How to get anxiety out of my way
June 10, 2019 8:25 PM   Subscribe

How do I tune out the anxiety and focus better on the tasks at hand?

Any tips and tricks? My performance is excellent sometimes but wobbly when I'm feeling nervous, and I'm frustrated with how I can't always perform at full potential. I want that filtering superpower that I've seen in other people!! Is this what people mean by mental strength?

Are there any books / resources / anecdotes you could share on how to filter out what's not relevant and FOCUS? Thank you!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow to Human Relations (9 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I find the more consistent I am with my exercise, the more tolerant I am of stress. Like a stressful situation will feel like 75/100 if I haven't exercised recently, but only 50/100 (lower) if I took a walk yesterday.
posted by mundo at 9:19 PM on June 10, 2019 [7 favorites]

As well as the physical exercise or perhaps even as part of the physical routine, a regular meditation practice will slowly but cumulatively strengthen your ability to do this.

Note that the point of meditation is to practice gently and non-judgementally returning your attention to the session's object of focus (e.g. the breath in the case of the Zazen form linked above, or performing every movement with perfect form in the case of resistance training or martial arts), over and over again as and when you notice it wandering, and to build speed at noticing it wandering.

Many people misunderstand meditation as a process where you are supposed to "simply let go" and "observe" the thoughts that float through your head "without judgement". I have yet to meet a person who can actually do this. You might as well believe that exercise is a process where you "simply" raise the half ton barbell above your head "without straining". The human animal is just not built this way.

If a person prone to anxiety attempts meditation in this misunderstood form, the usual end result is that they spend their sessions performing uninterrupted rumination instead, end up with worse anxiety, and write meditation off as either useless or actively harmful. But done properly, it can be both useful and endlessly interesting.
posted by flabdablet at 10:28 PM on June 10, 2019 [11 favorites]

If I have to concentrate on reading something that I would otherwise find stressful or boring, etc., I will put on some relaxing nature sounds in the background, like this one. There are tons of those out there, you just have to find one that you like.

I also make sure I am hydrated, fed, and rested. I do better in the morning, with my coffee, and save lighter tasks for afternoon if possible, then get a second wind a little bit later.

If I have a lot of stuff running around in my head, I write it down on a notepad. That way I know I can go back and look at it later (sometimes it's stuff I *have* to do, sometimes it's stuff I want to do or address, but later realize it wasn't that important after all).

You can also try the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 grounding technique and see if it helps.

Definitely exercise helps, especially a walk outdoors. I used to go walking with my music and while it's difficult in winter, I have a few DVD's that are the equivalent of walking, Walk Away the Pounds, some light hippy dancing stretching one, and a few others.

I'm going to try the meditation linked above, that looks promising! Good luck.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:12 AM on June 11, 2019 [3 favorites]

For a quick fix, I recommend the "STOP Technique." (There are two of them. One is an acronym. This one is not.) When you catch yourself obsessing or ruminating on anxious thoughts, simply say out loud "STOP". Then take a couple of deep breaths, and move on. If you work in an environment where speaking out loud isn't possible, you can snap a rubber band on your wrist, or flick your arm, or do anything that's mildly jolting.
posted by sincarne at 6:12 AM on June 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

I tell myself that I don’t need to hurry or rush, and that I can take my time. I find that if I ever try to hurry at something, I get slower and worse because I’m spending all this energy kind of yelling at myself to focus and hurry up and essentially super getting in my own way.
I wonder if you can’t slip into a concentration state with your main task by doing a low or no stakes concentration task for a little bit first. Like some Zooniverse tasks or a couple minutes of a text adventure game. That’s been helping me at work lately.
posted by sacchan at 7:50 AM on June 11, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you been screened for ADHD? I fought with this for years, and it turns out that for me, it's not just anxiety. Appropriate drugs and therapies have literally changed my life.
posted by linettasky at 12:44 PM on June 11, 2019 [4 favorites]

I've just started beta blockers as-needed, so I take one about an hour and a half ish before the anxiety-inducing thing (for me singing). The difference blew my mind. All the work and effort I do to work with my anxious body is suddenly just freed up and I can make decisions about what I would like my body to try and it does it. I was very holy shit is this what it's like for most people. It sometimes feels like there's just a big calm lake inside.

Drugs are amazing I love them. I'm varying when I take it vs not so that I don't get fixed on it as a necessity.

In other work I'm trying to build my skill of not judging how well I'm doing at every moment, which is the thing that fuels my frustration. Long one. Can post back about this if you like.
posted by lokta at 12:49 AM on June 12, 2019

I'm trying to build my skill of not judging how well I'm doing at every moment, which is the thing that fuels my frustration

That right there is the crux of the reason why "observing thoughts as they go by, without judgement" is a self-contractory and self-defeating instruction: so many thoughts are entirely about judgement.

And there is nothing wrong with judgement. In fact there are good arguments to be put for the idea that it's fundamental to the entire process of existing as a conscious being.

Where judgement goes wrong is where it's done against standards that range from unreasonable to nonexistent. When that happens, what's going on may well feel like judgement but is in fact nothing more useful than habitual, negative carping.

It is pointless and destructive to compare where one is against where one should be without first having established solid and reasonable grounds for the view of where one should be. In most cases it's not the process of ongoing judgement per se that causes frustration; it's unrealistic and quite often unexamined expectations, frequently derived from the performance of other people, being applied as the basis for that judgement.

I have personally become much less anxious since retraining myself to judge my own performance against where I was yesterday instead of against where my peers are today.
posted by flabdablet at 4:02 AM on June 12, 2019 [3 favorites]

That said, there really are times - for example, being in the middle of playing a piece of music - where conscious judgement is a definite impediment to success. But again, that's not so much because it's judgement as because it's thinking at all, a relatively resource-intensive process that diverts valuable brain capacity from where it's needed i.e. the application of all available skill to the task of remaining fully present (if not fully individual) right there in the pocket.
posted by flabdablet at 4:44 AM on June 12, 2019

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