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Mind Over Matter: 5 Tools for Battling Anxiety




“To be like the rock that the waves keep crashing over. It stands unmoved and the raging of the sea falls still around it.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations


I turned the corner, glad to see him still there so that I could offer an apology for what I thought was a mere inconvenience. Not a millisecond went by before he snapped back in full frustration, a gut-punch cocktail of snark mixed with what at the time seemed like disgust. As he drove off I stood there stunned, brooding in my anxiety; I was completely caught off guard, thrown upside down and sick to my stomach.


This was a recent encounter I had on an evening I was planning to have a fun “dad night” with my boys. Rather than fill our home with joy, laughter and awesome dad jokes I spent most of it in a daze. I ruminated about what to do about the situation that had just been slammed into my awareness. I didn’t know how to let it go as my mind did backflips of rumination over and over again.


Try This On for Size


If you’re like me you have had to experience surprise moments that were unsettling and drove you into fear mode. The email that sends you into fight or flight panic. The unexpected slight from a supposed friend. Those things that are just enough out of your control to keep you tossing and turning throughout the night.


Recently I’ve been on a quest to fight back against this. Through reading, prayer, meditation and talking with mentors (both in real life and virtually) I’ve distilled what I believe can help us build the anti-anxiety-and-fear muscles needed to help overcome this invisible enemy.


Here are several ways you can fight back, let’s get to work and lead with love with ourselves today:


Reappraise


One mental judo move I’ve started doing when I identify anxiety building up is to reappraise and refocus this feeling as excitement. By channeling the energy as a positive and reframing it as a natural occurrence I’m more likely to enter the meeting/social challenge/tough conversation from a place of love and focus.


It’s also helpful to step back both physically and mentally and reassess the situation with this question: “how can this be good for me?” As Brian Johnson, author of Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential [1], often stresses, it’s key to identity whether the situation is a threat or if it’s actually a challenge/opportunity. For us to be heroic we must flip the problem upside-down and see the growth potential lying within it. (Side note, reading Johnson’s book and using his Heroic App have been a game changer for me, I highly recommend both).


Bring it On


I recently listened to two books by Phil Stutz — The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion (co-authored by Barry Michel) [2]— and Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You [3]— both books provide tools at our disposal to use against some of our less helpful psychological tendencies.


Stutz provides one that can help us here that he calls the “Reversal of Desire” — when faced with something unpleasant or that makes you fearful to confront, rather than tuck tail and run away we should shout “bring it on!”. Do this again and again and visualize yourself running through the cloud of fear, out of your comfort zone and into your true growth potential. For more on the exercise Stutz recommends please see below. [4]


Walk Through Time


Often when we are stressed out we are overemphasizing the staying power and long-term effect of a fresh issue. Following the advice of a great virtual mentor (another great author and podcaster Craig Groeschel) I began keeping a 5-year journal. I’m now on year six and it’s amazing to look back on what I thought was so important, only to see how diminished most things have become.


Another great exercise (I believe I heard this from author David Brooks) is to revisit each issue you face 30-days later and then 6-months later and see how massive it seems now. More times than not the mountain has shrunken to mole hill status.


Time itself is a great tool here. It’s easy to get stressed or anxious on the future, if you catch that happening then go big with it — what advice would your 90-year old self give you on the current situation? You’ll be more concerned with things like family, relationships and love than about your W-2 or the opinions of others so let it go!


You’re Killing Me Smalls


Another great way to prepare ourselves for the inevitable stress bombs that are out there is to pre-load yourself with small, short doses of stress. The easiest example of this is working out. Not only does it prepare us physically and mentally but it also gives us a boost of endorphins to make our bio-chemicals sing for hours.


Prayer and morning scripture reading has for a long time been a huge part of my soul-shielding of fear and anxiety. Recently I’ve also begun meditating. Even a 5-10 minute span of restorative breathing and meditation can knock your stress levels down significantly. [5] Walking can also be a great way to reset your mind, especially without electronics.


Lastly I’m working on how to take these routines (working out, prayer, meditation) and boil them down to much smaller times when I need to quickly regain equilibrium. Plank or pushups can be done for 30-60 seconds, so can counted breaths. You may also consider memorizing scripture, a quote or poem to reflect on before you take on the next anxious adventure.


And Go Big Too


I’d be remiss if I didn’t say that all of these things are great in helping to reduce stress and anxiety but it’s important we don’t lose sight of the big picture. You are loved by God, saved by His Son Jesus and called to go share the Good News of this love with others. Tap into your bigger purpose today, fight back the stress and anxiety and Lead With Love!


“So remember this principle when something threatens to cause you pain: the thing itself was no misfortune at all; to endure it and prevail is great good fortune.” — Marcus Aurelius, Meditations




[1] Areté: Activate Your Heroic Potential https://a.co/d/7vyFcdc


[2] The Tools: 5 Tools to Help You Find Courage, Creativity, and Willpower--and Inspire You to Live Life in Forward Motion https://a.co/d/4Dxur09


[3] Lessons for Living: What Only Adversity Can Teach You https://a.co/d/ilhm1N5



[5] The guided meditations on the Heroic app are fantastic- my favorite is “Restorative Breathing” which is just under 8 minutes and seems to fly by now when I dive in.

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