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How to Make Anxiety A Lot Less Painful

“You are not a mess. You are a feeling person in a messy world.” ~Glennon Doyle Melton

Anxiety can be hardwired and genetic. It can be passed down from generation to generation. It can be a result of trauma and high-stress scenarios, including divorce, moving, and death. These things are out of our control, and can be really challenging to work through.

But, anxiety can also come as a result of certain behaviors, lifestyle choices, and beliefs that you have about yourself and the world. And that, my friend, is always within your control.

I want to challenge the way you’re thinking about anxiety. Take a moment to ask yourself the following questions:

What thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors are leading to my anxiety? How can I address these behaviors and change the beliefs, thoughts, or emotions that create the anxiety to begin with?

I used to have really extreme experiences with anxiety. I would wake up feeling this pit in my stomach, like something really terrible was about to happen at any moment. Except… everything was fine.

I had a good job, I was making a decent amount of money, I had a nice apartment, I was in a seemingly good relationship, and it seemed like everything was working out in my favor.

On the outside, I seemed fine, but on the inside, I was dreading getting out of bed in the morning. Sometimes I literally couldn’t get out of bed in the morning. I would call my manager and tell her I was having a rough start to the day (again) and would be in as soon as I was “back to normal.”

My breath would become choppy. My heart would race. My palms would sweat. My hands would shake. My thoughts would bounce between “What the heck’s wrong with you?” to “Why can’t you just suck it up and go to work?” and from “Am I going to have a heart attack?” to “Do I need to go back to the doctor again today?”

I had anxiety, and I felt so pathetic about it. I felt guilty for not being more appreciative of all the things that were going right in my life. I hated myself for feeling anxious. I hated myself because I thought there was something really wrong with me that would never get better.

It wasn’t until I realized that I had the whole situation backward that I was able to start making changes.

I realized that it wasn’t the anxiety itself that was causing me to suffer—it was the way I was thinking about and engaging with the anxiety that was the issue. 

Here’s the thing: Anxiety is a normal human emotion that serves an evolutionary purpose. It’s a feeling that we get when something is threatening us. Anxiety is an emotion that serves as a trigger to activate our fight-or-flight response in response to a dangerous situation. So it’s normal to feel anxiety, and just because you may feel anxious doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you.

How we think about our anxiety is what will create our relationship to the emotion itself. 

If every time you feel anxious you think negative thoughts about yourself, then you send yourself into a downward spiral of guilt, shame, anger, depression, and even more anxiety. You feel more anxious just because you’re anxious.

But if you can reframe your thoughts to come from a place of positivity and love, everything changes. Instead of feeling like you’re broken or there’s something that needs to be fixed, you start to recognize that it’s natural to have an emotion like anxiety, and that you don’t need to engage with it in a negative, self-hating way.

You can simply acknowledge its presence, try to notice what caused it, and non-judgmentally let it go. 

Once we become conscious of our limiting beliefs and fears around anxiety, we can choose to see things differently.

We can train our brains to know that anxiety is a part of life, and that it doesn’t dictate our worth as a human being.

We can choose to reframe our beliefs to become more positive, accepting, and loving, in order to go easier on ourselves when we do experience anxiety.

And we can take action steps toward living a life that is in more balance, with less anxiety and stress, and more happiness every day.

By becoming aware of our thoughts and beliefs around anxiety and fear, we can consciously choose which beliefs are empowering and get to stay, and which are blocking our growth so that we can release them. Because here’s the bitter truth:

Your thoughts about anxiety can cause you to suffer more than experiencing the anxiety itself.

A while back, I got really interested in anxiety and my mindset overall. I started working with a coach who helped me understand on a more practical level the lessons I had learned from all the books I’d read: that your thoughts create your reality, and you are always in control of your thoughts.

I started to reframe my thoughts about anxiety and shifted the lens through which I see the world from one of lack/fear to one of abundance/love.

My life hasn’t been the same since.

I still experience anxiety and fear—OMG, I experience so much fear! Running my own business feels approximately like: 50 percent singing in my shower and dancing around my apartment to Katy Perry and 50 percent wanting to hide in a cave for the rest of my life and never emerge again. But my relationship to anxiety and fear has changed, because my mindset has changed. I no longer see my anxiety as a crippling force in my life that I desperately want to get rid of.

I now see anxiety as a gift, as a sign from the Universe that something is off balance in my life, and I feel grateful for having all of the tools I need to get back into balance. It is now my mission to help you do the same.

So when you feel anxiety, check in with yourself on what your thoughts and beliefs around anxiety are. Do you talk down to yourself for feeling anxious? Do you judge yourself or criticize yourself? Can you be more compassionate instead? Do you believe you are an anxious person? Can you be willing to see yourself as something different?

By becoming aware of the stories we tell ourselves about how we are and how the world is, we can consciously choose which stories serve us, and which need to be rewritten. You have the power to rewrite your anxiety story. The question is: will you do it?

About Lauren Madden

Lauren is a life coach, blogger, and yoga teacher in Phoenix, AZ. She’s actively creating a life that lights her up from the inside out, and helping her clients to do the same! She also has a serious coffee addiction. Check out her blog at laurenmaddencoaching.com.

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  • Yes, anything can be used as a gift in your life. It’s the meaning you give things that gives you your results, whether you feel good or bad. The momentum and gravity of habits can run us around. Learning to not identify with your thoughts and emotions gives space to act freely and not react to events. Everything is passing. Thanks!

  • RT

    So lovely to share your story Lauren. I found I got a lot of anxiety when I separated after nearly 30 years of marriage knowing I had to re-start my life again. I would experience night sweats which would wake me because of the anxiety I would feel. Constantly thinking and worrying how I was going to cope with no job or income and also doing it alone. But having read a lot of self help books,blogs (as yours) and gotten help from counsellors helped me to learn to cope better.The worrying about the “if’s” or thinking how much I had to do had to stop because it was burning so much of my energy. Energy I needed to use to learn how to cope and work out what I had to do or could do now. So every time I start to feel anxious about my life I talk to the voice in my head and re-assure myself that I am doing the best I can and things will eventually work out. Treating myself with self love and compassion and believing in myself has helped me a lot. Thank you for sharing:)

  • The secret, of course, is to develop tremendous compassion and love (the essence of mindfulness) toward those parts of ourself that are stuck in pain – the worrying and ‘what if’ thinking that feeds anxiety. We need to love these thoughts and see that THEY are in pain and need our support. Our habit is to identify with those thoughts and become prisoners when what we need to do is develop a conscious and compassionate relationship with those thoughts and the underlying fear.
    This we do by choosing to meditate on our emotions and thoughts, learning how to form that compassionate relationship with them that will help them heal. This is what I find to be most effective when working with people suffering from anxiety.

  • RT

    Hi Peter I found your blog extremely helpful,thank you. I totally am understanding how to be there and learning “the essence of mindfulness”. And that anxiety or fear are calls for my attention and compassion to help myself. It does help you cope better. But in regards to healing, isn’t it hard to heal when you are in the situation? As I am currently going through a separation on my own and do get anxiety because of having to start again. Having to find a job to have an income and new home at 56. Everyday I am learning to be with “what is” and be compassionate to myself until things eventually do become better. And I know they will because I can feel it in my heart.