Sorry to drop such a clickbait-y title on you. But I recently rediscovered a super simple way to overcome anxiety, and I had to share it with you. Anxiety is something we all struggle with, and it can rear its ugly head at the worst possible times.
The anxiety flare-up that led to my rediscovery of this trick happened after my last birthday. I woke up the next morning with a scratchy, sore throat. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right?
At the time, I didn’t think much of it. I have seasonal allergies, so I figured I had some sinus drainage going on, popped a honey lozenge, and continued about my day. My brother was visiting from out of town with my precious niece, and I didn’t want to miss out on a second of quality time with her.
As the day went on, though, I felt worse and worse. A sore throat turned into aches, chills, and eventually, a fever of 102°. In fact, that little sore throat turned into a horrible upper respiratory infection that lasted for NINE days.
This wasn’t one of those fun bugs where you get to hang out on the couch and catch up on your shows, either. I slept almost non-stop (albeit fitfully) for the better part of a week. Every time I took a sip of water, I winced. I had painful aches throughout my whole body, and I barely ate for days. Every time I thought I was starting to feel better, a new symptom would pop up, and I’d end up feeling even worse.
When anxiety cranks a bad situation up to eleven
But wait, you might be thinking, weren’t we talking about anxiety? How does a virus become an anxiety attack?
Actually, the anxiety didn’t happen until I got better.
Before I got sick, I was fresh off a retreat weekend, where I’d planned my next three months’ worth of writing projects and blog content. I was so excited to get the ball rolling on all my plans. Instead, I fell off the face of the earth for well over a week.
Not only did I get zero work done during my illness (a big problem when you’re a solopreneur), but when I finally returned to the land of the living, I’d missed the last two days of my niece’s visit, my house was a wreck, my yard needed mowed, I had to throw out most of the food in my fridge, and all my outdoor potted plants were dead.
(I guess you’re not supposed to just NOT water them for nine days?)
Suddenly, I was so overwhelmed. I couldn’t make peace with how far and fast I’d fallen behind. Even though it was completely out of my control, I felt discouraged, like it was somehow my fault. When I tried to jump in and catch it all up at once, my body was still too tired and weak to keep up.
I became increasingly frustrated and anxious. I work hard to keep my anxiety from getting out of hand, but I started to feel that familiar panic rising up. If I didn’t get my head right, I worried it would turn into a full-blown mental health situation.
After struggling with my anxiety for a few days, I remembered an old trick I learned back when I used to get regular panic attacks:
Gratitude is the antidote to anxiety.
How does gratitude overcome anxiety?
I know, I know. It seems too simple to be effective. Anxiety can have very real physical effects on the body; how is practicing gratitude supposed to help?
But practicing gratitude has helped me overcome anxiety many times throughout my life. And it worked this time too.
When anxiety starts to take control, things can escalate to panic fast. You feel your breath get shorter and your heart beat a little faster. You start fixating on all the things that aren’t going the way you want them to or that are outside of your control.
Your thoughts feed your anxiety and your anxiety feeds your thoughts. It’s an endless feedback loop that, if left unchecked, can lead to a full-blown anxiety or panic disorder. (Yep, been there.)
Gratitude works because it breaks that feedback loop.
Using gratitude to break the cycle
Not to sound too cutesy, but you begin to break the cycle and overcome anxiety by counting your blessings.
Your anxiety is going to direct your brain to look for all the things that are going wrong in your life. Instead, start listing all the things that are going right, all the things you have to be grateful for. When you direct your brain to look for the good instead of the bad, that feedback loop will automatically break.
When it came to the fallout from that horrible nine day illness, it turns out I had a lot to be grateful for:
- I’m grateful no one else caught my bug. Had I known I was sick I never would’ve spent that first day with my niece, but I did. I hugged on her, and even shared an apple with her, and it was sheer luck she didn’t catch what I had.
- I’m grateful I have a family who cares for me. Even though they couldn’t make me any less miserable, they checked on me and offered to bring me anything I needed.
- I’m grateful I have access to medical care. On the third day, when I wasn’t feeling any better, I was able to see a doctor. Even though she basically had to tell me to ride it out, she did give me prescription-strength cough syrup and decongestants to help things along, and suggested some OTC and home remedy options to give me extra relief.
- I’m grateful I have a body that can bounce back. It may have felt like I would never get better, but I did. For those with a compromised immune system, an illness like that could have devastating effects. I’m lucky that my body is strong and healthy enough to fight something like that on its own.
When I stopped to consider the things that had gone right during my illness, I felt the frustration and anxiety slowly fade away. My brain stopped fixating on what was going wrong, and I was able to focus on the good.
Overcome anxiety in your daily life
Practicing gratitude pulled me out of an anxiety spiral that threatened to derail my mental health. You can also use it to overcome anxiety from day to day.
For example, do you get super stressed out at work? Start listing the good things about your job:
- you get paid
- your bills are paid on time every month
- you have a coworker or two who have become good friends
- you get to listen to your favorite music in the car on the way to work every day
- there’s a coffee shop around the corner from your office that you absolutely love
- you have medical insurance
I don’t care if you have the worst job in the world, there must be one or two things about your job you are grateful for. When your anxiety is at its peak, focus on those one or two things.
Use this trick for everything you get anxious about, and begin practicing gratitude even when you’re not feeling anxious.
Take five minutes first thing in the morning or before bed to think of three things you’re grateful for. Write them in a journal or keep a list on your phone. Add to it every day. With time, you’ll train your brain to start looking for blessings everywhere, instead of things to be anxious about.
It’s easy to let anxiety and frustration take over when a situation arises that is outside our control. But when you stop to count the good things, the things that are going RIGHT in your life, anxiety loses much of its power over you.
I hope that, rather than being bogged down in what we don’t have or haven’t accomplished or still have yet to do, we stop to remember all that we have to be grateful for.
I’d love to hear your tips for overcoming anxiety, as well as what you are most grateful for.
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