I struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life.
It was incredibly destructive and affected everything I did:
- Leaving the house
- Being around people
- Choosing what to wear
- Going on holiday
It took years of mindful practise to get to the point where I almost never feel that way anymore.
I'm going to share some of the key principles that I learned.
1. Stop procrastinating
When you're overwhelmed by anxiety, even getting an instant message notification can leave you on edge.
It's easier to ignore that message and hope it goes away, but the more you put it off, the worse it feels.
Over time you cultivate a kind of learned helplessness, feeling like even the smallest task is too much for you.
The only way to break out of this is to start taking action.
It doesn't matter how small that action is, even if it's opening that message you don't want to read.
The important thing is that you exercise your willpower and break out of the cycle of learned helplessness.
In the same way that lifting weights builds your muscles, your willpower grows stronger when you do this.
2. Establish your locus of control
For me the biggest source of anxiety was "what if" scenarios:
- What if I make a bad impression
- What if I get stuck in traffic and I'm late
- What if I don't make enough money this month
Thinking this way puts you at the mercy of external events and circumstance, living life on a rollercoaster of emotions.
The reality is that you only have full control over your thoughts and your actions.
Focus your mental energy on those things instead of wasting it worrying about stuff that you can't meaningfully influence.
That doesn't mean passively accepting everything that happens to you, but understanding that you can't guarantee things will turn out the way you want.
3. Focus on the present
I used to play chess competitively and I would spend a lot of time studying opening theory and improving my calculation.
In chess it's an essential skill to be able to calculate: to select candidate moves and analyse the resulting variations to find the strongest move in a position.
But when you're struggling with anxiety this skill can be destructive.
You start looking ahead and seeing all the things that could go wrong in your situation, visualising the worst possible outcomes.
And although it's prudent to think about the future, like building your savings or advancing your career, you should stay firmly rooted in the present.
Thinking about what could happen in the future will only distract you from what should be done now.
4. Disengage from social media
Social media traps you in behaviour loops that amplify anxiety:
- Feeling like you're missing out
- Feeling under pressure to respond to everything instantly
- Feeling like something's wrong if you're not positive all the time
You have the power to completely eliminate this from your life, either by removing it entirely or limiting your usage.
If you don't want to delete your accounts yet you can still: Remove the mobile apps and access them through your browser Turn off notifications Move the icons to a separate screen
5. Remove unnecessary stressors
The worst thing you can do is pile more stress on top of yourself when you're feeling anxious:
- Saying yes to things you should be refusing
- Trying to push yourself harder in the gym
- Reducing your calorie intake
People often come to me wanting to start a fat loss diet when they're stressed out of their minds.
That's not always a bad idea, it really depends on your situation, but in some cases it's the worst thing you can do.
Being in a calorie deficit creates physiological stress which may amplify your anxiety by messing with your brain's ability to regulate glucose supply.
On top of that, it may disrupt your sleep and leave you in a state where you feel fatigued, depleted, and fragile.
Dieting in this state often leads to binge eating or burn out.
Give your body what it needs to be more resilient, even if that means sacrificing some progress on your diet, it will pay off when you introduce those stressors at a more appropriate time.