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These 10 Sequential Steps will help you cope with Anxiety.

Updated: Feb 20, 2022

Start from these short to long-term solutions in managing and healing from Anxiety.

Take a Breath: here are some ways to calm your anxiety.

Do you often get the feeling that your heart beats faster and you feel tense whenever something stressful happens?

At times, are there too many thoughts in your head that it becomes a crowded and noisy place to be in?

These are some of the symptoms of anxiety - and you're probably here because you're trying to learn how to deal with it.

Whether it is you're experiencing Generalised Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Panic attacks, high-functioning anxiety, or even specific kind of phobias, here are ten steps you can start taking to cope with your anxiety.

I've structured this from short-term solutions, ones that you can start practicing immediately, to longer-term ones, where the goal is to create strategies to manage your anxiety at a high level.

So here we go.

A) Short-term strategies

1) Stop and breathe.

When you've caught yourself in a state of distress - whether it is you're excessively worrying about something or if you've fallen into a state of nervousness - take a moment to stop whatever it is your doing.


You might be worried that something bad is about to happen, or even concerned about something that has already happened - the outcome feels uncertain and you're getting anxious.


As you're reading this sentences, did you find that the words "pause" and "stop" actually broke the flow of reading? It's the same exact idea when dealing with a wayward train of thoughts.

It doesn't matter if you want to say "pause" out loud or even tell it to yourself in your head. Do whatever works best for you. What works even better, is if you paused and took a few deep breaths too.

You can try out this breathing and relaxation method known as Box Breathing:

  1. Stop.

  2. Close your eyes and breathe through your nose while counting to 4 slowly. Feel the air enter your lungs.

  3. Hold your breath inside while counting again to 4. Try and do this comfortably, instead of struggling to keep the air in.

  4. Then slowly exhale for another 4 seconds.

  5. Repeat this at least 3 times, or for as long as you helps you relax.

Anxiety loses its grip when you break its train of thoughts. It becomes like a train that loses it momentum, and will take a while for it to get back in gear again. The above is great way to do - it also helps you become more mindful, and to bring yourself out of your thoughts and into the present.

2) Practice healthy distractions.

Sometimes, the best way to stop anxious thoughts and feelings is to walk away from them altogether. Taking time out to practice some healthy distractions is a great way to refocus your attention away from anxiety-provoking thoughts.

Try going for a walk, or even a slow jog. Do some indoor exercise, or read a book. Yoga is also known as one of the best ways to help with anxiety, as it helps you become more mindful.

Some distractions that people use to deal with anxiety are inherently unhealthy. For example, smoking or drinking, mindlessly scrolling through social media or even binge-watching TV. These are ones you should avoid as it paves the way for a bad habit in the long run.

3) Find your favourite grounding technique

Grounding techniques are coping strategies to help you reconnect with the present and get you out of an anxious or panicky state.

You can think of grounding techniques as a toolset to bring you back down to earth, i.e. the ground, instead of being caught up in your own inner world that is riddled with anxiety right now.

They are basically a set of tools that help you in moments of stress and anxiety, and involve anything that helps bring your attention back to the present. The above two suggestions are also examples of grounding techniques.

Grounding Techniques involve:

  • Breathing exercises.

  • Stretching and yoga.

  • Exercise.

  • Focusing on your senses (like holding an ice cube or using aromatherapy).

  • Listening deeply to music

  • Meditation or mindfulness practices.

  • Playing with a pet or talking to a loved one.

There are too many to list. It's all about finding what helps you stay grounded and to bring you out of being in an anxious state. Start making the conscious effort to practice it whenever littlest bout of anxiety arises. In that way, it becomes more of habit too.

4) Start writing down your thoughts.

Anxiety overloads your minds with thoughts, feelings and physical sensations. Sometimes it can be difficult to differentiate all the above when they're happening at the same time.

One great way to tackle this is to practice the habit of sitting down and writing down your thoughts. What is it that is really bothering you?

To get to the bottom of your anxiety, start exploring your thoughts:

  • Is it a particular event that has or something that will happen?

  • Is it around imagining some worst-case scenario?

  • Is it about what other people think or say?

Writing it all down in a journal is a great way to get in touch with the sources of your anxiety. It's also a great way to deal with over-thinking or rumination.

For example, whenever you feel like you're starting to overthink things, write it down in your journal. Since you've done this, you can tell yourself that you can always come back to think about this later, since it's written down in your journal already.

It's almost like scheduling specific time slots each day to be anxious. It's a really useful trick, especially when you tend to get anxious at the worst time possible, like when you're just about to go to bed.

B) Mid-term Strategies:

5) Identify your triggers.

We are now moving into more preventative forms of strategies, where the idea is to get a better understanding of what's causing your anxiety, rather than simply managing it when it comes.

Flowing in from keeping a thought journal in the above, learning to identify the specific situations or triggers that evoke feelings of anxiety is the first step.

Is there a common thread across the times you've experienced anxiety? Unless it's a specific phobia that you have, it's usually a mix of multiple events or things that are triggering your anxiety.

Have a deep think about it. You can even use your thought journal as your own research database of anxiety. Are your triggers:

  • Work or school-related?

  • A breakdown in relationships?

  • Driving or being in specific places?

  • It is due to noise or crowds?

  • What time of the day does it happen?

  • Due to concerns around health?

  • Occur more when you don't sleep well?

Recognising the triggers before they happen adds to your awareness of anxiety. In fact, it'll give you time and space to prepare for it better. For example, you can prepare by bringing yourself into a more relaxed state, using your favourite grounding techniques, before it happens.

As example, I used to have severe presentation anxiety that comes up right before I have to get on stage to present.

Before I would give the presentation, I would practice deep breathing and to focus my attention to my breath. Given that it helps me to relax, I'm able to give my presentation a lot more comfortably than if I were a shivering mess!

6) Focus on what you can change.

A lot of the times, anxiety comes from fearing things that haven't happened yet or might not even occur.

It comes from a place of being uncomfortable with uncertainty, and wanting to exhibit control over it.

Yet, the truth is, we don't have control over every aspect of our lives - as much as we'd like that to be the case. Believing in this "illusion of control" is what makes us fall into the anxiety trap in the first place.

Since trying to control the things that are beyond your control is an impossible task - it only results in endless worrying. Anxiety then breeds anxiety.

Here's the thing. You can't control the future. You can't control what people say and think about it. You can't control if there are less customers at your business this month. You also can't control the weather, the future, or even what happens tomorrow either.

Maybe you can influence it, but to what end? To the point that you're on a brink of a nervous breakdown? What's the point then!

The only thing you can really control is yourself - what you say, feel and act. Why not learn to do what you can, as long as you feel okay, and then let everything else go? Since you've already done your part, let all the other pieces fall into their own pattern - appreciate whatever shape and form that comes out.

It's a part of life! Who said everything needed to be perfect.

7) Be aware of your limiting beliefs.

One of the most useful therapies with anxiety is known as Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy (CBT). The Cognitive, meaning thinking, component of this therapy is all about understanding our personal and situational beliefs that contribute to anxiety.

In CBT, these are known as limiting beliefs. They are also what's known as thinking traps - inflexible and rigid ways of thinking that causes us distress.

One easy way of identifying inflexible beliefs is by using the three must's framework:

  1. Must's about ourselves: "I must get this done perfectly".

  2. Must's about others: "Other's must see me as capable".

  3. Must's about the future: "Tomorrow must go according to plan".

What are some of the "must" statements that go on in your head? Can you list them down? What are some of the more common situations where they arise?

Use this belief-catching system to help you understand some of the rampant beliefs that are causing you anxiety!

C) Long-term Strategies

8) Learn to connect to the present at will.

I'm sure you've heard the word "mindfulness" being thrown around quite a bit. In fact, you might already have a mindfulness app installed on your phone, like calm or headspace.

It's actually a pretty powerful practice to take up. Here's what it's like to use mindfulness the right way:

Imagine that you've found yourself spiraling down a negative train of thoughts. Instead of getting absorbed into it or struggling to make them all to go away, you are able to take a step back and simply observe your thoughts. It's almost like your mind is a blue sky, and your thoughts are passing through it.

Currently the thoughts are dark stormy clouds, but that's okay, you're simply watching. You can stay there and watch as long as you like. Mindfulness is not about chasing away the clouds, or keeping only bright fluffy ones in your sky-mind. It's about learning to watch the sky instead of getting caught up in the storm.

Why does mindfulness work?

Here's the thing, even the darkest stormiest thoughts are just a product of your mind's frantic process in trying to solve your problems. Some thoughts are helpful, and some thoughts aren't; likewise sometimes they are happy thoughts, and sometimes they are anxious thoughts - no matter what, thoughts in and of themselves can't hurt you, unless you allow them to.

Mindfulness is about learning the habit and skill of seeing thoughts just like the above - fleeting processes in your mind that come and go. As such, you can simply decide to become a watcher of your thoughts, taking a non-judgmental stance, much like someone watching clouds pass by on any kind of day, whether clear or stormy.

That said, do you really need an app for mindfulness?

Well, these apps are great to teach you the ropes - these "guided meditations" are even good if you want to set aside each day to practice mindfulness for a while.

However, we can seldom plan and predict when our anxious mind decides to go on overdrive. It can happen at anytime of the day. For example, say something happens during a meeting at work, and you start to feel the onset of panic - can you really plug in your earphones and tune in to your mindfulness app while everyone waits for you?

Of course not. In that sense, while it's great to learn mindfulness via the app, practice using it offline too. Now then it becomes a skill that you can call up at will.

9) Becoming comfortable with anxiety.

We're really moving onto the healing track right now. We usually think of Anxiety as something we need to fight, struggle and get rid of. After all, it's already caused us so much pain, hasn't it?

In that, we usually view our anxious mind as a negative thing - almost like an anxiety monster in our mind that threatens our sanity at the worst possible times!

Yet, have you ever wondered why your mind works that way? Think about it - what is your mind trying to achieve in visualising the worst possible scenarios, or frantically attempting to solve your problems?

Believe it or not, it's just trying to help you - except not in a very useful way.

It's relying on formulas that are helpful in other aspects of your life. For example, like when you're performing a challenging task at work. Yet, when applying it to problems in other areas of your life - usually internal problems like:

"Will people like me at the event tomorrow?"

"Will I stutter at my presentation later?"

"Will I ever meet someone who really loves me?"

Its solutions of overthinking, strategising, calculating internal probabilities, brainstorming ten thousand scenarios of what could happen, don't actually help!

Yet know this, it's just trying to help. Learn to see your anxious mind for what it is, recognise the times its solutions aren't helpful anymore.

Stop. Pause. Breathe. Then accept it. You could even say it out loud:

"There you go again mind. Thanks for trying to help. Why don't you let me take it from here".

FYI You can learn more ways to accept your anxious mind through Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which I write about here.

10) Adopt toward-behaviours.

What matters most to you in your life? Do you readily know the answer to this question? More often than not, these are your values in life, which can be anything around:

  • Family and Friends.

  • Having a meaningful career.

  • Having career achievements.

  • Doing good for charity.

  • Helping the poor.

  • Helping people save money.

  • Making people happy using your skills and strengths.

Now, how well are you actually achieving your values in life? If it's not looking too good, what's getting in the way?

I met a young lady earlier last week who was having difficulty in her current job as a product manager (thanks for letting me write about your story!).

She works for a big multi-national company and even has a healthy paycheck. Yet, she really hates her work because her bosses are rather demanding - making her work late and often on the weekends too.

That said, the biggest challenge for her is still the nature of her work itself. She doesn't feel any affinity to it. She initially wanted to go into product management to work on products that she felt were meaningful for people, and not simply for the company's bottom-line.

Yet, whenever she had the thought of quitting her job and moving to a new one, she would start feeling panic rush over her. She describes it as suffocating, almost like something was grabbing her throat. The panic was induced at the thought of having to tender her resignation, switch to new work environment and also at the long-drawn job change process.

It's been year since she's succumbed to the anxiety and pushed the idea of a job change till later. She avoided thinking about it altogether. Till now.

Yet, what has this served to do? Well, over the year, she simply ended up feeling unhappier and unhappier stuck in her current job she disliked. It sucks.

Anxiety is often characterised by Away-Behaviours. Because of anxiety, we move away from our desired outcomes rather than toward them. However, you and I can clearly see that these behaviours don't change anything.

How do we begin to adopt Toward-Behaviours in its stead?

A useful concept in Psychotherapy is the term Systematic De-sensitisation. It sounds like nonsense, I know, yet it's a very simple concept.

It's about breaking up a total behaviour, for example, changing your job, into small little systematic steps. In the same example, one might break down the steps, going from easiest to hardest into:

  1. Update your resume.

  2. Explore potential new jobs.

  3. Shortlist the ones that interest you.

  4. Send in an application.

  5. Get some job interview experience by going to ones you don't really like.

  6. Then go for job interviews at the ones you really like.

  7. Accept a job.

  8. Resign.

When you can break it into bits like the above - gradually going from easy to more difficult - it becomes a lot less scary doesn't it! Especially when the easy steps come first, and you only have to think about the difficult ones later.

It's a graduated process - learning to take things step by step - instead of feeling like you're jumping from one moving train to the next.

Don't forget, you have your favourite grounding techniques, and your skills in mindfulness, to help you along the way.

In any case, the young lady I met is now on step four of the above. She's really done well in two weeks for something she couldn't bring herself to do for the past year!

Anyway, I hope this article has been helpful for you to gain some insight into your anxiety. Remember, you can always email me if you ever need someone to discuss things with. I will reply, I promise.

You're not in this alone!

Take care, and thanks for reading Kaya Toast for the Soul. I wish you the clarity of mind to see all the beauty in your life, as well as to love the messy bits too. Hernping.


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