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3 Ways I Deal with Anxiety
Plus a high-protein smoothie recipe. I swear it’s related.
I recently realized that a major life decision I made when I was 18 years old was rooted deeply in fear and anxiety. For 22 years, I had explained that decision as: I was on the wrong path and walking away was the right thing to do.
Last month, it hit me, hard, that I had made that decision purely out of fear of failure.
It was a painful realization. Painful in the sense that ”current me” felt so much sadness for “past me”. But not in a regret sort of way.
Since that fateful decision, I have learned to push through fear. Although, pretty much every major life move has come with a hefty dose of anxiety.
When I experience super deep anxiety, I feel as though my chest turns to stone, my body vibrates with a negative energy, and there is so much tension in my body, I feel like moving might break me.
I would love to know my cortisol levels when anxiety is death gripping me.
Anxiety is top of mind because a month ago the immensity of cofounding a company set in. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I am doing. But all of the sudden, I was overwhelmed by an anxious fear of failure.
In fact, it is probably because I love what I am doing so much that the thought of losing it to failure was more than I could bear.
For a brief moment, I wondered why do I have to want to do hard things? Why couldn’t I just be happy with where I was? Why do I have to take such risks? Can’t I just do the easy thing?
What’s funny is that what feels “easy” today caused similar anxiety 10 years ago.
I truly don’t have regrets about my fear-based decision 22 years ago. I wouldn’t be where I am today without having made that choice. But, it did make me realize that whatever anxiety I’m feeling now is nothing but that fear of failure rearing its ugly head once more and as much as I don’t want to fail, I am not actually afraid of it.
Serendipitously, while going through this moment, I happened upon a Tim Ferris’ interview with Jack Kornfield who told a story about Buddha. The whole podcast is worth a listen, but in short, the night before Buddha is about to do something important, the god of anxiety comes to visit and talk him out of it. In the face of such a demon, Buddha simply says: I see you.
I was once again reminded that the goal is not to rid myself of anxiety since it appears to be part of the fabric of the human experience. My goal is to simply acknowledge that the anxiety is not me.
But it still shows up from time to time so here is what has helped me reduce its impact and allow me to spend more time in a calm mental space that is driven by excitement not fear.
Quite simply moving my body seems to work. It can be taking a walk or lifting weights. I think the hardest part about using this method to break a negative thought train is getting started. You have to make the first move.
If this feels hard, treat it as a 1 minute task. I’m going to go for a one minute walk. Or I’m going to do one round of air squats, up downs and pushups. Chances are that a quick start is all you need to keep going.
Breathing exercises are incredible tools for reducing anxiety. In a recent large-scale, peer-reviewed study, a 5-minute daily practice of cyclic sighing improved “positive affect” (the extent to which we feel positive moods) and reduced respiratory rate.
People who had the greatest reduction in respiratory rate also experienced the greatest positive effect. It also showed that the impact of cyclic signing was greater the longer you do it.
The mechanisms at work are suggested to be:
a modulation of vagal function which impacts heart and respiratory rate; and,
influencing cortical structures that regulate mood and emotion. Basically controlled breathing impacts areas of the brain associated with heightened arousal.
What I love about breathwork is that:
it’s quick. I don’t have to meditate for an hour to get the benefits. A quick 5 minute session is plenty and has lasting results
it’s easy. I don’t have to learn a new skill. Not that I’m opposed to learning, but it’s nice to have such a quick fix to something that feels so deeply burdensome.
On a Friday evening, and ironically after (and probably because of) a huge win for Apex Cool Labs, I was experiencing a wave of anxiety.
I did what any 42 year old grown adult does… I called my Dad.
I’m incredibly fortunate to have a very wise father. Countless times throughout my life, he has sat with me during my toughest moments and provided very real advice that simultaneously acknowledges what I am experiencing while helping me find my path forward.
I had tears flowing down my face (while stopped in traffic so I can only imagine what my fellow drivers thought) as he told me the story of how I learned to ride a bike. I went from sheer panic to extreme confidence in a split second.
And he pointed me in the direction of Eckart Tolle’s YouTube, saying “Go watch something that resonates.”
I took about two seconds of scrolling to find: How do I Handle the Fear Inside Me?
Again, it’s worth your own watch, but here are a few tidbits that helped me:
“What is happening in your mind is not useful. It is making you fearful and unhappy.”
“It’s a total illusory realm that is making you suffer.”
The assumption in the unconscious mind is that if you are not worrying about it, you are not controlling your life. Which is a delusion.
“If you fight it, you make it worse.”
He went on to drop this truth bomb that felt like a slap in the face: “It’s not by willpower that you can stop it.” Well, shit.
I promised you a smoothie recipe and I meant it.
In one of my more high strung moments, my cofounder recounted an ancient story to me about a man fleeing from a tiger, hanging on a branch over a cliff. Certain death upon him. He sees a berry within his reach. He eats it and it’s the best berry in the world.
Of course, I was like come the F on. I am not going to hang on the edge of the cliff and just accept death. Let’s figure out a way to save the poor fellow. And I don’t really think he should be taking a break to eat a berry.
Upon further discussion, I have become more open to the lesson.
All we have is now. And my “now” is pretty damn incredible.
We’ve rewritten the story to be that we’re hanging on a branch and there is a tasty blueberry smoothie with 50 grams of protein nearby, which we enjoy while building a company from the ground up.
Here is that recipe.
I am committed to leading a bold life. Apparently, along the way, I’m going to have to master anxiety. To be honest, I’m thrilled to have such simple and accessible tools to do it.
What works for you?