Anxiety is not fun. Ask any anxious person what fun is, and they’ve probably forgotten. Can you blame them? Anxious people are in constant inner battle with their thoughts, they cannot work, eat, sleep, or repeat properly. I always thought that I’d live the rest of my life trapped inside of my head, I hated my life, I hated myself. Everyone’s telling me it is all in my head, there’s nothing wrong with me, I should be more grateful, they didn’t understand how hard is it to wake up in the morning knowing my day will be nothing but fear.
Whenever I was anxious, or having a panic attack, I tried so hard to calm myself down, taking deep breaths, focusing on something else, and relaxing my tense muscles, nothing really worked. Medications helped me, but whenever I hear someone’s terrible story with them, I despise myself for taking them. I could never be genuinely relaxed.
I started wondering, maybe I shouldn’t relax myself, I mean being anxious and being relaxed are extremely different emotions, it’s going to be nearly impossible to just turn from one to another in a matter of minutes. But what other emotion feels like anxiety, but actually positive? Excitement! At the end of the day, anxiety and excitement are both aroused emotions that produce adrenaline and make your heart beat faster which in turn make you breathe faster. They really have similar physical symptoms.
The circumstances we’re in when we’re experiencing anxiety or excitement is the main difference between the two. How we respond to the aroused emotion, whether negatively or positively, determines the emotion. So why not choose the better path for your life, and decide that you’re excited rather than anxious?
But is it really that simple? How can I decide to be excited? What things do I need to change? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Anxious Mindset VS. Excited Behavior
In order to start feeling excited towards something you really fear, you need to change your mindset. However, changing your mindset is a very difficult task to do, our minds are too stubborn. Even if we have the right mindset, we might not be able to apply it. For example, a lot of people know that smoking is dangerous for their health, but they do it anyway. Or they know that using their phones while driving is absolutely deadly to them and others, yet they cannot just put their phones down while driving. Now imagine if you’re tackling anxiety, you know that anxiety is just a natural response that everyone feels, you know that you’re safe and anxiety will not really harm you, yet you can never free yourself from it.
Rather than battling with your mindset to change, you need to fake it until you make it. You need to start by changing your behavior rather than your mindset. It means you’re forcing yourself to do some things that your mind does not believe in, that you might even think are silly, but it’s for the greater good, for the ultimate change, your mindset change.
It will be difficult at times to fake your response to anxiety, especially if you’re feeling physical symptoms. But always remember, the physical symptoms you’re feeling are the same exact symptoms you’d feel if you were excited. Remember that you’ve been through all of your anxiety attacks, and you came out safe.
Tip 1: Do not worry if you know you’re faking your excitement, you’ll make it at the end, whenever you’re anxious tell yourself “I AM EXCITED!”.
Apply The DARE Response
In his book “DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks”, Barry McDonagh introduces you to a new technique for facing your anxiety, called “The DARE Response”, which has helped me immensely. The DARE response is a set of steps you need to take whenever you feel anxious.
- Defuse. Tackle your first anxious thoughts as quick as possible. Respond to every “What if?” your brain asks you anxiously, with “So what” or “Whatever”, or with the strongest dismissive answer you’ve got.
- Allow. Observe your anxiety manifest in your body, don’t judge it. Allow it to do as it pleases, treat it like you’d treat a small child playing with sand, do not be scared of it. Remember, you’ve been through 100% of your anxiety attacks absolutely safe.
- Run towards. Demand more of your anxiety, ask it if that’s all its got. Tell yourself that you’re excited by your anxious feelings.
- Engage. Get back to what you were doing. Engage with the real life and do something that will take your attention fully.
By applying those simple four steps, you’ll stop your brain to mistakenly interpret your anxious feelings and thoughts as a threat, and will instead convert this anxious state of mind into an excited one.
Tip 2: Apply the DARE response to change your behavior towards anxiety, sooner or later, your mindset will follow. Read “DARE: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks”, it’s a life changer.
Laugh with your anxiety
Look, let’s be honest, sometimes anxiety makes us do silly stuff. I mean, sometimes I am anxious because the moon does not look right, or the sun doesn’t seem to be moving in its right path. I remember one day, I was holding my phone for too long, after a while, I checked my pinky finger, and there seemed to be three dots on it, I started freaking out, I kept on checking them for about thirty minutes, washed my hands four times, kept pressing on them to see if I can feel pain, and I could, but it’s just because I’m pressing on my finger, duh. Then I realized it was only the phone speaker marks on my finger. I laughed so hard.
Laughter has many health benefits. It reduces stress hormone levels, which can be really helpful when you’re anxious. It improves your immune system. It’s a great workout for your heart, and many more. But the reason I’m focusing on laughter is that it shifts your perspective to things, it allows you to see things in a less threatening way, it might as well make you feel excited.
Try these things whenever you can:
- Laugh at what made you anxious, whenever you feel like your anxiety levels are dropped, try to remember what made you anxious and see the humor in it.
- Force yourself to smile when you’re anxious. Whenever I’m having a panic attack, or my anxiety levels are up to the roof, I force myself to smile. It shifts my focus on something else, and you’re telling your brain that what you’re feeling is not really that bad.
- Joke with your friends about your anxiety attacks. I always talk about my silly anxious thoughts with my friends, and laugh about them. It brings me joy to see people laugh with me at my suffering. Just kidding.
By faking a smile, or laughing at your anxious thoughts, you’re first telling your brain that what it is experiencing is not dangerous, and you’re changing your behavior towards anxiety in a positive manner.
Here’s a joke to get you started.
Two psychics bump into each other on the street, one said to another “You’re fine. How am I?”
Tip 3: Laughter is the best medicine, do not fight your anxious thoughts, sit down with them and laugh with each other.
Gamify your experience
Gamification is to turn something into a game, or rather borrow some game elements and ideas and apply it to something that is not a game. A lot of companies have started to use this concept in their products to improve the user experience and make it more enjoyable. So I thought why cannot I apply this concept in trying to change my response to anxiety. I mean, games are fun, right?
This is rather experimental for me, but I thought it would be adding some fun to the whole process. The reason I thought of gamification is because:
- It keeps you motivated
- It enhances your sense of achievement
- It gives you feedback on how you are doing
But how are you supposed to gamify your anxiety? What game elements you need to add in order to keep yourself motivated? You can start by doing the following:
- Reward yourself, whenever you’ve done something you’ve always feared to do, spoil yourself with something you really love.
- Level UP! Keep track and change your level of success depending on how you are doing conquering your anxiety.
- Give yourself a badge, the last badge I gave myself was “Marco Polo”, for driving for three hours straight outside of the city. Give yourself a challenge, and if you complete it, give yourself a badge.
These are some basic game elements that can be used to gamify your experience of turning anxiety into excitement. Think of other ideas you can do, check out what your favorite video game does in order to keep you engaged, and apply that in your life.
Tip 4: Add a little spice to your journey of healing by gamifying it. It will make it fun, and will let you focus on the fun part of it.
Setbacks are part of the journey
Imagine you’re playing a game, and the game is so easy that you haven’t failed in a single task or quest in it. If you checked the reviews for that game it will probably be something like this:
“It’s sooo boring!”
“Hahaha I finished the game in 2 hours, give me my money back! lol”
“Really? My 3 year old niece can finish the game in 5 minutes.”
A tough journey is always better, if you fail, you will learn, and if you succeed, you’ll know that you’ve completed something worth while. And as the great Rocky Balboa said:
“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done! Now if you know what you’re worth then go out and get what you’re worth. But ya gotta be willing to take the hits, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you wanna be because of him, or her, or anybody! Cowards do that and that ain’t you! You’re better than that!”
Some days anxiety can be overwhelming, you just cannot do anything about it. That is absolutely fine. Do not be scared that you will never be able to live your life freely, you will be. It is fine if you have an intense panic attack that stops you to function properly, you’ll be able to have an excitement attack the next day.
Tip 5: Do not let setbacks hold you from achieving your goals.
Words of Motivation
I know the idea of making anxiety something fun is counter-intuitive. I am no psychiatrist and I did not study psychology. However, I am someone who has been suffering from anxiety, panic attacks, and depression for a very long time, and I am feeling like myself again doing all the previous things I’ve told you about. I want you to get better, I believe in you, I want you to enjoy life to the fullest.
Bo Burnham, my favorite comic artist, said in one of his songs:
“But maybe life on earth could be heaven, Doesn’t just the thought of it make it worth the try?”
Doesn’t the thought of turning your worst enemy into your best friend, make it worth the try?