How To Overcome Anxiety
Practices that work to keep nerves from holding you back.
There’s a lot of advice out there about how to overcome anxiety–but a lot of the things you hear are not going to keep you from feeling nervous.
When you’re nervous, your heart starts beating out of your chest and adrenaline starts surging through your body–you are fighting a full-on biological mutiny.
Preparing a little more the night before is great advice–but it’s not enough to keep you from having a panic attack.
Visualizing people in their underwear is stupid and doesn’t work.
Telling yourself “I’m not nervous, I’m just excited!” sounds great in principle, but it’s not practical. You can’t change nervous energy into excited energy by labeling it something new. Your body knows when you’re lying.
So, what should you do?
Get Silly To Stay Loose
A lot of nervousness stems from our anxiety that we are going to say or do something stupid.
So get that out of the way and do something silly before nerves have a chance to take over.
People were amazed at how slopestyle gold medalist Jamie Anderson was able to put in a winning run at the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, despite high winds that threatened to cancel the event.
While everyone else was checking their equipment for the 100th time, or worrying about the weather report–do you know what Jamie Anderson was doing? She was dancing like a maniac to old-school hip hop.
Jamie Anderson got silly. She stayed loose and took home the gold while a bunch of other talented snowboarders tensed up, complained, and fell on their butts.
If you don’t think jamming out to Dr. Dre had anything to do with Jamie Anderson sticking her landings, you haven’t experienced the power of psychophysical behavior.
When I used to work with actors before a big audition, I’d have them get in a power pose and yell that they are a “beast” or a “bear” over and over again. Why? Because doing something that ridiculous in public is extremely empowering.
Are you willing to look silly for a few seconds outside to have the relaxed focus and confidence to be able to go into a room and impress a bunch of people with the power to change your future? I know I will take that trade-off every time.
Most people get nervous before giving a public speech–just about everyone has experienced this feeling. People love to tell you that it is a human’s biggest fear.
But the fear they are actually referring to is ego-death. It is the anxiety that something so embarrassing or disappointing is going to happen that it will forever alter the sense of self–but how many people do you know whose lives were destroyed because they messed up one PowerPoint presentation?
“Ego is at the root of almost every conceivable problem and obstacle we have.” — Ryan Holiday
We tend to think of ego as the thing that makes people recklessly arrogant, but it’s also an inflated ego that makes us anxious.
If you want to be less nervous–STOP TAKING YOURSELF SO SERIOUSLY.
Are you living in the real world, or indulging in a parallel universe where you sense people are thinking about you and judging you WAY more than they are?
The truth is that most people are too self-absorbed to even be paying much attention to you–so you might as well kill your ego.
Embrace your quirks and you’ll find that not only do your nerves go away, but others find you refreshing and real.
Move Like Water
Nervousness is a psychosomatic condition–meaning it involves the mind and the body.
The only way to help yourself combat something psychosomatic is with psychophysical actions. Movements that tell your body to feel a certain way.
Tell yourself to relax…did it work? Of course, it didn’t because your body has no physical reference to know what to do when you say the word relax. That is approaching the problem from the wrong end. You have to perform actions first that have the effect of making you feel more relaxed.
Try this: walk across the room with the quality of water. With every step, flow, be easy, move freely. Do you feel more relaxed? If not, keep walking like water until you do.
Relaxation is not the opposite of nerves–effortlessness is.
Moving like water gives you gracefulness and poise. Your posture and gestures can either tell your brain that you are loose and confident or tense and anxious.
Action creates emotions.
Use Sense Memory
Sense Memory is the technique of recalling an experience, the sight, sound, smell, taste, or feel of it, to evoke an emotional reaction in the present.
Actors use it to help them get into the emotional state of their characters.
Here’s one example of how you could use it to help with anxiety:
Grab your headphones and put on something instrumental and soothing (Debussy is a great choice). Now, move like water through your room allowing yourself to just ride the current of the beautiful music. Let your vision glaze over until you are gliding around with soft focus. If you are in an open space, you may even want to close your eyes. Try to just let thoughts drift out of your mind. Enjoy the peace and simplicity of moving around to music without a care in the world.
Do you feel peaceful, positive, and relaxed? You have just created a sensual experience that can be recalled in times of stress. Once you’ve done it in the privacy of your home, you can revisit the memory of this experience anytime you become nervous and stressed.
Your brain won’t be able to tell a difference between your actual performance and a well-crafted memory of it. Once you have had the experience, you should be able to generate the feeling you first got again and again at will by dancing to the Debussy in your mind. That is how sense memory works.
It can also be applied to any real-life experience you’ve had. What was the most empowering moment of your life? Was it your wedding day? The birth of a child? Graduation? Summiting a mountain? Relive that moment in your imagination whenever you start to feel anxiety creeping up. By focusing on all of the senses associated with that time and place–you can change your feeling in the present.
You may be about to step out onto a stage to speak to hundreds of people, but in your mind, you are on top of that mountain at sunset with the cool breeze blowing across your face and your full breath inhaling the fresh scent of the forest trees.
It All Begins with Your Breath
Taking voice lessons is great even for non-singers because a good voice teacher will train you in the proper way of breathing. The correct way to breathe when you are awake is the way you naturally breathe when you are asleep.
It is almost impossible for nervous symptoms to persist when you are breathing slow and deep. Nerves thrive on fast, shallow breaths.
Learning how to breathe from your diaphragm and remembering to breathe correctly whenever your stress level begins to rise will work wonders for lowering your anxiety level.
Lie on your back on a firm surface (the floor or a table works well) put a book over your belly button and take a deep breath. If you are breathing from your diaphragm, the book should rise when you inhale, not your chest.
Add another layer to breathing by imagining yourself breathing in relaxed energy, confidence, and focus–while breathing out nervous energy, negativity, and stress.
Once you get in the habit of proper breathing, there are other breathing techniques, such as Wim Hof that can help with all sorts of physical ailments.
Commit to Change
Every human gets nervous, it has nothing to do with experience and you can’t “tell” nerves to go away.
It takes the practice of proven practical methods to relieve nerves and anxiety.
Remember that making intentional actions to trigger positive emotions is the starting point. Allow lifestyle choices, such as meditation, yoga, proper breathing, and regular exercise to support a healthy emotional base.
Every calm confident moment of our lives can be recalled using our senses during times of high stress to flip the switch on our feelings.
Work to get over the fear of ego-death and a lot of the reasons behind your nerves will stop presenting themselves.
Your negative emotions are the biggest roadblock to your success. It’s time to be like water and flow through life free.