Worries will happen in life. In fact, in some ways it’s healthy to feel occasional stress.
However, worry is not productive, according to Jason Moser, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the Department of Psychology at Michigan State University.
“It’s something we do over and over again, without much resolution,” Moser said, “and it’s typically of the worst-case scenario of the future.”
Anxiety can lead to debilitating results if it gets out of hand. If you find yourself regularly suffering from occasional anxiety, it is time to make a change, and consider these 10 habits of anxiety-free people:
Habit One: Goal Setting
Setting goals helps you have direction and vision, as well as hope. Hope is very important for those who are prone to anxiety. Think of goals as blueprints for your life. Not only will having goals reduce anxiety but they can also help increase success. According to the Harvard’s MBA Statistics Page 3% of Harvard MBAs Make Ten Times as Much as the Other 97% Combined, and this is attributed to setting written goals for the future.
According to goal setting pioneer Locke, and his studies, there are different types of goals, and process goals help focus attention and are very effective in helping to control anxiety. (Source: LOCKE, E. (1968) Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives. Organ. Behav. Hum. Perform, 3, p. 157-189) With process goals, the individual has complete control. The individual established the map or route to achieve the goal nad the necessary techniques or strategies to get there.
Habit Two: Focus on Good
If you want to be anxiety free, you need to stop feeding the anxiety. No more complaining about it, as that makes it your focus, and increases anxiety instead of the other way around. Many with anxiety make themselves the victim. When we complain about a problem we focus on the problem instead of the solution, and thus increase anxiety.
It is human nature to remember bad things in more detail, and for bad things to make a bigger impression on us than good. So if we are focusing on the bad, it is magnified even further and can increase anxiety further. Roy F. Baumeister, a professor of social psychology at Florida State University, captured the idea in the title of a journal article he co-authored in 2001, “Bad Is Stronger Than Good,” which appeared in The Review of General Psychology. While it is not unusual to focus on the bad instead of the good, for those with anxiety, this can lead to compounded problems, so changing focus can go a long way to counteract this natural tendency.
It can be challenging, but making an effort to find a positive side to any situation can heave a psychological and neural effect. Moser, a psychologist at the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo recently had a study come out in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, showing that the brains of worriers and non-worriers actually work differently in a stressful event. The study found the brains of the positive thinkers were less active than those of the negative thinkers when shown negative photos.
Habit Three: Taking Action
Many people “educate” themselves about the best things they can do, but never implement those things. Those with anxiety may spend hours learning about how to reduce it, when that time could be better spent implementing some of those ideas. Choose a path and take action, be productive, and stick with what is working for you. Anxiety-free people don’t just think about what they could do, they actually do it.
Habit Four: Focus on the Present
“One of the biggest differences between worriers and non-worriers is the ability to stay in the present, and not get bogged down by things that have yet to happen” says licensed psychologist, professor and executive director of the Centre for Mental Health Research at the University of Waterloo Christine Purdon, Ph.D. She goes on to explain that when worriers become anxious, their “intentional focus narrows to threat cues. They can get themselves very anxious very quickly.”
Focus on the present, instead of worrying about the future, or living in regrets over the past, deal with what is happening now instead. Think of it as eating an elephant one bite at a time.
Habit Five: Practice Perspective
Anxiety free people are able to get perspective of situations quickly, and thus stop the tendency to worry quickly. How is this done? By distancing yourself from the situation, thinking of all the worst possible scenarios and evaluating the likelihood of them actually happening. For example, in the event of a job loss, what is the worst thing that could happen? You could end up homeless and living on the street. How likely is that? Not very likely.
According to an interview with Dr. Moser and Purdon in the Huff Post, the best ways to get the right perspective is to ask the right questions: “Ask, ‘Is it my problem?” And secondly, ‘Do I have any control over it?’” Purdon says. “Thirdly, the next question people can ask themselves is, ‘Have I already done everything about it that I can? And is it imminent?’ If it’s not imminent, then there’s no reason to worry about it now.”
Habit Six: Identify Why They Worry
Anxiety-free people are good at getting to the root of their worries. The problem with worrying is it is not controlled; pretty soon you are worrying about things that are a million steps removed from the actual problem at hand. Anxiety free people know how to stop the worry cycle and get to the solution. This is best achieved by identifying why the worry exists, and then practicing getting perspective about that problem.
Habit Seven: Focus on Solutions
Anxiety free people know how to focus on problem solving rather than problem generation. Anticipating future problems can be helpful to a degree, but not when you can’t stop. anticipate and plan against these outcomes, but rather than focusing on the “what if’s” and taking that down the never-ending fear cycle, work on coming up with solutions.
Those who do not worry aren’t oblivious to possible problems, rather they focus less on the problems themselves, and more about what they can do about them.
Habit Eight: Practice Confidence
Anxiety free people have confidence in themselves, confidence to try new things, and to overcome fears. Building confidence is important for those with anxiety, studies show that those who believe in themselves are less likely to suffer from anxiety because they do not let their fears limit their actions.
Psychiatrist Neel Burton, writing for Psychology Today, defined anxiety as “ a state consisting of psychological and physical symptoms that are brought about by a sense of apprehension at a perceived threat.” He noted that when feeling anxiety, it is common to doubt yourself and your abilities, particularly the ability to complete tasks. Building self-confidence can help eliminate those anxieties.
Build confidence by putting yourself in situations where you will succeed, and by practicing for situations that intimidate you.
Habit Nine: Take Risks
Anxiety-free people are not afraid to try new things, to take risks, and let their guard down. Rather than worrying about the potential negative outcomes of these risks, they focus on the potential rewards. To reduce anxiety, take some risks. Don’t live in protect yourself mode, but instead try new things, and practice the habit of letting your guard down and putting yourself out there. The more you do it, the more you will see that the “worst” that can happen rarely does.
Habit Ten: Service, Compassion, Gratitude
Anxiety-free people know how to look beyond themselves and give serve to others, show compassion, and gratitude to others. If you want to reduce anxiety, give service and show compassion, consider what you have, and show gratitude for it. Stop the “me-thinking” and get outside yourself, help others, show sympathy and empathy.
Bonus Habit: Exercise Regularly
When we feel anxiety our bodies fill with adrenaline, putting it to good use through activity can help to improve the symptoms, and burn off the stress hormones that anxiety produces. Regular exercise can help to reduce anxiety, so go for a brisk walk, a jog, or play a sport.
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• LOCKE, E. (1968) Toward a Theory of Task Motivation and Incentives. Organ. Behav. Hum. Perform, 3, p. 157-189