Harness your anxiety

The last couple of years have shown most of the world that anxiety can be generalized and no one is immune from it. Everyone has had some degree of anxiety for most of the last two years. And it doesn’t seem to be easing up. I’ve written about what to do to ease your anxiety, but what would happen if we could harness our anxiety and make it work for us?

The possibilities are practically endless

I think of all the worries we, collectively, have expressed the past several months and am just floored by the possibility of the anxious energy that could have been put to good use. If I could have harnessed my anxiety, I could have another book written. Our leaders could have developed a plan for world peace. On second thought, maybe not that last one.

But, if we could harness our anxiety, our productivity would soar! 

Put your anxiety to use

Matt Higgins, author of Burn the Boats: Toss Plan B Overboard and Unleash Your Full Potentialexplains four ways to put your anxiety to good use.

Tip #1 – Find supporting data

Matt’s first tip is to find a study to reassure you. Matt was worried about how his lack of sleep might affect his performance in a marathon. So, he found results from a study indicating that sleep deprivation did not matter in marathon performance. Of course, the study did find that mental performance was adversely affected, but not physical. Matt competed in that marathon and improved his time by a significant amount.

Data is not always reassuring, but somebody somewhere will have gone through what you are, so a quick search is worth the effort.

Tip #2 – Meditate

Meditation boosts resilience.
Meditate with a friend…

The second tip: meditate daily. “Meditation has been shown to boost resilience, emotional intelligence, creativity, relationships, and focus—and I’m going to be another voice telling you that it should be a key tool in your anxiety tool kit.” I recently decided to meditate for a short time every day. Just a couple of minutes. Sometimes it’s a guided meditation, other times I just sit with my eyes shut and take my brain on a mini-vacation. Matt says he’s not perfect about his new daily meditation habit, but firmly believes in it, as self-care is essential.

Tip #3 – Add people

Next – add people to your cause. I’m a firm believer in friends and community. And when your friends join you in a cause, it’s just natural that your joint anxiety plummets. Not to mention, you get a ton of stuff done. But pick the right friends – every person has different beliefs and ways of getting things done.

Tip #4 – Acknowledge that you need help

Finally – don’t hesitate to ask for help. Acknowledge that you need help. Don’t forget that being vulnerable is one step to growing your self-confidence. Matt tells of a friend whose anxiety manifested in ways that were negatively affecting his performance at work. He intervened and helped the friend to tone down the intensity of his emotions. That friend went on to a succeed in a very difficult profession.

So – make your anxiety work for you. First – narrow down the subject of your anxiety and then identify ways of making it be productive for you.

Think Small … and Big

Achieving small goals may make you happier.
Achieving small goals may make you happier

You know I like to divide my big goals into bite-sized pieces. That way I can celebrate all the small wins on the way to that big one. But I’ve also learned to think small … and big. Just because I have big goals doesn’t mean those are the only ones. I also have small goals to achieve. And those are the ones that may be keeping me happiest.

Goals changed with the pandemic

Writer Alexis Jones admits to also being on the small goals bandwagon. Not too long ago Alexis was focused on the big career goals, her 5-year plan. But then the pandemic hit. Everything was uncertain. Plans were canceled, no one went into work. Most goods were delivered. Businesses were shuttered. 

The world changed, and made Alexis take a hard look at her goals. They didn’t make sense at the moment, so she adjusted her thinking. Alexis still worked at her long-term goals, but she also made smaller and more immediate and personal goals. She made a goal of a consistent mid-day walk to clear her mind. Alexis also reached out to friends to maintain relationships that had been neglected. As a result, Alexis says she’s closer to some goals she felt were too big to tackle, like improving her mental health and mending relationships.

Achieving small goals sets you on the path to bigger things

Psychotherapist Natalie Jones says that Alexis is not alone. Achieving small goals is a sure-fire way to put you on the path to achieving larger goals. “Micro goals are the ones that really sort of help us to feel good about ourselves,” says Dr. Jones. And not just that. Achieving small goals gives us the momentum to look forward to bigger things. When we accomplish the small things, it helps us know how to go about setting and achieving the bigger goals, or “give us data to gauge about ourselves and what it’s going to take in order for us to get the big stuff done,” Dr. Jones says.

My own mini-goals? I decided to meditate for 2 minutes a day a few weeks ago. I take my brain on a mini-vacation. Sometimes I listen to a guided meditation. Other times I just sit with my eyes closed. Other times I just picture my favorite spot by the water and listen to the waves. I think I’m happier, calmer, and more reasonable as a result.

So, think small … and big, for your happiness.

Best motivation to exercise

What's the best motivation to exercise - and keep on exercising?
I need motivation to keep exercising

Most of us don’t exercise just because we feel like it. And it’s not for a general thing like, “Exercise is good for our healthy aging.” I know that doesn’t work for me… I need a specific reason to exercise – motivation, in psychology terms. My motivation to exercise comes from inside and outside myself. I know the health reasons to exercise are many, and I also know that if I exercise I’ll burn calories and I can eat more. I also know that if I exercise I’ll fit into my pants – and I’m vain enough to not buy a larger size. We all feel internal and external (intrinsic and extrinsic) motivation for pretty much everything we do. So what’s the best motivation to exercise?

First – what is intrinsic motivation? 

Have you ever been curious about something and took it upon yourself to find out more about it? Do some in-depth research just for your own gratification? For example, years ago I was curious about the best conditions for raising a particular species of orchid. So I did some research and found that the eastern-facing windows in our little sunroom had the perfect light for this species. So I got little hangers for the orchids and they just went crazy, growing and blooming every year. That’s intrinsic motivation. I was motivated by my own curiosity to find out more. There was no reward, other than the information I gleaned.

Extrinsic motivation

By contrast, then, extrinsic motivation implies that a reward will be conveyed when the task is completed. Completing a job for payment is extrinsic motivation.

What kind of motivation will keep us exercising?

To keep on exercising, it’s best to have both intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. The only way we’re going to keep doing something that’s hard, that makes us sweat and our muscles shake, is if we get something more out of it than a future potential benefit. Just because I lose a pants size 3 months from now (the reward) is not going to get me on the treadmill this afternoon. But, what will get me on the treadmill? The satisfaction of knowing that I’m doing something good for my body. Also, the fact that I know I’ll be in a much better mood when I’m done will get me pushing up the speed and the incline.

So, the best motivation to exercise is both internal and external. Think about your own reasons for exercising. Are they important? Do you feel or see a reward every time you exercise? Or is it just the knowledge that your future self will benefit? If that’s the case, try to think closer to the present. You may need to adjust your goals. You’ll keep at it longer.

Pick a new hobby for your health

Pick a new hobby for your health! One of mind: hang out with dogs!
Pick a new hobby for your health! One of mind: hang out with dogs!

It’s winter. It’s cold. I don’t want to go outside for any length of time. I don’t want to go anywhere because, well, it’s cold. But staying home is dull. What to do? Start something new. Pick a new hobby for your mental health! Dr. Eric Smiltneek, a family medicine and addiction medicine doctor at Aurora Behavioral Health, says that hobbies have “great value for our happiness and positivity.” In short, hobbies are good for our mental health. 

Do your research, but pick one!

There are so many things to choose among that could hold our interest. Do your research – think of hobbies that you could picture yourself doing, then find out if there is special equipment or knowledge that would be useful in pursuing that hobby. But according to Dr. Smiltneek, don’t spend too much time on that research. Pick a new hobby and start getting happy.

The macaron experiment

Last year I made French macarons. I … almost … perfected the piping technique. I got those perfect little “feet” on the pastry, the outer crunch and inner fudginess. The sizes of the macarons were kind of random, but the finished products were delicious. And while I was in macaron baking mode, the rest of the world slipped away. 

Hobbies lower stress and grow happiness

Hobbies are great for lowering stress, anxiety and blood pressure. People who enjoy hobbies are at lower risk for depression. Growing our optimism grows our happiness, and leads to greater resilience. And we all need resilience for our healthy aging.

And hobbies grow our resilience

And people who enjoy hobbies can do it either individually or in a group. One recommendation for growing our resilience is to make connections with others. Hobbies can help us do that. When we’re in a group enjoying a hobby, we automatically have something in common. It’s easier to talk to others about that thing we have in common. If I were to continue my macaron-baking hobby, I’d certainly join a class to improve my piping skills! 
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