Tip #15: Create calming associations with certain actions or objects.
The Why: A large part of overcoming anxiety is reprogramming your brain. Wow, seems a pretty big task.
In truth, it is. But there are many simple ways of doing so.
One of the most effective tools I have found to combat an oncoming panic attack is to build up positive associations with things in my daily routine. So, when anxiety tries to hit you with a curveball, you can whack it right back.
For instance, whenever I feel my breathing begin to quicken, I drink a tall glass of water and say to myself:
“I’ve done x now, I can calm down.”
The first few times I tried this, it had a negligible effect on my anxiety levels. I’d drink the water with shaking hands (creating a nice small ocean on my floor) and my head would still pound and my heart would still race.
But then, after about a week of conditioning myself to associate water with the end of a panic attack, whenever I drank it, I immediately felt far calmer and my symptoms subside.
I had successfully tricked my brain.
Your association can be anything: Going to the bathroom, high-fiving yourself, getting up and walking in a particular peculiar pattern (though this may get you some strange glances).
No matter what you choose, forcefully say to yourself “I’ve done this, I can calm down” whilst performing the act.
Imagine the neurones in your brain with tiny (very, very tiny) builders hats on. They see that their human is drinking lots of water.
“Good”, they’ll say, “keeping us hydrated.”
But after a period of time, whenever their human drinks a full glass of water, they also hear their human say “It’s time to calm down now.” After a while of seeing these two things in conjunction, the neurones will begin to build a brain-bridge (an association) between the two events, thinking that when their human drinks water, it’s safe enough to calm them down.
Remember, to defeat anxiety and trick your brain, it’s an association game.