How To Focus With Anxiety

You’ve got a paper to write, a test to study for, and three more chapters to read by the end of the day. You’re doing your best but you just can’t seem to focus for very long. You’re worried about your grade, that comment your friend made, your significant other hasn’t called, or the test score that wasn’t ideal. You keep getting distracted by these thoughts no matter how hard you try. The attention that should be on your work just isn’t happening and your anxiety is building on top of what’s already there.

Sound familiar? A lot of students face anxiety these days. Statistics show that 1 in 4 of your friends and family will have some diagnosis of mental illness and anxiety is a big one. You’re not alone there. 

So how do we get our focus back?

Take a break

Get up and walk around. Do something else for a few minutes. Stretch, read a book, get something to drink, etc. Just take a break and come back in a few minutes.

Write it out

If the thoughts are swirling and you’re overthinking, obsessing, and/or catastrophizing, grab some scrap paper or your journal and take 10-15 minutes to just write it all out. Stream of conscious writing is great for giving the chaotic thoughts a more logical side. 

Meditate

Take a few minutes to sit back and focus only on your breathing. Thoughts will still come, but you let them pass just as quickly. Don’t interact with them. Come back in a better place. 

Switch tasks

Perhaps the problem is just that you’ve been working on this project for too long. Get to a place where you can stop and switch tasks for a bit. Stop writing the paper and go read your chapter. Come back to the paper with fresh eyes.

Go for a walk

Getting some fresh air can do wonders for your focus. It’ll allow you to get a new perspective, some exercise, and some more creative thoughts. 

Change environment 

A change of environment can be just what you need to get a new sense of focus. Try going to the library, try out a new cafe, or do your work outside. 

Turn off your phone

Life drama, social media, and problems will still be going on in the background, but if your phone is off then no one can drag you into it. It’ll give you the time and space necessary to get some work done. 

Anxiety can make it incredibly hard to focus. Knowing how to shake things up and resettle can be the difference between not getting your work done and doing your best work. Share your best tips to regain focus in the comments down below.

Expectation vs. Reality

Did you know that you react the same way to fear and excitement? You have the same physical reaction for both: adrenaline. When you do something that excites you, adrenaline floods your system. When you do something that scares you, adrenaline floods your system. So why do we love one and hate the other? Why do we embrace one wholeheartedly while we do everything we can to avoid the other?

The problem lies in your interpretation of the thing that’s scaring you. It’s not the situation that’s scaring you, it’s the way you react or view the situation that scares you. If we tell ourselves that something will be fun, we get excited. If we tell ourselves that something will be scary, we get scared. The idea that we plant builds up over time and becomes our reality. We reinforce the idea every time we react or tell ourselves that it’s scary.

The scary thing won’t always be scary. If you do the scary thing despite your fear, then the narrative starts changing. The more you do it without a negative experience, the more your amygdala (the part of your brain responsible for your emotions) begins to realize it’s not going to harm you. It starts settling down and the logical part of your brain gets to take over again. It becomes less scary the more you do the thing that scares you. 

Will you be forever relieved of the fear of the situation? Eventually yes. You’ll have a few setbacks though. You’re going to occasionally slip back into the old narrative. That’s okay. Embrace the fear again and remind yourself that your brain is just trying to protect you. Remind yourself that it’s unnecessary fear, and then do the thing to cement the idea. 

We can change the narrative of our minds. We just have to put in the work. What’s one thing that you’ve changed the narrative about?

How To Learn From Failure

There is a lesson in every failure. This is a lesson that was hard for me to learn. I fail a lot, and it’s only within the last year that I learned how to accept it gracefully. I used to spend hours ruminating about how I failed, I messed up, I was a complete screw-up that couldn’t do anything right, and my absolute favorite (note the sarcasm there), nobody wants to be around a screw-up and everyone would leave me if they learned that I failed.

Here’s the thing: everyone fails. Often. That’s how we learn, and that’s how we grow. My mentor asked this in a recent Instagram story: if someone handed you a million-dollar business all set up and ready for you to run it, would you take it? For many people, the obvious answer is yes. For me, the answer is no. Why? I wouldn’t know how to run it. I wouldn’t even know where to start! I also wouldn’t know how to replicate that business if I ever lost it. Why not? I didn’t learn the necessary lessons because I never got the chance to fail. 

Failure sucks. With anxiety, failure can quickly become the center of obsessive thoughts and dwindling self-esteem. However, it’s good for you. It builds resistance, offers lessons, and grows confidence, but only if you let it. So how do we learn from failure?

Accept It

This is the hardest part of the whole thing.  Accepting that you failed. Remember that you are human and you will make mistakes. It happens. There’s a difference for people with anxiety here. It’s a lot harder to accept failure. You’re going to have to allow yourself to be uncomfortable. Sit in that feeling for a little bit and allow yourself to feel it. Just be sure that you’re not ruminating.

Then think about your failure logically. What’s the absolute worst thing that could happen from this? What’s the best thing that could happen from this? What’s the most likely scenario? Be honest with yourself here and ask for help if you need another opinion. Is it the end of the world if the worst thing happens? Say, you lost a scholarship or failed a class? Are you going to have to leave school? Worst case scenario says yes. What then? It’s not the only school in the world. You can attend another school. Maybe traditional school wasn’t the best set up for you. Online school is a thing now and some of them are great. When you find that your worst case scenario is the one that happens, I guarantee that there’s an alternative route.

More than likely, your worst case scenario is not your likely scenario.

Start Learning

Now that you’ve accepted your failure, you have to learn from it. First decide that there is a lesson to learn. There’s a quote from Star Trek from Captain Pike (I believe) that explains that sometimes you can do everything right and still fail. What’s the lesson here? You did everything right, you made no mistakes, but you still failed. The lesson is that life is unfair. You’re not always going to get what you deserve. It happens.

Next I want you to think about your failure. What happened? What did you want to happen? Where did this go off course? Did you make the plan to complicated or too simple? What happened?

Then I want you to think about what you can learn from this? Where could you do something differently? Could you do this instead of that? Can you get help? Do you need different resources? What went right? How can you replicate that with the failed aspect?

Get critical with this, but don’t be mean to yourself about it. I don’t want to find an obvious mistake and start beating yourself up about it. The mistake was obvious? Maybe the lesson is to pay more attention to detail or to review a bit better or a few more times. 

Implement the Lesson

You’ve learned your lesson, now what? This is just as important as the other steps. Do you learn your lesson and then move onto something else? I mean, you could. How would that fix your error though? You shouldn’t ignore the mistake either.

You try again. You go back to where you made your mistake and you do it again. You keep repeating the process until you’ve gotten it right. You remember the lesson for the next project to. There’s no point in learning the lesson if you don’t implement it.

Failure can be hard for anyone, but it can also be good. You learn more from failure than you do from success. So learn your lesson and try again. Let us know what lessons you’ve recently learned something from in the comments down below.

Self-Sabotage: How To Stop

I was in a masterclass with one of my favorite mentors last week when she mentioned self-sabotage. This idea completely blew my mind. It’s something that I know I’m bad at, but I had no idea that the concept had a word or that it presented in so many forms. Mind. Blown. I dived into research the next day. 

Self-sabotage occurs when you consciously or unconsciously engage in self-destructive behavior. This presents is many ways including substance or alcohol abuse, procrastination, overthinking, laziness, and avoiding new or difficult situations to name a few.

So how do we know when we’re sabotaging ourselves? We start by paying attention. Check in with yourself throughout your day. Is what you’re doing helping to progress your dreams and goals, or is it something that is just going to waste time and leave you in the same or a worse spot in the future? Check in and be honest with yourself. Find the areas you are struggling the most. Identify your forms of self-sabotage. 

Now that we’re aware of our self-sabotage, what do we do to change it?

Here’s the first thing that needs to happen. Decide if you want to change. I’m going to give you a brutal piece of information here, pay attention. If you don’t want to change, if you don’t want to put in the effort to change, then you won’t. Nothing changes until you do. So you have to decide if you want to put in the work to make a change or if you want to continue sitting on the couch scrolling through social media or binge watching Netflix.

Next, you need to decide how to address the self-sabotage. You can do this in several ways. Personally, I like to think about it while writing. Writing engages my mind and helps me think more creatively. When I notice that I’m sabotaging myself, I’ll grab a pen and some scrap paper and write until I understand my motivation for the sabotage. Understanding why it’s happening can help us learn how to correct the behavior. Just remember to stay positive about this. Like attracts like, so if you start beating yourself up and ruminating on being a screw-up, you’re just going to dig yourself into a negative hole and the sabotage gets worse. 

Finally, gently begin correcting the behavior. The way to go about this will be decided on what the behavior is. For substance or alcohol abuse, you may need to seek out help. If your sabotage is something simple like scrolling on your phone when you should be working, simply remind yourself that you need to put your phone away. Set it in a drawer or another room and then get busy with what you should be doing. If you’re staring off into space instead of tackling that big task, shake yourself a bit and take a small walk around the room. Then sit down and create a step-by-step plan. Start with the first and go from there.

Self-sabotage is a real thing that can be incredibly detrimental. It’s something that I’m going to be focusing on over the next few weeks. Already I’ve begun to understand and correct some of my sabotaging behaviors. Be gentle with yourself. You are human and you will make mistakes and fail sometimes. Let us know how you feel about this topic in the comments down below.

Setting Boundaries and Learning To Say No

If there’s one thing that I absolutely struggle with, it’s saying no. I used to be the biggest people pleaser in the world. I would not tell someone no for anything, and I drove myself into the mud by doing so. One of the biggest reasons that I couldn’t say no is because I had no boundaries. This frequently led to me becoming overwhelmed, anxious, and miserable. So how do we learn to set boundaries and say no?

Define your boundaries

You can’t expect people to respect your boundaries if you don’t even know what they are. Do some soul searching and define what your boundaries are. Then you have to share them with people. Expect some people to be angry about this. When you have no boundaries, people will take advantage. When you give them boundaries, they’ll expect you to still bend them for you. This will make some people angry and they may try to make you feel bad. Ignore this. The people that matter will respect your boundaries if you respect them. 

Just say no

It’s a challenge if you’re used to saying yes. Trust me, it’s hard. You may feel like you’re letting someone down or are a burden to someone. You are not. It’s healthy to say no. Every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to something else. Prioritize your time and your health by just saying the word. 

Address overstepping early

If someone steps over your boundaries, or pushes for a yes when you’ve already said no, address it early. Don’t let it happen a few times before you say something. You can be polite about it, but you do have to be clear.

Practice self-care

This is one of the ways that I learned how to treasure saying no. Once I stopped running myself ragged for everyone else, I found that I had extra time for myself. I use that time to do stuff I love and take care of myself. This is a great motivator for me.

Become aware of your choice

Saying yes and saying no are choices that you, and only you, are allowed to make. Saying yes is a choice just like saying no is a choice. You do have the right to tell someone no, and you don’t have to feel guilty. Don’t make excuses, just say no. 

Acknowledge their need

People are more likely to let it go if you acknowledge that they need help. You can thank them for considering you, and then let them know that you cannot help them at the moment. Don’t apologize if you don’t need to either.

Set a time limit

If you do end up helping someone, set a hard limit on how much time you can spare and stick to it. When the time is up, let them know and leave. Don’t stick around longer than you intended.

Find your validation

If you’re anything like me, the way you validate yourself as a person worthy of love comes from your ability to help. Looking back, it’s something that was learned over time. Now I tend to feel like a burden when I’m not helpful. Don’t get me wrong, I genuinely love helping, but I have to make sure to keep a healthy balance. The thing is we don’t need to validate ourselves as worthy individuals, we are already validated just by existing. If you need to feel validated, however, find another way. Find a purpose that’s healthier and more worthwhile.

It gets easier to say no over time. It’s scary and hard the first few times. I had to almost push the word out the first few times. It just takes practice much like everything else. 

Remember this: you are not a burden and you are free to say no.

How To Handle A Loss of Control

For people with anxiety, losing control can be something absolutely terrifying. I can liken it to standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting for the one last thing that will shove you over the edge. Personally, I want to have at least a little bit of control in all my decisions or I completely panic. It does get easier to manage a lack of controlling your environment or your circumstances as you age. It’s never going to be something completely easy to handle though. Thankfully, there are some things we can do to manage the anxiety that comes when we lose control.

Breathe

First thing to do is to take several deep breaths. We need to remember that it’s not as dire as we immediately assume it is. Take some breaths and let your body and mind relax.

Think logically

Your brain is already spinning out of control and panicking. Take a step back and think about this as logically as you can. You may need to sit down and journal to do this. You’ll work your way out of the panic and into a calmer mind. This calmer mind is what will allow you to adjust your plans and thinking. You should also remember that an outcome will happen. It might be good, it might be bad, or it might be neither. Either way, the anxiety you’re dealing with will end and a solution will be found.

Talk it out

Spend some time talking to someone you trust. Venting is a healthy coping mechanism as long as it doesn’t become a negative, victim mindset. Talk to a third-party. Venting will help you settle down, and you get access to a new or different perspective.

Remain in control of yourself

While it may not seem like you have any control over yourself when you’re panicking, I assure you that you do. 

Here’s the thing. We cannot always control what happens to us, but we can control how we react to it. Sometimes life will slap you in the face and throw you off the cliff. What do you do then? You breathe, assess the situation, and you make a new plan. 

Avoid taking it out on others

I’ve met people that take it out on others when they lose control. They get mean, aggressive, and sometimes cruel. Don’t do that. It’s damaging to your mindset, their mindset, your relationships and reputation, and it’s something that you can’t take back. 

Sometimes we lose control. It sucks, it’s scary, and no one really enjoys it. We can’t always be in control, but we can control ourselves and our reactions. How do you deal with a loss of control? Let us know in the comments down below.

Creativity: How It Can Help Your Anxiety

Creativity is a very broad term for so many ways that you can express yourself and your anxiety. From writing and drawing to music and dance, creativity expands over many genres and forms. Pick an option and explore all the ways you can use creativity to grow and calm your anxiety. Personally, I enjoy writing over drawing, but everyone has different ways to express their creativity. 

Expression

Being creative when anxiety is high is a great way of expressing those thoughts and feelings. Journaling is one of the best ways to figure out what the problem is, work through the negative thoughts and feelings, and find and overcome your limiting beliefs. Sketching is another great way to do that. Find whichever way works for you and address your feelings.

Boost in mood and confidence

Creativity is a phenomenal mood booster and it helps build your confidence as well. Getting up and dancing your little heart out will give you a shot of dopamine that can leave you smiling for a while afterwards. Watching your skills grow over time will help you build confidence in your ability to persevere.

Distraction

As I’ve said in previous posts, it’s sometimes a good idea to distract yourself from your anxiety for a little while. This allows you the chance to come back to it later with a fresh perspective and clearer mind. Being creative is a great way to distract yourself from the problem or thought that seems excessive and overwhelming.

Problem-solving

Working through a problem that is causing distress is a hard thing to do. Embracing a creative way to go about it allows us to relax and approach it from a softer angle. It also helps us grow our ability to find creative solutions and think outside the box. I prefer to use my journal to write it all out and then reflect on the things I just spewed all over the pages.

Sometimes I can’t figure it out using words, so I pull out my sketch book. I’m no Gogh by any means, but I can express myself in other ways. Sometimes it’s writing out a sentence and then scribbling over it, aggressively scratching it out, and sometimes even just stabbing a blank page until my thoughts become less anxious.

Finding your roots

One of my favorite things about embracing my creativity is that it took me back to my roots. I have always loved writing and drawing. Music is my favorite way to pass time aside from a good book, and I take so much pleasure in a simple cross-stitch pattern. I forgot all of that over the years. It was only when I picked up journaling again that I started to find myself drawn back my creative self. I’ve always been a creative individual, but I got so caught up in stress, worry, and anxiety that I forgot something really important. Some of the most anxious and depressed people are also the most creative.

Take yourself back to your roots or try out a new path. Find something creative to try and just get started. Don’t worry about being perfect (you won’t be), and just enjoy the process. Let us know how it goes in the comments down below.