10 ways to calm anxious thoughts and calm your nervous system

“All you want is on the other side of fear.” ~Jack Canfield

Freezing from fear is something I’ve done since I was a child.

My first home was unsafe, I lived with my alcoholic grandfather. Once upon a time I didn’t know life without fear.

I learned young to be on the lookout for danger. How was everyone’s mood? Were the adults okay today? I would freeze and be still and quiet to protect myself and control an outburst.

Unbeknownst to me, my nervous system was programmed between the ages of conception and seven years. The house I grew up in shaped how secure I felt in my body.

Living in a home with domestic violence and alcoholism and losing my beautiful grandmother who took care of me when I was five was enough to shake that foundation within me.

I learned to be on high alert, always looking for danger, and became incredibly hyper-alert and super-sensitive to the moods of others.

Sometimes this superpower protected me as a child. My dad wouldn’t always lose his composure if I was quiet enough. My mother would be available to me if I could feel her mood and comfort her.

As I grew up, this superpower caused me problems.

I worried all the time about the thousand different ways things could go wrong.

I couldn’t enjoy the moment and what I was having as my brain would be looking for the next problem.

I could not sleep.

My anxiety was like this monster in my head being consumed by all the what-if scenarios and as a result I just couldn’t move forward.

Life didn’t feel safe. Although I no longer lived in an unsafe environment, my body and brain were still there.

This fear kept me from applying for new jobs, challenging myself, dating, healing from the past, changing and growing.

I would freeze with fear that everything could go wrong. I felt stuck, frustrated with myself, and self-loathing for leading a life that made me miserable.

One day the penny dropped. I finally realized that this fear was only in my head – 99 percent of the things I worried about didn’t manifest in reality. My anxious thoughts didn’t make anything better, but they ruined what I had right now.

Here are the ten steps that have helped reduce anxiety, anxiety, and overwhelm and promote a happy life.

1. Give a name to that anxious, worrying voice in your head.

This creates a separation between you and the voice. you are not your thoughts This is a voice of your ego concerned with survival and you have a choice to listen or choose a stronger thought. However, that voice could sense real danger, so listen whether it’s a risk to you right now or a potential risk that may materialize.

If it’s real, then naturally after a few deep breaths, act. Otherwise continue with the steps.

2. As soon as you hear the voice, you realize that this is a sign that your nervous system is dysregulated and going into fight-or-flight mode.

Then decide to take a break and take a few deep breaths. Coherent breathing can help calm this reaction. That means take a deep breath in through your nose, inflate your stomach for five seconds, and exhale while emptying your stomach for five seconds.

3. Make a list of tools to use when your mind and body are about to ride the what-if train.

That may mean lying on the grass, dancing to your favorite song, tapping EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), doing a yoga pose, or journaling to help relieve anxiety. The moment you notice the voice, do something from the list.

4. Repeat a mantra to calm your nervous system.

Find a statement that will help you calm down and repeat it when the anxious voice returns. My favorite is “If X happens, I’ll deal with it.”

5. Get into the present moment.

what can you hear what can you see what can you smell what can you feel I like being outside. Feel my feet on the grass and absorb the moment.

6. Put your hand on your heart and remind yourself that you are safe.

It probably doesn’t feel like it. But feelings are not facts and your thoughts can only hurt you if you let them.

7. Notice if you went into a freeze state.

When we first worry, our nervous system goes into fight-or-flight mode and adrenaline and stress hormones pump into our bodies. Then when it all feels too much, we freeze. We literally can’t do anything and despair.

You can find the tools that work for you to move from freezing and slowly transitioning back into fight or flight and then your calm state. It’s a ladder of freezing at the bottom and calm at the top. (It is called the polyvagal ladder.)

You can split the list into item three, what will help you through the freeze and what will help you from fight/flight. A good way out of freezing is exercise. Just five minutes of jumping jacks get the stress hormones pumping. Then do something to calm yourself, such as breathing deeply.

8. Decide to erase the thought.

Is that something that worries you another day? Imagine throwing it in a trash can. Or you can even write it down and physically throw it in the trash.

9. Start noticing your mental state throughout the day.

Are you calm or worry-triggered? are you frozen Or is your heart pumping so your stress response is on and you’re in fight-or-flight mode? Which tool can bring you back to rest or get you up the ladder?

10. Write down what you are grateful for in this moment.

Noticing what’s going well can disarm fear.

Slowly, these steps can help you regulate and reduce anxiety and allow your nervous system to heal. You might not have been safe as a kid, but now you have the power to feel safe.

You have the power to change your circumstances and remove triggers that restore that sense of insecurity.

Your fear in your body could be very real, giving you information that a particular relationship, job, or environment is not safe for you. Be aware and take small steps to create a life in which you feel secure, as this is the basis for happiness. Treat yourself to what you longed for as a child.

Yes, hypervigilance may be something that was programmed into your nervous system at a young age to help you survive, but you don’t have to let it hold you back now.

Change, growth, and healing can feel scary and uncertain, but as you take these small steps to create a healthier you, your confidence and self-esteem will grow. Your brain will receive new evidence that you are safe, and those worrying thoughts will slowly disappear. A new concern may come up, but then you can just repeat the process.

These steps helped me stop living life small and in fear and allowed me to pursue my big dreams—finding love, building a career, and even buying a home.

Worried thoughts no longer hold me back. I just watch them with curiosity, knowing the steps I need to take to move through them. I’ve regained the power I lost as a child, and I know you can too!

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