Fear causes anxiety. Fear of unknown, fear of change, fear of negative outcome, fear of upcoming test of your relationships (e.g. serious conversation) or fear of a test that evaluates your skills or performance. There are so many sources of stress in life.
There were many times in life when I thought I wouldn’t make it, when stress brought me headaches or, worse, my head literally spun during the middle of the task. One night I was particularly in trouble – it was my first semester in Masters program and it was 2am and I was just starting to write a paper that was due tomorrow. The professor was the scariest and one of the most demanding professors, the kind that likes putting you on the spot and asking hard questions. The paper was on budgets, and let’s just say that I stopped putting any effort in math since grade 10. So I was practically screwed. I had my laptop, textbooks and papers covering most of the dining table and a can of half-finished Red Bull was reminding me that I was running out of energy. My cat was peacefully sleeping next to me, just like the rest of my family sleeping upstairs, and I was left alone with my fears and my problems.
It is in this very moment when I put the books down and began writing… a letter to myself, dating it a year into the future. I was writing from the future to my current self about all the great things that took place, how I passed all my courses and had a good internship going on, how happy and confident I was, and how I successfully wrote this very paper, despite starting to work on it in the last minute. This experience taught me a few tricks on building my resilience towards things that bring a lot of anxiety today but do not seem to be that important in perspective, let’s say few years from today.
So here are 8 creative ways for beating anxiety:
- Visualize success or a positive outcome. You need to imagine every single detail: where you are, what you are wearing, what surrounds you, who is with you, the temperature, the sounds, the smells. You need to taste your success – imagine you achieved what seems really hard to be ever accomplished today. How does it make you feel? It works best if you imagine this while listening to some meditation music (this is my way of meditating)
- Write a letter to yourself, from the perspective of a year from now: What happened, what did it take for you to achieve what you fear to achieve today, what happened in the end, what did you learn, what advice would you give to yourself? This helps seeing things in perspective and limits your emotions that sometimes contribute to anxiety.
- Write down a plan for doing everything that is within your control to increase the chance of succeeding…and then leave it to chance. I believe that everything has a purpose and whatever happens to me today is the best possible outcome (some things happen so that I learn from them, and there are always better things that await me in the future)
- Imagine funny things. I stole this idea from one of the Harry Potter movies, where students had to imagine funny ridiculous things in order to fight the magic beast that took a shape of things they feared. For example, if you fear an interview, imagine that you walk in the interview room and there is a lame 80s song playing in the air, you see a disco ball above your head and the interview panel begins dancing like it’s some 60s musical. This situation no longer seems scary, right?
- Find a song that makes you feel better or brings you some positive emotions and pick it to be your soundtrack. Imagine positive outcome every time you listen to it, and listen to it every time you begin worrying about the outcome of the situation that brings you anxiety.
- Write down a list of your concerns (or fears) on one side of the paper. On another side of the paper, play devil’s advocate and write a counter-argument for each point. For example, if your concern is that you will never find another job, your counter-argument can be a reminder of your skills/education/experience (or maybe example of someone with less skills/experience who found a job). It is very helpful to reflect because, once on paper, you will immediately see if this is a valid point for concern or just another emotional outburst. I can tell from my own experience that whenever I worry about something, the problems always seems bigger than it is actually is if it is just in my head.
- Find a healthy way to relief stress or distract yourself – whether it is walking outside, picking an interesting book or binge-watching Netflix – do it.
- Reflect in the morning. It depends on the person, but I always wake up feeling energized and inspired in the morning (and then it slowly goes away but it is just my case). In fact, scratch that – reflect every time you feel energized or empowered – capture it, whether by reflecting or even taking pictures. Then show it to yourself when you feel down and I guarantee you will feel better! And remember: everything will be fine, just keep on going.