A lot of us have to deal with anxiety on a daily basis. Most people don’t reveal it about themselves in order to seem “cool.” That doesn’t mean that anxiety is not one of the most common mental problems that people of all trades struggle with.
I get anxious about lots of different things all the time. Based on conversations with others, it doesn’t seem like I have a very severe case of anxiety, but sometimes it does interfere with my thinking and quality of life. It seems like I’ve been getting more anxious about a wider range of things as I grew older. During my teenage years and in college I don’t remember being anxious at all. These days, as I’m cruising through my late 20s, I get anxious almost every week. It can be about little unimportant things, conversations from earlier in the day, or future uncertainty. In some instances anxiety can get very unpleasant and manifest itself in the form of throat “anxiety lumps” and dyshidrosis on hands.
As I grew more accustomed to anxiety and stress patterns over the years, I came up with a list of techniques that help me calm my mind. I’d like to share some of them with you.
A precautionary disclaimer: I am not a doctor, so take all of the following with a grain of salt. If you think that you have severe anxiety issues or depression please talk to your doctor or someone qualified and don’t listen to random people on the Internet.
I have several active lists that I use to categorize my thoughts and ideas. I have a weekly to do list to capture all of my activity for the week. Checking things off the list gives me a sense of accomplishment and reduces my stress levels.
There is also a “brain dump” list where I capture thoughts that keep coming back to me in a cyclical pattern. Those usually raise the red flag because they are the prime candidates for causing anxiety. This list gets reviewed a couple of times a day and I either act on some things right away or remove things that don’t seem important anymore. Just the act of putting things on the “brain dump” list really helps me feel better.
Another list is a long-term errand list that includes things like taxes, scheduling appointments, or researching random topics. I use this list to get rid of stuff from my working memory.
Sometimes, I create short-term lists for big projects that I’m currently working on. This is the only type of list that I write down on a piece of paper and keep in front of my eyes while working.
One trick about lists is that you have to constantly groom them otherwise they quickly get out of control. Schedule a weekly calendar event to go through and evaluate all of your lists.
I am an avid runner and I usually run five days a week. Every run clears my head and lets me see things from a different perspective. It feels pretty magical. This helps me stay completely anxiety-free for a few hours. Going to nature is another excellent way to de-stress. I like mountain biking and skiing and I try to go to the mountains with my wife at least once a week. It usually takes half a day to complete an adventure but its effects could last for many hours or, in some cases, for a couple of days.
Sleep, Rest, and Breathe
I lump all three of these things together because fundamentally they are about disconnecting from your work and physical activities. Sleeping works for me in about 50% of cases when I’m trying to de-stress. On some days, I wake up still feeling anxious. On others, sleeping removes the worries from the previous night. Resting has similar effectiveness as sleeping. For example, I could play a video game for an hour and feel great afterwards. But more often than not, I feel upset because I just wasted precious time on something “silly.” Breathing, as in deep yoga-style inhale/exhale patterns, also only helps every once in a while. Perhaps, I don’t put enough effort into it because it’s difficult for me to sit in one spot for several minutes focusing on breathing and doing nothing else. ADD is not the best companion in the world :)
For me, running and having the “brain dump” list are the most effective anxiety relievers. If I get into a good rhythm I can sometimes have a completely stress-free week. Those are the best weeks!
At this point, I’m trying to treat anxiety as a mental game that I keep getting better at. It’s like I have groups of neurons in my brain that keep trying to give me a hard time generating cyclical thoughts. I have to come up with strategies and behaviors to tame and try to control those neurons. It’s kind of a fun game if you think about it.
Hopefully, this essay will help you deal with your anxiety and everyday stress. If you have other tricks or techniques that I didn’t mention please share them here.