A recovering people-pleaser's guide to reducing anxiety
I recently asked my community of recovering people-pleasers what they do to reduce anxiety. I want to share with you their top tips, including my own that I know work. This is going to be like a buffet of sumptuous choices you can choose from to find what works for you.
What is anxiety?
There are a lot of definitions, but to me it’s that overwhelm of negative thoughts, that is accompanied by difficult feelings, which we are disconnected from and that leads to physical symptoms such as a racing heart, sweaty palms, tense shoulders and even panic attacks.
Chronic anxiety may also show up in problems concentrating, memory problems and difficulty sleeping.
The first thing to say is that if you suffer from anxiety, you are not alone. It’s so common. When I think of myself, initially I didn’t identify with having had anxiety, but now I see that I did – I just didn’t give it that label.
I was constantly worrying about what was going to happen that day, that week, that month, that year! I worried about what other people thought of me. I worried about how I was showing up and I worried about how worried I would get!
The good news is that there are numerous ways to reduce and even eliminate anxiety.
Easing anxiety when it strikes
Here are the top tips our community shared, as well as a few of my own, both for de-escalating anxiety when it crops up, but also for tackling the root causes.
Talk to someone
You have probably heard the saying, ‘A problem shared is a problem halved’. Even the act of saying your worries out loud and having them witnessed can take some of their power away.
Getting someone else’s perspective and ideas can be helpful, but even if you don’t want advice or they don’t have any to give, sharing can help you escape looping thoughts and begin to find a new path.
Listen to music
Dig out some of your favourite tunes. Probably not the sad ones, but ones that lift you up and bring you joy and that maybe you can sing along to. Music can reduce stress, improve your mood, memory and even sleep patterns. It gives us a feel-good boost when we need it and the motivation to move forward.
A few more I would add:
When we are anxious and overwhelmed, we are not grounded. Grounding can be as simple as putting your feet on the floor and then bringing your attention to your feet and the feeling of them connecting to the floor beneath you. You can extend this by imagining roots coming out of your feet and growing deep into the earth below. Breathe into your feet and know you are supported.
When we are stressed and going into fight or flight mode, we can breathe shallowly, or even hold our breath! This then exacerbates our anxiety further. When you begin to feel anxious, slow down and remind yourself to breathe – breathe from your belly.
Asking your Higher power/God/the Universe for direction
Sometimes we can feel anxious when we don’t know what to do and we feel responsible for everything going on around us. We forget we are spiritual beings in a universe that supports us.
Something I need to remember to do more often, and you can do too, is to ask the universe/Higher power/God what you should do – and then ask for the strength and support to do it.
Tackling root causes of anxiety
Let's take a look at how we can tackle the root cause of your anxiety.
Do a reality check
This is where pen and paper come in handy. Write down everything that is bothering you. Write about what is going through your mind and how you are feeling. Then get up, shake off that energy and come back to your list. Identify which are real issues you need to deal with and which you are imagining.
For the real issues, you can then prioritise them according to importance and urgency and break down any big items into smaller chunks. You may find that talking with someone helps you do your reality check.
Practise mindfulness and meditation
We can get so wrapped up in our thoughts – and what’s more, we believe everything we think to be true! Mindfulness teaches us to become observers of our own thoughts and feelings. This can help us take a step back and assess whether those thoughts are based on truth and begin to make choices about what we spend our time thinking about.
A meditation practice, even for five minutes a day, can help you develop this awareness and bring long-term benefits for your wellbeing.
Talk with your inner child
When we feel anxious, it is likely that the child part of us is feeling scared. It can be incredibly powerful to give that part of you reassurance by saying things like "I am here. I see you and I love you and I will take care of you."
I would also add:
Feel your feelings
Anxiety is layered on unfelt feelings. Can you sit with your feelings? However uncomfortable it may be, feelings flow through us quickly when we let them. And then we can move on.
Stop the comparison game
Comparing ourselves to others can be a huge cause of anxiety and affect our self-esteem. Remember, no one has lived your life. And what you see of other people’s lives on social media is just the highlights reel. You are unique and precious for who you are, not what you do.
With these top tips for tackling anxiety, both for soothing it when it strikes and for tackling the root causes, you can manage, reduce and even eliminate anxiety. Which one of these will you try this week?