Bev Aisbett is Australia’s bestselling anxiety expert. In her book, 30 Days 30 Ways to Overcome Anxiety, Aisbett outlines practical steps you can take each day to help reduce and eventually conquer your anxiety. Here, she shares Day One.
DAY 1 – You are not broken. You are not being punished.
Your EMOTIONAL BAROMETER needs adjustment. Your THINKING THERMOMETER is overheated.
Think of a car. If you run it on watered-down petrol, fail to maintain it properly, let it overheat and run it into the ground, would you be surprised if it stopped working properly or started to give you ‘trouble’?
Well, that’s all that’s happening to you!
If you have spent a lifetime (consciously or unconsciously) feeding yourself thoughts of DOOM and GLOOM, if you CRITICISED and JUDGED yourself harshly, and/or if you expected the WORST and LAMENTED the past, you were creating a ‘PERFECT STORM’ which translates to ANXIETY. You couldn’t help it — it’s just the way you did things; nonetheless, that’s why you’re ANXIOUS.
Mystery solved! It’s just STRESS! And you don’t handle stress WELL, do you?
So please let go of the idea that you have some HORRIBLE, INCURABLE DISEASE that has appeared out of NOWHERE, or that you can do NOTHING about this, or that you are TRAPPED FOREVER!
You now need to MANAGE your anxiety. And that’s what we’re about to start doing. Are you BEATING YOURSELF UP for having anxiety?
Are you telling yourself you’re WEAK or STUPID, or that you’ve LOST EVERYTHING because you feel this way?
Why are you TURNING on yourself? Is that going to help you feel LESS ANXIOUS? NO! So CUT that OUT!
For Pete’s sake, how could you do it any other way if you hadn’t yet LEARNED how to? Would you expect a person with no carpentry skills to build you a perfect piece of furniture? NO!
Actually, if you’ve experienced any SHOCKS, LOSSES or TRAUMA in your past (especially in childhood) or if you are HIGHLY SENSITIVE (most anxious people are!), it would be more surprising if you DIDN’T feel anxious!
Most of us fumble our way through life by TRIAL and ERROR, without any real road map on how to manage our emotional wellbeing.
Few of us are taught emotional intelligence. We learn from those who have influence in our lives but who are not necessarily IDEAL mentors!
All that’s happening is that you now have evidence that whatever you’ve been doing hasn’t been WORKING FOR YOU, so it’s time to gain some more EFFECTIVE skills!
Learning any new skill can feel ODD or AWKWARD at first. You’re sure you’ll NEVER get the hang of it! But eventually you do, don’t you? Especially if you REALLY want it.
‘Of course I want it!’ I hear you protest. ‘Why would I want to stay feeling like this?’
Well, people get used to FEELING BAD. Feeling bad becomes a HABIT and it can feel strangely COMFORTABLE, simply because it’s FAMILIAR. When breaking any HABIT, you need to be COMMITTED to moving on and that means stepping away from the old, unhelpful patterns that have kept you STUCK.
Nothing BAD is happening. There’s a HUGE difference between THINKING that something BAD is happening and something bad ACTUALLY HAPPENING!
You’re just out of BALANCE. Let’s get you SORTED.
WORKING DAY 1
1. FORGIVE yourself for feeling this way.
Actually, there’s NOTHING to forgive! See it that way. YOU HAVEN’T DONE ANYTHING WRONG! YOU ARE NOT BEING PUNISHED!
I absolutely promise you that nothing BAD is happening! Yes, the sensations may be unsettling but there is no actual DANGER. It’s just the way you’re INTERPRETING the sensations that causes you to feel anxious. What if you didn’t FEAR it?
2. It’s important that you give yourself HOPE and OPTIMISM now.
Look FORWARD to feeling better. Get EXCITED about that!
3. Acknowledge that you arrived at ANXIETY via a lot of NEGATIVITY, WORRY and PESSIMISM.
Acknowledge this but DO NOT BEAT YOURSELF UP ABOUT IT!
4. Go EASY on yourself today!
Be COMPASSIONATE. Say: ‘I simply didn’t KNOW how to handle this. Soon I will – isn’t that GREAT?’
5. Really PICTURE getting better.
Visualise yourself on HOLIDAY or at an OUTING or SOCIAL OCCASION and see yourself ENJOYING it.
6. Find an image that generates a FEELING of RELIEF, OPTIMISM or PEACE.
Place it where you can see it and say ‘THAT’s my default position from here on.’
7. Now imagine that you’ve ARRIVED at this place of contentment.
- What will I be doing differently?
- What will I have let go of?
- How will my outlook have changed?
Write down your answers.
8. Isolate what it is you’re REALLY afraid of.
Perhaps deep down you don’t think you’re GOOD ENOUGH. Something like that is usually at the heart of anxiety, so it’s not actually the ANXIETY that needs healing; what needs attention is a CORE BELIEF about yourself that causes you to DOUBT yourself and your WORTH. Write down what you discover.
9. See your ANXIETY as an EPISODE, rather than a CONDITION.
Your mantras for day 1
- ‘I am a GOOD person whose thoughts get a little CARRIED AWAY. I am not being PUNISHED.’
- ‘Nothing BAD is happening. I just have a THOUGHT that there is.’
- ‘When I don’t add ANXIOUS thoughts, anxiety is just PHYSICAL DISCOMFORT.’
- ‘I am about to learn some new SKILLS that will help me feel BETTER.’
- ‘I am willing to HELP MYSELF feel BETTER.’
Bev Aisbett, 30 Days 30 Ways to Overcome Anxiety (HarperCollins Publishers 2018), reproduced with permission of HarperCollins Publishers Australia Pty Ltd Available in bookshops and online now.