How to stop anxiety

For those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts, I’m happy to report that I continue to enjoy my new hiking boots. This is excellent news because my husband and I spend a lot of time walking and hiking in the woods. I learn so many things there. It’s like one big metaphor.

For example, a few weeks ago we went for another walk on the trails behind our house. Because of some melting, raining, and refreezing on the paths, we quickly discovered that solid ice lay beneath the few inches of new snow. And a little snow over solid ice screams, “Broken elbow!” to anyone paying (or not paying) attention.

Luckily, we saw that to the immediate left and right of the path there was much more snow and minimal ice. We moved over a bit and continued along in the crunchier breakdown lane of the slick icy highway.

As we made our way home, we noticed a woman heading toward us. She was using walking poles to navigate the icy trail. Her head was down, her steps were hesitant, and every muscle looked tense. We said hello as we passed, but she barely looked up. I don’t blame her. She was on very tricky footing. She wasn’t having fun.

Honestly, I was a bit surprised she hadn’t figured out what we had figured out. But what grabbed me even more as we passed each other? She didn’t notice how we were happily chatting as we walked briskly through the snow just off the beaten path. Because she didn’t and couldn’t look up, she missed this other option.

Perhaps she didn’t know, on her own, that trails are less icy when you move to the side, but she also missed our modeling. Head down, eyes fixed, body tight. Locked in. Fearful and rigid.

When we get locked into a position, stance or perspective—be it based on fear, inexperience, or rigidity of any kind—we remove the opportunity to learn, expand, discover, and problem solve.

Of course, routine has its place. Being organized enough to get out the door on time or pack your bag for hockey or an after school job is a vital skill. Having a system helps! However, adhering to a routine— tightly sticking to the path and fearfully not venturing out of your comfort zone—impedes an even more critical skill: the flexibility to problem solve when that process needs improvising.

Anxious families lean toward rigidity. It’s that need-for-certainty thing, the avoidance of the unexpected. It feels most comforting. It’s also what leads to disconnection, missed opportunities, and even isolation.

I want kids and parents to learn HOW to shift gears when something is not working, or even to simply notice when someone else has figured out a better way and give it a try.

During the Olympics, I asked many of my clients to watch and notice stories of flexibility. Ski events were postponed because of the wind and the racers had to adjust. One poor skater’s costume came undone, and she had to keep going. Another figure skater had a horrible short program, so he adjusted the jumps in his long program to compensate.

How can we teach this to kids?

Cook together without a recipe. Talk at dinner about the “unexpected thing of the day” and how you handled it. (This is a one of my favorite homework assignments to families.)

Think for a moment about the best “tip” someone gave you that made your life better in some way and share it. Speak directly and consistently about the value of flexibility–and then model it whenever possible.

Here’s the language I use to promote flexibility and adjustments:

“Do you know where you might be stuck? What little adjustment can you make that might help? Or who do you need to ask to find out?”

How to Stop Anxiety

Sometimes it’s an adjustment in the doing, and other times an adjustment in the thinking.

Or deciding your homework will take hours before you even start your homework might be a tired reflex you wish to update. Flexibility in action.

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This does not mean we abandon rules and boundaries and structure. Kids should have goals to work toward, and healthy expectations to move them forward. Having a plan is necessary for many things. Routines are valuable.

But we MUST rethink patterns of rigid adherence that impede flexible problem solving. And we need to help children see that the solution is sometimes a mere few inches in either direction.

Our fellow hiker looked determined so I’m guessing she competed her walk; but her steps were small, her body tight, and her focus narrow.

I don’t think she connected to the blue sky or the animal tracks…or the other people around her taking an easier path.

It’s important to learn how to stop anxiety from obstructing your view. There’s a lot of beauty out there.

Let’s get started!

So the big day has arrived and your interview or assessment centre is looming large. All your preparation is done and you have a chance to unlock the next stage of your career, your finances, your life. This is it.

How you perform at this moment is genuinely important because it can have a pivotal impact on your future and this is why lots of people are so affected by interview nerves and anxiety both before and during their interview or assessment event.

assessment centre

Some interview nerves = Good

Interview nerves

Feeling anxious before a big event in your life is perfectly normal and actually a healthy response to the stimulus and situation you’re faced with. (And don’t forget that a little anxiety will actually help keep you sharp and quick-witted.)

But obviously it’s crucial that you don’t let your interview nerves impact your performance in a negative way.

‘Ok, I get the picture. So what can I do about it?’

Most importantly of all, read our in-depth guide: “How To Prepare For Your Interview Or Assessment Event“.

Interview nerves and anxiety arise mainly through fear of the unknown and in the above article we tell you exactly what to expect and how to prepare your mind and body to ensure you feel relaxed and confident on the big day. It offers advice and tips including:

  • Get into a regular & healthy sleeping pattern
  • Exercise 3 times a week for a month prior to your interview
  • Eat healthily
  • Moderate your alcohol content
  • Plan relaxation time
  • Spend time outdoors & with family and friends
  • Practise the exercises you will undertake on the day
  • Ensure you do the right prep on the day
  • Getting a great night’s sleep on the eve of your interview or assessment
  • Getting to your destination a hour earlier than is necessary
  • Making sure you have water & snacks with you

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Click here to download your copy

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I’ve written lots of in-depth articles which give you expert advice and guidance as well as practice tests, examples and exercise samples. (I’ve also written a full section on psychometric testing which is generally a huge area of concern – for a lot of candidates it is the primary cause of their interview nerves.) Here’s a few links to get you started:

‘Ok that’s all great but what if I have a panic attack or something?’

For a minority of people, interview nerves turn into severe anxiety that can take control to such a degree that they feel crippled. If you find yourself about to cave-in on the day you need to bring out the big guns and control your breathing.

  • Breathe in through your nose and count to 7. Breathe out through your mouth and count to 11. You might find it difficult at first if you’re feeling very nervous, but after a minute or two you will feel better as CO2 and oxygen levels become balanced again inside your body. For more information on this tried and tested technique click here.
  • If you have a history of anxiety/panic attacks you should consider speaking with your doctor about medication. Many public speakers (such as politicians, CEOs etc) use medication such as beta blockers to ensure their performance isn’t impaired at critical moments. This is obviously a highly personal choice and is not something we can endorse wholeheartedly as the decision rests entirely with you and your physician. If this seems like a drastic step, you could consider natural or herbal remedies as an alternative which work well for many thousands of people.
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assessment-day

‘That’s great. What else?’

Another useful and practical step to offset interview nerves is to take a toilet break to relax. Seriously, if you’re feeling stressed while at your interview or assessment just head to the restroom (even if you don’t use the facilities). It may sound silly, but having a few moments to yourself in a bathroom cubicle can give you a badly-needed break from the constant feeling of being ‘under scrutiny’.  

Interview nerves

The simple act of securing a few moments to yourself in private can give you a chance to clear your head and return to the fray feeling more focused and relaxed.

You should also ensure you use your posture and psychological triggers to your advantage. Sitting up straight will help prevent your interview nerves from making you tense and stop your chest getting tight.

Remember to smile often, not only does this project a relaxed and confident image to your interviewers but it sets off a chain reaction of hormones inside your body which will help you feel more relaxed and positive.

Men should consider wearing a shirt with a collar that’s half an inch ‘too big’. (Especially if you’re wearing a tie.) If you’re usually a 15″ collar, buy a 15.5″ shirt for your interview. This gives you a little breathing room, metaphorically and literally, as the throat often becomes engorged with blood when anxiety sets in and this can lead to discomfort and unpleasant feelings that you can do without.

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assessment centre

Imagine what life would be like without anxiety

Would you:

  • Pursue different careers or hobbies?
  • Try to get that promotion you deserve even if it requires travel and public speaking?
  • Fly in a plane or go back to school to complete your degree?
  • Drive on the highway so you can take road trips?
  • Go to a party at a friends house? Or a work gathering?
  • Go to a store instead of ordering everything online?

Dealing with Anxiety: Anxiety can be unhealthy!anxiety

But sometimes anxiety stops being helpful. It almost forgets its place as a background motivator and thinks it runs the show. We forget that anxiety is a message we can choose to accept or ignore. Anxiety doesn’t make the decisions for us but is just one of our many advisors. We start to overvalue our anxiety and stop looking at all the other evidence when we assess a situation. We begin to only pay attention to our anxious feelings and start to avoid the things that make us anxious.

Example: Fear of driving on the highway

What if we get anxious and pass out?! Our anxiety tells us we MUST avoid the highway so we can be safe. Anxiety causes us to imagine every catastrophic outcome possible for what will happen if we drive on the highway.

But what about the years and years of evidence that negate that fear? We may have driven on the highway for 20 years and have never passed out. Yes, there was that one time we were really anxious and started to feel a little woozy but we had plenty of time to get off the highway and collect ourselves before continuing our drive. We have no evidence that we were actually ever close to passing out.

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Is the conclusion valid then? We feel less anxious by avoiding the highway but what have we given up? We have given up some of our freedom. Our world becomes a little smaller everytime we decide we can’t do something due to anxiety.

Every time we avoid we make our anxiety more powerful.

What happens when we avoid something that makes us anxious? We feel better, relieved…. but only temporarily. We give power to our anxiety every time we choose not to do whatever it is that makes us anxious. The anxiety gets internalized and we lose our self-confidence.

We make associations between our anxiety and certain events and accept them as facts. Example: I felt anxious on the train once so, therefore, I will always feel anxious on the train. I can never take a train again.

How to stop anxiety: So what happens if we stop avoiding?

When we face something that makes us anxious our anxiety will build. It will keep building until it peaks but then it starts to come down on its own. When we avoid, we never experience anxiety resolving itself. We prematurely end the experience, feel a relief of the anxiety, and therefore draw the conclusion that avoidance is the treatment. However, with avoidance, we never get better. 

How to stop anxiety

If we continue to do what is making us anxious we experience a success and shift the feeling of control back to ourselves. Every time we repeat this process we lessen the anxious associations we have made. We gain our confidence back and learn that we can do the things we previously feared.

How to stop anxiety: What are you avoiding?

Make a list of things that make you anxious. Rate your anxiety for each item on your list on a scale of 1 (no anxiety) to 10 (the worst anxiety). Start with something small and push yourself to do that first. Tackle your anxiety bit by bit by bit. Keep challenging yourself. Don’t let fear cloud your honesty.  Even if you are absolutely unwilling to challenge yourself with something put it on your list anyways. It is important to take an accurate snapshot of all of the things you avoid. Every time you push yourself through you will gain confidence and be able to tackle bigger items.

Example: Fear of driving over bridges

If fear of driving over a highway bridge is rated as 10/10 but driving over a town bridge is 7/10 then start practicing driving over the town bridge.

It takes repeat performance to outdo your anxiety. You will not be anxiety free after driving over a bridge once. Go out and drive over a bridge repeatedly- do it for 30 minutes at a time if it takes that long for the anxiety begin to resolve.

What happens to your anxiety as you keep crossing the bridge. Does it creep down a notch every time you go over the bridge? The first time you cross it may be a 10/10 but the 7th time is a 4/10? The next day, go back and do it again. This time did you start at a 6/10 and end at 3/10? Keep practicing this until the anxiety no longer is the ruler.

You may never like driving over bridges but that is OK. You don’t have to like it but you need to stop changing your life to avoid it. Your anxiety may also never go to 0/10. But that’s also ok. We can be anxious and still do things. Stop anxiety from taking control.

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