"The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another." -- William James
It's the beginning of Fall. And as the weather changes, many of us switch from the laid-back relaxation of summer to a frantic full court press!
Kids shift gears from the lazy days and fun to the hectic schedule of school, homework, sports and after-school activities. They're dealing with a teacher they don't yet know and may even be starting in a new school. Older kids may be heading off to college and away from home for the first time, or entering the work force full time. If we're parents, we're scrambling to find school supplies, arrange car pools, and figure out who takes which child to what after-school activity.
Fall often signals new beginnings at work as well. Businesses launch that fourth quarter scramble to meet optimistic corporate goals set earlier in the year. We show up to work to find that we've got new urgent projects to implement or demanding objectives to reach before the holidays hit. To top it off, the easy-going traffic of summer has turned into grinding gridlock now that everyone's back from vacation!
Autumn might be a beautiful season -- but it can be loaded with anxiety!
Let's look at definitions of anxiety:
- a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome
In other words, when you're anxious you assume that a) the outcome of what's about to happen will be negative and b) you probably won't handle it well. Anxiety is all about how you perceive something that hasn't even happened yet.
It's all in your mind (along with everything else) so the key is to change your mind, right? Here are five ways to do just that.
#1 Focus on today.
"It is only possible to live happily ever after on a day-to-day basis."
--Margaret Bonnano, American biographer
Eastern practices put a lot of emphasis on living in the "now" -- which is pretty tough for most Westerners! We're three steps ahead of ourselves with 6 month calendars telling us exactly where we're supposed to be. We scramble to get to wherever we're supposed to be but we're never really there because we're thinking about the next place we're supposed to be!
When you're feeling rushed and anxious, take a deep breath. Actually, take three deep breaths. Look around you. Notice your surroundings, people you can see, your own body. Focus on what you're doing right in this moment, whether it's driving, listening to your spouse or watching your kids' soccer game. Allow yourself to relax into the present, and release any thoughts or concerns about what comes next.
#2 Concentrate on what's truly significant.
"Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least."
--Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
An interesting discovery about multi-tasking: According to research, people who multitask all the time can't filter out irrelevancy. In other words, they lose the ability to distinguish between what's important and what isn't. I see that in many of us. We're so busy running around that we don't stop to evaluate whether all those things on our To Do list have any real value to us.
In my trainings, we spend a fair amount of time talking about identifying and prioritizing your values in every part of life. What's most important to you about your health? Your relationships? Your career, etc.? Once you've answered those questions, pay attention to where your time and energy is spent. Are you using these precious resources according to what you really value? If not, what can you adjust?
#3 Deal with What's Real
"Real difficulties can be overcome; it is only the imaginary ones that are unconquerable."
--Theodore N. Vail
Anxiety isn't about what is, it's about what might be. We don't really know what will happen in the future and we definitely don't really know what others are thinking or what they might do. We fill the void of actual information with speculation, using our imaginations to create all kinds of dire scenarios. Then we spend an equal amount of time figuring out our response to them, straining our brains for solutions to problems that may never happen. How often have you spent hours agonizing over something that never came to pass? What a waste!
In NeuroLinguistic Programming (NLP), we often remind ourselves that "perception is projection." What we see in other people or outside situations has more to do with who we are than who they are or what's really happening. When you find yourself spinning into a spiral of anxiety, stop and ask yourself: "Can I prove without a shadow of a doubt that I know what that person is thinking or feeling? Do I have hard evidence that what I think is happening is indeed happening?" Commit your energy to dealing constructively with real problems and issues, rather than wasting it on fabrications of your imagination.
#4 Act Like a Baby
"Unremarkable lives are marked by the fear of not looking capable when trying something new."
-Epictetus, Greek Stoic philosopher
Babies are great teachers. Have you ever watched one who's learning to walk? Shaky step, stumble, splat. Up again, collapse. Grab a table, shuffle, shuffle, crash! And through it all, the baby doesn't try to look smart or competent or cool. She doesn't compare her progress with the twelve-month old across the room. She doesn't berate herself for not getting the hang of it faster. She just keeps plugging away, failing until she eventually succeeds.
Think about it: Isn't it a little crazy that we think we should be instantly brilliant at anything we do for the first time? A new job, a new school, a new skill? And the truth is, other people rarely pay much attention to how good or foolish we look. They're too busy worrying about how they're doing! So as you enter something new, assume you'll falter and fumble a bit -- and enjoy the ride!
#5 Prepare for the Best
"I am a kind of paranoid in reverse. I suspect people of plotting to make me happy."
J. D. Salinger
When we anticipate "the worst that could happen," we think we're protecting ourselves. We're not. We're actually setting ourselves up to create the worst that could happen! Here's how it works: Our unconscious minds filter information based on our conscious and unconscious beliefs. Our conscious minds can only handle a certain amount of data so the unconscious only presents data that supports our beliefs. For example, if we anticipate that people won't like us, we only see frowns and hear criticism. We totally miss any welcoming smiles or interest from others.
Also by anticipating the worst, you're actually creating it by rehearsing it. Your brain doesn't distinguish between a real event and an imagined event. When you spend time thinking about blowing an important business negotiation, your body practices being tense and defensive. In contrast, when you spend time imagining a successful outcome, your mind, body and emotions rehearse confidence.
Try out these tips as Autumn hits your household. Share them with your kids to encourage a positive relationship to change and transition. And remember what William Somerset Maugham wrote,
"Life is change. Growth is optional. Choose wisely."
To your TOTAL empowerment!
Matthew B. James, MA, Ph.D., is President of The Empowerment Partnership. Author of several books, Dr. Matt has trained thousands of students to be totally empowered using Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), Huna, Mental Emotional Release® (MER®)therapy, and Empowerment Fit, a program that incorporates targeted mind/body/spirit practices to create optimal physical fitness and health. Download his free NLP class. For more about Dr. Matt, visit his blog at www.DrMatt.com.
For more articles by Dr. Matt, click here.
HuffPost's GPS for the Soul app is based on two truths about human beings. First: We all have a centered place of wisdom, harmony and balance within us. Second: We're all going to veer away from that place, again and again and again. What we need is a great course-correcting mechanism -- a GPS for the Soul -- to help us find our way back to that centered place, from which everything is possible.
Because no one knows better than you what helps you de-stress and tap into that place of peace inside yourself, it's important for you to create your very own GPS guide -- a personalized collection of whatever helps you course-correct. Email us at GPS@huffingtonpost.com and we'll set you up with your very own HuffPost blogger account to share your guide on the site. If you're already a blogger, we encourage you to upload your personal guide today. We can't wait to see what you have to share.