Take a look at any of the advice you can find on helping your anxiety. Books, websites, CDs, audio programs. Everything you can find.
Look at it all and see if you can find any advice you can use to immediately improve your anxiety.
You’ll struggle to find anything.
Most advice given on anxiety is useless. It’s rehashed, it’s old, it’s not tested in the real world. It’s totally unusable. Just empty words.
That’s why I’m writing this post.
You’re about to learn 9 quick actions that you can take right now, today, to reduce your anxiety.
Most of these actions are backed up by real-world studies carried out on people with anxiety.
Those that aren’t backed up by studies are taken directly from my own experience, or from the experiences of other people I’ve met who’ve overcome their anxiety.
In other words, these 9 quick actions work.
1. Become a Monotasker
If you want to reduce your anxiety, the single most important thing you can do is make your mind a quieter place.
Fewer thoughts. Slower thoughts. Calmer thoughts.
The best way I know to do this is through monotasking. You’ve heard of multitasking. Monotasking is the opposite.
Here’s how you multitask at the moment:
- you may eat while you watch TV
- you may text on your phone while you talk to someone in person
- you may check your emails while you brush your teeth
- you may read a book while you watch your kids play in the park
- you may listen to music while you exercise
When you give your mind more than one thing to focus on you create clutter in your mind. It’s busier than it needs to be. It’s louder inside your head.
That increases anxiety.
To turn down the noise inside your head, stop multitasking and start monotasking. Only do one thing at a time and give it your full attention.
When you eat, make eating what you’re doing. Enjoy the food and nothing else.
When you’re at the park with your kids, don’t read a book, play with them instead, and make playing with your kids the only thing you’re doing.
When you’re talking to someone, give them your full attention. Don’t text someone else. Don’t look at something online. Just talk to the person you’re with and make it the only thing you’re doing.
If you only ever do one thing at a time your whole life becomes a meditation.
Meditation, after all, is focusing all your attention on one thing: your breathing, your body, your thoughts.
Make your entire life a “one thing at a time” experience and you’ll be in a constantly meditative state. Your mind will become a much quieter place where anxiety finds it hard to exist.
2. Finish What You Start
Most of us have a problem with procrastination at some point in our lives. Some of us might even have a permanent problem with it.
Stuff we know we need to do doesn’t get done.
But there’s a bigger problem that procrastination causes – something much worse than not getting stuff done.
Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist who was prominent back in the 1920s, believed that unfinished tasks were one of the leading causes of anxiety.
And she did some fascinating research to back up her theory.
She would have test subjects begin simple tasks like stacking wooden blocks and placing toys into chests. She would let some of the test subjects complete their tasks. Other’s, she’d interrupt.
Afterwards, she’d ask the test subjects about their tasks. She found that the test subjects who were interrupted recalled far more information about what they’d been doing.
Not allowing the test subjects to complete their tasks had made the tasks stick in their minds.
Bluma Zeigarnik referred to this phenomenon as “psychic anxiety.” She believed that starting any task triggered psychic anxiety, which remained until the task was completed.
Once the task was completed, Zeigarnik said, the psychic anxiety would disappear and the mind would breathe a sigh of relief.
That’s why those test subjects who’d completed their tasks forgot so much of what they’d done. The completion of the task had caused a mental sigh of relief, so they’d “let go” of the associated memories.
To stop yourself from becoming a victim of “psychic anxiety,” finish tasks you start. When you consider leaving a task unfinished, remember what you’ve just learned and push on through. Get the task done.
Knowing that unfinished tasks can cause anxiety is a great way to finish what you start. I use it as a motivator now. I consciously say to myself that my anxiety will increase if I don’t finish what I started.
You can also apply this to unfinished tasks from your past. We all have things we started that never got finished, and some of these things may stretch back months or years.
Each one of those things could be causing you anxiety, and each one of those things that you go back and complete will give you a mental sigh of relief.
Finish what you start and you’ll have less anxiety.
3. Get Successful
There was a study that got my attention a while back. Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California was looking into what causes happiness, and one of the more unusual causes of happiness turned out to be success.
And not just huge successes like making a million dollars or starting a huge company.
Even small successes like scoring well on an IQ test or finding some money in the street – even those small successes caused happiness.
Increasing happiness usually decreases anxiety, so happiness is something you want to pursue.
So find ways to get successful. Even at small stuff. Small successes trigger happiness, and happiness triggers a reduction in anxiety.
Here are the simplest ways I know to get successful:
- play games you’re good at – board games, card games, video games, online and offline. If you’re good at any of them, play them a lot and enjoy your successes
- achieve small goals – instead of a goal to lose 100lbs, set a goal to complete one workout, and enjoy the success of completing that one workout. Instead of a goal to eat healthy all the time, eat 1 serving of vegetables, and enjoy the success of eating them
- enjoy your past successes – recall successes you’ve had in the past, however small they may be, and enjoy them all over again
Find opportunities to experience success. Remember, success triggers happiness and happiness triggers a reduction in anxiety. Success is worth pursuing.
4. Watch ASMR Videos
Not many people have heard of ASMR. It’s a form of relaxation, and it can work wonders in reducing anxiety.
ASMR is short for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s the name used to describe a pleasant, relaxing, and calming tingling sensation that can sometimes be felt in the scalp, the body, and the arms and legs.
Not everyone experiences ASMR, but those that do can use it as a very effective way to combat anxiety.
The pleasant feelings of ASMR can be intentionally triggered by watching videos of very specific things:
- whispering voices
- hand movements
- page turning
- handwriting and typing
- concentrating on a task
This is not a complete list. There are hundreds of potential “triggers” for ASMR, and everyone will have different things that they respond to.
If ASMR is new to you, you’re probably having a hard time grasping what it is, and that’s because it can only be understood by experiencing it.
To experience it for yourself, check out any of the hundreds of ASMR videos on YouTube. Here are a few good videos to get you started:
- An Introduction to ASMR
- ASMR With An Antique Typewriter
- ASMR With Dominos
- ASMR Drawing
- ASMR Eye Doctor Role Play
You can also look for your own videos. Just search “ASMR” on YouTube and you’ll find hundreds.
Give ASMR a chance. If you find that you can trigger an ASMR response in yourself, you will have discovered a very powerful tool to help you reduce your anxiety.
I watch ASMR videos on my iPad every single night in bed before I go to sleep, and I know it helps me a great deal. I fall asleep faster, I sleep deeper, and I wake less in the night.
I’m also sure that my general anxiety levels throughout the day are helped by ASMR videos.
So as weird as these videos will seem the first time you check them out, stick with them for long enough to see if they help you.
5. Find Comfort in Certainty
Tony Robbins gave a talk once about certainty.
He talked about how important it is for our mental well being to feel certain about things like our family members’ health and our ability to pay our rent.
He got that right.
Then he talked about how certainty in most other areas of life is bad because it creates boredom.
He got that wrong.
Tony Robbins talked about people who watch the same movie more than once, or read the same book more than once, or watch the same episode of a TV show more than once.
He said these people who like the certainty these things provide should “Get a fucking life.” His words, not mine.
Tony Robbins wants to make a billion dollars, to change the world, to be a celebrity, and he thinks everybody else wants those things too.
When you want to change the world, watching the same movie twice might eat up time you don’t have.
But I’m not Tony Robbins, and neither are you.
We don’t want to make a billion dollars or to change the world. Doing something we’ve done before might be the best way we can spend our time.
Watching a movie you’ve seen before and you love can be therapeutic. The certainty it offers you can be calming. Reliving it can be effective in reducing anxiety.
There was a night a few years ago – one of my worst ever. Constant panic attacks. Terrible physical symptoms. Feelings of sheer terror.
And you know what got me through that night? I read “George’s Marvelous Medicine” by Roald Dahl from cover to cover.
My anxiety was eased the moment I started reading that book. By the time I was halfway through the book I was almost calm. After I finished the book I went to sleep.
What calmed me that night was the certainty that book gave me. That book, read a dozen times during my childhood, was as certain to me as gravity.
And that made it wonderfully comforting.
I use many other things besides books. Old DVDs of TV shows I’ve seen many times, familiar walks from my childhood, songs from my past.
Mentioning music has just made me realise that no one ever says you should get a life if you listen to a song you’ve already heard. Why is music the exception?
People create rules for how we’re supposed to live and we’re supposed to follow them, and if we don’t we’re told we should get a life.
Who says you can’t watch a movie 10 times? If it makes you feel good, go for it.
I love using certainty to reduce my anxiety. You should use it too. Look for things that are familiar to you that create feelings of certainty in you. Use them when you need them.
Find comfort in certainty and watch your anxiety fade away.
6. Make Brave Decisions
When you have anxiety you tend to make safe decisions.
Safe decisions lead to controllable outcomes and control is desirable when you’re anxious.
But safe decisions also cause regrets, and regrets cause extreme negative thinking, and extreme negative thinking causes anxiety.
Think about some of the bigger decisions you’ve made in your life:
- to take a new job or to stay where you are
- to move to a new town or to stay where you are
- to say yes or no to marriage
Think about some of the smaller decisions you’ve made in your life:
- to start a conversation with a stranger or to miss the opportunity
- to agree with someone or to disagree with them
- to stand up to someone or to let them walk all over you
With both big and small decisions you’ll generally have two choices you can make: a safe choice or a brave choice.
If you’re thinking about moving to a new town you have the safe choice of not moving and keeping your life the same, or you have the brave choice of moving and changing your life.
If you’re thinking about disagreeing with someone you have the safe choice of biting your tongue and avoiding conflict, or you have the brave choice of speaking your mind and risking an argument.
People with severe anxiety are far more likely to go with the safe choices so that little or no control is surrendered.
But safe choices cause regrets, regrets cause extreme negative thinking, and extreme negative thinking causes anxiety.
Regrets are toxic. They have the power to immediately make you feel depressed, worthless, pessimistic, and anxious.
If regrets are so damaging it makes sense to have as few of them as possible.
In most cases you can’t do anything about the regrets you already have. But you can make sure you don’t create any new regrets that will cause you anxiety in the future.
And you do that my making brave decisions.
There was a study done at Cornell University by a psychologist called Thomas Gilovich. He wanted to understand what caused regrets and how regrets could be prevented.
He asked a large number of elderly people to look back on their lives and describe their biggest regrets, and what he discovered was fascinating.
Three quarters of all regrets resulted from people not doing something. Only one quarter of all regrets resulted from people doing something.
In other words, three quarters of all regrets were directly caused by safe choices.
Brave choices can sometimes be wrong choices, and they can sometimes lead to short-term discomfort. But they tend not to lead to regrets since there is no “what might have been” thinking.
Safe choices almost always lead to “what might have been” thinking, since an opportunity is lost forever and there is always the wonder of where the brave choice might have taken you.
The answer is not to always go with the brave choice whenever you have a decision to make. That would be silly. Sometimes the brave choice is wrong.
The answer is to develop a greater awareness about the decisions you make. Consider both the safe choice and the brave choice.
Acknowledge that the safe choice has the potential to cause regret that can lead to anxiety in the future.
Consider all this, and only then make your decision.
You’ll find that you automatically start making more brave decisions, when brave decisions are the right thing to do.
More brave decisions now means less regret and anxiety in the future.
7. Become a Minimalist
My introduction to minimalism came via The Minimalists. I found their blog by accident one day, and as can happen with good blogs, I spent the next 5 hours devouring all their content.
They take things to the extreme with their minimalism: they have no clocks, no TV, no Internet at home, no car.
Even though their take on minimalism is too extreme for me I still saw a lot of sense in their ideas.
The idea of a simpler life was appealing to me. It sparked an interest in minimalism that I pursued.
Then I read a book called The 100 Thing Challenge and it made me realise the role that minimalism could play in reducing anxiety.
The book is written by David Bruno, another minimalist who takes things to the extreme. He set himself the challenge of reducing his possessions to less than 100 things – hence the title of his book.
It was a pretty good read. The first chapter, in particular, had a big impact on me.
In that chapter David described the day that it dawned on him how much “stuff” he possessed and how much damage that stuff was causing him.
Walking around his house, looking for a couple of lost items that had been swallowed by all his “stuff,” David felt his anxiety increasing.
At first he wasn’t sure why. He just knew that as he made his way from room to room, tripping over junk, searching through old crap, he felt increasingly anxious.
As his anxiety increased so did his awareness that it was his “stuff” that was causing the anxiety.
David went on to explain how the stuff we fill our homes with, the things we buy and collect and amass – they don’t just take up space around us. They take up space inside us too.
Each individual possession becomes a thing to do, a thing to store, a thing to maintain, a thing to think about, a thing to drain our limited emotional and spiritual resources.
As I read The 100 Thing Challenge it all started to make sense:
- more stuff, more clutter, more anxiety
- less stuff, less clutter, less anxiety
Minimalism, I realised, could be an incredibly powerful weapon in the fight against anxiety.
So I became a minimalist. Not an extreme one like the people I’ve talked about in this post. Just a little minimalist.
Enough of a minimalist that I now own 50% less stuff than this time last year. Enough of a minimalist that I now think much more carefully before I purchase anything. Enough of a minimalist that I no longer obsess over material things I’d like to own.
Enough of a minimalist that my anxiety levels in general are now considerably lower than they’ve ever been.
I believe that the less stuff you own, the less “things” there are in your life, the less anxiety you will feel.
And you don’t need to become an extreme minimalist to see the benefits. You can become a little minimalist like me.
If you want to see what minimalism can do for you, try getting rid of 20% of your stuff. Or even just 10%.
It’s easier than you might think and the results can be spectacular.
Start out small and simple. Donate or throw away any items you haven’t used in over a year. See what impact that has on your anxiety.
If you notice an improvement get rid of more stuff.
8. Take an Imaginary Placebo Pill
The placebo effect is remarkable: a patient is given a fake drug for an illness they have, and because they believe the fake drug is real the body adapts and heals itself.
There’s an interesting way to use the placebo effect for your anxiety, and all it involves is paying attention to your efforts to become less anxious.
I got this idea from a study I read about.
The study was carried out by Alia Crum and Ellen Langer, two psychologists from Harvard University. They wanted to study an aspect of the placebo effect.
To carry out the study they got the help of dozens of hotel room attendants from multiple hotels. They chose hotel room attendants for the study because it was a physically active profession.
They split the attendants into two groups.
The attendants in one group were told of all the physical benefits of their job, including how many calories each of their daily tasks would burn. The attendants in the other group were told nothing.
The psychologists believed that the attendants were unaware of how physical their jobs were. They wondered what would happen if the attendants were made aware of this.
Would they suddenly believe they were fitter people, and would their bodies change as a result of that belief?
The attendants went back to work for a month and then the results of the study came in.
The attendants who had not had the physical benefits of their job explained to them had experienced no physical changes.
The attendants who had been made aware of the physical benefits of their job had experienced several physical changes: they’d all lost weight, they’d all lowered their body-mass-index, they’d all lowered their blood pressure.
The psychologists who carried out the study believe the results are down to a form of the placebo effect.
By making the attendants aware of how physical their jobs were they changed their beliefs about their fitness levels, and their bodies changed to match the new beliefs.
The attendants were already putting in the required physical effort to be in better shape, but it was as if their bodies didn’t respond until the attendants realised that.
This same form of the placebo effect can be used to help you decrease your anxiety.
In this post there are a total of 9 quick actions you can take to decrease your anxiety.
Instead of just trying them and seeing what happens, constantly remind yourself that you’re taking action that’s proven in scientific studies to reduce anxiety.
Give yourself the awareness that the hotel room attendants got.
With the attendants, being aware of how physically beneficial their job was made them fitter with no extra effort.
With you, being aware of how psychologically beneficial these 9 quick actions are, you’ll become less anxious, also with no extra effort.
The hotel room attendants got fitter as soon as they realised the effort they’d been putting in all the time.
You’ll get less anxious as soon as you realise the effort you’re putting in to reduce your anxiety.
Don’t just apply this idea to the 9 actions in this post. Every time you take any action to reduce your anxiety, whether it’s advice from me or from someone else, constantly remind yourself of the potential benefits of your actions.
The more aware you are of the potential benefits of your actions, the more likely you’ll see those potential benefits become a reality.
9. Subscribe to My Updates
The biggest thing I did to overcome my severe problems with anxiety was to never stop looking for new ways to fight it.
You should do the same.
Always be on the lookout for a new idea, a new technique, a new approach to help you stay on top of your anxiety.
Try new things. Discard what doesn’t work, keep what does. Build up an arsenal of weapons that you have at your disposal to fight anxiety any time it rears its ugly head.
To help you to achieve all this, I’d like to send you an email once a week with new ideas I’ve found and new blog posts I’ve put up.
You’ll see a box at the bottom of this post where you can enter your email address. Put your email address into the box and hit the submit button.
And then, once a week, you’ll get an email from me with anything helpful I think you can use. You can unsubscribe at any time and your email address will never be shared. It’s for my eyes only.
It’s hard to find good advice on how to deal with anxiety. Most of the books and websites you check out will be full of old, useless advice that doesn’t work.
I created this post as an answer to all that old, useless advice.
I wanted to show you some quick actions you could take right now, today, to dramatically reduce your levels of anxiety.
Each of the actions explained in this post work. The more of them you use, the more you’ll notice your anxiety decrease.
Start right now. Take one of these actions. See what it can do for you.