4 tips to change how anxiety affects you

Anxiety is often a habit. Which also makes it a choice. I’ve had generalised anxiety most of my life so I realise how wildly inaccurate that might sound. Especially when you’re in the grip of a panic attack or spiralling thoughts - there is nothing about that which feels like you can change it simply by wanting to.


It’s a complex area (and more than mindset work might be required for some) but I think many of us can benefit from reviewing our relationship with anxiety. In particular, stepping away from the idea that it is this force that takes us over - and which we can do nothing about. And, instead, seeing it as a habit with lots of things about it we can change.

Why would you ‘choose’ an anxiety habit?

1. That’s what was modelled to you in childhood as the way that you should deal with certain situations in life. For example, if you have a big car journey the next day and you’re the driver, you stay up all night being anxious and don’t sleep because that’s what your mum always did. Or if you’re being tested or taking an exam, anxiety is always the first response - because that's what other students have - even though you might actually feel more excited to prove yourself than anything else.

2. It’s how you fit in with people if that’s what they do. Believe it or not, we bond over anxiety. Imagine you’re doing a presentation with your team at work and everyone is sitting together beforehand sharing how nervous they feel. And you share that actually, you’re feeling really good and excited. We all want to belong and sometimes we can interpret that the way to do this is to be the same as others.

3. You didn’t realise there were any other options. Anxiety can become a habitual response in so many situations, from trying a new exercise class to going on dates, changing jobs, getting divorced or even doing something you’ve always dreamed of like solo travel or having a baby. Sometimes we just don’t realise that this feeling we’re having could be something else (e.g. excitement) - or that the anxiety response isn’t necessarily the only option.

4 tips to change your relationship with anxiety

The motivation behind framing anxiety as a habit is to reduce its power - and to introduce the idea that it’s something that can be changed. Because it is. Before we get into the tips here are a few journal prompts to help you get a clearer picture of how anxiety affects your life.

I feel anxiety most when…
My loudest anxiety narratives are…
This is how I feel anxiety in my body…
I don’t feel anxiety when…
If I didn’t feel anxiety I would…

Tip 1: Are you just dehydrated?

The feelings we identify as anxiety can be triggered by something environmental. So, when you start to feel anxious, ask yourself whether you have drunk enough water, eaten enough nutritious food, overdone the caffeine, drunk too much alcohol the night before or just not had enough sleep.

A survey by the American Psychological Association, for example, found that 21% of adults reported increased feelings of stress when they did not get enough sleep. A 2020 study in the Environmental Research and Public Health journal found that people who ate less than three servings of fruit and veg a day had a 24% higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety. For evidence of this in your own life, think about how much your feelings about life change when you’re hungover, hangry etc.

What to do: If you start to feel anxiety rising up, stop and ask yourself “How do I feel right now and what do I need?” We can run through a whole day with a low hum of anxiety without ever really turning to face it and find out what’s really behind it - maybe you just need a glass of water.

Tip 2: Are you fuelling it by running from it?

“I just want to get rid of this feeling” - this is how one of my clients described anxiety. It resonates with me, probably with you too. Feeling anxious is uncomfortable and vulnerable and we just don’t want it in our lives. But while the instinctive response might be to try and block it out or run away from it this can actually make it worse. Think about an upset child - if you ignore them, they will usually scream louder.

Most of our emotions simply get bigger if we try to suppress them or push them down. And that includes trying to distract yourself with Netflix or your phone. Although you’re occupying yourself on the surface, the anxiety is still there chugging away in the background of whatever you’re doing and basically ruining your day.

What to do: Face your anxiety. Sometimes, what can feel like a huge monster when it’s behind us turns out to be a little annoying gremlin when we actually turn to look at it. That might mean writing it down, sitting in silence and asking yourself “What’s coming up for me right now” or talking to someone you trust.

Tip 3: How are you making it worse?

When you’ve done the journal prompts about where anxiety shows up the most often in your life, you can start to look at how this is being fed by habits and choices. For example, if you feel anxious about an event, do you contribute to this by being late, refusing to think about an outfit until the last minute so that you feel you have nothing to wear, doing zero research or preparation so that you have no idea what you’re walking into?

How do your actions make your anxiety worse? Once you’ve identified these then you can start to change them. This is what I mean about anxiety having an element of choice.

What to do: How can you make it easier for yourself to be less anxious? Look at where your own behaviour is making hard feelings worse. Maybe you need to be more punctual, stop scrolling on Instagram because it triggers feelings of comparison, or avoid overfilling your schedule so that you always feel overwhelmed.

Tip 4: Learn where anxiety is an automatic response for you and start to change it

The process of gathering data on what you do - and why you do it - is invaluable. This is something I do with all my clients and it can be life-changing. This is actually really simple - for example, for a week keep a record of where anxiety comes up for you. Then look back over your life and note where anxiety has felt the strongest. What are the themes and parallels?

What to do: Start to reprogramme the automatic anxiety response. The first step to any kind of change is to notice that you’re having an automatic response. It sounds simple but that’s a hugely important moment because it means you’re stepping back and observing your response, rather than being overwhelmed by it.

When you’re able to notice this kind of response happening you can use self-soothing techniques to calm the nervous system enough that you can begin to make a choice about how you view the situation. For example, if you’re about to do something challenging you might be stuck in a “I’m so nervous, I can’t do it” narrative with a fight or flight response in your body (fast heart rate, sweaty palms, shaky hands). Over time you’ll be able to swap this for something like “I’m excited, I’m ready and I’m going to do my best,” which might actually be a more realistic assessment of what’s happening.

Anxiety affects so many of us today and it can feel absolutely crippling. But there are ways to start loosening its grip on your life - and one of those is examining where it has become a habit that you can change.

Resilience coaching is a very effective tool for finding a way through anxiety, learning to deal differently with the discomfort it creates and reducing the impact that it has on your life. Creating more space for creativity, productivity and joy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Winchester, Hampshire, SO23
Written by Alex Pett
Winchester, Hampshire, SO23

Alex is an ICF trained and NLP cert coach focused on helping people to deepen their resources to adapt and bounce back - and go on to thrive. She works with resilience to help clients build confidence, recover from burnout, be assertive, set boundaries, find joy and move beyond limiting beliefs. Clients achieve tangible change in 6-9 sessions.

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