In my early 20’s I came face-to-face with an enemy that came to destroy my life. It took away my happiness, my ability to sleep, and made me physically ill. That enemy’s name is “anxiety.”
I was your stereotypical entrepreneur… Constantly “hustling” and “grinding” because “money never sleeps.” I sacrificed time with friends, my wife, and family in order to keep plugging away at my dreams.
Breaks? Rest? Recovery? Non-existent in my vocabulary.
Then, it all came crashing down.
I was generating a great income… But the non-stop “hustle and grind” came at an enormous price.
I began waking up in the middle of the night with gripping panic attacks. My wife Emily woke up to hear me breathing heavily, gripping my chest, and she asked, “What’s going on?”
“I think I’m dying.”
After assessing me, she assured me I was (sadly) experiencing a panic attack.
If I wasn’t dying, I may as well be. This was no way to live.
The cycle continued for weeks and months as I had no idea how to stop this. It felt quite dark as this was a “new normal” in my life.
Thankfully, I had the guts to finally speak up. I went out to lunch with a friend and shared what was happening to me. He gave me the phone number to a professional who helped others with the same struggle.
Step 1 to Stop Anxiety: Recognize Your Thought Patterns
During my time with a mental health professional, I learned a lot about myself and the thought patterns I had developed.
If you’re looking for help to stop anxiety, please receive an assessment from a doctor or medical professional to get a full health assessment and be transparent about what you’re experiencing.
Once you’ve received an assessment from your medical doctor, you can look at resources like Psychology Today to find a mental health professional to work with.
If you’ve worked with technology, you know that when we open up a new device, it’s set up with default settings. These are the settings that the device is set with from the factory.
I learned that my “default setting” became programmed to catastrophize situations. In other words, if a problem arose, I’d take it to the biggest, worst-case scenario each time.
It could be as innocuous as “This client canceled their contract; I’m going to lose all my other clients and will end up homeless on the street.”
Or, it could be as horrible as “My head hurts, oh no, I have a brain tumor. I’m going to die.”
Let’s think about your default settings…
What are your thought patterns like? Do you ever catastrophize situations?
Are there certain themes that cause you to go into “catastrophe mode?” For some people they are related to finances, health, safety. For some, they struggle with all of their thoughts.
Each person is different. The first key is to become self-aware of our own thoughts.
If you recognize yourself spinning into “catastrophe mode,” recognize it and catch it. Stop your negative thought patterns in their tracks with a physical cue.
Snap your fingers and say “no!” if you find yourself in a loop of negative thoughts. Then, immediately shift your thoughts and attention to a positive intention.
This is a way to reset your default settings and put into place new custom settings that will serve you better.
Step 2: Get It Out of Your Head
One of my favorite tools to alleviate stress and to stop anxiety is the brain dump exercise that Craig Ballantyne teaches.
When working with our coaching clients at Early to Rise, we ask our clients to do a brain dump at the end of each day to get any pending items that could be floating around in your head out and onto paper.
Remember – tomorrow starts today. How do you have a great tomorrow? Plan for it today! Here’s how…
Doing the brain dump exercise is quite simple. Just get an idea-capturing device, such as a journal, notepad on your cell phone, or a piece of paper, and start writing down everything you’re thinking about.
Here’s an example of what it can look like:
- Finish blog post for EarlyToRise.com by 12pm tomorrow.
- Prep notes for meeting with Derek.
- Talk to Daniel regarding May Mastermind topic.
- Prepare Q2 goals and new product launch by Wednesday’s meeting.
- Email CMHS about Friday’s 3:15pm game
- Ask Maddy to schedule oil change for the truck.
- Call Mom & Dad – it’s been 3 days since I’ve spoken with them
- Switch Zoom to annual billing.
- Order more protein powder by Friday.
- Organize notes for call with Andrew.
- Ask Maddy to price out hotels on AMEX for Spain trip in July.
- Feeling sluggish today after lunch. Not sure if I’m hydrating enough?
- IG reel idea: Hiring an assistant
- Date night ideas for next week: Habana, Onotria for dinner?
- Not sure why I keep getting frustrated with conversations with John Doe. Something to journal about.
Notice that in this brain dump example, there are to-do’s and also random thoughts.
It’s your brain dump… Do whatever feels right for you. But I’ll tell you what, this exercise has continually helped me to stop anxiety.
Our long-term memory can hold an unlimited number of items. From memories to knowledge, special moments, traumatic events, and everything in-between… Your brain is a supercomputer.
It is limited, however, in the number of items it can retain in its short-term memory.
We can generally hold onto about 25-30 items in our short-term memory, and even that is pushing it.
By conducting the brain dump exercise, we’re taking the items floating in our short-term memory and getting it out.
Then, once it’s written down, we can prioritize the items and based upon David Allen’s teachings in Getting Things Done, we decide to either do it, delegate it, or dump it.
If you prioritize your biggest items prior to starting your day, you’ll come into work knowing what your main priorities are!
Now you can rest easy in the evening knowing that the essential items are not only out of your brain but will now be waiting for you first thing in the morning to tackle during your magic time.
Step 3: Take Action
I have good news and I have bad news.
The bad news first… Anxiety doesn’t disappear on its own. It takes work.
You’re reading an article written by a guy who had such bad anxiety I could barely leave my house.
Last year, I logged tens of thousands of miles on an airplane flying between Southern California and Dubai, Idaho, Barcelona, Bangkok, Berlin, and more.
I’ve come a long way, and so can you.
Does this mean I don’t struggle with anxious moments? Of course not. But, I’ve retrained my “default settings” to change how I think.
You have this ability. It might take work, but you have the ability to stop anxiety.
It just takes you getting some small wins so that you can build belief in yourself. Once you build a little bit of belief and confidence, then you’re able to take bigger and bolder steps.
Your world begins to expand, and anxiety begins to shrink as you build momentum.
Remember what Craig teaches – Action beats anxiety.
If you take ACTION, it won’t give you an opportunity to ruminate and worry. Just get moving. Get started… TODAY.
Do you need help from your doctor or mental health professional to stop anxiety? Take action… TODAY.
The formula is straightforward.
- Recognize your negative thought patterns when they’re happening, and stop them.
- Get it out of your head. Do the brain dump exercise daily.
- Take action. Action beats anxiety!
As with any skill, you may struggle with this at first. I can promise you that if you put in the work to do the things laid out here, it WILL get better.
It takes hard work, but there is a world of freedom, happiness, and joy beyond anxiety.
It’s ready for you… Now it’s your turn to get to work!