Little Big Changes You Can Make To Your Life In Order to Help Anxiety
I think we’ve all established that anxiety has become a rather big problem in our modern day world. As humankind swiftly moves ahead towards cramming more “stuff” into a day people are ever so surely being left in the proverbial dust.
The other day, I read a post that implied that “Anxiety is not an excuse” — it was a fair point to make, but it felt ignorant. Anxiety, in my opinion, is not that simple.
In fact, its one of the most complex emotions that a human being can experience. One, that without plenty of understanding and context, can be incredibly difficult to analyze and mend. Thus, it’s an oversight for others to think that for some, anxiety can be so easily overcome. Often, it can’t without consistent therapy, practice and/or medication.
As I’ve experienced my own anxieties, I’ve often come to the conclusion that sometimes “taking control” or “getting a grip” is about designing your own life. Its a profound thought is it not?
To have the ability to design how your life looks and feels?
Whoever told us that our own design was ever incorrect or sub-par? I'm here to tell you, that you can, in fact, design your own life.
This time of the year is always jacked up with “resolution” posts — but I know few who really take it seriously. A resolution implies that there is some real concrete motivation to change an aspect of your life. If ever there was a worse time of the year to do that, it would be the beginning of a new year. Why are we validated for trying to change our lives at the start of each new year? Why such big unaccomplishable goals? Why do we fail?
Gaining a six pack or changing your diet, being a better father or husband are massive, rather overwhelming life choices to make in an already busy world. Even more so if, in our modern day world, we don't see results instantly.
We lose hope, drop the ball and return to our comfort zones.
Children, work and family time take over and soon your resolutions are as good as the slips you keep in your wallet for months on end for some good-willed reason, only to eventually throw them out in one fell swoop.
Sometimes its the smallest of choices that make the most radical difference.
Don't get me wrong — I’m not telling you not to make massive life changes (if you are capable) but they do require a level of self-control and consistency that few of us have really nurtured as a personality trait. So what are these small changes that make a big difference to your anxiety?
Here are 8 things to consider or even try, right now, or whenever you feel up to it.
1. Be wary of what you’re watching
It can be easy to watch the wrong stuff on Netflix or cable. I often find that dark or upsetting material causes my own anxiety to spike and my mood to sour. With the selection of movies and series out there, it's not so hard to find relatively light-hearted content.
Let me give you an example — instead of watching 4 seasons of Dexter (the notorious serial killer who, in the series, creates plenty of empathy with the viewer, do you want to be empathetic with a serial killer?) rather watch a light-hearted series that positively enforces your subconscious brain. Watch content that intrigues you or keeps you motivated. You’d more than likely be horrified if you took stock of your thoughts while watching horrors like Haunting of Hill House.
The problem is that TV creates a much higher level of arousal in your nervous system. You feel more, see more, hear more. Your brain then has far more ammunition than it needs to play off of your worries and concerns in reality. Furthermore, research has shown that watching TV content negatively effects your frontal lobe which is known for helping you reason better. That's not a win for anxiety which has always required plenty of reasoning with the reptilian brain.
2. Be conscious of your news feed
I live in South Africa. The majority of my daily news is made up of racist accounts and accusations, government corruption, failing service delivery and increased poverty and crime. Its all rather negative and I generally feel pretty unhappy when listening to or reading a news bulletin. Why is that? Well — for all the optimists around, the media is a rather big negative nancy.
Shock and horror sells, not daisies and unicorns.
When I hear more about crime and inequality than I do about positive events like festivals or endeavours, how am I expected to have a good outlook on the future?
Considering the above I’ve tailored my news feed using Apple News to only show what I’d term as “intelligent personal content” this could be tech news, inventions, fashion tips or interiors. It’s not to say that I avoid current affairs, but sometimes, it’s better just to keep focused on constructive information and just let stuff happen around you that doesn’t directly involve your attention.
3. Be careful of what music you listen to
Constantly listening to Slipknot? Or Necro? Or maybe even Wu-Tang Clan or Immortal Technique? If you’re a fan, I guess there's no more to be said there, but music and the mathematics behind it have some real scientific and psychological backing with regards to how it affects not only your brainwaves but your mood.
Music, like television, has a half-life. Its associated with fame and wealth for those whose fans adore them, but it's not very often that we really take time to look into the deeper, more subliminal messages that are being communicated.
When artists rap on top of sampled loops and downbeat drums about throwing money around the club, screwing women and driving fast cars, what kind of psychological effect does that have on the greater community? Not only is the message rather demeaning but the psychological impact of patterned audio waves causes the brain to go into a somewhat hypnotic state. In other words, it’s an effective strategy to associate a crude message layered on a pattern which leads to more subconscious ingestion than one would like.
Fast-paced, noisy, erratic compositions will more than likely put you on edge. It’s probably a good exercise to go look through your playlists or collections and note which songs particularly upset you, or cause some rather depressive feelings of nostalgia and/or melancholy.
4. Take note of who you spend time with
People are the greatest influencers of them all and they are often overlooked as real troublemakers. Maybe its the person who you carpool with every day. Maybe it's your best friend who you feel you’ve outgrown. Maybe it's those people that you feel you have to hang out with on the weekends in order to feel validated.
Take note of those people and their actions. The rule is that you are the sum of the 5 closest people in your life. Meaning that if you surround yourself with 5 problematic humans, you’ll be problematic yourself on some level.
5. Adjust Your Sleeping Habits
You often hear people say: “I’m a night owl” — well, there isn’t anything commendable about that. If you meet someone who is living that kind of lifestyle, don't copy them. On the outside, there may be no real effects that you can see. But the RedBull and caffeine mixed with lack of sleep will manifest itself either now or down the line in ways, shapes and forms that you probably wouldn't want to experience. Humans weren’t designed to not sleep.
Your body needs sleep and good sleep at that. 4–5 hours of sleep is not doing you any justice. You need a solid 8–9 hours of sleep in order to allow your body to recuperate and heal, especially if you're working long hours. If you can change anything with relative ease, it would be going to bed an hour or two earlier.
The time spent in bed before sleep is even more crucial. Research has shown that how you are thinking before you go to sleep influences how you wake up and of course how you sleep during the night. If you watch horror movies before you hit the hay, you’ll more than likely end up waking up in the middle of the night thinking about ghosts or demonic possessions. If you’re a fidgety person like myself, try drawing or listening to audiobooks. I’ve found audiobooks a great way to keep my mind sound and logical before sleep, and with a pair of noise cancelling headphones you can shut out the rest of the world.
6. Keep track of your spending
One of the biggest contributing factors to anxiety and stress is finances. Peace of mind in this department would require you to keep track of your taxes, budgets and day to day spending. Take it from me, buying cool gadgets and Apple products will keep you temporarily happy until the next best thing comes along. Research ways to make your money grow and you’ll get a more sustained kick when you see your money grow responsibly.
Use your money to buy experiences and things that will help you grow: overseas trips, holiday weekends with friends, adventures or experiences you’ve never tried before. Not only will these activities keep your mind occupied, but it will give you greater confidence to handle your anxiety and the thoughts that come along with it.
7. Your input always equals your output
As a rule to live by, always remember that your input is equal to your output. No matter what. If you talk like a victim, you’ll be one. If you’re constantly complaining, everything will be wrong. If you’re mean to people, people will be mean to you. If you’re constantly spending money, you’ll constantly be in debt. It takes a small amount of courage to change these behaviours. Live by this mantra, and the world will, in turn, help you live a better life.
8. Schedule some time in nature
If you live in a big city you are constantly being stimulated. Traffic, people, clubs, restaurants and infrastructure is a 24-hour occurrence. Nevermind all that, if you couple it will plenty of digital devices, radiation, long work hours, unhealthy diet and drinking/smoking it wouldn't be long until something inside of you snapped.
Nature is an awesome healer. Try your best to get away from the air and noise pollution as much as possible. Hiking, weekend retreats in the forest or mountains makes for an incredibly wholesome experience. If you can do without electricity, that’s even better. Overstimulated cities were never our natural environment, and we tend to forget that.
Budget your metropolis and jungle time responsibly.