3 steps towards saying goodbye to anxiety

We all experience anxiety to some degree but when we look for help it’s usually because anxiety has started to be a barrier to enjoying life as fully as we want to. In this article, we'll explore the three steps that made all the difference to me in untangling my anxious thoughts and replacing them with ease and freedom over time. If you find it hard to let go and truly relax or if you find yourself going round and round with worries that you can’t put down, there is something here for you.


1. Let go of the story and focus on what it means

Very often, the feeling of anxiety will be familiar. It can be difficult to slow it down and notice the pattern before getting caught in a mental snowball of thought and difficult emotions. But in Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), we say that where a feeling is familiar, it is very likely there is a link to something we have learned in the past.

Anxiety for me very often used to centre around social situations – had I said something stupid? What did someone else think of me? In the worst times, I could obsess about a social event for a week before and weeks afterwards, even if I couldn’t find a moment when I had done something ‘wrong’.

On each separate occasion, those thought loops felt necessary; those replays of conversations felt important and my focus was on a person or a situation that was outside of me. I could have saved myself a lot of time, though, by going a step further and asking myself what I was really worried about.

It was unlikely that, on the millionth experience of that thought pattern, it was because I really had made a fool of myself. But guess what? Sometimes I will, it’s part of life. I didn’t want to live on a knife edge anymore waiting for it or wondering if it had actually happened and anyone had noticed. Looking outside of myself for answers and reassurance – even though it felt like there was none in me to be found – meant that I wasn’t focusing on the only place I had any control. Myself.

Our anxious thoughts (and bear with me here, I know this might not feel true) are very often trying to protect us. They are our way of keeping ourselves safe even if we don’t understand the links. My anxious thoughts wanted me to stay small because something in me felt that was safer. There is a belief about myself or the world driving those thoughts and in turn, my behaviour. If I change that belief I can change my life... but first I need to uncover the belief.

Anxious thoughts can feel like closed loops or a maze with no exit. That’s why turning the focus away from the story of what you are feeling anxious about and into what it might reveal about how you see yourself and the world might be a signpost to an exit you never knew was there.

Whether your anxiety centres around social events, your health, your relationship, work or something else, look for a theme or a feeling of familiarity if it’s not too uncomfortable. That can be a clue to what the road out might look like.

2. Turning the light on

I often use the analogy here of when you were a child afraid of being in the dark. In that darkness everything feels big, looming and scary and so you keep your eyes closed and hope it goes away. When someone came and turned on the light though, you were surprised to see nothing there, just something casting a shadow. I don’t say this in any way dismissively.

When we’re feeling anxious about something, it is absolutely real, persistent and often incredibly difficult to deal with.

Very often, though, those feelings don’t invite us to share them. In the dark and quiet they have more power and sometimes just the act of sharing something that we are afraid of can be like turning the light on – it can suddenly hold a lot less fear.

It can also change the way we see things when we hear those familiar thoughts out loud and ask ourselves if we really believe them. You can do this with yourself too in moments of anxiety by voice recording your thoughts or writing them down. This can give you some distance to really look at them from another angle. How true do they feel and are they revealing any of those underlying themes or patterns? 

With anxiety in particular, the discomfort of our thoughts and responses can encourage us to avoid it until we next feel overwhelmed by it. It can be useful to see how it feels to make anxiety a project and begin to understand it. What does it want to say? What is it keeping us safe from? Is it actually all social events like you first thought or maybe just ones with people you don’t know or where there’s alcohol or where you feel obligated to attend?

Get to know your patterns if you can, there are messages in them. Something we can often forget is to include our bodies in this too. Anxiety for me always began with a heat in the back of my neck. 

This step is all about accepting that these anxious thoughts are here and that they’ve begun to feel restrictive in some way. Acknowledging that makes them easier to notice and to talk about, even if it’s just with ourselves. Running away from our anxious responses is an instinct we all have at times, not many people seek out discomfort in themselves, but it can end up taking more time and energy than giving them the space to be here so you can understand them better.

3. Be kind to yourself

It can feel hard. and it can feel lonely. Trust yourself first.

Someone else might not understand why a certain thing makes you feel anxious, they might not see it as a big deal and this can put pressure on us. If you can, try not to give yourself a hard time. Accepting anxious thoughts and looking at them doesn’t suddenly mean they have disappeared.

If you need to decline this event, if you take the bus because driving makes you anxious or you really don’t want to do that speech, see if you can let that be OK. Only you know what you feel will be a healthy challenge to meet and what feels too much. I would say that coming out of anxiety usually involves pressing into those boundaries at some point. After all, we are showing ourselves that we can do what we have previously believed isn’t safe, but let it be you who decides where those lines are and when to move them.

We often learn our beliefs when we go through situations outside of our control. They are often made up of many different experiences that we used to make sense of the world before we were consciously choosing anything, or even in adulthood when we experienced something that made us draw lines to keep ourselves safe (it’s important to remember you might not see some of these as ‘big’ things or even remember them, but they contributed to a core belief).

We are often just feeling and behaving, perfectly logically, out of those beliefs. Instead of forcing anything, the way out of anxious thoughts can be to slow down and listen. Instead of feeling frustrated with ourselves, it might feel better to offer ourselves understanding and kindness. We all learned strategies, and some of them serve us better than others as we move through life. They are not set in stone, we just need the right tools for change.

Maybe the most important thing I can say is that change is possible, even if those feelings are longstanding and even if you feel like they are in the way of so many things right now. Don’t take my word for it either, you don’t need to believe it will work to work towards change or ask for help. Only be curious about what change might look like for you if it were possible.

Ask yourself what you might like to do if you didn’t experience anxiety, what might the opposite feel like? Sit with that feeling for a while, even if it feels far away. One step at a time, you can move towards it.

EFT and anxiety 

EFT is the single most effective tool I have found to work practically in reducing anxiety. It works with the body as well as the mind to give insight into the individual's underlying beliefs and experiences that are causing anxious responses. It can help us move through them with ease and feelings of safety.

EFT is a completely natural complementary therapy with a substantial and growing evidence base around reducing anxiety and stress. As a practitioner, I use it with powerful (and often quite rapid) effects in one-to-one sessions and I also teach my clients to use EFT for themselves to manage those everyday anxious moments and live the full lives they deserve.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Therapy Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Chester CH2 & Wrexham LL12
Written by Jess Wilkins-Cooke, EFT & Mindfulness Practitioner supporting anxiety & trauma
Chester CH2 & Wrexham LL12

Jess is an accredited EFT Practitioner offering bespoke 1:1 virtual sessions working with a wide range of issues including anxiety, trauma and improving confidence.

Get in touch for a free 30 minute consultation if EFT feels like it might be the way out of the maze for you or visit www.breatheeasymeditation.co.uk for more information.

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