4 Tips Every Stressed-Out Person Should Know

This article was originally published on March 5, 2015. For many of us, anxiety is just a part of life. Unfortunately, "the things people naturally do to try to take away anxiety end up increasing anxiety in the long-term," says Alice Boyes, PhD. In her new book, The Anxiety Toolkit, she takes us through a few of those anxiety "traps" we often find ourselves in. And, she offers ways to get out — first, by by noticing what's going on, and then, by making friends with anxious thoughts rather than trying to cure ourselves of them. Here are Dr. Boyd's tips for dealing with four common aspects of overthinking: Hesitancy:
"People who are anxious often wait to start things until they feel 100% sure that they're going to be successful. So, they don't like to take an action if they feel they've got any chance of failure, and they tend to interpret uncertainty as a sign that they should be putting on the brakes. They might start something but feel that uncertainty — and then shove those brakes on and not follow through or get momentum. [Some] people tend to combine this with over-researching. Smart people have been rewarded their whole lives for their thinking and their ability to research, so they tend to approach everything with that same style."

How To Deal:
"Don't wait until you're certain. Learn to interpret that cue differently. Fear is when you're detecting that there's a danger present, but anxiety is when you're feeling like you should be on the lookout for danger. So, it's not necessarily indicating that there is danger; it's just that you're doing something new. It's just your system alerting you to that. "Know that pattern about yourself: that your typical reaction to uncertainty is to stop, and that it doesn't mean you need to. [Then,] evaluate if something going wrong would really be a catastrophe and, therefore, whether or not you should be thinking [this] carefully about it."
"This can happen when you make a mistake or have some sort of ambiguous interaction with someone, like, 'I'm not quite sure what signals they were sending.' You go over and over it in your mind to ask yourself why that person behaved the way they did, why you behaved the way you did, and what the consequences are going to be. "People frequently confuse rumination with problem-solving. So, people who are clever tend to try to think their way through it, trying to figure out what was going on. And, most of the time, you just never know why people behave the way they do. It could be completely due to where you catch them in their process. And, so much of our communication these days has a lot of the context cues stripped out (like on Facebook or Twitter) so it's even harder to know why you got that strangely worded email from someone." How To Deal:
"Again, recognize when you're ruminating and distinguish between [that] and active problem-solving. You know, like, 'Am I writing down three bullet points of how to stop this mistake from happening again in the future? Or, am I just resorting to my natural habit of trying to think through a problem...when maybe overthinking isn't the best way to go in this scenario?' "Some basic mindfulness techniques can be really useful to help make you less likely to be triggered into ruminating. And, when you do get triggered, [mindfulness] can make it less severe. The other antidote is self-compassion — stop beating yourself up for the 'stupid' mistakes [you made] or for not foreseeing every problem."
"Perfectionism is something that can be useful in some contexts: There are plenty of people who say that being a perfectionist [helped their career]. But, sometimes it stops being useful. [When you have] a lot of decisions to make, [you] can't be perfectionistic about every single one. "The other big problem is that [when perfectionist] people...achieve some crazy-high thing that they set out to achieve, and they do really well...they don't feel better or more confident. They still feel insecure. So, [they] go, 'Well, my standards must not have been high enough.' So, they move their standards even higher." How To Deal:
"[Perfectionism] can be a generally positive part of your personality; we're not saying to people, 'You have to be a relaxed, happy-go-lucky person.' But, just recognize when [something is] not working for you, and learn to dial it down. The more you practice not being a perfectionist about things, the more you will develop the flexibility to use [that tendency] when it suits the situation. "People learn that, overall, you get a lot more done if you allow for mildly negative experiences in there. [Realize] that achieving those high standards isn't going to make you 100% confident all the time. Understand that it's okay to have fluctuating self-confidence and to have that self-confidence in some areas but not in others. And, know that you can be both confident and anxious; they're two different things."
Avoidance & Fear Of Criticism:
"People avoid things that trigger their anxiety. But, when they [do that], the spectrum of things that trigger anxiety grows... The amount of anxiety you have when you encounter that trigger gets bigger, too. People do this with feedback. They avoid situations where they might get negative feedback, and...that avoidance spreads out. But then, [those people] also never get positive feedback. If you don't get the one-star reviews, you're never going to know the five-star reviews, either." How To Deal:
"Find some small ways to expose yourself to whatever it is you fear. [For instance,] you might not feel like you can get 100 user tests done on your website, but you might feel like you can get one. Then, you can take some time to process that, and get mentally prepared to do another one. You can expose yourself in a way that might make you feel a little bit nervous, but [you know] you can handle it. "Another thing, especially for introverts, is to go for one-on-one relationships. Find some people that you respect and...are okay with getting critical feedback from. Overall, you know that they see you as talented and capable. [With] that secure relationship, you're happy to also get the [more critical] notes from them. You know the notes don't mean they think you're crap; they just mean that there are ways to be even more awesome."

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