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How to Beat Anxiety So You Can Live Life to the Fullest

Meditation Silhouette

“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield

When I was in my twenties, I was confident and fearless, and I lived life to the fullest.

I remember going on vacation, and one of my friends was terrified to get on the plane. We had a four-hour flight ahead of us, and I thought her anxiety and fear of flying were ridiculous.

I thought she was being pathetic and selfish, and spoiling it for everyone else. I remember having a ‘quiet word’ with her and berating her for talking absolute nonsense. I had no empathy or compassion for her feelings. In hindsight, I wasn’t being a very good friend.

It’s funny how things can change. In June 2006, life as I knew it collapsed around me because a business I’d put my heart and soul into didn’t work out. I began to feel panicky, disconnected, scared, lost, weak, vulnerable, utterly ashamed, and broken.

Simple daily tasks I once found easy became a chore. Even more disturbing was the realization that everything I previously enjoyed had become a source of fear and dread, such as going away, meeting friends, driving, and ironically, getting on a plane.

Every minute of every day was filled with fearful thoughts; I overflowed with insecurities, self-doubt, and self-loathing.

Physically, I felt nauseous, shaky, and dizzy. Day after day, my anxiety was relentless and exhausting. I was trapped on a never-ending emotional rollercoaster, and I couldn’t find any peace.

Inappropriate anxiety makes you believe that there is something wrong when there isn’t; it eats away at your confidence and affects every part of your life.

I was scared of my own thoughts and bodily sensations, constantly on red alert for the next attack. I spent my days trying to gain back some control by constantly monitoring my feelings and avoiding situations in which I felt anxious.

I went on like this for ten years and spent a fortune on trying to ‘fix’ myself.

I realize now that there was nothing to fix. I was the source of my own pain and suffering.

The painful truth was that no amount of books, therapy, or money could get me out of the living nightmare. They would help me along the way, but true recovery came from within—the only way out was through.

The Turning Point

My turning point came one day when I had a panic attack in my car. I chose to sit with it and observe it. I didn’t add any more fear to it; I simply welcomed it and tried to understand it.

I experienced my body calming down on its own, without any intervention from me. I then consciously decided that I wouldn’t revisit the experience in my head by worrying about it, analyzing it, or telling other people about it.

The more I did this in various situations, the more my anxiety lost its substance.

I acknowledged that my anxiety was like a dear friend, working for me and not against me. It had my back, warning me about pending fearful situations like an overprotective mother would. The only problem was, there was nothing to fear.

I recovered by allowing myself to feel the anxiety without trying to suppress it, ignore it, or get rid of it. I learned how to accept it as my protector, and to be comfortable with anxiety being part of my life until my mind found other non-anxious ways.

I gave up analyzing it, researching it, and looking for quick fixes. I stopped talking about it with others. I undermined its power by learning how to stay in the present moment and remain strong in the knowledge that it was just a feeling that would eventually pass.

The more I did this, the more my confidence grew. It took time and patience, and there were many blips along the way, but by changing my relationship with anxiety, I eventually found my peace.

I showed myself compassion, just like I should have showed it to my friend all those years ago on the plane.

How You Can Help Yourself

Anxiety is the body’s way of telling us we need to address something about ourselves.

For me, my anxiety manifested because I’m a perfectionist; I’m also ambitious, but didn’t feel fulfilled in my work; and I generally take on too much, which puts extra stress on my body and mind. Throw in the fact that I’m a people pleaser, and  anxiety is sure to thrive.

Anxiety can be messy, but it’s possible to fully recover.

Here are the things that helped me.

1. Tackle your stinking thinking and anxious behavior. 

Recognize your anxious, negative thinking patterns, and be bold enough to challenge and change them. It takes time, but it works. It’s a huge breakthrough when you realize that you are not your thoughts.

Before, I constantly feared the worst, dreading upcoming situations in case I felt unwell and anxious. This is called catastrophizing, when you think the worst will happen even though you have no concrete evidence that it will.

Other unhelpful thinking patterns include:

Over-generalizing – assuming that something will happen again just because it happened before. “I’ll mess up again, because I remember that last time I did.”

Mind reading – assuming you know what others are thinking of you and situations. “She ignored me because she doesn’t like me.”

Fortune telling – thinking you know what will happen in the future. “It won’t work, so I won’t try.”

Critical mind chatter – negative thinking about yourself. “I’m such an idiot.”

Black and white thinking – where you can’t see any middle ground, such as “my job is awful and I hate it” rather than “I don’t enjoy my job right now, but it could be worse and I’m going the make the best of it.”

Here’s some helpful ways to deal with negative thoughts:

  • Recognize and label the unhelpful thinking pattern.
  • Challenge your thoughts; for example, if you think, “I’m not good enough,” think of some scenarios of times when you were good enough, which will dilute your initial negative thought.
  • Recognize extreme words you might use such as “I always fail,” and change them to “I sometimes fail, but that’s okay because I’m only human, and failure is simply feedback of how I can do better.”
  • Write down negative thoughts and journal next to them a more helpful way of thinking.
  •  A negative feeling such as low mood generally starts with a negative thought process, so try to link the two. If you’re feeling low, ask yourself what you’ve been thinking that led you to that low feeling.

When I listened to my own thoughts, I realized how negative my mind was most of the time. No wonder I felt anxious!

If you continue challenging your thoughts, eventually, more balanced thoughts will become second nature. You will become more skilled at it as time goes on, but do remember to pay attention to your thoughts and do the work needed to change them.

2. Practice acceptance. 

Accept that you have anxiety. Don’t suppress; instead, try to understand it, and see it as your friend and protector. Your body is working perfectly fine. Yes, anxiety makes you feel scared, but it’s meant to; that’s its job, right (fight or flight)?

My anticipation anxiety was truly horrendous. The thoughts and feelings I experienced before going away even for one night were so strong that I often cancelled my plans. Once I saw anxiety as my overbearing protector, I could calmly tell it that I no longer needed its protection, and slowly it learned to back off.

This requires you to be bold and strong, and to go against your natural instincts. It feels weird and scary at first, but keep going and you will find the anxiety eventually retreats.

Acceptance means understanding that, for this moment in time, you are dealing with anxiety, and will still feel anxious while you’re going through the recovery process. There will be a period of time when negative thoughts keep popping up; this is only natural. Just learn to accept it as an anxious thought and move on.

3. Look after yourself.

Good nutrition, good sleep, and exercise set great foundations for tackling anxiety head on. Give yourself the best chance possible to beat this.

Do as many things as you can to help you to relax, connect with your inner being, and make you laugh. Surround yourself with positive things and people. Be kind to yourself and make it your number one priority to fully recover.

4. Look at your lifestyle.

Are you in a bad relationship? Do you feel unfulfilled? Are you trying to please people? Ask yourself what anxiety is telling you to address in your life.

What got you anxious in the first place? Is this something you are still continuing to do, and what could you do change this?

5. Don’t avoid. 

Don’t avoid the things you previously enjoyed and were able to do comfortably pre-anxiety. No matter how bad you feel, just keep on pressing through, knowing that anxiety cannot hurt you and will eventually pass.

What helped me was to see every fearful situation as a challenge. I got excited about impending anxiety because it was an opportunity to face and overcome.

I know all too well how it feels when every bone in your body tells you to avoid a fearful situation. In these instances, it’s beneficial to not engage in the negative thinking. Simply float through the feelings and know they will naturally pass.

All avoidance does is teach your brain that there is something to fear, when there isn’t—that’s what keeps the anxiety alive!

6. Don’t engage.

Don’t feed the anxiety by monitoring it, engaging in conversations about it (even with yourself), or trying to fix it, suppress it, or wish it away. Allow it to be present for as long as it needs to be, and it will naturally diminish.

See anxiety as your old habit. Like any habit, it will take time to heal, but by constantly engaging with it and worrying about it, you’re making it important and keeping it alive. Make your day structured, and fill it with fulfilling activities that keep your mind focused on something other than anxiety.

7. Never give up!

Never lose faith in yourself. Know that you are strong and resilient, and you can recover from this like many others have before you. Anxiety is, in fact, an easy thing to cure once we know how.

Finally, if you’re suffering with anxiety, please know that you can and will recover. I now see my anxiety as a blessing because I’m a much stronger, more positive and compassionate person. Anxiety has taught me to live my life to the fullest and love every moment.

Meditating silhouette via Shutterstock

About Catherine Colegrave

Catherine Colegrave is a busy Mum of three and a personal style coach, helping women discover, embrace and love their style. Visit her at www.discoveryourstyle.co.uk. She is committed to helping others recover from anxiety and is currently training to be an anxiety coach. She enjoys painting, paper cutting, sewing, jogging, swimming, and baking (and eating) cakes. Email Catherine at hello@discoveryourstyle.co.uk.

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  • Fantastic post! “knowing that anxiety cannot hurt you and will eventually pass” was something I truly appreciated reading-especially from someone with experience. Thank you for writing this.

  • Harsh

    great post its 100 percentage helpful for anxiety and ocd type patient

  • Bullyinglte

    Been there and been through it. I still really feel that the only people that can understand the feelings Anxiety and Depression bring on are those that have gone through it. That’s not to say you can’t be sympathetic, but being empathetic is a bit harder. That being said, more people than not have had at least one episode of anxiety or will in their lifetime. Learning ahead some mindfulness (ie – by observing it instead of letting it in as you mentioned) can help a long way from letting it eat you up inside. Thanks for writing.

  • Delson of Source Living

    Great insights Catherine! I used to suffer from panic attacks many years ago, as well as anxiety, onset by intense spiritual experiences and emotional detoxing. I found being in the moment and getting out of your own way and observing (without judgement, involvement or condemnation) makes you be aware, but not attached to an outcome in the form of avoidance or craving. The initial stages brings acceptance, but that quickly falls away and if you’re letting yourself be in the moment long enough, one would be surprised to find themselves without any thoughts, good or bad! That’s where the fun begins because then everything is in a state of constant flow!

  • Phase 9 Designs

    Thank you so much for this.. It’s bang on time.. So simply written, made it so easy to understand and work on. You made anxiety look so small .. God Bless!

  • Mary

    Thanks so much for this post. I lived with anxiety for most of my life (childhood into my early 30’s) and you nailed it especially with your points about mind reading and fortune telling. I was always waiting for the other shoe to drop. If I failed once I “just kew” I was going to fail again. Then one noghy, while having an anxiety ridden meltdown I Googled “why do I choose anxiety?” and that search brought me to Tiny Buddha posy “The Gift of Anxiety: 7 Ways to get the Message.” Your piece reminds me a lot of that one. Anxiety is trying to tell you something. It isn’t out to get you. Listen to what it is telling you and then you will start to heal. And I loved that you used “the only way out is thepugh” – that’s been my mantra since the beginning of my journey two and a half years ago. I am a work in progress and not a day goes by that I am not faced with challenges. Getting through it is work, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  • Guest

    This post was on the right time for me! I have had struggels with different fears since I was a little girl. But most of all the fear of losing and abondement. In my relationship with my boyfriend I feel the fear of losing him or being dumped for an other woman. It drives me crazy sometimes (I want to stop my negative thoughts, but they keep coming over and over again, crying, feeling alone etc). I went to therapy, talked with friends about it but most of the time it s a fight in my head. I searched many post on the internet but this was is the most helpful one for me and I’m going to face my fear with the things that helped you! Thanks again and please keep writing because the way you write is the start of the healing process.

  • Abbie

    Great post! Very helpful.

  • Leah Silver Graves

    This post really spoke to me–thank you. One part in particular jumped out: “Before, I constantly feared the worst, dreading upcoming situations in
    case I felt unwell and anxious. This is called catastrophizing, when you
    think the worst will happen even though you have no concrete evidence
    that it will.”

  • Hi Catherine, many thanks for sharing your story. I think you must be one of the very few people I know who has managed to deal with such significant anxiety issues alone .. without any support. It proves it can be done. You must be strong. That’s probably what made it possible. I’m so glad you have beaten it.

    I would say though to those with anxiety issues reading your post …. Sometimes you may not be able to deal with it alone. If this is the case there is no shame or embarrassment turning to others for support.

  • Monica Cook

    I love this! Thank you for sharing.

  • anthony

    very good read i for the longest time thought that it would never be something i could read and be like yeah thats me however my gf had me read this and i am so glad that she did.

  • Felicity321

    Wow, very reassuring to hear that anxiety is your body working well. What a different perspective! And one that brings peace… to anxiety 🙂

  • One of the most important approaches that will help you overcome your anxiety is to learn how to stop reacting to it. It is the reactivity to the emotion that is the real problem – the fear of the fear as it is commonly called. This reactivity to your anxiety emotion comes in in the form of cognitive reactivity, emotional reactivity and behavioral reactivity.

    We are all familiar with cognitive reactivity – the proliferation of worry thoughts, beliefs that nothing will change, ‘what if…’ thinking, anticipatory thinking and rumination. All these reactive thoughts have the effect of fueling the emotion, feeding the fire. It is like throwing logs on the fire and it makes the anxiety worse. On of the best ways to control reactive thinking is through mindfulness meditation. We develop greater conscious awareness of these reactions, and with consciousness comes greater choice. We can take them off autopilot. One of the mindfulness techniques that I teach and which really helps manage reactive thinking is to move the thoughts immediately after seeing them. Use your imagination. Take the thought, one at a time, and move them onto the ground. Place them at a lower level, like a pile of stones on the floor. Go back to your meditation on the anxiety and wait for more thoughts to arise and move them too. You are literally retraining your thoughts to move to a different position psychologically where they have less power to overwhelm – they can’t overwhelm you if they are on the ground!

    This is just one of the many mindfulness techniques we can apply for training ourselves out of the habitual reactions of anxiety (and depression). Try it for yourself and share your experiences for others to read.

    Peter, The Boulder Center for Online Mindfulness Therapy

  • Leah Jean

    The Author has quoted a “step 1” from a fantastic book called Feeling Good by David Burns, a highly recommended read. Ironic since she argues against reading books, obviously this book is too good not to share.