30 great ways to reduce Anxiety and Stress

Bong1I have been working a lot recently in Reverse Therapy with clients who are stressed or anxious and am frequently asked for my list of remedies that work for either. So here goes:
  • Learn how to control Headmind. See previous articles on this subject, in this blog here.
  • Exercise. Few things can help relax you more quickly than a bit of vigorous exercise. Whether you box, jog or play a game of tennis, aerobic exercise will release endorphins, thereby improving your mood, eliminating tension and giving you a natural high. 
  • Meditate. When you think you are getting overwhelmed,  take at least ten minutes out to clear your mind of worries and meditate. If you have trouble doing it alone, try using a guided tape, or a Binaural Beat CD.  
  • Focus on the breath. Concentrating on your breathing is a powerful way to promote inner calm. Increase the number of counts as you breathe out, and then in, from 3 to 8. Then reduce the count from 8 back to 3, slowly. This is one of the oldest known meditational techniques in history: at least 4000 years old. 
  • Use Yoga. You can learn how to use Yoga from a group or personal instructor, or even from a DVD. Our work in Reverse Therapy shows that Yoga is an exceptionally effective antidote to Headmind-produced stress.
  • Use Tai Chi. See previous item as similar advice applies.
  • Focus on an Eye-Movement Program. You can learn how to do this by going to a an article I wrote about how to do that here.
  • Take a Break. Force yourself to break away from what is bugging you and do something pleasant that is completely unrelated.
  •  Slow down. Most people when they get anxious do everything faster, so deliberately slow down your movements, and the speed at which you are doing things.
  • Talk slowly. See previous item. Speak at 50% of the speed at which you were talking before, with frequent pauses in between sentences.
  • Think slowly. This is usually effective while you are taking a break. Slow down the speed at which Headmind is racing around its worries by recalling a calming memory, situation or person.
  • Let the past go. If you’re stressing out about something bad that happened yesterday then keep your attention on the here and now. Focus on something important to you and ‘drown out’ the internal control freak who wants to keep going over problems.
  • Let go of the need for control over events.  You can’t control the events that happen to you; only your response to those events. Focus on what you can do, rather than what is not in your power to do.
  • Laughter. A good laugh releases endorphins. So either mix with people who make you laugh or watch one of your favourite comedies.
  • Limit your intake of caffeine. Caffeine is a unnaturally strong stimulant and adds existing anxiety, making you worse than otherwise. If you’re stressed then avoid drinking coffee and other caffeine-based beverages.
  • Use lavender oil. Research suggests that lavender oil is one of the most effective calming agents available. One reason for its effectiveness is that it works through the olfactory centres in the brain; smells are particularly powerful.  Try lighting a candle or putting some lavender oil on your skin, or in a bath to help you relax.
  • Drink green tea. Green tea contains theanine, an amino-acid which improves mood and reduces arousal.
  • Use herbal supplements. If you’re into natural remedies you may want to consider taking some herbal supplements like valerian root or passion flower. Both of these were extensively used in the Middle Ages as natural tranquillizers.
  • Eat dark chocolate. For reasons not yet clearly understood, dark, bitter, chocolate increases endorphin release. Chili has a similar effect.
  • Take a shower or bath. This does not work for everybody but many people find that bathing increases calm. That may be because of the slow down-effect noted elsewhere in this article/
  • Get a massage. See last item. But effectiveness of this strategy depends on the skill of the masseur or masseuse – so select your practitioner wisely. But you can also use self-massage or the EFT movements.
  • Create variety. If you love to browse bookstores, take long walks in the park, or if you have a favourite hobby, or game, then take more time out of your day to do those things.
  • Work at simple chores. This doesn’t work for everybody but many of my clients find that some chores help then wind down. For me it is washing up the dishes but others report that gardening, hoovering, cleaning, tidying up or clearing things away, make them feel better afterwards.
  • Spend time with a pet. Playing with, walking focusing on your pet’s needs is a useful distraction from worry – it also tends to raise endorphin release.
  • Focus on what you can do rather than what you can’t. When you’re faced with what looks like an overwhelming problem, focus on small, concrete, steps you can work on today, rather than worrying about ‘big’ solutions that might never happen.
  • Avoid people who make things worse. If you are indulging in worry yourself then avoid other people – no matter how well-meaning – who worry, exaggerate problems, have doom-laden opinions, or who keep asking you ‘whether you are going to be ok?’.
  • Put on some music. Music is another powerful trigger for endorphin release. Always keep your favourite tracks available to you on your ipod whether you are at home, out and about, or at work. It only takes 5 minutes.
  • Ask for help. If you really just have too much on your plate then don’t hold back from asking people for help. Too often, anxious people are people with a banana which dictates that asking for a help is a sign of weakness. Do not make that mistake.
  • Use the word ‘No’ more often. It’s simple, powerful, and incredibly effective when you are up against it. if you have a phobia about it, try practicing it when standing in front of the mirror.
  • Make time to be with people who love you. This is possibly the most important item on the list. Do it now.






Death? No worries

Afterlife As a child Death terrified me.

When I was six years old the kind old lady next door who used to give me sweets died. I asked my father what had happened to her. Reluctantly he mumbled that she had gone and wouldn’t be coming back (Dad was never very good at the metaphysical stuff).

‘Well, where is she now?”, I asked.

‘Up there’ he said, his finger pointing to the ceiling.

Even at six-and-a-half years old I was smart enough to realise that living in the clouds wasn’t an obvious life-choice. So I persisted with the interrogation.

‘Does everyone die, Daddy?’.

‘Yes – everyone. Everyone.’ He looked embarrassed, as he always did when he couldn’t give complete explanations. For me the fact that he didn’t KNOW the answer scared me a lot – it was my first realisation that adults were as clueless about the Universe as I was.

From then, for quite a few years, I thought about it a lot. How could people just vanish? It seemed ridiculous. I would walk home from school and look at all the grave-stones in the cemetery. Here someone’s ‘dearly beloved’ had expired in 1887. Over there a ‘wonderful father’ had ‘gone to join Jesus’ in 1956, the year I was born. Another grave, surmounted by a huge, sorrowing angel, announced that the loved one was awaiting the ‘last trumpet’.

Once they had lived and breathed and walked as I was doing now. But – now – nothing. Later on, in my teens, I found my thoughts echoed by the poet, Philip Larkin:

I work all day, and get half drunk at night.

Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.

In time the curtain edges will grow light.

Till then I see what’s really always there:

Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,

Making all thought impossible but how

And where and when I shall myself die.

Arid interrogation: yet the dread

Of dying, and being dead,

Flashes afresh to hold and horrify.

The mind blanks at the glare. 

Not in remorse 
- The good not used, the love not given, time

Torn off unused – nor wretchedly because
An only life can take so long to climb

Clear of its wrong beginnings, and may never:

But at the total emptiness forever,
 The sure extinction that we travel to

And shall be lost in always. Not to be here,
 Not to be anywhere,

And soon; nothing more terrible, nothing more true.

Yet the dread of death is entirely created by the Ego. It’s real worry is that this unique, ‘special’, person that I am will cease to be. That it is frightening to think that this world existed for eternity before I was born and will continue to exist for an eternity without me (let us leave aside the after-life for, as the Buddha once told us, we can know nothing about it. And, in any case, even Souls will be extinguished eventually, as the Hindus teach).

The solution: the way to let go of this dread of Death is to recognise that:

a) it is a hallucination created in Headmind

b) and that Present Moment Awareness dissolves it

The hallucination is easy to explain if you have been following my previous posts on how Headmind works. In this case Headmind (Larkin’s included) is making up a story-line which goes something like this:

I – this special person I am, is indispensable – I must not die – But I will die – Then there is Nothing.

At this point Headmind will typically come up with nightmarish images of this ‘Nothing’ in future time – darkness; a void; an emptiness; pictures of infinite space, etc. This image, because it does not include the self, seems to wipe everything out, to make existence meaningless. And because Headmind imagines that our Ego is the most important thing in the Universe it whispers to us: ‘Nothing more terrible, nothing more true…”

Tolstoy, in his melodramatic short story, The Death Of Ivan Ilyich, gives a good description of this kind of thinking. Essentially, Ivan Ilyich, tortures himself about his impending death by continually worrying about the mistakes he has made in the past, and that he cannot control what is about to happen to him. But – at the point of death – he learns to let go of the delusion:

“At that very moment Ivan Ilych fell through and caught sight of the light, and it was revealed to him that though his life had not been what it should have been, this could still be rectified. He asked himself, “What *is* the right thing?” and grew still, listening. Then he felt that someone was kissing his hand. He opened his eyes, looked at his son, and felt sorry for him. His wife camp up to him and he glanced at her. She was gazing at him open-mouthed, with undried tears on her nose and cheek and a despairing look on her face. He felt sorry for her too.

“Yes, I am making them wretched,” he thought. “They are sorry, but it will be better for them when I die.” He wished to say this but had not the strength to utter it. “Besides, why speak? I must act,” he thought. with a look at his wife he indicated his son and said: “Take him away…sorry for him…sorry for you too….” He tried to add, “Forgive me,” but said “Forego” and waved his hand, knowing that He whose understanding mattered would understand.

And suddenly it grew clear to him that what had been oppressing him and would not leave his was all dropping away at once from two sides, from ten sides, and from all sides. He was sorry for them, he must act so as not to hurt them: release them and free himself from these sufferings. “How good and how simple!” he thought. “And the pain?” he asked himself. “What has become of it? Where are you, pain?”

He turned his attention to it.

“Yes, here it is. Well, what of it? Let the pain be.”

“And death…where is it?”

He sought his former accustomed fear of death and did not find it. “Where is it? What death?” There was no fear because there was no death.

In place of death there was light.

“So that’s what it is!” he suddenly exclaimed aloud. “What joy!”

In the story Ivan Ilyich finds comfort from one of his servants, the peasant Geryasim, a ‘simple soul’, who radiates calm, compassion, and an ability to live in the moment. Which brings us to the second solution.

Present Moment Awareness is the aim of meditation, as well as Reverse Therapy. When you are in this state of Awareness you cannot, by definition, be frightened of death – even if you have a dangerous illness. Living in the moment means you are not living in Headmind. Which, in turn, means, you are living in the only reality that exists. When we are truly alive – right now – nothing disturbs us. We are at peace. And, in such experiences we know – through Bodymind – that something very powerful works in, and for, and through, us. And that something never dies.

Only Headmind, and the Ego, dies.

‘Nothing burns in hell except self-will.’

Theologia Germanica

Back to bananas

Banana It's been building up for a while, but I have been getting more and more stuck in Headmind and the dis-ease state, due to the fact that I haven't written anything on this blog for over two weeks.

So the banana about having to be clever kicks in and Headmind gives me a hard time about ending up as a failure:

It tells me: 'You must write something good, soon, son, or your dreams about this blog are all going to end up in smoke…'

Which tells me that even the best of us get sucked in to obsessive-compulsions. After all, why the hell should I write something if I have nothing to say?

Similarly, with some of your own bananas:

  • Why should you try to please people who care nothing about your efforts?
  • Why should you get together with people you care little about?
  • Why should you read a blog page that bores you?

Now that I have got that off my chest then I can go back to writing new articles without thinking that I need to appease the Internal Control Freak.

And immediately I write that, I get, first a release, and then a creative idea: Why not write about the Enneagram?

Think I will start on that now….

But meantime, I am humbly reminded that the battle against the obsession to be more than we can be never lets up.

And – please – if you are getting impatient about the delay in my posting new articles on here, then let me have your wishes and creative ideas rather than your complaints.

Why guilt is useless

Guilt is a delusionary state. It doesn’t serve you at all and is a creation of the imagination; of Headmind’s drive towards conformity.

Here’s how Headmind creates Guilt:

1. Headmind is stuffed full of judgments about the person you could be, should be, should not be, etc. Those judgments were not originally your own but inherited from other people. But gradually you internalised them and they became self-judgments.

2. These judgments are re-activated by parents, teachers, priests, employers, children and partners who may be exploiting you.

3. Your Headmind buys into those judgments because it seeks acceptance, conformity, and admiration (even from people who don’t deserve your respect).

4. Dwelling on occasions in which guilt comes up – and Headmind judges you – creates uncomfortable Bodymind reactions: cringing, agitation, distress. Although Bodymind creates that discomfort in order to warn you not to indulge in guilt, Headmind interprets this as a signal that you are, indeed, a ‘bad’ person, worthy of punishment.

Here’s another way to understand ‘Guilt’:

1. Earlier societies did not recognise a psychological state known as ‘guilt’. For them ‘guilt’ was simply another word for ‘debt’ (as in the German/Saxon word: ‘gultig’). It simply meant that one person had harmed another and was unable to put things right. For example, one person stole another person’s property but was too poor to pay it back – therefore he was ‘guilty’ and subject to the penalties of the community.

2. Religious influences gradually changed this original meaning of guilt into ‘personal sin’.

3.  When Psychology started up in Germany and America in the 19th century it took over religious ideas about ‘sin’ and reinterpreted them in terms of ‘good’ and ‘evil’ actions. So doing one ‘bad’ thing made you an ‘evil’ or ‘guilty’ person – instead of someone who simply made a mistake.

4. Mistakes and ‘bad’ actions you committed in the past were based on the knowledge you possessed at the moment you committed them, no matter how daft. For example: you shop-lifted, knowing you couldn’t afford something but that you ‘had’ to have the item anyway. You let the Headmind state of greed get the better of you.

5. Therefore your past mistakes were based on inadequate knowledge (you thought it was ok to steal, or that you wouldn’t get caught, or that it wouldn’t matter if you did get caught). Your predictions turned out to be wrong, although you didn’t  realise that at the time.

6. Your present self-judgments are based on a false premise: your present self blames your past self even though your past self did not possess the experience of knowledge your present self now has.

Here is the truth:

1. You did not actually have free will back then when you committed your error of judgment. You did what you had to do at the time because you lacked Awareness.

2. Indulging in Headmind worry (i.e. analyzing over and over again about what an ‘evil’ person you were/are) may actually get in the way of your attempts to put things right.

3. If you have really done somebody wrong you could connect to the emotion of remorse and get on with making amends, rather than wasting time on guilt.

Image by Jsome1

You can’t afford the luxury of a worry

According to a survey published by Mr Really Worried on his blog the average Briton spends 2 hours and fifteen minutes worrying, which adds up to 34 days
a year. Don’t forget – that’s only an average figure – which means that
at least 29 million people on these islands are doing a lot more
worrying than that.

Worry creates Anxiety, which in turn
leads to wear and tear on your body, as it attempts to adapt to the
increased strain that Headmind has created for you. The result?
Stress-related illnesses like:

  • Stomach ulcers
  • Heart disease
  • Insomnia
  • Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Colitis
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Rheumatoid Arthritis
  • Depression
  • Gastric reflux
  • Migraine
  • Eczema
  • Psoriasis
  • Fibromyalgia

As well as a host of other diseases that stem from the alcohol,
tobacco and drugs that people may use to mask the effects of anxiety.

I am not necessarily saying that Stress causes these illnesses. It could
just be that it amplifies them. But the conclusion is the same: each
and every time you worry you damage your health.

I am sometimes asked, by chronic worriers I have met: ‘What is the difference between
a problem and a worry? Most of the things that bother me aren’t worries
– they are real-life disasters!’

The answer is that a problem is a concern which you can do something about. A worry is a delusional state in which Headmind conjures up a horrific state of affairs that is
seemingly going to happen in the future (but rarely does). For example:
you may be suffering financially from the credit crunch. The related
problem could be that you now need to reduce your debt and you could do
that by talking to your bank manager, reducing your spending, talking
things over with your partner, searching for another job, etc. A worry
might be that you might end up in poverty, or in prison, or on the
streets. Dangerous words create nightmares.

If you worry you will
immediately become anxious, jittery, agitated. You won’t be able to
think straight and you will be dominated by a panicky inner voice. You
may also feel nauseous, tense and upset.

If you catch yourself in one of these states, here’s what you do:

  1. Get up quickly and go to another room, or get out of the building
  2. While you are doing that shout ‘STOP’ as loud as you can inside your head – or
    press the STOP button on the ‘tape recorder’ inside your head
  3. Recall a moment in your life when you dealt with problems in a good way. ‘Ask’
    the ‘You’ in this recalled state a question: ‘Is this a Problem or am I just letting Worry take over?’
  4. If the answer is that it is a Problem then ‘ask’ yourself ‘What one small thing can I do now to act on this?’ (Remember, if there is no action you can take, the it is a worry, not a concern)
  5. If the answer from your better self is that it is a Worry then immediately go and do something that occupies your full attention in an enjoyable way. I especially recommend doing
    something physically strenous that raises endorphins

‘If you believe that feeling bad or worrying long
enough will change a past or future event, then you are residing on
another planet with a different reality system.

William James

Letting go of your internal control freak

Readers of this blog will know that I am usually puzzled by the way in which the mind constantly goes wrong. Engulfing us in worry, guilt, perfectionism, do-goodery, paranoia and obsessions of various kinds. It’s a continuing mystery to me that conscious minds keep going wrong in that way.

Triggering stress, illness, burnout and breakdown.

One huge problem I notice with people who have Stress is that they are usually being driven nuts by their Internal Control Freak. Which often manifests as a semi-conscious inner voice that vetoes any activity that looks remotely like taking them out of their comfort zone. I sometimes call this freak ‘the imp on your shoulder’.

My good friend Kathleen Haden – who also happens to be a gifted practitioner of Reverse Therapy recently told me a story about one of her clients, who found a great way to silence the imp.

Kathleen’s client was working with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and her Internal Control Freak was giving her a really hard time with it’s do-nothing philosophy.

For example, it would tell her:

  • It was too risky to be honest with her partner because he might leave her.
  • Too scary to go back to work – she wouldn’t be able to cope.
  • Not worth bothering to go for a night out in case she had a ‘relapse’.

So Kathleen instructed her to let go of ‘The Need to Know‘. Because none of us can predict what is going to happen next, and if she could let go of Headmind’s need to predict, control, and run away from, the future, she would be able to go with the flow, taking each moment, and each challenge, as it came up.

Come the next session and the client tells her:

” Kathleen….I’ve been letting go of ‘the need to know’ and my symptoms have gone!”

The client had simply been practicing Awareness – and, since she was busy keeping her attention on the Now, she had effectively sidelined her internal control freak. And when she did that she reduced stress. And when she did that her Bodymind turned off the symptoms it had been using to warn her to stop stressing out.

You can’t fight the imp, or try to argue with it (like Cognitive Therapists try to do). Nor should you try and ‘reason’ with it. For the simple reason that the Control Freak is impervious to argument. It is only interested in power.

Each time you listen to, or argue with, or obey the freak you feed it with more power. So don’t bother. Just direct your attention elsewhere. And when the imp realises you aren’t listening anymore, it will shut up.

“When a control freak loses control all you are left with is the freak.”

Anonymous British Government Minister on Gordon Brown.

Why worry?

A few days ago I went into hospital and was told I have a tumour inside the ear. At this moment I don’t know whether it is malignant or not. We will only find that out after I have had the surgery.

The surprising thing, for me, is I haven’t worried about it at all. That’s weird because, for years, I would worry about anything and everything. I even used to worry about the fact that I was worrying so much. Now I don’t even worry about cancer.

Worry, as far as I am concerned, is a thing of the past. In fact, I can’t worry. It’s too difficult for me to do now because I have re-programmed my brain not to.

Here’s how you can do the same.

First, understand that worries are not real. They are fictions about the future. Your Mind makes them up either as ‘disaster movies’, ‘horror stories’, or ‘head-tapes’. It was long ago established that over 90% of the events we worry about either never materialize or are greatly exaggerated. Make a decision not to watch or listen to a single worry ever again.

Second, understand that worrying is a form of conditioning. Very young children do not worry – they are trained to worry by the adults around them. You can reverse that conditioning.

Third, understand that worry serves no purpose and is in fact useless. Some people think worry helps them solve problems. It doesn’t. It just creates anxiety and adds to the problem. Real problem-solving has nothing to do with worry.

Fourth, understand that you aren’t going to be punished when you are happy, well, loved, successful, or prosperous. Some people think ‘it is all too good to be true’ or ‘it’ll all end badly some day’. Then they start worrying. The idea that you have to ‘earn’ your happiness by worrying is a superstition.

Fifth, let go of the idea that the solution to worry and stress is to drink, smoke, have sex with strangers, take drugs or go on a shopping binge. These solve nothing and you don’t need to do them anyway. All you need to do is learn how to stop worrying.

Sixth, understand that worrying is itself an addiction. The more you worry, the more anxious you will get. Then Headmind notices you are anxious and starts worrying again, in a vicious, unnecessary, circle.

Here are the solutions:

1. Distinguish between problems and worries. Problems are things that are happening now, not in the future. If it hasn’t happened yet, it’s not a problem. Problems are solved by checking the facts, getting advice, experimenting with solutions, and patience. Not worry.

2. When you catch yourself worrying, run the worry again in your mind, this time using the voice of an idiot. That could be Homer Simpson, it could be a politician, or it could be someone you actually know. Run it until you laugh, get bored with it, or get angry at its nonsense.

3. As soon as you hear this idiotic mind-tape or one of its ridiculous films STOP wasting time on it and immediately do something that occupies your full attention. Vigorous physical exercise, or shouting, dancing, singing and laughing are all good to do.

4. Procrastination. If the worry won’t go away then write it down and then put it in away in a drawer, promising yourself you’ll look at it in a few days. Then forget about it. I used to do this myself. Looking at those scraps of paper a week later, I couldn’t remember what the hell most of them were about.

5. Worry periods. If they are still insistent then hold 10 minute ‘worry periods’ each day until you get bored with them. This method works on reverse effort. What you do is to work very hard to worry. Get yourself worked up abut them. Imagine the most exaggerated, over-the-top, outcomes. Try and make yourself anxious. You will find that this is, in fact, extremely hard to do. Then go off and enjoy the rest of your day.

6. Practice Bodymind awareness. This is a staple of Reverse Therapy. The more time you spend ‘in’ your body the less time you will have to spend listening to Headmind mischief. It doesn’t matter which method you use – Yoga, Tai Chi, Breathing exercises, Self-massage, Feldenkreis, Alexander technique, or just being aware of your feet pushing down on the floor – just do it. Today.