Everyone wants to “overcome anxiety in 2022”. Totally doable, but we do not slay this dragon in one epic swing of a sword. This is a journey of small steps that add up.
Recovery is granular. It happens in small bits as the result of small changes and small individual experiences that add up over time. Recovery does not come in giant leaps and broad sweeps. Successful recovery is very much about starting small, being incremental and being consistent. Really, recovery is about developing strong recovery HABITS.
Let’s look at five small anxiety recovery habits you can work on to start the new year.
Recovery happens because we change. We change the way we react to anxiety and fear in order to form a new more “normal”relationship with them. While you may be initially resistant to the idea of doing this because you just want to find a way to feel better right now, once an anxious person gets OK with this overall idea, there is one question that invariably comes up.
“HOW do I change my reactions?”
Initially this seems like an impossible task for most. A total mystery. Anxiety and fear may show up as fire breathing dragons in your life. It’s easy to mistakenly think that you must find a way to instantly slay the dragons with one swing of your newly forged mighty sword.
This is not correct.
We change our reactions to anxiety and fear by making tiny behavioral changes that we repeat each day. We start to do things just a bit differently than we’ve done them in the past. Then we keep doing that. Then we string a bunch of these little changes together.
We do not turn into courageous anxiety dragon slayers over night. We build a bunch of new dragon slaying habits on a small scale, we keep practicing them, then we string them together over time. This is not dramatic, epic, or fast. In fact, it can be somewhat boring and will try your patience, but this is how it works.
What new anxiety dragon slaying habits can you start to work on as we start the new year?
I can give you a five to start with, but be warned. When all you want to do is make it all go away immediately, these little habits are going to seem mundane, insignificant, or even pointless. They may even seem counterintuitive and wrong. But in the end, this is the way, so let’s get started.
- Start your days in a new way. If you are presently in the habit of laying in bed or sitting on the sofa for an hour when you wake up, evaluating how you feel and dreading your day passively, its time to change that. Instead, create a small morning routine and execute it faithfully as soon as you open your eyes. It doesn’t matter how small this routine is. Brush your teeth, comb your hair, wash your face, put on some clothes. Feed yourself. That all counts. Starting your day this way – no matter how it feels – is a small way to start to show your sensitized brain that you are capable even when afraid. I wrote about this strategy in my recovery guide, The Anxious Truth.
- Slow down. If you are in the habit of rushing through your days, speeding up when anxiety commands you do so, and trying to run away from your anxiety symptoms and thoughts … SLOW DOWN. This is a small change that will require effort and practice to implement. When you learn to slow down, and make this a new habit, this small change can help you remain more mindful and present, and will start to send “all clear” signals to your anxious brain when it wants to sound the alarm for no good reason again. I wrote an entire book about how to slow down! It’s called Seven Percent Slower and it’s really good.
- Wait before you speak your fear. This is another seemingly small change that really adds up! You are likely in the habit of talking about how you feel and speaking your fear out loud all the time. You do this as a way of seeking safety and comfort. This is a way to escape from the threat of anxiety and panic. It’s not at all easy to curb this habit. Remaining silent when you are afraid is a big ask. But start by inserting a 90 second pause before you start the conversation about how you feel. Time it. At the end of the 90 seconds, wait another 90 seconds. Then yourself what saying those words is going to accomplish? Why do you want to do it? Does it serve you and point you toward recovery to say them again. Inserting the pause can often be enough to stop you from engaging in this habit. The pause can help you build a NEW habit that makes you just a little bit more of a dragon slayer than you were last week. I did a podcast episode about this called “The Habit of Words”.
- Regulate your anxiety information diet. This is another often overlooked change that can be more impactful than you think. Rather than immersing yourself all day long in 5 different anxiety groups, 4 podcasts, and 6 books, pick a trusted source or two and stick with them. Leave the others alone, limit the amount of time you spend on the trusted sources you’ve chosen, and use the time you gain to engage in life as best you can. Breaking the habit of discussing and hearing about anxiety all day long, then replacing it with a new habit of actually living as best you can, helps you gain dragon slaying strength over time.
- Record your wins, no matter how small. Anxiety will tell you that everything is horrible all the time. This is usually not true. Start building the small habit of noting and recording when you experience small wins throughout your day. Taking ten minutes before bed to write down the fact that you did NOT die or pass out, or that you made dinner or walked the dog when when afraid, is a really useful thing. You cannot trust anxious brain to remember these wins, so start writing them down, then come back to them when you find yourself convinced that you’re helpless or under attack by the dragons all the time. You don’t have to write pages and pages of lovely prose every night. Just a few short sentences that state FACTS (not evaluations) about your day is all you need. This is another small habit that creates larger change over time, especially when combined with the other four.
Making strides toward recovery in 2022 will not be about instantly rising up and slaying your anxiety dragons. Recovery will be based on small incremental changes made in the way you react to and relate to anxiety and fear. Those changes will be created by developing new recovery habits, practicing them, and stringing them together.
If you’re looking for a way to start the new year off in a good direction, try building these five habits. It’s always hard work, but you may be surprised at what happens when you keep at them.
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