Almost everyone is affected by anxiety at some point, but some people are more susceptible than others. Anxiety comes from our ancient evolutionary "fight or flight" instinct, which was pretty useful for early man when the daily grind involved saber-toothed tigers and warring tribes, but has become a hindrance now that day-to-day life consists of complex, socially-nuanced scenarios that our bodies don't always know how to deal with. This leads to feelings of anxiety, which manifest themselves physically in a number of different ways. It can feel like tickling in the pit of your stomach, an increasing weight on your chest, and can even produce belly rumbles that sound like a puppy's death rattle.
It helps to remember that this feeling is a kind of repressed excitement - notice how it resembles the one you get while riding a rollercoaster - and, if you're lucky, it can give you the kick you need to act. The problem is, sometimes the feeling is easier to succumb to than to overcome. Don't let it rule you - use it and it will actually push you forward. Whether it's an exam, presentation, interview or whatever, use a combination of these suggestions and you'll be well-prepared to face your anxious obstacle.
Harvard studies have shown that this genuinely boosts testosterone levels (the hormone that makes you dominant) and lowers cortisol levels (the stress hormone). This is an example of your body language not just changing how you appear to others, but how you feel about yourself. Placing your hands on your hips, splayed on the desk you're standing behind, or leaning back in your chair with your feet up, are all powerful poses. A low-powered posture is more closed off, with arms folded and head down, while a high-powered posture is more open and inviting. In fact, holding a power pose for just two minutes can bring about a significant increase in your testosterone levels. Top tip: Avoid looking like a knob doing a Superman impression. Instead, stand in a bathroom stall for two minutes before that important presentation and fill your bloodstream with that sweet, sweet testosterone.
Top tip: Avoid looking like a knob doing a Superman impression. Instead, stand in a bathroom stall for two minutes before that important presentation and fill your bloodstream with sweet, sweet testosterone.
It may sound obvious, but the mind can only focus on so much at one time (see "Flow"). By using certain techniques, you can distract entirely from your anxiety. A relaxation technique, which directs your mental attention away from your physical feelings of anxiety, is the flexing of muscles. Stress balls operate under the same principle. Find a comfortable place to sit down and start tensing and relaxing different muscle groups. This draws your focus away from the object of your anxiety. You'll notice immediate panic relief and it gives the bastard butterflies in your gut the ol' one-finger salute. It also works well in combination with...
It's a cliché, but it actually works. One of the most significant effects of anxiety is shortness of breath. Just as you're about to speak publicly, you feel as if you won't be able to breathe or you'll pass out in front of a room full of people, thereby causing yourself a lifetime of shame. This is horseshit. For one thing, people care far less about you embarrassing yourself than you assume, because most people are busily preoccupied with their own public image. More importantly, remember you have full control of your respiratory system - by taking control of your breathing, you will not pass out from anxiety. It's about telling yourself you're in charge of your own body and you won't let it fuck things up for you.
Look your best
If you think you look good, you want to be seen by people, which benefits you in any stressful situation. Spend some extra time grooming yourself, style your hair to perfection, iron the shit outta that shirt, wear jewellery - whatever revs your engine. Looking good makes you feel good, which brings up those confidence levels and helps to get rid of anxious feelings. If you're looking stylin' and feeling fresh as fuck, it's physically impossible not to feel awesome.
Just dive in
Think of walking into a stressful situation like diving into a cold pool of water: the longer you spend thinking about it, the harder it becomes. It's part of the human condition to blow things up in our minds. When we think about something again and again, it seems to reverberate and expand in importance. If you don't get this under control, it will become almost insurmountable, to the point where you'll think bailing is a preferable option. The bestthing to counter this is just diving in. Don't hang around outside the classroom of your presentation, don't hover outside that interview you have to do, just strut right in there as if to say "Sup bitches?!" You may even feel a bit of anxiety in quiet moments when you should feel relaxed, like when hanging with mates or in the comfort of your own bed. This could be about something that's hanging over your head, an important issue you haven't dealt with yet. This can be avoided if you...
Ever walk into a classroom with pants-shitting panic, because you hadn't done your homework? Everybody has. Well, you may have also noticed that this feeling can be entirely avoided by proper preparation and generally getting your shit together. Contrast this with the other side of the nervous-excited spectrum, when you've got such a shit-hot answer for your teacher that you're telepathically begging him to choose you, because it will inevitably lead to a slow clap and you crowd-surfing around the classroom. Part of anxiety is thinking about things you know you should do, but haven't done yet. If you lay awake at night thinking about a project you haven't finished, finish it or decide upon a course of action that involves tackling the problem in the morning. If you managed to become focused on the task at hand, you'll fall into a state of...
Everybody has at least one thing that helps them achieve "flow", that sense of absorption in a task that takes you out of the normal passage of time. It could be movies, music, working, painting, cleaning, whatever. It's a form of ecstasy, which allows you to step outside yourself. Like a computer, the brain can only handle so much information at one time. When you try to concentrate on multiple things at once, it's like having too many tabs open on your browser: it slows everything down and can actually be detrimental to problem solution. The brain can only handle about 126 bits of information per second, a third of which is used simply to comprehend speech. If you concentrate enough and achieve flow, you'll be physically (or is it mentally?) immune to anxiety. Focus on one task and see it through, give it your full attention and anxiety will fade away. You'll get a sweet wave of pleasure upon completion (that's what she said).
To achieve flow, it helps to make lists. To-do lists are extremely useful for externalising your worries. Putting things on paper helps you release anxiety, it compartmentalises your worries and allows your mind to be at rest. Just think of sending a venomous text to your ex - how good it feels to expel the poison, tell them to go fuck themselves and get it all off your chest... same thing really, isn't it?
Talk it out
"A problem shared is a problem halved." The old proverbs aren't all bullshit and this one certainly helps. Again, it's about externalising your worries so you gain perspective and realise how manageable things actually are. Anxious about being alone forever? If you're patient, you'll find someone, as long as you remain open and willing. Afraid you won't get that job? Try your absolute best. If you don't get it, fuck it - there are always more jobs. You'll never recognise how small a concern really is until you get it out of your head.
Definitely not an option to be scoffed at, it has genuine psychological benefits. Set aside some time to get a decent bit of exercise on the morning of your panic-inducing event. The release of endorphins and adrenaline into your system will instantly make you feel better about yourself. So, whether you're pounding the pavement or blasting those glutes, you'll experience a wave of well-being that will carry you into your stressful scenario like a champ.
Drink and drugs are not the answer
In terms of a long-term, sustainable solution, alcohol and drugs won't do you any good. Sure, Irish people are pretty dependent upon booze as a social lubricant (that's a different topic entirely), but that doesn't mean it's acceptable to use it as a crutch for the problems of day-to-day life. You need to understand the chemical process behind mind-altering substances: They cause a heavy release of dopamine and other happy chemicals, which stimulate a high feeling. This causes an imbalance, which leaves you feeling pretty fucking shitty the next day. A half-remembered feeling of happiness isn't worth the full awareness of your own current misery. Plus, it kinda sends the wrong signals when you arrive at an interview steamed off your tits.