The Truth About Anxiety and How to Use it to Your Advantage

Anxiety is part of being human. It’s something I have dealt with for my whole life and I really didn’t even know it.  Before I began the journey of separating myself from the habitual thoughts in my mind (which I call the inner critic), I thought it was normal to let my mind constantly focus on the future. I thought that all of my thoughts of trying to manage and perfect myself and my life was just how you were supposed to do life. I was completely blind to what it cost me in time, energy, joy, satisfaction, and gratitude. I thought the idea “Once I get there” was just normal.

Given that human beings have been suffering from their own thoughts for thousands of years, it is astounding to me that it is not yet part of our culture to learn how to manage our minds. Right now, over 40 million adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. But many people think they are alone and that they are not normal. Albert Einstein said we can’t solve problems by using the same thinking that created them. And for people who suffer from anxiety, they have been thinking the same thoughts for much of their lives. They don’t know it is possible to rewire your thoughts and practice a different way to think.  

You may believe that stress is necessary and productive but here is what stress really is. Stress is a set of physical sensations caused by hormonal and physiological changes set off in your brain. It is the release of adrenalin and cortisol into your bloodstream.  Your brain releases adrenalin and cortisol when it thinks that it is perceiving a threat. When your brain perceives a threat, this is when these hormones are released. If you are actually trying to outrun something that is trying to eat you for dinner, that is really useful. Your heart beats faster to get more blood to your muscles so that you can run faster.

The physical sensation of stress is an evolutionary adaptation. It was helpful back in caveman times when the main source of stress was physical danger. It is no longer helpful when the main source of anxiety is the worry coming from your thoughts about what people might think, how your future is going to be, or how someone else’s life is going.  

Basically, your brain is designed to handle situations that are life and death...but we don’t have situations that are life and death anymore. 

Worry is a habit that turns into anxiety. When you allow your mind to stay in the habit of worry, it can be your way of dealing with the world. You live in the illusion that worry can somehow prevent or control future outcomes of life. But the reality is that worry is a complete waste of time and energy--and it is self-reinforcing. When your mind becomes conditioned to worry, it leads to more worrying thoughts, which leads to more anxious feelings, which leads to more worrying thoughts. So the thoughts themselves are invisible and the invisible thoughts lead to more thoughts. It’s a vicious cycle.

You need to train your mind to get out of the habit of worry. 

You are wasting your life with worrying. You won’t be able to get yourself out of your anxiety with motivation or more positive thinking.  When people try to get rid of or avoid the physical feeling that accompanies fear, you engage in dysfunctional behaviors like avoiding people, excessive drinking, drugs, working too much, being too busy, or staying in dysfunctional relationships or jobs to avoid the fear of the unknown.   

The hamster wheel of thinking is what leads to depression, anxiety, and chronic unhappiness. Inner balance happens when you learn to follow new routines. You have to break the habits of the way you think and the behaviors that accompany your thinking. This is not easy work. We’re so used to living on autopilot, so taking the time and energy to examine your mind and rewire your thoughts takes energy, time and concentration.  

Plus your worry becomes such an automatic habit that it becomes the background noise of your life. You don’t even recognize it. It is as transparent as the air you breathe. But what we aren’t ever taught is that all of your feelings are caused by your thoughts. So putting the effort into learning how to feel ALL feelings is the key to having the life you want.

But in our culture, we’re taught to avoid the feelings we consider bad and only feel the ones that we consider good...and that is completely impossible.

There are times when anxiety becomes truly debilitating.  Panic attacks can occur out of nowhere and can be exacerbated when your fearful thoughts create the sensation of panic. And panicked feelings lead to panic thoughts which lead to more panicked feelings. It's a repetitive loop of thinking.

When you have panic attacks, you need to interrupt the thoughts that make you feel like you’re going to die. You need to actually talk to yourself and remind yourself that this is just a feeling that will go away within a few minutes. Panic attacks typically only last a few minutes. The other key when having a panic attack is focusing on slowing your breathing down. Breathing slowly and deliberately through a panic attack is key.

Social anxiety is caused by your thoughts about what other people think about you.  You are actually projecting thoughts onto other people and imagining they are thinking of you, when, in fact, we are making up this scenario in our minds.

For women, we are taught as women to be pretty and likable. If you struggle with social anxiety, for your next social situation try this: Write out all your thoughts about what other people will think of you. Notice you’re attributing all of those thoughts to other people.

Those thoughts have nothing to do with them--they are your own thoughts that you’ve been habitually thinking for a long time. But if you know that these are your thoughts about yourself (made up by your Inner Critic), you can just let those thoughts be and recognize that those are just the incessant mind chatter of your Inner Critic. 

If the thoughts aren’t real, then you have the possibility of choosing different thoughts.  

When you talk about personality, recognize that confidence is not a personality trait.  There is no such thing as a person who is born with more confidence than another person. Confidence is a skill.

For example, my husband is an introvert who is very confident and I am an extrovert who has to continually build the skill of confidence.  Had I not been building that skill for the past 30 years, you would not be listening to this podcast right now.

Confidence is the ability to move from thought to action. Confidence is the willingness to try, not the assuredness that it will turn out.  I have worked for my whole life to cure myself of anxiety and design my current life by rewiring the hardwired thoughts in my mind. But anxiety and depression are so pervasive in our culture and can be controlled by learning to manage your mind.

Anxiety is the habit of worrying that has spiraled out of control. If you say you are a worrier, what you really have is a habit of worrying. A habit is a behavior you repeat over and over without realizing. Anxiety happens when that pattern of worry spirals out of control and then causes the physical sensations that I was talking about earlier when your brain emits certain chemicals into your bloodstream.   

The body has a physiological fight or flight response that gets triggered by your thoughts. Every time you do something to escape your fear, such as avoid a situation that might make you uncomfortable, or spend a ton of energy worrying because it feels like worrying will control the unknown, it reinforces the fear and the habit that you should keep engaging in those behaviors. It may reduce the feelings in the short term but it leads to more and more anxiety because you are constantly on guard to ward off the uncomfortable feelings.  

Fear is a mismanaged mind.  It is not a reason or an excuse for not taking action to create the life that you want. Fear doesn’t mean that there is something wrong but we think it’s something to avoid. We only think it’s a bad thing to feel.

We are hard-wired for fear. It’s part of our survival mechanism.  We need fear for some things in our modern world like driving too fast or taking certain risks that would jeopardize our safety. But then there are irrational fears that will be a part of your life for forever. It comes from the habitual thoughts of your Inner Critic. You will never be able to get rid of your irrational fear drummed up by your Inner Critic.  

We create our fear response by having fearful thoughts. Because of this, actually learning how to feel fear and take action anyway is the key to having the life we want.  When you think about the things we're afraid of (such as public speaking), we’re terrified. People are more afraid of public speaking than they are dying.  But what’s the worst thing that could happen?

What you’re afraid of is your own creation. Your anxiety is because your mind is drumming up worst-case scenarios and then you’re reacting as though that’s actually happening. If you want to create anything--- a dream relationship or a dream marriage, a dream career, weight loss, improved finances, or basically anything you can think of that you want to have--it takes a willingness to take actions that are in line with the vision that you are out to create rather than taking actions that your Inner Critic says you should take. 

The actions that your Inner Critic tells you to take are all about keeping you away from uncomfortable emotions. Which is ironic, because when you are stuck in your relationship, or not creating your dream career, or not losing weight or not going for the life you really want, it is super uncomfortable. But it’s a discomfort you’re familiar with, so in some way, it feels safer than if you were to step into the unknown. 

And that’s exactly how people get into the trap of surviving life rather than really living the life they were meant to live. In my life, being able to take action even though I’m experiencing fear, nervousness and knowing it’s only a thought in my mind, has made me more successful than I would have ever been otherwise because I put myself out there even if I’m afraid.

Most of us don’t actually know what fear feels like. We know what resistance to fear looks like. But when that feeling comes up, most people push it away. Fear is only energy in our body. Our heart might increase or our muscles get tense. But most people avoid fear before they even have the time to experience it. They eat, drink, work, exercise, or shop to avoid it. When you learn how to embrace it (not avoid it or resist it) you will see that there is really very little to be afraid of when it comes to fear. 

The way to deal with anxiety is to stop running away from the thoughts that are causing the feelings and behavior. The key is to actually allow yourself to observe the thoughts. When you can accept the thoughts and feelings that accompany your anxiety instead of running away from them, this is what decreases your anxiety.  

It is possible to rewire your brain to form new neurological pathways but it takes effort. It takes a willingness to examine your thoughts and to become the observer of your mind. It takes effort but the payoff is that you break the cycle of worry and anxiety.

We have spent our whole lives creating these habits of thinking, so breaking the habits of our automatic thinking takes effort.  

I would recommend that you let yourself experience the sensations when you really allow yourself to experience the fear. Notice how afraid you are to feel it. For example, many of us have a fear of feeling pain and being hurt. We layer emotions on top of emotions. The fear of pain is worse than the pain itself. For most of us, the fear of feeling the emotion is so much worse than actually experiencing the emotion. This is how fear holds you back.

Take a second to sit back and consider what you are really afraid of. Grab a piece of paper and write at the top, “What am I afraid of?”. Then, just write and write and write.  Look at those fears. What you will have is a list of thoughts that are creating those fears. 

All day long your thoughts drift. You have to wake up to the voice in your mind that goes to the habitual worry and “what if”. Your mind is on autopilot. When you catch your mind on autopilot and choose a different thought, you are using a different part of your brain. The second you wake up and notice you're on autopilot, you interrupt that pattern and your brain is ready to receive a different thought.

This is not positive thinking. You can’t just change the channel automatically. You have to interrupt yourself with your autopilot garbage thoughts by shifting to your vision. When you create a vision for your life and start taking actions that are in alignment with your vision, you create excitement at the possibility of what your life could be. 

Physiologically, being excited and being afraid in your body is the exact same thing. Your armpits sweat and your heart races. The only difference is what your brain is saying to you. Anxiety happens when your brain exhibits the same physiological symptoms of excitement and then your mind convinces you that something is wrong. When you have a physiological response in your body, your mind starts to say, “There is something horribly wrong”. When you start feeling the physiological feeling of anxiety, you can choose a thought like, “I’m ok” or “There’s nothing wrong” or even “I’m excited!”.  

You have to put in the effort to change the thoughts in your mind. You have to be willing to create excitement on purpose. But you can’t change that which you can’t see.  So the first step is to observe the thoughts in your mind. Those are the automatic thoughts of your Inner Critic.  You have to take the time in your day to sit back and observe your mind. What is it saying to you? 

What you will discover is that the only thing that is preventing you from really living the life that you want are these thoughts.  And I know it sounds simple. And while it actually is simple, it is also a lot of work. (Trust me, I’ve been doing it for 30 years.) Honesty, I can say that understand how my Inner Critic is showing up in my life has been the key to everything for me. Learning to manage the thoughts in my mind has created the marriage I have, the business that I have, the friendships I have, the relationships with my family that I have. And I still do the work every. single. day. Because if I don’t do the work, my old conditioned mind is back to worry and self doubt and drumming up worse case scenarios.  

In order to truly change your life, you need to be willing to think differently from how you feel.

That's why I collected some of my favorite resources and trainings to create an owner's manual for your mind. Want access? Tell us where to send your log-in details! 

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