As counterintuitive as it is, anxiety is a lazy habit. We usually associate it with speed, racing, activity, hysteria, imbalance, over-functioning, plate-spinning and other out-of-control activities. When we get anxious, we are immersed in the thought of failure, so like a scared rodent, we speed up the treadmill.
Could it possibly be lazy thinking that prevents anxiety sufferers from pushing against the thoughts that seed this emotional terror? Could lazy thought habits be fueling our anxiety?
Some have a predisposition to suffer from anxiety. Others suffer from acute anxiety. So anxiety can be an affliction with the need of a qualified therapist. But all humans have some degree of anxiety affliction. The continuum goes from very little to extreme.
Here’s the point: Anxiety rears its head through affliction but grows a body through habit.
What do you do with the anxious thoughts that have started to flood your mind as you begin the year? The “what if” scenarios and dramatic “catastrophes” are not in short supply. Blindly nurturing them creates thought grooves that provide the tracks for a closed loop of doomsday thinking. Around and around we go, driving the thought grooves even deeper.
We have a choice. We can push against this nefarious thinking or we can just let it happen. Anxiety is so demoralizing and emotionally tiring that we avoid dealing with it. Remember that this is a thought process. Experiences don’t produce thoughts as much as thoughts produce experiences.
This takes work. It takes effort to stop and catch ourselves riding the anxiety loop. Eventually new tracks will replace the old ones. Anxiety will always rear its head. As we do the work to spot the thinking creating the emotion, we can keep it from taking root and growing.
Here are five simple habits that help me.
1. Regularly remind yourself of all the good things in your life.
This daily, and even minute-by-minute, practice of gratitude will become a mindset over time. Having twice what you now have won’t make you happier, let alone anxiety free.
“Contentment is natural wealth, luxury is artificial poverty.” —Socrates
Anxiety gets a foothold when we overlook everything we have by looking for what we don’t have.
2. Narrow your choices.
Stop making possibilities endless. You don’t have to do everything. And isn’t that what wisdom is, knowing to unload what you will not need or use? The secret of concentration is elimination.
3. Do your best every day.
Some days you will do better than others. When I am sick, I don’t do as well as when I am healthy, but I do my best. Knowing that you’ve done your best should be satisfying. Make sure it is.
4. Keep choosing to push against old ways of thinking.
This is how habits are formed. Anxiety has caused me needless worry and even suffering. It can be like a virus on the end of our nerves leaving us on edge and in pain. Push back against those thoughts creating it. Don’t let anxiety become your default mode. Push back.
5. Make anxiety your ally.
Because it will show up, you might as well learn to use it productively. By staying in control of your thinking, this pesky parasite can add vitality to your life. It can help you get out of bed instead of keeping you under the covers. It can be an effective motivator. It can make you more productive. Just don’t let it make you miserable or immobile.
The key is to call it out when it surfaces. See it coming like a big wave. Don’t run and don’t let it immobilize you.
Courage enables full engagement that is otherwise blocked by fear. Grit drives action forward in the face of anxiety.