Charlie Hoehn was a full-time employee of mine during the making and launch of The 4-Hour Body. It was an intense period.
In this post, Charlie will share his M.E.D. (Minimum Effective Dose) for overcoming anxiety and managing workaholism. There are six techniques in total.
If you haven’t already, be sure to read his previous post on preventing burnout.
Do you feel a constant sense of dread? Do you have trouble breathing, relaxing, and sleeping? Do you worry that you’re losing control, or that you’re going to die?
In other words: are you trapped in your own personal hell?
I’ve been there (here’s the backstory), and I know what it’s like. Shallow breathing, tension in the gut, chest pains, rapid heartbeat… Every moment is exhausting, crushing, and painful. Anxiety destroys your confidence, your productivity, your relationships, and your ability to enjoy life.
For a long time, I thought I was going crazy. I was convinced that something horribly wrong was about to happen. I tired and afraid all the time, and I didn’t know how to shake it. One half of me pretended to be normal while the other half tried to keep it together.
I tried everything: meditation, yoga, high-intensity workouts, long runs, therapy, therapy books, keeping a journal, super clean diets, extended fasting, drugs, deep breathing exercises, prayer, etc. I even took a six-week course, made specifically for men who wanted to overcome anxiety.
What I discovered is that the most effective “cures” for anxiety are often free, painless, and fun. When I was doing the six techniques I cover in this post on a daily basis, I was able to get back to my normal self in less than one month.
It’s my sincerest hope that this post helps you eliminate your anxiety, once and for all. Surprisingly, it’s not as hard as you think…
1. Enjoy Guilt-Free Play with Friends
“A lack of play should be treated like malnutrition: it’s a health risk to your body and mind.”
— Stuart Brown
When I asked Tim for his advice on overcoming anxiety, he said, “Remember to EXERCISE daily. That is 80% of the battle.”
I completely agree. Exercise is scientifically proven to reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. But what’s the best type of exercise? Running on the treadmill for an hour? Doing hundreds of sit-ups? Self-inflicted torture via P90X?
How about ‘None of the Above.’ All of those activities are miserable. People only do them because they think getting in shape has to be a punishment.
Exercise does not have to feel like work; it can be play. In other words, physical movement that gets your heart racing, causes you to sweat, and is legitimately FUN for you and your friends. You don’t have to track your time, measure your heart rate, or count your calories. Forget all that noise. Just focus on having fun while moving around with your friends.
In my experience, the best forms of anxiety-reducing play are outdoor sports. They are social (more than one person is required), mildly competitive, and cause everyone to break a sweat in the fresh air and sunshine. However, any fun play activity that you can do on a regular basis with your friends should work.
Almost every weekend, my friends and I play home run derby or go to the driving range. For me, taking batting practice or hitting golf balls is the most rewarding form of play. Plus it gives me an excuse to move around outside for an hour or two.
I also take frequent trips to the park with an Aerobie Flying Ring (a flat rubber Frisbee that flies really fast). The Aerobie is perfect for playing because I have to call up a friend to join me, and we both end up running around chasing it.
Incorporating play into my weekly routine helped my anxiety and workaholism more than anything else. It was such a massive relief to hang out with my friends and have guilt-free fun again. Playing helped me decompress and unplug from work, which actually made me more productive.
After each round of catch or home run derby, I would return to my laptop feeling light and happy. And to my surprise, I was able to produce better work at a faster pace. My brain was operating at a higher level because it was happy, playful, and recharged. And I wasn’t the only one who attested to a boost in productivity and creativity because of play.
[Note from Tim: Exercise also elicits measurable biochemical effects (like increased BDNF production) that improve cognitive performance.]
My friend Ann (a book editor) texted me one afternoon to say that she was trying to work, but was so bored that she’d spent the last hour staring at a turtle swimming in a pond. I told her to come pick me up so we could play catch. We drove over to a park and played with the Aerobie for two hours in the sun. The next day, she sent me this message:
All work and no play makes Jack an anxious boy — literally. Isolating yourself erodes your health, and sitting in a chair all day is a recipe for neuroses. Get off the Internet, turn off your screens, and go have guilt-free fun playing with your friends! You’ll be less anxious, less lonely, more relaxed, and a whole lot happier.
DO IT NOW
Schedule a daily reminder to Play. Ask a friend, co-worker, or neighbor to play catch. Search Yelp.com for “co-ed sports” or “improv comedy,” then sign up. For a negligible fee, you get to be surrounded by fun people who like to play. Totally worth it.
You can take baby steps toward playing more, of course. You could invite a friend on a long walk, or play catch instead of drinking coffee, or take a date to the driving range. The important thing is to schedule guilt-free fun with good people.
Aim for 30 minutes per day (or more, if possible). Reducing your anxiety through play only takes 2% of your total time each week, but it’s up to you to decide that your happiness is worth the effort.
[Note from Tim: Schedule this recreation in advance or it won’t happen. If you’re a type-A personality, work will swell to fill your unfilled calendar.]
Free, or very cheap. Try not to think of play in terms of costs. This is an investment in your health and happiness, with a guaranteed return.
Aerobie Flying Ring. This is the best toy for playing catch. It’s light, durable, portable, and extremely fun.
Charlie’s Play Picks. Check out my list of fun activities and toys.
Play by Dr. Stuart Brown. If you want to read more about the science behind play and its essential role in fueling happiness, pick up a copy of this book. It’s fantastic. Also worth reading: The Play Deficit (article) by Peter Gray.
2. Unplug from All Sources of News
“Learning to ignore things is one of the great paths to inner peace.”
— Robert J. Sawyer
It took me a long time to see it, but the news was my single biggest source of anxiety.
The websites I was reading each day talked non-stop about crime, corruption, economic breakdown, and the end of the world. As a result, my fear of being attacked spun out of control. I became obsessed with protecting myself from every possible threat. I researched what to do if I was arrested and thrown in jail. I spent hundreds of dollars on food and equipment that I hoped would save me in the event of a disaster.
There was nothing inherently wrong with preparing for an emergency, but obsessing over apocalyptic scenarios, every day, for months on end?
One day, it finally dawned on me: my fear of an imaginary future was destroying my ability to enjoy the present.
And what planted those seeds of fear? The news.
When I made the commitment to cut the news out of my life completely — no TV, no conspiracy sites or “truth deliverer” blogs, ignoring / blocking every sensationalist link I came across on social media, etc. — my anxiety plummeted in less than two weeks. The negative information I removed from my conscious awareness freed me from the confines of other people’s frightening narratives.
I replaced the scary news with positive, joyful, and fun information. For instance, I listened to uplifting songs and standup comedy. I watched improv, and classic funny & happy movies. I read fun books that sparked my imagination and touched my soul. It really helped.
Of course, I didn’t bury my head in the sand. I still talked with my friends, who would inevitably bring up the noteworthy events that took place that week. And I was always surprised to discover that… I didn’t really miss anything. I was alive, and the world kept turning. That was about it.
The information you allow into your conscious awareness determines the quality of your life. In other words, you are what you think. If you are subsisting on content that’s unsettling, anxious, and soulless (see: the news, reality shows, horror movies, books written by hateful authors, porn), your mind will become stressed, scared, and cynical.
But if you are consuming content that’s joyous and playful, your mind will become happy and loving. Simple as that.
DO IT NOW
Cut anxiety-inducing information – especially the news – out of your daily routine completely! If your friends are watching the news in the same room, either change the channel or go do something else. If a scary headline appears in your Facebook feed, don’t click it – block it.
There’s no need to subject yourself to unhealthy unrealities. Replace those unsettling thoughts with positive content that will uplift you.
The “Anti-News” List. My favorite anxiety-fighting content. Just remember: Sad people tend to focus on the lyrics, while happy people just listen to the music. Don’t over-analyze the deeper implications of the art; just enjoy how it makes you feel.
BONUS POINTS: Flip the Shut-Off Switch
Whenever I’m feeling burned out, I have to force myself to unplug.
I relocate to a scenic environment where the skyline isn’t cluttered with buildings or human activity, then I disconnect from every device with a screen for a minimum of 24 hours. That means no texting, no calling, no email, no Facebook, no Instagram, and no Seinfeld. Only nature, face-to-face interactions, and books are allowed.
Unplugged nature vacations are incredibly refreshing. My mind always feels like a stuffy room that gets a sudden rush of fresh air. Instead of feeling tired all day long from a steady diet of internet content, I’m rejuvenated by real life again.
Give yourself permission to stop working and unplug. Don’t feel guilty for taking time off. This isn’t an escape from the real world – it’s a chance to reconnect with it.
3. Consistent Bedtime & Afternoon Naps
“My girlfriend asked me, ‘Did you sleep good?’ I said ‘No, I made a few mistakes.’”
— Steven Wright
I really can’t overemphasize the importance of consistent quality sleep. Every anxious person I’ve met has either been in denial about how little sleep they get, or they’re overlooking the fact that they’re going to bed at random hours every night.
One of my readers wrote this message to me after reading an early draft of my book:
“When I began forcing myself to sleep eight hours a night, my physical health problems cleared up, my emotions balanced out, and my anxiety disappeared. My mind could function and that tight feeling around my eyes vanished. Eight hours of sleep is a miracle pill.”
I was chronically in a severe sleep deficit, which took a major toll on my mental health.
The endless stream of digital information I was taking in every waking hour only compounded the problem. And because I kept going to bed at random hours, my mind never had enough time to shut down, relax, and digest everything that poured in during the day.
During the month I cured my anxiety, I made consistent sleep one of my highest priorities. The first thing I did was optimize my bedroom for ideal sleeping conditions. Here are the steps I took:
- Plugged my iPhone charger in an outlet far away from my bed so I couldn’t grab my phone while I was laying down. This little obstacle prevented me from checking Facebook or watching Youtube before trying to fall asleep. [Note from Tim: I always put my iPhone on Airplane Mode or turn it off while sleeping. Even on silent, the illumination of arriving text messages is enough to wake or aggravate me.]
- Cranked up the air conditioning so the temperature in my bedroom was around 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Kept the curtains drawn and wore a sleep mask so that my room was as dark as I could possibly make it.
Once my room was optimized, I committed to a consistent bedtime. I set a daily reminder on my iPhone called “Get Ready for Bed,” which went off at 10:00PM every night (i.e. nine hours before I wanted to wake up). As soon as it went off, I’d stop whatever I was doing, hit the bathroom, brush my teeth, and change out of my day clothes. I was dead serious about obeying my phone’s command. Even if I was in the middle of a conversation, I’d abruptly end it so I could get ready for bed.
After I finished getting ready, I’d switch my phone to silent mode, plug it into the charger that was far away from my bed, and lay down to read fiction for 15 minutes (No business or “thinking” books allowed). Then I’d turn off the lights and focus on the rhythm of my breathing until I fell asleep.
It took several nights to adjust to this change, but within a week, I was sleeping like a champion. The key was getting ready at the same time every night. It set me in motion toward getting in bed, and ultimately re-trained my body to crave sleep at a reasonable hour.
There was another aspect of my sleep routine that was critical for healing my anxiety: I took a 20-minute nap every afternoon.
Each day, immediately after I finished lunch, I would find a spot to nap – a couch, a bench, a reclined car seat, a carpeted floor, a friend’s wedding…
I’d set an alarm on my phone for 20 minutes, lie on my back, and close my eyes. I never tried to fall asleep; I just relaxed and focused on breathing in and out. Even if I didn’t fall asleep (10-20% of the time), I always felt refreshed and calm when my alarm went off.
Naps are awesome. I wish I could be a salesman for naps. We all took them every day when we were kids, so… why should we stop taking them just because we’re older? Take a quick nap in the afternoon, even if you have to cut your lunch break short. Then force yourself to get ready for bed at the same time every night. You’ll be more relaxed, more productive, and far less anxious.
DO IT NOW
Set a daily reminder on your phone to “Get Ready for Bed,” nine hours prior to your target wake time. Set another reminder to take a nap after lunch. Plug your cell phone charger in an outlet that’s far away from your bed. Cover your windows so your bedroom is as dark as possible. Drop the temperature in your bedroom to 68 degrees.
Aim for 8 hours of consistent quality sleep each night, and one 20-minute nap every afternoon.
Relax like a Pro and 11 Tricks for Perfect Sleep. Check out Tim’s articles for more tips on taking your sleep to the next level.
Sweet Dreams Sleep Mask. The light! It buuurns! Use this mask to block it out.
Flux. The bright white light that you refer to as your “computer” might be disrupting your internal rhythm. Download the free Flux application to have your screen’s lighting automatically switch to a sunset hue in the evening.
Philips Wake-up Light. If you despise alarms as much as I do, then check out the Wake-up Light. It makes waking up gradual and pleasant.
4. Eliminate Stimulants
The physical sensations that preceded my panic attacks were the jitters (shaking hands, quivering voice) and a rapid resting heart rate. Guess what gave me both of those sensations? Coffee. And wouldn’t you know it, I was drinking 3-4 cups each day, running around like Tweek on South Park.
I decided to cut coffee out of my diet for a week. Shortly after I removed the caffeine from my bloodstream, I stopped having the jitters. My resting heart rate remained steady. The physical sensations that came with having a panic attack were no longer there, and I started calming down. [After some experimentation, I found that I could only have a half serving of coffee before I started feeling jittery. I also found that I couldn’t have caffeine past 5:00PM without disrupting my sleep routine.]
A friend of mine experienced similar results after removing aspartame. She had horrible anxiety for months but couldn’t figure out what was causing it. One day at work, she noticed that she’d finished three diet sodas in just a few hours. Her body was overloaded with caffeine and aspartame (a toxic sugar subsitute in diet drinks). As soon as she stopped drinking diet soda, her anxiety disappeared.
Sometimes, we tend to overlook the simple answers that are right in front of us. Let’s fix that.
DO IT NOW
Cut out any substance you regularly consume that’s correlated with increased feelings of anxiety. Common culprits include: caffeine, aspartame, gluten, refined sugar, alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. Keep it out of your body for one week.
If you have that substance in your house, throw it away. If the people you spend the most time with are encouraging you to consume it, politely turn them down and do something else. If you have strong cravings for that substance, find a healthy substitute you can consume instead (e.g. water, tea, sugar-free gum).
After the substance has been out of your system for seven days, you can reassess its toxicity by consuming a typical dose you’re used to taking. If your anxiety symptoms return within one hour of ingestion, you’ve found the culprit. Try to eliminate that substance for good.
5. Trauma Releasing Exercises
[Note from Charlie: This technique is going to sound bizarre. I don’t blame you if you’re skeptical, but it worked really well for me and there’s a good amount of research to back up the benefits of T.R.E.]
One of the weirdest effects of anxiety is how much tension builds up in your body. I couldn’t even take a deep breath because my stomach always trembled, like it was being stretched to its limits. Relaxing felt physically impossible.
My body was so tense because I was constantly in fight-or-flight mode. Every day, I was producing the energy needed to survive a life-threatening event. The problem was that this event was in my mind; it was imaginary and it never took place. I had all this excess energy that wasn’t being released, so I became extremely high-strung.
A friend recommended that I check out T.R.E. — Trauma Releasing Exercises, which helped him conquer his anxiety. I watched a few videos of T.R.E. on YouTube and immediately thought it was fake. The clips showed people lying on the ground as their bodies went into spastic tremors. Their movements looked comical and freaky, like they were in the middle of an exorcism.
T.R.E. was originally designed as a safe and easy way to induce tremors. Anyone who has gone through extreme trauma, from the emotionally abused to war veterans, can use these exercises to their benefit. The exercises take about 20 minutes to complete, and they’re intended to induce tremors by exhausting your leg muscles.
I learned that tremors are a natural means for mammals to discharge excess energy after a traumatic event. The tremors release our body’s surplus of adrenaline after it’s no longer needed for survival. I watched footage of antelopes, bears, and other animals that had narrowly escaped an attack. Their bodies instinctively trembled for a few minutes, and then they’d act calm and normal again. It was fascinating.
Unlike most species, adult humans typically prevent themselves from having tremors. Why? Because we avoid behavior that makes us look weak or vulnerable. In other words, we are so self-conscious that we unknowingly block our body’s natural (yet embarrassing) function during times of great stress. As a result, we make it very difficult to overcome trauma because we’re constantly holding in so much excess energy. Thankfully, T.R.E. can help.
I bought the T.R.E. book on my Kindle and went through all the exercises. After I completed the full circuit, I lied on the ground and was STUNNED as my back, hips, and legs shook rapidly in sporadic bursts for 20 minutes. The tremors weren’t painful at all; the sensation actually felt relaxing and natural. I was just astounded by how vigorously my body shook. I looked like a vibrating cell phone. After my body’s tremors finally subsided, I went to lie down on my bed and immediately fell into a deep sleep.
I performed these exercises three nights per week, for three weeks. They were hugely effective for releasing the physical tension my body was holding in. I can’t show or describe all of the exercises here, as I don’t want to take credit for a routine I didn’t create. But if you’re interested in giving T.R.E. a shot, you can check out the book (or win a free copy by leaving a comment below — see instructions at the bottom of this post).
I know T.R.E. might sound kooky, or even a little scary. But it’s really not bad at all. It’s basically just a series of stretches that help your body thaw itself out by alleviating your chronic tension. Your tremors will definitely make your body move in strange ways though, so be sure to do these exercises in a relaxed environment where you won’t feel self-conscious.
DO IT NOW
Watch the 8-minute Tremors video on T.R.E.’s official website to see how it works.
Do the exercises every other day for three weeks. Then as needed.
$10 for the book.
Trauma Releasing Exercises. This short book explains the trauma recovery process in uncomplicated language. The last chapter includes photos and descriptions of the exercises, which elicit tremors that release deep chronic tension in the body.
6. Fix Micronutrient Deficiencies
Everyone should get tested for micronutrient deficiencies at some point. There are plenty of reasons why this is a smart move, but the most obvious is because of our changing soil.
The vegetables we eat absorb their nutrients from the soil they grow in, and the purity (and depth) of our topsoil has been severely compromised through hyper-aggressive/monoculture agriculture and mining. So even if you are eating a seemingly natural and well-balanced diet, you could still be deficient in key nutrients your brain and body need in order to function properly. Broccoli in one place doesn’t necessarily equal broccoli in another, for instance. Where you get your produce matters; they could be chock-full or devoid of the vitamins, etc. depending on where you source.
Below are two of the most common nutrient deficiencies that tend to amplify anxiety:
- The Vitamin B club. A lot of people are deficient in B-12 (methylcobalamin — found in meat), but others might be deficient in B-2 (riboflavin — found in yogurt, spinach, almonds, and eggs), or B-5 (pantothenic acid — found in avocados, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes), or B-6 (pyridoxal phosphate — found in tuna, chicken, turkey, and cod). Fortunately, it’s possible to get the recommended dose of all the B vitamins by taking a B-complex pill once per day.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids. You can find omega-3 in salmon, fish oil, hemp seeds, and flax seeds. I take 2-4 servings of Nordic Natural’s cod liver oil pills each day, which contains a solid dose of the three fatty acids: EPA, DHA, and ALA.
For a few months, I was feeling unusually fatigued. I had no idea what was causing it. I was getting good sleep, I was eating healthy, and I was exercising regularly. I did some research, and found that I had a ton of symptoms for Vitamin B-12 deficiency: I felt mildly depressed, I had very little motivation, I was short of breath, my brain was foggy, and my fingers occasionally went numb.
Vitamin B-12 is in meat, fish, and certain dairy products (if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’re likely deficient in B-12). The normal range for B-12 is between 500 and 1,000 pg/ml (picograms per milliliter), and if your levels fall below 500 pg/ml, your brain ages twice as fast. In other words, if your body isn’t absorbing enough B-12, your mind rapidly deteriorates and stops functioning properly. Holy Guacamole!
When I got tested for B-12 deficiency, the results showed that my levels were 200 pg/ml — less than half of the minimum amount my body required. Even though I was eating meat almost every single day, I was still massively deficient.
I immediately began supplementing with Vitamin B-12 pills — 1,000 mcg every day, sublingually (under the tongue). Within one week, I could already feel a difference. I was less foggy and more energetic. When I got tested again for B-12 a month later, my levels had shot up to 529 pg/ml. I was back in the normal range.
A few of my friends took micronutrient deficiency tests, as well. None of them had B-12 levels as low as mine, but they were all deficient in something. One found he was deficient in magnesium. Another was deficient in selenium, while another was deficient in potassium. All of them took measures to correct their deficiencies, brought their levels back up to the normal ranges, and felt like new people. Their minds were clear and sharp, and their energy went through the roof.
One final note on deficiencies: It’s possible that your gut isn’t absorbing nutrients properly. If you suspect that’s the case, you might consider taking a probiotic supplement to introduce more healthy bacteria into your GI tract. You can also get more healthy bacteria by eating fermented foods, like sauerkraut and kimchi.
DO IT NOW
Research the nutrients mentioned above to see if you might be deficient.
Once you’ve been tested for deficiencies, ingest an ample amount of the desired nutrients (via food or supplements) for 30 days. Get tested again and re-assess.
Varies, depending on whether you’re ingesting food or supplements (pills average less than $1.50 per day). $80 for the B-12 deficiency test at Any Lab Test Now. $400 for the micronutrient test. I know, I know – it’s expensive.
[None of these resources are affiliate links. Neither Tim nor I will earn money if you decide to make a purchase through them.]
Any Lab Test Now. You can get tested for deficiencies in just a few minutes at Any Lab Test Now and have the results emailed to you within 48 hours. You can also get micronutrient tests at your doctor’s office, but (depending on which state you’re in) they will probably make you jump through a few hoops first.
Spectracell. This is the micronutrient testing lab Tim used to uncover his selenium deficiency (he used Brazil nuts to correct it).
Vitamin B-Complex Caps. This covers all of your bases for the B vitamins. These pills are free from common allergens, like soy, yeast, barley, wheat, and lactose.
Cod Liver Oil. I take 2-4 servings per day to get omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t like taking so many pills, try squeeze packets.
Some people have been on the ride for a long time, and they begin to question, “Is this real, or is this just a ride?” And other people have remembered, and they come back to us and they say, “Hey, don’t worry; don’t be afraid, ever, because this is just a ride.”
I couldn’t see it for a long time, but I was the creator of my own anxious reality.
I didn’t allow myself to have fun. I never slept. I drank coffee all day while staring at screens. I consumed fear-mongering news that convinced me the end was near. People absorbed and reflected my nervousness back at me, and my anxiety perpetuated itself.
I’m not crippled with anxiety anymore, and I’m not burned out. Now, my state of mind is different.
I allow myself to have guilt-free fun in everything I do. The world is a playground, my work is a game, and life is a ride. And you know what? I feel 100 times better than I ever thought I would. I’m back to my normal self.
And I have no fear that those awful feelings will ever return, because I know the antidote — play.
# # #
Want a free copy of Charlie’s book, Play It Away: A Workaholic’s Cure for Anxiety?
Leave a comment below with your favorite technique for managing or overcoming anxiety.
The top 20 comments, as selected by Charlie, will receive:
- (1) free digital copy of Play It Away — Kindle .mobi or PDF ($10 value)
- (1) free digital copy of the Trauma Releasing Exercises workbook ($10 value)
- Bonus: Charlie’s weekly routine during the month he healed his anxiety
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.
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517 Replies to “How to Cure Anxiety — One Workaholic's Story, Six Techniques That Work”
It may sound cheesy, but I take breaks with my pets.
They know how to stretch, relax and find joy in
the simplest moments. It rubs off on me!
I do the same thing Tori! I take my dog out for walks, or nap with her on the couch, or even dance in the living room together. She’s amazing at keeping me light and she definitely knows how to enjoy life. 🙂
You’re really lucky you are able to have a pet. I haven’t had the living space to allow a cat or dog since I left home.
Playing with your pets is very de-stressing. You entrain yourself with their energy, putting you in a different brain rhythm.
I will def try the trauma releasing exercises and am grateful to know about them. I’m doing all if the above, yet could be playing more w friends. Sometimes it’s hard to find the energy. I did gift my niece the book The Happiness Trap to help her understand her thoughts and feelings. I’m reading The Big Bamboozle which was a recommendation from a recent podcast of Tim’s. Out of so many books, Bamboozle is great and a nice surprise. The cover and font may appear silly, and please stick w it. Thank you Tim for always providing information and fun!
I just bought Charlie´s book – really curious to read it!
Are both of you actually going to work together again at some point of time?
i want to read it.just curious too.i like meditation
“This too shall pass,” has been a good one for me, while relates to the whole thing about it being a ride and never forgetting that.
Perspective is also an important thing for me. All meaning is man-made. The universe doesn’t inherently say that this event is inane while that one is meaningful; that’s us. So the power that I give my anxiety could just as easily be given to any other experience or emotion and it would be just as valid.
That’s not to say you can switch it on and off at will, but I’m definitely in a place where I have what I call “high-functioning anxiety.” I still get scared, but I’m aware of the physiological and psychological causes and that lets me keep going.
The fastest solution I’ve found is spending time outside.
Totally agree, Allen. One of my suggestions in the book is to take “unplugged nature vacations.” A couple articles to back you up:
Charlie! i have a problem with sleeping.but im practicing meditation now,make me feel better.but still cant sleep:( i know how suffering
I agree i think that most stress and anxiety nowdays comes from the isolation in front of the computor. Turn it OFF get out there in the sun TALK to strangers and start LIVING who know it may actually be FUN 🙂 LOVE maria
Thanks for another awesome post. As someone who has dealt with anxiety for my whole life, it’s great to hear success stories like this. While I have found some ways to deal with it, I’ll certainly give these a try.
Having said that, I’ll offer something that has worked for me. This is more for getting over a specific fear or anxiety, such as negative thinking like “I’m going to die/have a heart attack/etc.” Basically, you keep a notebook with you (I recommend a small moleskin notepad) and any time a negative feeling comes up or anxiety strikes, you write down what happened. It goes something like this:
1. Write down the situation. What happened?
2. Write down any thoughts that came up.
3. Write what emotions you felt, and rate their intensity on a 1-10 scale (which helps you identify later how much you are improving)
4. Write down the thinking “traps” that you are objectively falling into. This could be thinking everything is a catastrophe or could become one, thinking something could definitely happen in the future when it’s not definite at all (fortune-telling), magnification of an insignificant problem, etc. This can be tough, but try to be objective.
5. Pose an alternative response. This means writing out the opposite of your anxious thought/fear/negative emotion. For example, anxious people often experience rapid heart beat…if your initial thought was “I’m having a heart attack” than this last section would refute that by saying “I know that anxiety is the most likely cause of my rapid heart beat.”
Thanks for sharing your story and tips!
Great tip, Dave. I’d like to offer a similar journaling technique that I used to eliminate some of my biggest sources of stress:
1. Write down everything you worry about on a daily or weekly basis. 3-5 words per item is fine. For instance, “panic attacks.”
2. Put a star next to your top source of stress.
3. Reframe it as a “How can I eliminate my ____ ?” question. In the example above, you’d write “How can I eliminate my panic attacks?” Might sound impossible, but bear with me…
4. Come up with 3 potential solutions that you could test for eliminating that source of stress (e.g. replace coffee with water, eliminate all sources of news, etc.).
5. Pick the simplest solution, then test it for a week. Assess after 7 days to see how you feel after that source of stress has been completely removed.
Before you dismiss this exercise as trivial or futile, TRY IT. It’s deceptively simple but, for me, it was a life saver. Instead of sitting around and wallowing in my bad feelings, I forced myself to confront my biggest worries. I experimented with simple changes to my weekly routine, and eventually removed the major stressors in my life.
Anyone can do these journaling techniques. They really help. Thanks for adding yours to the mix, Dave.
Probably one of the best ways to tackle anxiety is to assess that your body’s fight or flight state is not relevant to the situation in which you are in at that moment.
It’s not like a tiger is going to attack you (when fight-or-flight would be reasonable). It’s more likely that your pending email responses are going to attack you (perceived fight-or-fight).
This is when you have to assess reality. Try seeing the big picture or move away from the situation. It should clear things up.
Thanks Chris! Most anxious people will agree with you in theory, but those pesky feelings tend to not go away even when you’re being super rational. Helps to get outside, move around, and have some fun 🙂
Agreed. The problem is that our Fight or Flight response can’t usually just be reasoned with, or else our ancestors would have just told themselves they were being paranoid when they heard a noise in the bush and it actually was a tiger.
Agree with Charlie. Most people who’ve had panic attacks before know full well they are simply exhibiting symptoms of their condition based on nothing. That doesn’t make it feel any better a lot of the time!
Favorite technique to combat anxiety is petting or playing with a dog. Their innocence, genuine attention, and excitement is incredibly relaxing.
Thanks for this topic. I don’t think that I’m anxious but it’s been tough for me hard to control my anger or offensive feeling at work (I cannot diminish the ‘source’ makin me mad). The suggestions may cure this ‘negative’ feeling.
But it may be hard for me to keep my iphone away during night.
Charlie- I appreciate the great tips.As for having fun: Do you find it hard when you schedule short amounts of time? As if you need to have fun NOW and the clock is ticking? Do you have any tips on how to keep the talons of expectation from popping the balloon genuine good time?
Great question, Kevin. I definitely used to feel guilty for having fun, but after I read the book Play, I realized that having guilt-free fun was actually REQUIRED for me to regain my health. It was simply a matter of giving myself permission.
I say “a minimum of 20 minutes” because that’s a short enough chunk of time for anyone to commit to. Realistically though, I like to have a couple hours of play during the day whenever possible.
My best tip for removing the talons of expectation (nice phrasing btw) is to turn off your cell phone. Leave it behind. That way, you’re not tempted to check the clock, distract yourself with social media, or disrupt play time with work.
Tip: Don’t get anxious about fixing anxiety. Learn about yourself and understand the way you are. Like the quote above says, relax it’s a ride and you should let go and go with it.
It’s kind of hard to suggest a cure-all because I’m always going to be anxious to some extent. I try to be mindful and learn the signs that you’re getting in trouble.
My biggest problem was trying to find that perfect cure. Charlie’s 6 steps may work for you, they may won’t. You will definitely get something out of them though and that learning about yourself is worth it in itself.
I’ve got to say I’m right there with Tim that EXERCISE is a huge part of the battle. Anytime I spend more than 3 days out of the gym (which has been more and more lately unfortunately) I can feel the dreaded anxiety work its grip over me and pull me down further and further with each passing day. The 2 hours with barbell in hand release that darkness with each rep, and the more consistent I am the closer my daily life gets to being free of anxiety/depression. However, as you noted, the squat rack, deadlifts, bench press, and all those high intensity activities can be daunting. I’m literally sitting here right now dreading getting back into the rack after a week of slacking off, even knowing how elevated my state of mind will be once I get through it. And in that regard the biggest thing I might have learned here is that exercise doesn’t have to be so extreme to get similar results. On the days the barbell is scaring the s*** out of me, I shouldn’t let that prohibit me from getting exercise at all. I look forward to implementing some less strenuous, more enjoyable forms of exercise and the new levels of consistency they will hopefully bring to my exercise regimen.
So that’s my experience with what’s helped me the most in managing my anxiety. You have some other fantastic suggestions in here and I’m very much looking forward to trying them out. Also very much looking forward to following your work Charlie. Thanks for a great post.
Playful escapism. Deep tissue massage. Hugs. Healthy comfort food. More hugs. Shiatsu. Intimate so your minds melt into each other. Ambient light, ambient music. Askesis via self-tracking. Stoicism. It’s just a ride.
Ah! This assumes you have a partner/relationship. I think you’ll find most people with anxiety are single and definitely most workaholics. I wish I could have hugs or any mind melding intimacy, it just isn’t possible for many of us.
When I feel stressed, I go outside and shoot 100 free throws. It gets my mind completely focused on basketball and brings me back to my childhood. Number one has been the biggest help for me.
Nice! That’s actually one of my favorite forms of meditation too! Drown out the world and just shoot 100 free throws. Don’t even have to count the makes or misses as that’s not why I’m doing it. It’s harder for me to sit in a chair and close my eyes then it is to simply focus on only shooting a basket.
Charlie / Tim. What a great post. I’m not suffering from anxiety, but aside form the the T.R.E part, everything seems like pretty awesome advice to make your life better – anxious or not.
Thanks for sharing
Why not the TRE?
F*ck Yea Charlie for crushing your anxiety! 🙂
My favorite technique for overcoming anxiety is:
### Listening to Loud, Happy and Inspiring Music (spotify has tons of great songs) and deep breathing. Lots of self-talk inside my head. Doing Why Affirmations…(Why am I great at being SOOO calm and zen-like?)
I like the idea of removing digital stimulants to relax. I sometime hear people say that they relax by playing games on their mobiles out just randomly checking websites… But I know it doesn’t…
Time spent idling away can never be truly relaxing, because it just increases anxiety that we’re not moving ahead in life, that we’re really the lazy-good-for-nothing we secretly accuse ourselves of being. What helps for me is throwing open the windows, playing some soft music and doing some housecleaning. While I organize something as small and simple as a drawer, I’m reorganizing my mind, clearing out the cobwebs. By the time I’m done, I feel like I can conquer the world of if I so desired!
Looking for inspiration here, found some from you Faigy. At this point, even thinking about working out gives me anxiety. I get so tired even after going for a walk. But if I can get the windows opened and clean something small, that’s baby steps. Not everyone can go ahead full throttle.
I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a teenager. It’s an insidiously crippling disease. After two and a half years of complete burnout, I’ve managed to turn it around though. The big change was simply deciding that, no matter what, my health and happiness were priority number one. Everything else was optional. This allowed me the freedom to say no to things I didn’t have the energy to participate in, the freedom to sleep as much as I needed, and the necessary state of mind to learn to enjoy cooking healthy food again.
Totally agree. Sometimes it’s as simple as a decision like this. “Am I going to miss that con-call to get some sleep and not be a mess today? Yes, I think I will.” Health has to be #1.
That’s part of the reason why I’ve chucked in my stressful, loathed job. On slow carb diet (thanks Tim) plus no wheat ever, down 16kg, and hitting the road around Oz for 6 months in a small converted van (bed, couch, microwave, fridge) and the girlfriend. What’s the point, in a spiral of misery and bad health. No point at all. And big changes can be fun. Need to fix 15 years of bad behaviour.
I wonder what’s the biggest change I could make next?
Yes – but the problem is that we tend to forget that until we see serious effects on our health. I’ve found one of the advantages of getting older is that your body lets you know what it needs you not to do much more quickly. In my 30s I’d quite happily work (or, let’s be honest, play computer games) till 4 a.m. I’d accept feeling a bit shitty in the morning because I thought that was how mornings just were. Now I don’t have that luxury (just like I can’t drink more than a couple of glasses of wine without getting a killer hangover), but on the positive side, I’ve found out that it’s actually possible to wake up feeling rested and full of enthusiasm.
Great article. My favorite way to destress is to listen to the guided relaxation audios I make. I find that feeling relaxed is a learned experience, just as we learn tension and become used to it.
I had an opportunity to see the beneficial effects of relaxation when my external hard disk crashed two days ago. I didn’t even flinch, let alone curse. I was surprised.
Then yesterday, my computer got a malware warning and when I quickly shut down my computer, my days worth of writing was lost. I did get ruffled by the second whammy, but more like, ok, time to take a break, rather than feeling flipped out.
Another practice I’ve started is when I feel stressed to stop and ask, OK, what are you afraid of here? Because stress is fear, right? And when I actually name it, I find it’s easier to find a good solution, re-prioritize, reach out for support, etc.
My favorite way is to just play music and/or sing. I’m a decent musician but a horrible singer, but that doesn’t really matter (just make sure you’re alone if you care about others hearing…learn not to care sometimes though…). Just belting out those notes to my favorite tunes releases so much of the emotional buildup I get sometimes. Away from an instrument, its also really fun singing in the shower and in the car by yourself, it’s like you’re free to act and express yourself however you want.
I forgot to write the most critical part: sing loud and sing it like you mean it, no holding back…singing timidly will just make you feel more timid…singing loudly is what you need to do to release that inner buildup
100%. Good alternative is to do group karaoke with friends.
I forget the exact quote, but I think it was Robert Plant who said something to this effect- “The reason I look as young as I do is because of my job.” The guy has been singing his lungs out for decades.
Not saying that singing is the fountain of youth, but it’s definitely fun and gets you breathing heavy.
hanging out with my colleagues from an outdoor shop is all fun and play despite having a PhD ( and should dedicate my life to world peace, high income or working in the government administration)…anxiety to work in an office still remains…
Hi Charlie 🙂
I find that spending time in nature and being with animals–specially dogs–helped me a lot. And your second tip, about unplugging from negative sources also applies to the people around you. It may be hard to notice at times, but some relationships are harmful and it’s better to stay alert, so you can push the eject button whenever necessary.
Since I work 10-12h days I found it necessary to unwind at least twice per week. At first, I thought … Gym … but that turned out to be short lived. After few trial and errors I found my routine:
Wednesday night, I play basketball with 13 other guys (yeah, we need the substitutions) for about 1.5 hour. This is the perfect for me. I get to socialize, trash-talk and play at a high level (for amateurs any way). I needed something during the workweek.
Friday night I have Power Walks. Alone. Well … not alone, I have my mp3 player and lots and lots of fast and aggressive music. PW last about 1h, enough to clear my head of the entire workweek, of all the problems, tasks, to-do-s, issues and everything business related. This way, when Saturday comes, I’m fresh and ready to spend time with my family and friends.
Hope this helps.
Very interesting article. I am not sure if these techniques will work for people for more severe anxiety (social phobia, GAD), although they could help.
kickboxing is fun and releases tension
quick correction: 4th paragraph should say I *was* tired.
I’ve struggled with severe anxiety and depression since childhood. After trying the medication route years ago and not finding it helpful, routine and exercise are now what help me most. My cardio kickboxing classes help release my frustrations and make me feel powerful.
The Trauma Releasing Exercises sound interesting, I’ll have to check that out.
A difficult condition to wrestle and overcome, but doable.
I believe there are multiple forms of anxiety and everyone is affected differently when an event occurs. I agree with ALL of Charlie’s very detailed cures. I have a few simple brief and absolutely helpful and perhaps curing remedies. They are very much in align with Charlie’s suggestions.
1. Be open and honest with your most valuable, important and valuable people in your life. Get the weight off your back and OUT of your mind and remove all BIG secrets or inner battles by getting them out in the open.
2. Get on a rather strict schedule with sleep and eating. Get to bed at the same time every work night and a set time on weekends. Be sure to make it a time early enough to allow you eight solid hours of sleep
3. COMPLETELY remove ALL caffeine and alcohol and energy drinks from your diet 100%. Keep your sodium and sugar intakes in check. Eat more real proteins…not powders…meats, fish, broccoli, spinach, cauliflower, tomatoes, cucumbers, parsley and eggs (highest to lowest order)
4. Get regular exercise AND try to incorporate YOGA into your routine while you are healing. Biking swimming or running can be miraculous. YOGA will place you in extreme positions while mentally relaxing your mind about breathing in positions where it will be difficult. This is a huge boost to you when you have an event as it will build a subconscious confidence in your body to keep doing what it needs to do while your mind and heart race on.
5. Surround yourself with supportive, understanding, loving and especially confiding people AND get the haters and negative ones out of your daily life.
6. Set small personal goals each week. SMALL GOALS. Get them done and reward yourself in some way each time and progress the size and number of goals slowly.
7. Get the hell out of bed. Get up the same time every day and DO something how matter how small…just do it and get a start to your day.
8. DO NOT play hyper or violent video games. After time your mind starts to accept the world within video games as its actual reality. Reduce or stop playing totally. This includes movies and large theaters with mega sound systems. You know what I mean.
9. Sex is a big plus. Make it happen and talk with your partner about how relaxing it is for you.
10. Get into a local medical anxiety help group and talk with other that have the same problems and somewhat different ones. This will open your eyes to the reality and help you learn about the properties of anxiety.
OK, there is an awesome list of tips. Now for my own perspective of what is a major belief of my own on anxiety but I have never heard about it. I am an athlete and know my body well after years of multiple types of competitions and mental/physically strenuous situations. I have ridden a bicycle around the entire united states and learned what dehydration, starvation, over exhaustion, hypothermia and more can do to my body and how tough my body actually is. However, after years of stress, large amounts of coffee and chocolates with normal amounts of alcohol I succumbed to anxiety.
I can honestly say that I believe a large part of anxiety FOR ME has to do with the adrenal glands. I have learned that when I have consumed alcohol and other stimulant drinks and foods that it can always re-appear. I believe once you have anxiety you will always be susceptible to it, but less and less as time goes. The event of anxiety is very basic to me. I get amped up for some reason and then my body secretes adrenalin. Once that happens and I am sitting still my heart goes on a race and the mind follows. The real key is to stay as calm as you can, find someone to console and tell yourself you are going to be just fine as this has happened dozens of times and nothing bad ever actual happens except the racing heart, heavy breathing and wacky fear of the oddest things. Anyhow, I truly truly truly believe that a large part of anxiety it the result of a relaxed and perhaps damaged adrenal gland that can tend to let the strong drug of adrenalin run into your veins when you do not need it. I believe that the controlling tissues of the adrenal gland is affected by alcohols, caffeine’s and drugs immensely. I believe that these things all effect and damage the controlling tissues of the adrenal gland which allow it to open uncontrollably and let the adrenaline flow way too much into your blood stream to your heart and mind. Thus your heart and mind are literally PUMPED UP and acting like they are in an extreme battle. Once the adrenal gland is so greatly opened I believe it can be damaged and stretched to an abnormal tightness which is why an event can happen just minutes, hours or days after another and it also explains why the longer you go without an event the better you can handle more extremes. BUT, beware that…once you have experienced anxiety you can always have it again.
I really like your article. I think most of your suggestions are right on, As a physician that developed anxiety and panic attacks in medical school, I have personal experience on how miserable it is.
That being said I would be careful with section 6 about micronutrient deficiencies.
I think the behavioral and life style interventions you mentioned would help many people. But I have seen many patients obsessed with trying to find something abnormal in their labs and tests that would explain their illness. If you do enough tests odds are that you will find SOMETHING wrong then go nuts trying to correct it.
I would much rather someone follow your sleep and play recommendations rather than pound a ton of b12 and assume it fixes the problem. I don’t doubt it made you feel better, especially if you really were really that low on the b12. But judging on subjective measures of “feeling better” is very likely to be biased without some objective data to correspond.
Lab testing for b12 is rife with issues –the mayo clinic lab podcast has more info on this-such that testing methylmalonic acid is more accurate anyway.
I wish omega 3 was the magic bullet everyone claims it to be. All it did for me was raise my LDL cholesterol through the roof.
Your personal experience is helpful but research studies help look past the bias in subjective experience, and in more than a few people. In that regard I don’t think omega 3 is all that great. I’m waiting for more research on omega 7. But 15 mg daily of methylfolate might be helpful for mood. Especially if you have a mfthr mutation like myself.
There is a fine line betweeen body hacking for your benefit ane body hacking so the lab gets rich.
There was a preset good podcast titled “simply happy” that goes over some cool happiness techniques too. Apparently we are happier when we are in the moment- feeling happy (or not anxious) hitting golf balls or playing seems to go with this thought.
My favorite way to reduce anxiety is through meditation. Even a couple minutes with deep breathing upon waking switches the body from the sympathetic to the parasympathetic nervous system.
Also Yoga, snowboarding, playing the guitar, riding bikes etc… anything outside or that puts you in to a state of “flow.”
Writing in a gratitude journal also helps to switch the focus from what you are worried about, to what you are happy about. This helps to ground and appreciate the good things in life.
Something else before you can start this stuff: you have to clean your cache of stuff that has been bugging you. It may be little crap you have been putting off. You should have that eliminated (sorry Tim!), but if you haven’t, that is a quick fix. I have fallen off the wagon, but I have found doing that gets you in a better place to start working on the play piece.
My best way of alleviating anxiety: hugging my dogs and taking them on walks. Forces me to focus on another living thing. Makes me realize my reality is greater than myself.
Thanks Charlie and Tim for the great two-parter. I gave up Facebook for Lent a few years ago, got re-addicted and then just pulled the plug again February 1. It continues to be one of the best things for removing stress and comparison envy. And I learned to play soccer–it’s so zen–all I can think about for an hour and a half is “Where’s the damn ball?” and run run run run run.
Congrats on the new book Charlie!
I’ve been writing in the Five Minute Journal, which I received in one of Tim’s Quarterly shipments. By spending just 5 minutes each day reflecting on what I’m grateful for, the amazing things that happened, and how I could make things better, I can see patterns emerging about what makes me happy.
Knowing that I’ll be writing about what amazing things happened each day also pushes me to do more, to try new things, and be true to what I like doing – this week it’s been lots of snowboarding with my brother!
I wish I could relax. I have PTSD and have tried all sorts of things. Great ideas. I have never heard of the T.R.E. I’ll have to give it a try, as well as your book.
Good luck Alisha. I really hope it provides some relief.
I use EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) for anxiety.
Here is a demo on it:not an affiliate link
Interestingly it works if you tap a doll as well. The power of placebo is miraculous, I recommend tapping.
Transcendental Meditation. Fantastic stuff! I notice a difference as soon as I stray from my TM practice. I’m less torqued up during the day, more relaxed in the face of conflict, and I sleep better, as well.
II recognise a few of these symptoms, I eat well and I love my Karate but my sleep has been disturbed by a couple of toilet breaks during the night due to my cups of tea after work. I seriously missing the play list, so that is the first thing on list to do immediately. I have reduced my TV viewing and internet use but I think I need to do more in this area us I didn’t realise how much the bad news is affecting me. I might buy Charlies book.
By the way Tim Ferris’s book on Health &Fitness that I got through about 3/4 of it because it belongs to my brother who I was visiting interstate was bloody funny, I love the fact that he uses himself as a human guineapig.
Great post Charlie!
This was exactly what I needed as I’ve been in full-throttle mode for the past 2 months and am not having any fun right now.
My wife and I have bitched and moaned for months and months about not going to bed early enough every night as our three munchkins are all early risers, but we just haven’t setup the boundaries to kick us into gear.
So, here are the actions I just took and will add to as I get this stuff dialed in:
1. Set a reminder in my calendar at 10pm every night to get ready for bed as 7am would be ideal to wake up refreshed from.
2. Put a nap in my calendar for 2pm every day. My wife takes one around then after putting the kids down, and I’ve enjoyed the few I’ve actually taken the time to do, but have let Parkinson’s Law run amok.
3. Just bought the TRE book. A holistic MD I’ve gone to for years told me about adrenal fatigue and gave me a protocol to help reverse it with nutrition and better sleep patterns, but I’m thinking TRE will help dump the excess adrenal hormones from my system and speed up the process. Very much looking forward to doing those exercises!
4. I scheduled a long motorcycle ride with a buddy for Friday as it’s my best head clearing activity and the weather is spectacular now (Central CA). 250+ miles will be just what I need and will be more intentional to schedule rides as the weather is getting so nice.
Thanks for sharing what’s worked for you as this is exactly what I needed to snap out of the rut I’ve been in with work!!
This was going so well until 4, 5, and 6! 1-3 are dead on and are proven in literature. 4 makes sense with caffeine, but when he talks about toxins and aspartame he’s losing me. Cutting out aspartame, TRE, and some supplements is just a way to spend money for some placebo. I guess whatever works though. I just don’t like how half the article was based on sound science then took a left turn. But TRE is kinda insulting to those who actually have truama. Shaking on the ground ain’t gonna cure your 3 tours in Afghanistan or your 1 on 1 time with your uncle. Might take your mind off it for a second, but you probably need some emotional therapy for that one.
Glad your anxiety was cured though. Mine still flares up time to time, but sleep and activity really helped me. Never been a conspiracy guy, so not too worried about the news– but it is a time waster for sure. Although, above all, accepting the fact that I had anxiety and not searching for a way to cure it was the best thing I ever did. Kinda sounds counter-intuitive, but the day I stopped dwelling on a lack of a cure was the day I got better. Kinda Buddhist approach. I never would say I’m cured, but I live with anxiety and rarely have any abnormal anxiety anymore.
Funny you would say that, Mark. Dr. Berceli actually developed TRE after working in war-torn areas as a tool to release trauma. He works with soldiers and veterans too.
There are a few testimonials on YouTube by veterans on how it helped them cope with PTSD better.
Try it out. You never know. 🙂
PS: Anyone considering getting the book, get the DVD instead. It has a brief description of the entire process (which is more than enough if you dont want to go deep into the theory), and a real-time demonstration of all the exercises that you can follow along with.
I’ll admit I don’t know how I feel in terms of TRE because I’d never heard of it before this article, but I disagree about your problems with the other points.
I will say that even moderate amounts of alcohol (As in getting even just tipsy a couple times a week) definitely exacerbates anxiety for me. Aspartame is a frequent target of health concerns due to the “Nancy Markle” email that spread like wildfire (and still does to an extent), so I agree that it’s maybe irrelevant either way; but at the same time, Charlie did link to a study that was done, so I’m not sure. Marijuana is more than adequately proven to cause anxiety, so I’m not sure.
In terms of supplements, I know Charlie didn’t mention St. John’s Wort, but when taken with antidepressants it can cause Seratonin Syndrome. If it can cause that kind of condition, I would argue that it’s a little heavier than placebo, but it’s also worth pointing out that anxiety and depression comes in a spectrum, and a lot of people who only experience a relatively mild depression or anxiety do find that supplements help. Burnout, as this article addresses, may well be helped by supplements, whereas something like agoraphobia probably wouldn’t be.
Sorry if I sound overly critical here!
Hi Mark, thanks for voicing your concerns. One thing I noticed while working with Tim on The 4-Hour Body is that there are always disagreements and skepticism about what actually works when it comes to individual health. I have this at the beginning of my book, and I should have included it in the post (I’ll probably add it in after this):
“I am not a health care professional, and while a lot of these chapters contain actionable advice that you can use in your life, this book is about MY experiences curing MY anxiety. What I did might work for you, or it might not. You need to figure that out for yourself by using your own judgment, not just by blindly following my advice (or anyone’s advice, really).”
What worked for me is backed up by a good amount of data and scientific research. The B12 may have been a placebo, I suppose, but I was tracking how I felt during the weeks I made that change. It helped my mental clarity significantly.
The one part of your comment I took issue with was the suggestion that TRE could cure the psychological effects of war. I didn’t make that claim, nor did I mean to trivialize what soldiers experience in any way. But Yash (above) is right in that Dr. Berceli developed that technique in war-torn areas of the world. It’s helped many soldiers / veterans.
Thanks for your thoughts!
You mentioned a ton of research backing up TRE. Any references? I’ve been provided with some TRE exercises by my healthcare contact. They mentioned research too but the references they provided were only to the inventor’s material.
There is strong snake oily smell on TRE and I have been trying to find research on it with no results so far. (That is how i found this article by the way)
Have you tried TRE Mark? I was diagnosed with severe PTSD and TRE has changed my life. Give it a shot before you dismiss it, you may be surprised : )
I appreciate this post and the focus on a holistic approach. Reducing caffeine was a big one for me as well as a regular exercise. A daily probiotic also helped. Getting away from the news and spending time outdoors is key as well. I also found some great breathing apps that really helped sync my breath and heartbeat to just slow down and be present with the breath. Cheers!
I recently read about Ivan Lendl and how he made to #1 in the tennis rankings by reducing his anxiety. This technique has worked well for me.
He called it the “Witnessing Technique” for coping. This explains it best:
“As Lendl drove to an autographing session at a cocktail party one evening, he described how it worked. “I try to get outside of my mind and simply observe what Ivan is doing. So right now, I say to myself, ‘Ivan has just made a left turn. He’s driving into the club; he’s looking at the BMW ahead, which has brake lights on. Now he’s putting his foot on his brake, because he sees a policeman who is going to check to ask where is going. He is not looking forward to this cocktail party at all, but he is going to try to make the best out of it. Now the policeman is waving him on, and he is parking his car.'”
The same exercise can obviously be applied to tennis. “Say you’re nervous before a match,” Lendl explain. “You admit it to yourself. You say, “S—, Ivan is nervous today. But he’s going to snap out of it.’ You describe what you are feeling, and then you let go of it. And it’s over.” Or, as Castori puts it, “The negativity passes because you haven’t been judging the situation, you’ve just been observing it.”*
*Copied From: http://www.menstennisforums.com/showthread.php?t=23444
I use this technique when any anxiety pops up. Firstly thinking of myself in the 3rd person instantly puts a smile on my face; by picturing myself as some guy from Eastern Europe learning English for the first time.
Secondly it gives me ‘permission’ to feel better. I realize ‘making a choice’ is easier said than done. However witnessing your actions makes the choice to not feel anxious an easier one…
I love this! Thanks Dean.
I believe Leo Babauta said it best over on Zen Habits. It’s a technique that is also free, effective, and keeps you in the moment: breathing. Here’s what Babauta has to say:
If you feel overwhelmed, breathe. It will calm you and release the tensions.
If you are worried about something coming up, or caught up in something that already happened, breathe. It will bring you back to the present.
If you are moving too fast, breathe. It will remind you to slow down, and enjoy life more.
Breathe, and enjoy each moment of this life. They’re too fleeting and few to waste.
I’ve found that the busiest parts of the day when I feel the most overwhelmed, the best thing I can do is stop, close my eyes, and just breathe.
Along with vitamins, I have found that some Essential oils have helped me as well. I concur that when growers produce the same crop year after, there is a reduction of a available nutrient. That being said, cultural practices of crop rotation and better soil testing have lead to better crop quality in commercial farming…but there is no substitute for home grown. Grow a garden or join a co-operative program where food items are grown closer and nutrient quality is better. Cheers!
I’m a musician and get anxiety like a mofo… even on the phone or trying to answer an email. There are times I’ve tried to write in a room by myself and got everything from sweaty palms to the crazy heartbeat and stuff.
One time, I got invited to play on a national broadcast before an audience of 4400. Oddly enough, I was nervous about the stuff that didn’t matter and felt no worries at all about the actual performance. It might have been the “novelty” of the situation or the fact I was in shock. When I got the call, I realized that this chance might never come again. I also acknowledged that despite my excitement, there was no guarantee that anything further would come from it.
So, I made the decision that I would go to have a great time and not even bother considering any potential future outcomes, good or bad. The singer I accompanied on the piano (and just met) had one run through, went out and did it, and had that lightning in a bottle moment. Best performance ever and a total blast.
Have you tried a beta blocker for performance anxiety?
Honestly, I’ve never tried them. A number of musicians swear by them, but I’m so personally averse to medication that I won’t even touch an aspirin. I won’t hate on those who do, but I’m not willing to experiment with them. (Don’t let TF read that last sentence!)
It might be my limited understanding, but I always saw the “greater problem” with anxiety as mental/emotional and not being able to focus on the task at hand. Worrying about the result, inundating myself with negative self-talk, and freaking out about mistakes do a lot more damage to me than shaking hands and my heart beating out of my chest. It may sound kind of weird, but I think I kind of need the latter!
In the particular instance I described above, I guess I was just so struck with it that I decided the mistakes and results didn’t matter and just went into it to enjoy it. Why it was easier for me to make and follow through with that decision before an audience of 4400 than it was before an audience of 20, I have no clue!
Congratulations. Good for you if you could manage it. it shows your anxiety was not high enough, if so you would be desperate for help, including medication. I find that when one’s coping mechanisms fail it is hard to return to a tolerable level of anxiety.
Interesting… I wasn’t aware I even gave you enough information to come to that conclusion. I mentioned one instance of success overcoming anxiety and referred to many more of non-success (without any details on the latter).
Not everyone believes in medication, regardless of their level of anxiety or “desperation.” Would you recommend beta blockers – a heart medication – to ANYONE who suffers from anxiety? Or is it just musicians? Would you be saying to anyone else responding to this thread that “if you REALLY had anxiety, then you’d be desperate for anything to solve it including medication”?
I don’t mean to come across too strong, but I’m really not understanding your logic, here.
Good article! Anxiety definitely needs to be kept in check and these are some great suggestions. However, I’d have to disagree on the B vitamins/mineral deficiency thing. Your better off just eating a healthy, well-balanced diet than you are trying to cure specific deficiencies somehow.
In the words of world renown strength and fitness coach Scott Abel:
“Oh yes, the “B” vitamins – sure to increase the cost of your urine content – A diabetic intervention study chose 238 participants who had kidney disease and either Type 1 or Type 2 diabetes and assigned these people to one of two groups – 1) one group received a combination of folic acid, vitamin B6, and the other group received the placebo – And the findings? – “The group taking the supplements had WORSE kidney function and twice as many medically compromising vascular events, compared to those taking the placebo.” – once again we see in controlled studies that isolated vitamins intake, make you sicker and metabolically imbalanced – not healthier! (Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) April 2010)”
Just received your book today.. looking forward to the read!
Taking folic acid instead of methylfolate is dangerous. And it can’t be taken without methylcobalamin either (it will deplete it fast). Very poorly designed study.
The best way I have found to stop a panic attack is similar to the thinking behind T.R.E.
You basically allow yourself to feel all the anxiois feelings, emotions, and physical manifestations and they will eventually pass. Dare them to do their worst to you. Really tell the panic to give you hell the feel it go until completion. You’ll be safe and then it will dissipate.
Your comment reminded me of that scene in fight club with the acid on the hand haha. “Stay with the pain!”
But this is kinda a buddhist way of thinking about it. The real insidious problem with anxiety is dwelling on the situation and the anticipatory dread of anxiety– not the anxiety itself. While anxiety really sucks, you may never be able to control it or eradicate it. You must then accept it. The only thing you can control is how you view it. Pain will always be there, but suffering doesn’t have to be. Once you alleviate feeling bad and all that’s left is the actual anxiety, it gets a lot better. Mine is pretty much gone, but like an alcoholic I never say I’m really cured haha.
Elliot Hulse had a video about this some time ago. Called it “bioenergetic catharsis”. Basically allowing all those random movement patterns to manifest in a crazy outburst of all your pentup energy. [Moderator: Link Removed]
Put here weeks ago, I experienced a post menopausal hip fracture and complete joint replacement. I cannot describe the tension that is building in my body. I am anxious to learn ways to quickly dissipate this tension . Please consider me in this contest to win a copy of Trauma Releasing Exercises.
The article was great. I can relate to much of this. I recently added hula hooping as a fun way to play and exercise. The great thing is you can share the activity with others or alone.
I like to decompress by spending time outside with my daughters, just walking, riding bikes, or kicking a soccer ball around. We also like to go the beach to walk and breathe in the salty air and put our toes in the sand….Ahhhh……instant relaxation! I agree with the pet therapy also….playing with our cats helps to reduce anxiety.
Loved your article…really great stuff. Especially interested in the T.R.E. Never heard of that before. As a BodyMindConnection Coach dealing with people who suffer Stress, Depression and Anxiety this could be really valuable tool. Thanks for sharing. Going to give that a go with me first.
Have you tried using Krill Oil for your omega 3’s?
I’ve dabbled with cod liver oil, regular fish oil capsules, and krill oil blows them out of the water for me. After a single dose, my ability to concentrate and my overall energy spikes considerably. Supposedly, it’s because the fatty acids in this oil are phospholipid bound, instead of in triglyceride form like regular fish and cod liver oil. The fats in our own cell walls are in the phospholipid form, and so this makes krill oil much more bioavailable for our bodies.
This seemed to be the best value brand for the money on amazon. Highly recommended! http://www.amazon.com/Krill-Oil-Omega-3-Supplement-Multi-Patented/dp/B005YC0KQ8
One of the best realizations for me was when it occurred to me that if my mind could take me to hell, I could teach it how to get out of hell, too.
Another was realizing just because I was thinking something or feeling something didn’t make it true.
Thanks for the tips!
Also, a big player in my greater emotional resilience in the last few years has been Oneness Blessings & meditation. Connecting to a sense of grace, mystery and community has been key. 🙂
Yes! Thank you so much for posting this! A simple and effective starter kit for all of us adults who have forgotten how to play – of course the gift of play is that it is infinite, so it is also always a learning process.
Water is something that is especially effective in helping me to decompress and breathe! Drinking water, taking a long bath or shower, playing in a creek, and finding a pool to thrash around in like a sea otter – it’s all good! Playing my drum kit is very relaxing as well – especially for my voice somehow.
What’s really fun though, is making faces! We tend to hold a lot of tension in our faces – everyday I give my face a massage from the outside, using my fingers and hands, and also from the inside, by contorting and twisting my face, sometimes in the mirror, sometimes not. It’s a good way to raise awareness as to where you tend to hold tension and also helps break it up.
@Tori, did you ever see that book Guardians Of Being by Eckhart Tolle? Nothing cheesy about it friend – animals are good friends and have so much to teach : )
I feel like you just singlehandedly, without knowing me, told me what has been wrong with me lately, I cannot wait to wake up in the morning, and try to begin to start applying these things to my life!
My favorite pre-bed relaxation read is poetry. Why? Because its beautiful and I love how it makes me feel, but I never understand it well to really re-engage my mind like most fiction does.
Funny thing with anxiety is you can experience if for years and not realize the damaging effect it is having on your mental and physical health the people around you.
It didn’t occur to me until I was in nursing school that anxiety can be crippling. Especially if you think you are getting sick or contracting illness in the work place all the time…
But now I reflect that it has impacted me at almost every stage…education, social relationships, sports performance, etc.
Ever since I got a dog I try to get out and hike in a de-stimulating environment …
I have struggled with anxiety most, if not all of my life. I didn’t really know what it was until I was in college and realized what I was feeling was not what others’ were experiencing. Medication helps tremendously, but I still get breakthrough bouts that can severely incapacitate me.
What I found really helps me is
1. Mindfulness-you have to be aware of what you are feeling. I’ve had weeks where I was constantly worried/on edge and would overeat, couldn’t sleep, was snappy. Once I realized/visualized/became aware of my anxiety (racing heart rate/thoughts, stomach upset, etc) it didn’t necessarily go away but I don’t let it control me.
2. Write things down-I now write down things that I need to do, are bothering me, worried about and magically, the anxiety goes away.
3. Distraction-kind of the opposite of mindfulness, I found that once I know anxiety was affecting me, I can concentrate on other things which reduces the anxiety, whether intense exercise, being absorbed in a book, playing a video game.
My anxiety peaked as my father was diagnosed and subsequently died of cancer in a 16 week span. I didn’t realize for a long time that I had something very akin to PTSD after the experience.
The tremor exercises sound really interesting. I have never heard of them until this blog post. I wonder if they might be a breakthrough. I have had Rx for anxiety since dad’s ordeal and I don’t think I need it anymore. I’d really rather try these alternatives.
I definitely find yoga to be the best thing for me – I start a class with no neck and all breathing reaching only as far as my chest and and a class lengthened, strengthened, renewed, recharged and revived. Sometimes I end up in a tearful puddle in corpse pose, but I find that emotional release as critical as any physical challenge.
One more: Broccoli in one place does equal broccoli in another, for instance.
I’m thinking does *not*.
As a young person struggling with post-graduate life, searching for meaningful work, relationships and friends – this article was exactly what I needed.
I recently moved to New York City to pursue Improv comedy after taking a class last month in Chicago. It changed my life. This article provides me with more ways to continue that progression away from anxiety and closer to a satisfying peace of mind.
My advice on reducing anxiety: Always be yourself. Don’t spend your precious time trying to meet the expectations of others. Wake up in the morning and remind yourself about your goals, your ambitions and your desires. These will ground you, in YOU, and help you remain focused and alert. Anxiety will be replaced by productivity and happiness.
Good luck everyone. And, thank you, Charlie.
My favorite method for overcoming anxiety: Ultimate Frisbee!
Fantastic article Charlie. My favorite technique is to listen to deep relaxation audio in my car at lunchtime. Really helps break up the day like your nap suggestion. Thanks!
I used to have anxiety a couple of years ago……not sure if it was intuition or just accident that I started practicing Yoga and also started doing breathing exercises….(“quantum light breath” helped me a lot which I did for sometime).
Over time, as I got more experienced with Yoga and energy, I realized that most people (especially men) are not aware of their “energy” bodies. Women usually are very much in tune with their energy bodies (I think the reason for this is differences in pelvic structure of men and women).
In any case, anxiety, in my opinion, is a result of trapped energy (when energy is not able to move freely through the body – it manifests in different forms – anxiety, anger, sexual dysfunctions etc.
When you get anxious, pay attention to where in your body you feel the anxiety….for me it was the belly area.
I think the TRE mentioned here helps somehow with moving energy through the body better.
Simple breathing in your belly for 15 minutes every morning can do miracles as well.
Whatever you choose to do to release/overcome anxiety, just make sure you’re really present. You can’t be fully present and be anxious at the same time. For me, spending time playing with my kids works a treat, as does any form of exercise, so long as I focus on the exercise itself.
Love it Charlie. My brother and I’s favorite evening play activity is called “Drunk Driving”. Fill a Nalgene up with your favorite 3 buck chuck wine from Trader Joes. Then head down to your local golf driving range. Golf is fun when its mildly competitive and involves drinking!
Might want to think of a new name for this, but the concept is delightful.
1. I love to go to the Reflexologist at the shopping mall. She gives a very intense foot and leg massage that leaves me feeling terrific
2. Feed birds at the park. Makes me feel like a million dolars to feed wild animals
3. Self hypnosis. I was trained in the pain clinic of our state university to lead hypnosis in others for the sake of pain research and relief. As part of that training I was taught self-hypnosis. Once you learn the procedure it’s very simple and effective
4. Practicing “tiny habits’ as taught by BJ Fogg at Stanford. He teaches a method for learning new habits and it gives me a feeling of mastry in small things (or should I say “tiny”) that calms me down.
I use “to do” lists to manage anxiety. I write out everything that is on my plate and prioritize tasks, often planning when I will do them. Seeing everything that I need to do on paper and seeing an actual plan to get everything done puts me back in the driver’s seat and it all feel much less overwhelming. Also, I usually add some quick tasks, so that I can start crossing things off my list right away and feel like I have accomplished something.
I am really excited to read this book. I was recently in my hometown and had dinner with a wonderful old friend. He’s the type of guy that everyone wants to be around… Always happy and focuses on what is important. He asked me, “so what do you like to do for fun these days?” I stared at him speechless. I honestly could not remember the last time I had fun. Between raising two kids, managing a high stress career, and trying not to be the world’s crappiest wife, fun was just something I didn’t have time for. This realization shocked and terrified me, and I decided that fun needed to be a part of my life once more.
Interesting post! I’m taking away some good tips here, esp the part about tuning out the news. but I really must heed Tim’s advice to actually *schedule* these techniques because for us type A’s it’s very easy to fill all the gaps w/ work and “have to’s.” I am the type to pack my days and always thought I thrived on it but recently noticed how burnt out I’ve become and how sick I am of meetings after work and weeks filled with obligations instead of anything fun. I became exhausted and bitter about some commitments that should have been fun. It started to affect my relationships because I never had time for my family because I made myself so busy. I thought about scaling back for years but the time was never right. There was *always* a project or really an excuse holding me back. Unfortunately it took a major health scare to put it in perspective for me. If I were to die today would I want my last day to be spent indoors in a a meeting? And these were volunteer meetings! I wasn’t even getting paid! So I spent a Monday morning composing my “resignation letters” to various boards and organizations. I saved them all in a file called “the art of letting go” and upon emailing them immediately felt better. The funny thing to me was all the replies I got from fellow volunteers and colleagues telling me how they completely understood and wistfully wished they could do the same. They can! I’m not glued to my calendar or phone anymore and I can easily plan a massage or a haircut or make time for a bike ride or yoga class since I now have time to fit it in. Thanks so much for the writing this post! I admire your courage, Charlie.
Excellent posts on anxiety! I’ve suffered from it for 15 years. For me I found getting everything (all my open loops) out of my head. I use a system called GTD (Get a Things Done). Everything I want, need, or have to do, no matter how far or immediate in the future, I get out of my head and on to paper (my mental inbox). Once it’s out of my head, I’m not afraid of forgetting about it. The system also goes into how to process your inbox which I won’t get into but the point is, it gets all the things making me anxious out of my mental RAM.
I find that my anxiety centers around trying to fill every moment of my time with productivity. I make lists of to-dos and feel guilty when I’m not working on them. To break this cycle, I usually need to set aside time for ‘pointless’ activity.
When I recognize that tightness in my chest while I’m being ‘productive’, I take a break to really enjoy something. For me, this usually just a cup of good coffee. While I sit with it, I just pay attention to enjoying the coffee, and nothing else. Taking an idea from Tim and keeping the barriers to entry low, I’ll set aside just a minimum 2 minutes of this nonproductive activity (which usually becomes ten).
Congrats on taking back your life, Charlie, and for sharing your story for others. Your removal of news reminded me of something Andrew Weil once said. He said you need to take a news break. Constant exposure to bad, horrible things (the news) makes you feel powerless and frightened. With chronic exposure your body doesn’t know these things aren’t happening to YOU. I stopped watching the news that day. I’m not missing anything. Bad news travels fast and there are no shortages of transmission. I am still aware of the world around me I’m just not locked in. There is only this one life and I feel I owe it to my ancestors to lead as fun and fulfilling life as I can. This is not a dress rehearsal! (I am a former workaholic, cured and retired!!).
Many people act as if the body’s responses of anxiety or fear are some how “lower” than how the rational mind operates, but this couldn’t be further from the truth.
The body and the mind are intrinsically linked together. How you treat your body effects how and what you think about. This can be proven by that fact that many of us are able to think more clearly, get more work done, and be more productive when we eat healthy, get exercise, and drink plenty of water.
Studies have show that exercise and diet have a direct effect on hormone levels such as Testosterone and GH. Both of which, especially testosterone, has been proven to reduce instances of depression.
We need to stop treating the body as if it were some “lower” aspect of our being, as if it the mind would be capable of pursuing its ideals if it weren’t tethered to the body. The fact is, they both need to be optimally functioning in order for one or the other to be able to function at full capacity or anywhere near it!
Bikram works well for me. I love the feeling of being physically wrung out at the end of class, the calm of the guided class and focusing on my breath to slow down my heart rate while struggling just to get through class. One of our teachers likes to say during the savasanas that you’re just a body on a mat. Somehow I find this incredibly soothing. That change to my life promoted me to eat cleaner and quit gluten, which was life changing-I was able to come off a low dose andi-depressant after ten years. Thank you for all these tips, I don’t doubt the effectiveness of TRE for someone like me who’s had low grade chronic stress, I can’t imagine the effect on someone who’s been to war or suffered childhood abuse though. I suspect our bodies are more intelligent than we realize and it would be much harder to eliminate/reduce intense grief/suffering that’s trapped in the body.
Oh and another good one for me is Pandora’s chill out and 90’s hip hop channels while driving.
And deep tissue ( to the point of pain) massage.
Helpful read! I am a freelancer and often work from home. I find that if i stay cooped up in the house for too long, my world becomes smaller and many anxieties begin to develop. Purposely finding myself outdoors or in another environment calms me down and usually inspires me to do fun, side projects.
I also make sure that I reflect each day on the things, events, or people im grateful for or appreciate. I write this down either in a journal or a piece of paper and drop it into a happy jar. On the days when im feeling down, i can look back on these and they help to take me out of a tight spot.
Thanks for the article Charlie. This is so important for everyone these days, not just internet workers.
I run an outdoor adventure website so I have to get outside once in a while for new content for the website. I feel good on those outdoor days or on days I hit the CrossFit gym or play some lunchtime floor hockey. I eat mostly paleo but can’t help but wonder if I’m deficient in something as I don’t feel 100% many days. I’m going to look into those micronutrient tests.
I try to live in the present moment and it helps my anxiety a lot.
Anxiety sends me out too far away from myself, like I’m in space trying to land on an unknown planet….so I pull out my family photo albums. Flipping through the eras of thick black and whites, seeing those shiny faces and embracing the recognition factors brings me to such a profound comfort level. All kinds of emotions are brought up and perhaps they replace the chaos just long enough for me to catch my breath. It helps me to simply change my mind.
Yes Tim, great article!! You are spot on with micronutrient deficiencies–especially if you are vegan (I am). One note: methylcobalamin is better absorbed and retained in your tissues than cyanocobalamin but is a little more difficult to find. Cyanocobalamin is most common in cheap B-12 supplements, energy drinks etc. In fact, skip the energy drinks altogether and brew some homemade kombucha. Again, you are right on with probiotics and kombucha has lots with plenty of benefits. Making a batch is super easy, fun and very inexpensive. Finally with respect to unplugging, I get a massive workout by volunteering at a farm animal rescue called Farm Sanctuary. Once a week every Thursday, I leave Los Angeles and drive up to the farm for animal health checks. Tons of physical activity (try trimming pigs and goats hooves for several hours…), fresh air, and most importantly a connection with all types of animals I would not otherwise get a chance to be close to. Although I am helping animals, it is my sanctuary. My mental, spiritual and physical health benefit more from this than anything else I do.
I used to look around and see mass society ignoring their health and life as if it didn’t matter. I knew there was a better way. Then I began finding people like Tim and Charlie who opened my eyes to “the new cool” which is health, happiness, and self improvement.
I’m glad I found you guys. Sharing your stories and life lessons has greatly impacted my life for the better. Because of your many successes, I have the drive to move forward everyday.
While I very appreciate the information Charlie has presented here, I have to give a differing view point.
I remember the first time I was in my teens and experienced severe anxiety, I thought I was going crazy. In an effort to find a solution, a day or so later I read some articles, quite similar to Charlie’s, about overcoming anxiety in one’s life.
The suggestions revolved around doing exercise, having fun, cutting out caffeine, and getting enough sleep. As I tried to incorporate them into my life over the next few weeks or so, I found that, in the big picture of the anxiety I was experiencing, they were completely unhelpful. I would feel a little better after a good workout, jog, or spending enjoyable time with friends, but overall nothing about my anxiety really changed. I felt devastated, and I was sure I was doing them, the activities, wrong or that I wasn’t committed enough to them. The sleep one was difficult to do because I was far, far too anxious to sleep at night. In the end, the failure of the methods made me feel even more anxious.
That first period of severe anxiety happened 14 years ago. In those 14 years since then and through my search for a way to treat my severe anxiety, I have found that there are two types of anxiety. There is mild to moderate anxiety, which while only mild to moderate still feels terrible. This level of anxiety is greatly helped by activities like having fun, exercising, and getting good sleep.
Beyond moderate anxiety, however, lies a whole world of severe, and beyond, anxiety levels. This is anxiety that makes it impossible to even think of sleep and much less function in any normal manner on a day to day basis. In my opinion, this type of severe anxiety requires professional treatment of some kind. It took me a long time realize that it wasn’t a failure of certain anxiety self-treatment methods, but rather that anxiety, like other emotions, comes in all different amounts, types, and intensities. If I had know that truth sooner, i would have been able to get real help sooner.
The take-home message is that if methods such as exercise, sleep, cutting out caffeine, and having fun don’t work for you, don’t hesitate to get professional help. Things like CBT (cognitive behavior therapy) or medications can be of significant use for treating severe anxiety.
Totally agree J, thanks so much for writing this out. If the techniques you can try on your own aren’t working, reach out to a professional. There’s nothing wrong with asking for help.
Thank you Charlie, this is a very helpful post. What has worked for me for many years is doing a Loving-Kindness type of meditation. You start with yourself (that is a rule!), and then you apply it to the people you care about one by one. Call up a picture of that person in your mind. Then say, or think:
“May this person [you may use person’s name here] be free of danger and harm.
May this person be free of fear and rage.
May this person have mental happiness, physical happiness, ease of well-being and long life.”
You become suffused with the feeling of that person, you experience a growing sense of calm, and you let yourself become free. This helped me with anxiety about my children.
To overcome anxiety, I write down what is troubling me. Below that I write down:
1. Things I can do to prevent the anxiety causing event from occuring.
2. Things I can do to cope with the aftermath if the event does occur.
Then I prioritize, sequence and schedule the tasks written under point 1, and start taking action on the first task. I find that this gives me a sense of control and progress and the anxiety goes away 99% of the time.
Thank you Charlie for your wonderful article!!! I’ve suffered anxiety/depression on and off for 20 years (10 of which I was medicated). Recently it culminated in self harm. Since that wake up call I’ve made significant changes including cutting out caffeine, cigarettes, alcohol, doing yoga and Zumba, and walking and playing with my dogs and partner. I’ve had my nutrient levels tested and subsequently take a multivitamin, iron, zinc, probiotic and krill oil as well as some great supplements for anxiety/depression. Less than a week ago I “plugged out” of news and Facebook. OMG that feels great!! I vow to spend more time playing with my friends and…I think learning to be completely honest with myself about myself is important. I have never heard about T.R.E – but look forward to learning more. Again, thanks for having the courage to share your story and providing such simple, yet effective techniques.
When having panic attacks, I recently found that I was focusing on what it felt like the last time I had one, and not the situation itself that caused it. That realization has now helped me have fewer attacks. I also found that, like you, the more I exercise and get outside and am active, my attacks have been less frequent. When I do have one, splashing really cold water or rubbing an ice cube on my face does wonders.
Thanks for the post. I’m already thinking of ways to incorporate some of your suggestions in my own anti-anxiety routine. It’s so cool to see confirmation of my own experience that anxiety isn’t really this mental demon. It’s just a series of choices and actions…and so easily reversible.
My Morning Ritual:
Wake up a little earlier than I need to (after 8 hours of sleep obviously)
Make a cup of coffee just the way I like it (or any beverage of your choice)
Pick a spot outside…in the garden, on the porch, by a window…
Look at the world, see how beautiful it is
Taste the coffee, really relish it.
Cultivate some awe (as I look at the clouds, I try to remember how big they really are, or I think of what we know about space…whatever it takes.)
Think about how good the day before was…all the big/small things that were cool, fun, funny…whatever.
The beauty of this little ritual is that it trains your brain to look out for the good stuff. Pretty soon you start noticing them all through the day.
I’ve also began to notice when I’m being negative in a particular situation. In noticing that, I’ve also been able to make choices about how I look at those situation, how I act etc. Actual stressful situations are much less so for me.
I practice and teach yoga. I also unplug when I’m on vacation. Though, I must confess to playing catch up when I get back online.
My favourite method to cope with anxiety?
Bang out some grooves on the drums! I get in PLAY and some awesome physical activity.
But then, I have understanding family and neighbours.
Tim- thanks so much for curating Charlie’s amazingness for this crucial selfcare post! i don’t know either of you personally- but am blown away at the quality and comprehensiveness that’s being shared…thank you!!
My fave techniques for dealing with anxiety:
#1 wash it off—this is a daily ritual i do at night before i got to bed…either a nice long hot candlelit shower until all my aches & cares are washed down the drain or a soothing hot soak in the tub (candles and a few drops of lavender essential oil always a plus for calming the nerves)…i’ll even take a mid-day hot shower or soak if i’m feeling super anxious- so helpful!
#2 Emotional Freedom Technique aka EFT aka Tapping—this was introduced to me 7 years ago and I totally thought it was crazy so I made fun of it, but two years ago I was working on a major project and someone well respected recommended it, so i hired a professional, tried it again- has changed my life! (it’s free and you can do it anywhere- gotta love that)
#3 Bouncing + Gratitude List—this is a double whammy (in the best way possible)…the bouncing just makes me feel silly and laugh out loud which creates an instant energy shift and then I write or say 100 things I’m grateful for. Anxiety melter + Heart expander in one!
i could go on and on…i love this conversation!! 🙂
I think what 2 things help me the most that I am already doing is yoga and whole body vibration through a Goga Studio. I like the way both help me to relax. In a way after reading the article I can maybe understand why WBV works for me.
I have a wii and like just moving from pose to pose.
Also keeping clutter at bay helps me not be as anxious. I also do the vitamin stuff, making sure I have enough vitamins to want to get up in the morning is crucial for my well-being. Otherwise I have people starting my day off by banging on my door
When I feel physical symptoms like a panic attack is coming on, i try to remember that the symptoms are “distressing but not dangerous” – a phrase I learned in a self-help group nearly ten years ago. It still works, and helps me remember I’m not having some kind of cardiac event… it’s just anxiety and I’ve had it many times before.
Best post ever! I also overcame anxiety with using most of these hacks. Thank you so much for sharing! Very inspiring and motivating.
A few notes about nutrition:
a) Chia seeds are also a great source of (short-chain) omega-3 fatty acids. For long-chain ones, there are numerous vegan supplements at this point, generally based on processed algae – there’s no need for fish oil.
b) Most young adult vegetarians are *not* deficient in vitamin B12; numbers vary widely from study to study. That said, it is an extremely common deficiency, and is more common in people over 40 and vegetarians. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23356638
c) Vitamin D deficiency is also very common; it’s worth getting tested for.
d) It’s probably worth increase the amount of vitamin K2 to your diet; it’s under-studied, but looks promising for bone and arterial health, due to regulating calcium. Natto is by far the best source; nonetheless, a variety of animal sources (like gouda, egg yolks, and organ meats) and sauerkraut still contain enough to be correlated with a positive effect in the Rotterdam study. I’m unaware of any direct tests for deficiency of this vitamin, and unaware of whether testing undercarboxylated osteocalcin is actually a good proxy.
Agreed! Flax seed, chia seed, and nuts are great for omegas.
I’ve been vegan since 2009 and just recently had my blood work done. I did not have a B12 deficiency. Likewise, my long-term vegan husband just had his blood work done and was not B12 deficient. My long-term vegan colleague and her fiance ALSO had blood work done in the last month and also were not B12 deficient. It’s an unfair generalization to say that vegans and vegetarians are surely B12 deficient. Responsible vegans take a B12 supplement (I recommend Deva which I buy on Amazon). Interestingly, Charlie himself noted that he ate meat nearly daily and came up deficient. The only 2 people I know who have iron deficiency/anemia are omnivores and eat meat all the time. Everyone eating all diets should be careful to get enough B12 (and have nutritional balance in general).
Thanks for posting this. Has a lot of good ideas here. I think the sugar one may be a good one to try out.
To be honest I haven’t found a way to reduce my anxiety 🙁
Like Charlie I’ve tried so many things that typically help people with stress and anxiety, although to be honest I’m not a typical person!!
Good point about news intake. I used to watch BBCWorld while having breakfast, and one story about global warming could cast a pall over my day. And you should see the news here in Turkey – they add bangs, crashes and dramatic music to stress you out even more (Carmina Burana is a favourite). Although I still read a couple of online news sources occasionally, I’d say replace news-reading with news-making – even if it’s on a tiny “clicktivism” scale. Subscribe to something you believe in (360 degrees, Kiva, AllOut, the Harry Potter Alliance, whatever) then sign the petitions, share on social media, donate etc. Then get on with your life. Much of the time people consume news because they feel guilty if they don’t, but the information doesn’t benefit anyone. A minute of action is worth hours of consumption.
Great post, really struck a chord with me as I’ve spent the last four years fighting my anxieties and thought I had tried everything. It’s a huge relief to see some new ideas and a couple of fresh insights on things I thought were tried-and-tested.
Quick question though, I’ve been wanting to get a full micronutrient test done for a while but living in the UK I’m having trouble finding somewhere that offers it. Can anyone recommend somewhere?
One more tip: as Tim recommends elsewhere, read the Stoics. Seneca was a Roman senator and also the former tutor of and occasional adviser to the emperor Nero – I don’t think you can get a more anxiety-inducing job than that. Oh wait, you can: Epictetus was a slave living under constant threat of torture and death. Or if management stresses you out, there’s always Marcus Aurelius. At least CEOs don’t usually have to worry about plagues, civil war and barbarian invasions. These guys needed to come up with _serious_ stress reduction techniques.
A lot of these tips sound good for generalized, all-day anxiety–especially exercise and a good amount of sleep. I’ve found that staying away from activities that can be endlessly cycled through–checking email, watching news or reading blogs, for example–is also really important, as is staying away from too much digital stimulation.
I try to set aside time each day for some deep breathing. I sit somewhere comfortable and use the white noise or rain generators at SimplyNoise to help block out distractions and to help me focus on just breathing.
When a serious, out-of-control panic attack strikes, though, distraction is the most valuable tactic in my arsenal. It’s easy for your thought processes to spiral out of control when physical symptoms like elevated heart rate, nausea or dizziness strike, and in that condition even something physical like walking around is difficult.
During those serious panic attacks, video games have been a lifesaver for me. Nothing on a device with a touchscreen, or the phone you do work on! A dedicated gaming device with buttons that give physical feedback is extremely comforting. On the go, the Nintendo DS or 3DS has some low-intensity classics like Zelda, Mario or the super-mellow Animal Crossing. If I’m at home, At home, I’ve got even more to choose from, like Portal, Journey, or the Persona games. With only a PC and the internet, an endless runner like Robot Unicorn Attack works too. The goal isn’t to fritter away a bunch of time, just distract your mind from thoughts that increase your anxiety until the physical symptoms abate.
Very nice article.
I would like to add one more hint: there are two kind of stress
– extrageous stress coming from outside body
– intraneous stress which root cause are inside the body.
Extrageous stress is strongly related to lifestyle, environment and the impact those can have on the body!
Intraneous stress is strongly related to some subtle misfunction of the body.
What if your brain receives false message about status of organs ? It would trigger reaction which is not corresponding to any kind of inner reality.
What if the brain receives false messages about the health of the heart ? saying that heart is not good ! It would trigger very high stress reaction, causing high anxiety attacks !
What if the brain receives fake messages about the emptyness of your lung ? while this one if already empy ! Brain will try to empty it more and then you have a asthma crisis !!
Intraneous stress is easely created by misalignment of bones. Think about how your nerves are going out from backbone to organe.
It has to go through little holes between connection of backbone and ribs.
If ribs are misplaced (which easely occur durring a life : bike fall, wrong sitting position, school fight and bad punch in the chest…) then those little holes are not wide enough and compress the nerve which goes out, which potentially create noise on the line (fake message). The brain then will trigger some reaction totally unrelated to any kind of physicall reality !
Its not from me ! Its not a weird theory.
It is what is called “medecine des structures” which was discovered by a french guy who tried to explain why his son died of an asthma crisis.
You can find more information on http://www.asthma-reality.com
And i really invite you to look into IT!
There are several practitionners of this method in Canada.
And the french creator is now living in Urugay which can help those american people to reach him.
Have fun to a better health
Hi all – great read!
My anxiety busting secret is 20 minutes UNCRITICAL meditation FIRST thing, EVERY day.
In my third year of meditating without fail every morning and has only really been within the last twelve months that I have been able to consitently practice every morning.
I don’t do anything fancy – just set the timer on my phone for a 20 mins countdown, find myself a quiet room to be alone in and sit with my thoughts.
No intention, judgement or consideration on whether it was ‘good or bad’ or ‘better than yesterday’ – I just do it.
Has been the one thing I have tried that has considerably changed my life. I look forward to the sessions every morning and it motivates me to get out of bed and have my 20 mins before hitting the day.
Give it a try – this website is what I used to get started: http://www.getsomeheadspace.com/index.aspx
But meditation gives me really bad anxiety because I fuck it up every time.
TRE i.e. trauma releasing exercises assist the body in releasing deep muscular patterns of stress, tension and trauma. It was invented by Dr. David Berceli, PhD, TRE activates a natural reflex mechanism of vibrating that releases muscular tension, calm down the nervous system. When this muscular vibrating mechanism is activated the body is encouraged to return back to a state of balance.
So it is best to practice these exercises to cure your stress and other stress related problems. [Moderator: link removed]