Over 40 million Americans struggle with anxiety, and it can cripple your mind and body. I know from personal experience.
Ten years ago, I struggled with it severely. For six weeks straight, it made me feel like I was having a heart attack.
Tingles ran from the top of my head down to my fingertips. I had a tight chest, elevated heart rate, and couldn’t catch my breath.
This went on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The symptoms were so intense that I checked into an emergency room — twice.
(By the way, if you ever go to a busy emergency room and want to get to the front of the line, just say you’re having a heart attack. They’ll take you to the back right away!)
There I was, a 30-year-old, world-famous exercise guru with his workouts featured in Men’s Health magazine each month, and I thought I was dying!
My personal business was taking off, and I was making more money than most my peers. Despite all this, I was at the lowest point of my life.
In retrospect, burning the candle at both ends was the root of my anxiety. Each night, I’d go out to bars and chase girls until 3 a.m. Then I’d wake at 7 a.m., work 12 hours at a frenetic pace, and then I’d do it all over again.
The emergency room doctor sent me home wearing a heart rate monitor. When I returned it 24 hours later, she looked at the data and told me that, physically, I was fine.
So I looked for more answers.
I got into yoga and Qi Gong. The practices taught me how to improve my breathing, which lowers your body’s stress response. I practiced those regularly and also researched my problems.
I realized that working more hours and chasing more opportunities (in both business and in bars) didn’t work for me. It left me scattered and stressed.
The solution, for me, was to become laser focused on my top priority in my personal and professional life, and to learn to say no to piling on more and more commitments.
I needed better systems and more structure in my life.
Paulo Coelho, author of The Alchemist, says it best: “Discipline and freedom are not mutually exclusive, but mutually dependent, because otherwise, you would sink into chaos.”
For example, imagine your city without any traffic lights. Intersections would be utter chaos and your daily commute would be as dangerous as Russian roulette.
That’s why we have rules of the road. The structure of traffic lights, stop signs, and speed limits allows us to get to our destination safely so we can enjoy freedom in our lives.
Likewise, when you put more discipline and better rituals into your daily routines, you can overcome any obstacle in your way, reduce your anxiety, and achieve your big goals and dreams.
Here’s how to do just that.
Create a NOT To Do List.
I thought I needed to do a thousand different things to grow my brand. In reality, I needed to cut out all the extras and hone in on the projects that delivered the biggest return — both emotionally and financially.
Once I did that, I eliminated unnecessary stress — and grew my bottom line.
Indeed, your solution is not to build a mountainous to-do list, it’s to build a NOT to do list. Here’s where I started:
1. Do NOT Check Your Email First Thing In the Morning.
When you check your email outside of work, you’re just asking yourself to get wrapped up in the stressful drama of things that can probably wait until you’re actually in the office. So don’t check email until you’re actually in the office.
Devote your newfound morning time to working on a big project you truly want or need to finish.
2. Do NOT Hit the Snooze Button.
One habit I follow religiously is that I go to sleep at the same time each night and and wake up at the same time each morning. And I never hit the snooze button.
Hitting the snooze button gives you another couple minutes of sleep, but when it wakes you up again, you’re often groggier than you would be if you had gotten up the first time.
Sticking to your scheduled sleep and wake-up time seven days a week gives you extra time and energy, and eliminates the stress that comes with running late.
3. Do NOT Miss Your Workouts or Self-Care Rituals.
You know what it’s like to fall off track with your diet and workouts. Whether it’s a weekend party or a couple of months of missing the gym, skipping your self-care rituals (diet, exercise, massage, meditation, yoga, etc.) increases your anxiety levels and stresses you out.
Your workouts will give you time to think, and to boost your immune system so you fight off the colds that are running through your office. Even though you’ll feel like you are too busy for exercise, it’ll help you get more done in the long run.
As Richard Branson says: “One hour of exercise gives me four extra hours of productivity each day.”
4. Do NOT Have More Than Two Drinks At a Time.
Drinking alcohol can take the edge off, but it can also spike your stress and create next-day anxiety.
Set a limit on drinks before you go out, and recruit an accountability partner to keep you responsible. Two drinks are more than enough for Christmas cheer, but without risking a holiday hangover.
5. Do NOT Forget to Breathe.
As it turns out, when I struggled with anxiety, I had no idea how to breathe properly.
We often take short, shallow breaths from our upper chest when we are stressed, and that only makes the situation worse. Short, shallow breaths increase the hormone known as adrenaline, a compound associated with our “fight or flight” response.
What’s worse is that when you breathe incorrectly and consume a lot of caffeine and alcohol, your adrenaline levels spike, leaving you feeling the physical sensation of a heart attack (or, at least, severe anxiety).
But when I started breathing correctly, slowly and deeply from my belly, it felt like the weight of the world was lifted from my shoulders.
Here’s what you need to do the next time you feel anxiety attacking:
1) Take a big, deep breath in through your nose, filling your belly with air, over four seconds.
2) Hold the air in your belly for seven seconds.
3) Exhale slowly through your lips over a period of eight seconds.
Just two rounds of this deep, slow breathing exercise is enough to calm your nervous system, and it’s the perfect antidote for performance anxiety in the boardroom, bedroom, and dining room (should you have to give this year’s holiday toast).
It can even help you drift off to sleep at night. Just add two more rounds and you’ll improve your ability to fall asleep naturally.
These simple strategies will help you sleep better, control your anxiety, overcome your stress, and perform better so that you make the rest of the year the best of the year.