If you’ve been frozen by social anxiety before, you probably have a fairly good idea as to how and why it came about, what kinds of situations and people trigger it and how you experience it emotionally and physically.
Anxiety is like a warning flare from the unconscious mind, which is a mysterious reservoir of feelings, memories, thoughts, and urges. Usually, these deposits to the unconscious are things we’ve deemed unacceptable or unpleasant. We associate pain, anxiety, or conflict with them, and we don’t want to have to be “aware” of them as we go about our lives.
Here, I’m going to share some simple hacks you can use to take the edge off anxiety. They’re not meant to be prescriptive for a full-blown anxiety attack; think of them more as gentle nudges to redirect your brain.
Hack #1. Develop a self-care/self-compassion routine (that includes a meditation practice).
Establishing a self-care and self-compassion habit is one of the best ways to create self-acceptance. In doing so, you’re giving permission to your subconscious mind to float new ideas to the top, to your conscious mind. When your subconscious has the “green light” to send new ideas to the surface, you’ll naturally feel more at ease, i.e., less anxiety, especially if you tend to be a perfectionist!
Meditation is a great support too because it eases “brain strain.” When our brains are fried and scrambling to keep up (or stay ahead), there is no bandwidth left for the mental machinery to be working in the background, generating new responses to problems and creating new neural pathways for new habits.
Hack #2. Make a list of activities (or non-actions) that lift you out of anxiety – and break glass in case of emergency!
Having a list of tried-and-true activities that you know will reset you means you don’t have to use precious brainpower to think of one in the stress of the anxious moment. And if your go-to coping mechanism is to be super busy so you don’t have to face what makes you anxious, then having a list of restful non-activities will help you clear your head and calm your nerves.
Once you write your list, print it and post it where you can see it regularly.
The next time you feel frazzled, foggy, edgy or overwhelmed, look at your list and pick one that might help you reboot.
Having a relationship with your subconscious is a step toward making peace with it so it won’t pester you as often.
Hack #3. Use power words.
Power words activate your imagination and senses, create positive associations, and link experiences that might not normally go together. You can bypass the brain’s anxious perfectionism with permission-giving words like “imagine” “explore” “remember” “wonder” and “brainstorm.” Think about words that elicit positive emotional states. Even the phrase “Yes, and” can create a shift!
When you read or write these words, say them out loud and hear them on a regular basis. They directly address your subconscious to help you overcome compulsions, improve your attitude and habits, and attract people. All of that = lower anxiety.
Hack #4. Direct your brain to produce an idea.
We know that anxiety creates brain blocks. But, like a dog in obedience school, the brain will often come on command. Say aloud, “I just had an idea!” Then take a breath. Wait.
What is the first thing that comes into your mind? Don’t edit it; don’t judge it. Just notice it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a “good” or a “bad” idea or that it’s something obvious. You’ve prompted your brain to generate an idea, so just acknowledge it and thank your brain for it. Now, it knows it’s OK to be random, and it’s safe to do it again sometime!
Hack #5 Talk to your subconscious like a sassy friend.
The next time your mind acts up and makes you feel anxious, thank it in your best character voice. My client Lynda would say in a drippingly sweet Elle Woods (from the movie Legally Blonde) impersonation “Thank you, subconscious mind, for trying to protect me! Thank you for observing my surroundings so closely and monitoring everything that’s going on inside me! Thank you for reading the environment and for your vigilant level of internal awareness. You can simmer down now. I’ve got this!” (Feel free to add a shoulder shrug and a hair flip, if you like.)
Put it into your own words, of course. Having a relationship with your subconscious is a step toward making peace with it so it won’t pester you as often. Acknowledge its valiant efforts on your behalf and let it know, “We’re going to do things a little differently now; don’t worry, it’ll be fine.”
Hack #6 Make a Vision Board.
The women I work with are on the path of determining what they really want. Some choose to make a vision board so they can put images of their dreams and goals in plain sight every day.
They know that when you have a strong, compelling “why” for doing the personal growth work you’re doing, it’s easier to lean into fear and anxiety during the journey. My clients all write a 5 Year Vision exercise but the ones who go the extra step also gather pictures that illustrate that 5-year vision. Having a visual reminder of where you’re going can help you endure some anxious, uncomfortable moments along the way.
Hack #7 Get some resources.
Wrestling with anxiety means sitting in discomfort sometimes. In dating, it means taking the risk that someone might reject you or might not meet your needs. I made a video that talks about owning our healthy needs, removing personal narratives, and being vulnerable all as means of managing anxiety. I also use journaling exercises and visualization exercises to help clients better respond to and prepare for anxiety-inducing situations.
The next time you feel the discomfort and fear that tell you you’re stepping out of your comfort zone and anxiety is on the make, experiment with one of these hacks. Sometimes, all that’s needed is the empowerment to take the next step.