-minute walk outside may be just as good as a 45 aerobic exercise.
Exercise can quickly elevate our mood as the brain releases endorphins, or “feel good” hormones. Endorphins interact with the receptors in our brain that reduce our perception of pain. We immediately start feeling good.
Changing our anxious thoughts: long-term
The strategies mentioned above are successful and will help us take control of our thoughts and emotions right as they start to creep in. They will help us calm our nervous system, relax our body and control anxiety and nervousness.
A better strategy, however, is to learn to take total control of our thoughts and emotions once and for all, not only temporarily, but for the long-run. It is true that it takes time and relentless practice to achieve it but it can be done. We must commit to practicing daily. But the more we commit, the more we practice, the better we will feel, in the long run.
(I will cover this list in another blog post but for now) here is my list of anxiety busters:
- Practice daily deep breathing.
- Practice gratitude.
- Understand your feelings and triggers.
- Remember that feelings are not facts.
- Exercise regularly.
- Sleep well.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Reduce caffeine, sugar and alcohol consumption.
- Practice self-care.
- Avoid clutter.
- Surround yourself by people that make you feel good and understand your feelings and dilemmas.
- Use lavender oil: few drops in your bathwater, on your pillow, on your wrist.
- Visit a therapist.
- Take time unwinding at night.
No one should feel bad by how they feel. Anxious and nervous thoughts are common to our daily life and they happen to everybody. Controlling our thoughts and emotions will help us live a healthier, happier, better functioning life.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor have any of the suggestions herein been evaluated by a doctor. These are my own words according to my own experience as someone who has anxious and nervous thoughts, and my personal experience as a coach to others who have applied these strategies and have seen results. If you are having constant anxiety thoughts, please go see a medical provider. You deserve a happier, healthier life.
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