You’ve probably come across the old “imagine the crowd naked” trick that’s used to calm your nerves when giving a speech. There’s a reason it’s recommended so often – it really does work!
That’s a great example of how applying the powers of your imagination can help reduce anxiety.
No wonder – the imagination is a powerful tool. But it’s just as capable of triggering worry and stress as it is of calming you down. Humans are pretty unique in this respect – no other animal experiences stress triggered solely in its mind. Hypothetical events don’t bother antelopes or whales.
The human mind, by contrast, can conjure all sorts of scarily real scenarios. Close your eyes and imagine giving a trainwreck of a presentation: maybe you spill your coffee, or the slideshow freezes, or you forget what you wanted to say.
Just thinking about this humiliating fantasy is enough to make you feel anxious, right?
That’s because, as noted earlier, the primitive brain can’t distinguish between real stressors in the present and imagined stressors in the future. Hypothetical events trigger the same “fight or flight” reactions as actual events.
But the imagination can also be put to more productive uses. In fact, it’s a great assistant in the fight against worry and anxiety.
So how can you harness its positive powers? Instead of mulling over stressful outcomes to “what if” scenarios, ask yourself how you can influence the outcome. Another handy idea is to imagine four advisors you can ask for assistance in important areas like work, health and relationships.
Next time you find yourself worrying about a problem, turn to your counselors for assistance. What, for example, would the Dalai Lama say about this particular quandary?
And remember, just because Anna pretended to be Madonna, doesn’t mean you have to as well. Maybe you want to be Beyoncé, or Barack Obama. That’s the wonderful thing about the imagination – its powers are unlimited!
You’re usually your own harshest critic, and there’s nothing critics love more than anxieties. So lighten up and take a load off.
Easier said than done? Maybe, but there are some effective bits of advice you can start putting into action today.
Here’s a good place to start: stop putting yourself down!
Think of it this way: You wouldn’t tolerate someone else constantly criticizing and undermining you, so why should you put up with it just because you’re the one doing it? Self-deprecation is a surefire way of boosting your worries and anxieties.
That’s because it makes your problems seem insurmountable. As soon as you start doubting yourself, you lose your ability to look at the world rationally and make sound choices.
Imagine a professional athlete telling herself she shouldn’t even try something because she don’t have a chance of winning. It’s easy to see how that would affect her performance, right?
The next step is to stop trying to please everyone around you.
Worries are often rooted in personal relationships. People want to please their friends and families and avoid rejection, criticism or confrontation, and that often means losing sight of their own happiness.
Say you’re trying on clothes in a shop. What’s your first question – do you like the way that shirt looks or are you thinking about what your friends might think? That might be a trivial example, but the same frame of mind can determine your choice of career, school or partner.
Finally, learn to ask for help when you need it, rather than trying to go it alone.
Many people, especially men, tend to hide their problems, deny their worries or try to sort out their issues alone, and that’s often because they don’t want to appear weak.
But as strong as that might make you feel now, it’s not a sustainable solution.
If you’re worried about something, swallow your pride and ask for help and advice. There are plenty of people you can turn to, whether it’s a partner, counselor, boss, colleague or trusted friend.
So that’s your roadmap to defeating worry, stress and anxiety. Time to kick back and start enjoying life!
Worry, stress and anxiety are part of a cycle that’s bad for your health and happiness. The best way to get out of this feedback loop is to analyze the source and nature of your worries. Once you begin categorizing them, you can sort out baseless and unhelpful worries and start doing something about the things you can actually influence. For me, it’s always about staying positive.
Check out my related post: What is the wisdom of life?