If you're an anxious person, youâ€™ve probably been told your whole life not to worry so muchâ€”to â€œstop overthinking thingsâ€ and â€œjust relax.â€ By now, you've perhaps given up on trying to feel better and resigned yourself to the idea that there's just something wrong with you.
But thatâ€™s not true, says Alice Boyes, PhD, author of the The Anxiety Toolkit ($16, amazon.com). â€œItâ€™s good that we have some people in our tribe who are bold and some who are cautiousâ€”that creates a normal [bell] curve, with different types of people on either end,â€ Boyes explained in an interview with Health.
As she argues in her new book, â€œthe problem is when anxiety gets to the point that itâ€™s paralyzing. I think of these bottlenecks as anxiety traps.â€
Boyes describes the process of climbing out of these traps as â€œfine-tuningâ€ your mind. â€œYouâ€™re learning how to work with your own hardware and software in the most effective way,â€ she says.
Here, she offers advice on how to escape from three of the most common traps.
You hesitate to act until you'reÂ 100% ready
A large part of anxiety is having an â€œintolerance of uncertainty,â€ says Boyes. It involves a fear of failure, and can keep youÂ mired in contemplation mode.Â You may have a tendency to consider many ideas without ever trying any of them. Or you may find yourself perpetually stuck in the research phase of projects.
Free yourself: â€œAnxiety-prone people tend to focus on the worst possible outcomes,â€ so they Â worry too much about the risk to take action, explains Boyes. But the truth is, thereâ€™s usually a spectrum of possibilities: â€œWhen I worked as a therapist, I used to tell my clients to identify the worst thing that could happen, the best thing, and the most realistic thing. And to do it in that order.â€ The idea is to help yourself acknowledge the opportunities that exist along with the risks, so you feel safer when making a move.
Another trick is to make a plan for how youâ€™d cope if the worst-case scenario came true. â€œWorriers are always thinking, What if? But they never actually answer that question.â€ Rather than constantly trying to avoid the negative outcomes, make an action plan. This can boost your perception of yourself as someone who can handle adversity when it strikes, which can be calming.
You obsess about mistakes
Over-thinking past misstepsâ€”meaning you're replaying them again and again in your mindâ€”is called ruminating, and it can leave you tangled up in knots.
Free yourself: â€œSometimes a good way to escape the cycle is to come up with concrete steps for moving forward,â€ Boyes says. She suggests you start by jotting down three possible actions you can take now. For example, if youâ€™ve recently hired a new employee who isnâ€™t working out, rather than beat yourself up over missing holes in his resume or other signs, define your options: 1) You could give him less responsibility 2) Provide more guidance 3) Fire him.
â€œMaking the list shifts your mind into a more productive mode,â€ Boyes explains.
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You dreadÂ criticism
Anxious people often go out of their way to avoid feedback because they already judge themselves harshly, and criticism from the outside is especially upsetting. â€œPlus, you may know that youâ€™ll be replaying the critique in your mind for days and weeks to come, and that makes it even harder,â€ Boyes adds.
Free yourself: Try acting relaxed when you get a review. Even though you may feel crushed or defensive, send physical signals that youâ€™re appreciative, Boyes suggests. Drop your shoulders. Lift your head. Relax your hands. This isn't just an act: â€œYour feelings and thoughts will quickly catch up with your nonverbal cues.â€
It may help to have some canned responses prepared in case you need to stall. For example, you could say, â€œLet me think about how best to proceed from here. Iâ€™ll email you with some thoughts.â€ That will buy youÂ some time to mentally process the information and respond in a productive way.
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