Hello, friends! Given how we are all still in the midst of this pandemic, I thought it would be great to dive into another entire module from my online course, Kick Anxiety’s Ass, which I have extended enrollments in throughout COVID-19. This is module 6: Lifestyles of the Free and the Painless.
As mentioned, this audio is ripped directly from module 6 of my Kick Anxiety’s Ass course. I have extended the sale of that course and will keep enrollments open until people are no longer sheltering in place. So if you haven’t checked it out yet, you can do so for just $75 or $25 payments right now.
Lesson 1: Habits
Rather than focusing on specific coping skills to target anxiety symptoms, in this module, we will be focusing more on structural changes, lifestyle modifications, and habits that can amplify your anxiety asskickery. You can have all the coping skills in the world, but if you don’t change some of the fundamentals, it can still feel like you fighting an uphill battle against anxiety.
For some reason, we have collectively become really bad at sleeping. Luckily, there are some simple habits to build (and break) that can maximize your sleeping ability. I’m a walking case study in this. I have been really bad at sleep for what seems like most of my life, but I have been able to turn that around in the last few years by sticking to some simple rules.
- Have a consistent sleep and wake time. If you need to chose one, stick with a consistent sleep time.
- Maximize your body’s association between sleep and bed by avoiding non-sleep activities (aside from sex, masturbation, etc.) in bed.
- Having a consistent nightly routine also cues your body that it’s time to start getting tired.
- If you are having a hard time sleeping – leave bed, engage in an unplugged relaxing activity for a few minutes, and then return to bed and try again.
- Get your phone out of the damn bedroom.
Exercising more is one of the first pieces of shitty advice that non-anxiety sufferers tend to give. It’s not going to solve everything, but the thing is… it’s effective.
Research indicates that exercise has similar anxiety reducing benefits to other established treatments.
There have been a few big meta-analyses (looking at the results of multiple studies together) and meta-meta-analyses (looking at the results of multiple meta-analyses together) that demonstrate that exercise is a vital piece of the puzzle when it comes to treating anxiety. The best part is that it’s free and doesn’t necessarily require any special equipment. There are so many things that we don’t have control of when it comes to anxiety and mental health in general. This is one area where you do have some influence.
Cardiovascular exercise is the most effective type of exercise for reducing anxiety. I’m a big fan of interval training because it helps you get the most bang for your buck.
Follow the advice of your doctors and keep your own limitations in mind.
Everybody is different. If you have limitations that prevent you from engaging in typical exercise, that’s okay. There is still usually a way to adapt and still get a benefit from this. For instance, many people find that swimming is a great, low impact cardiovascular exercise that they can engage in despite having joint or mobility issues. Getting a referral to physical therapy can also be helpful, as they can help you establish a routine that fits with your unique abilities.
Not going to get preachy here. Diet matters, but you don’t need to be extreme about it. if you want to try going paleo, vegan, raw, or do intermittent fasting, more power to you. I would only ask that you use your journal to actually track changes that you are making and how they might affect your energy/mood.
There are a key points when it comes to diet and anxiety.
- When your body is dysregulated and out of whack, your brain is likely to cling onto the strange sensations as signs of anxiety and kickstart an anxiety reaction.
- Caffeine effectively gives anxiety a head start. It’s a stimulant that mimics the anxious process in your body. Be careful with it.
- Alcohol is also important to pay attention to. It can have an anxiety reducing effect in certain amounts, but it can also make you feel weird and out of control, which can trigger anxiety. It’s also not a sustainable coping tool.
- Avoiding excess refined sugar can be helpful in allowing you to have a nice store of sustained energy to use, rather than quick bursts of energy.
Last thing that I’ll mention is how important it is to get checked out by your doctor. In some cases, there are are clear biological reasons that your anxiety is so high. For example, if your thyroid is over-producing hormones, you can get a lot of symptoms that look similar to physiological anxiety. In other cases, vitamin deficiencies can cause issues, which can be looked at through simple blood work. While going to the doctor is not fun, this is also something that you have control over. Rule out these biological possibilities so that you can narrow your focus.
Lesson 2: Lifestyle Changes
Now that we have covered some habits related to your body, we are going to talk more about lifestyle changes. Anxiety wants to throw you off and destabilize you. It wants you to think that it should be the one in control because it can help you avoid the chaotic and unpredictable nature of the world. If you can prove to yourself that you actually have a great degree of control over your life and can establish consistency, you can quiet the voice of anxiety whispering in your ear.
Consistency crushes anxiety.
I don’t want to turn you into a robot who does the same exact thing every single day. Having set blocks of consistency along with the normal variability of everyday life is a good start. I just want you to be a little more intentional with your life. Don’t roll through your days like a bumper car, completely at the mercy of randomness.
Bookend Your Day
- As humans, we get decision fatigue when we have to make so many choices throughout the day.
- Having a consistent morning and evening routine can help with this.
- Rather than wasting your decision making power on the little things, you can save it for the important battles throughout the day.
- Focus on positive activities that you can consistently engage in to set yourself up for success.
While somewhat of a buzzword, work-life balance is something that many people have trouble with these days. With modern jobs, the internet, and the tendency to always be connected, it’s really easy to blur the line between work times and nonwork times. For people with anxiety, this sucks because you never feel totally at ease. You aren’t able to turn off work mode and let go of the stress that comes with it because you are still on-edge waiting for something to come up. The same principle applies to school, volunteer work etc. It’s SO common to struggle with always “being on”.
- Consider setting firm boundaries such as “office hours”.
- This helps to delineate when you are “on” and when you are “off”.
- During “on” times, you are allowed to check email, respond to texts from work, and be productive. When you are “off”, these activities are off limits.
- If there need to be exceptions to this due to the nature of your work, make sure you clearly define what these exceptions are.
- Creating space away from work can help you actually be more effective in your work, since you are allowed to rest and recover.
- Be clear in your communication about boundaries and help people understand how keeping the boundary will help everyone involved.
People with anxiety tend to tumble through the day, diving directly from one activity into another without giving themselves a chance to pause and think.
Using the PBAP technique allows you slow down and be more intentional with your actions. It’s a simple technique that can be integrated in many different scenarios. For instance, it may be helpful to PBAP in the car before you come into the house after work or before you make an important phone call.
Lesson 3: Adding and Subtracting – Balance the Scales
I want you to think about your life like these oldtimey apothecary scales. There are certain things in our lives that we can’t change. These are constants that will weigh down the scale on one side or the other no matter what. However, there are also variables. There are things that we can change. We can add or subtract weight from either side to make a difference and find a more favorable balance. It’s important to consider what you can add to or cut out of your life to find that balance.
In my experience, most people fall into the “adder” or “subtracter” camp.
People who are adders tend to always look for more things to bring into the situation. They look for more classes, more books, more events, more resources, etc. On the flip side, subtracters have the instinct to cut out as much as possible. They will cancel activities, remove people from their lives, remove responsibilities, and so on.
Consider whether this is your tendency. And then think about what you might do to better balance the scales if you were adopting the other approach. If you are an adder, thing about what you might cut out from your life. Are you overextending yourself by saying “yes” too much? Are there people in your life that are toxic and draining that could be cut out? On the other side, if you are a subtracter, maybe it would make more sense to add in an activity that is restful and rejuvenating for you.
Your physical environment is also important to consider. If you live in a place that is consistently stressing you out, you are going to have a harder time coping with your anxiety. If your home is cluttered, that’s alright. We don’t need to go to extremes here, but you want to at least consider the highest impact areas.
For example, if you have a desk that you tend to work at, make sure that you don’t have clutter on it. If you are trying to focus on an important assignment for school or work and there is an unpaid bill staring you in the face, it can be really difficult to maintain attention and not feel a growing sense of unease.
Having a cluttered space taxes your brains “working memory”.
This also applies to digital space. if you have something specific to focus on, try to limit other digital distractions. Don’t have a million tabs open in your browser and don’t clutter your desktop or phone with excess icons. One useful trick is to leave an empty first “page” on your phone, so that you have to swipe to get to your applications. Turning off push notifications can help as well.
You can also add to your environment to help.
Adding positive affirmations or mantras can help you to positively bias your attention and counteract the negative mental filtering that anxiety causes. This is very similar to the approach we are taking with the journal where you list three things that you are proud of.
A personal change that I’ve made to my physical environment is putting the cover art for my books on my wall above my desk so that I have something motivating to look at when I’m stuck and frustrated.
- Make 3 columns: Add, Subtract, and Change
- Brainstorm areas in your life where you may be able to add, subtract, or simply change in some way in order to achieve a better balance.
- Focus on things that are discrete and measurable. Not vague things like “remove anxiety”.
This episode of Hardcore Self Help is sponsored by BetterHelp.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that provides affordable and convenient access to professional counseling with a licensed psychologist. Right now you can get 10% off your first month of secure online counseling for being a listener of the HCSH Podcast!
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