Advice on soothing anxiety from my experiences as Chief Joy Officer at Makers
(Anxiety is a vast subject, linked to multiple disorders, and the following post isn’t intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.)
Makers is a transformative and fun experience for just about everyone who does the course. It’s packed with new experiences and amazing people — it’s wonderful to watch how people grow and discover more of themselves in just weeks.
As fun as it can be, it’s intense. Makers leap into new careers, leaving behind the old and opening up to the new. For most, deciding to do Makers isn’t an ‘off the cuff’ decision. There’s a lot of uncertainty that comes with changing your career, your life. It’s understandable that anxiety can show up.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe. Below are the “Big 5 Personality Traits” — we all have each in varying degrees. It’s useful to know how you score on the neuroticism trait as the higher you score the more prone you are to anxiety. This self-awareness can help you to manage anxiety.
Whether or not you’re prone to anxiety, just about everyone experiences it at some point in their lives.
Some examples of when anxiety might arise for a Maker:
- Uncertainty that comes with starting something new, especially when coming from a well established career or academic path;
- Being a self-led learner, totally in charge of your goals while feeling out of your depth;
- Not getting through all the work in spite of trying your best to absorb all the knowledge;
- Pairing with a new person each day / interacting with within a team — navigating team/social dynamics while pursuing your learning and goals;
- Comparing yourself with others in a way that creates feelings of insecurity and doubt.
“Worrying is like sitting in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you anywhere.”
— English proverb
Everything you’re choosing and engaging with in your world, is about your relationship with yourself. It’s also an opportunity to improve and enrich that relationship.
Compassion is an essential component in any meaningful, intimate relationship — for connection, joy and healing. When we feel and receive the stabilising love of others, it helps to calm us in a world that feels so uncertain and keep us on track.
This is why I recommend self-compassion as a way for soothing and managing anxiety. Bringing vital compassion into your primary relationship: the one with yourself.
Self-compassion is made up of 3 things:
1. Kindness over judgment
Most times when people ask me for help on dealing with anxiety, their frustration with themselves is clear. There’s a feeling of judgment or even disdain towards themselves for being anxious in the first place. They’re adamant to get rid of the uncomfortable feeling of anxiety because they “shouldn’t” feel that way.
Making yourself inappropriate or wrong for your emotions is a surefire way to feel worse. Being harsh on yourself isn’t going to get you anywhere. Drop the “should” and speak to yourself as you would speak to a good friend.
2. Common humanity over isolation
Fear can make us feel isolated and slows us down. Our mind can drop into a place where we think we’re alone or the only ones experiencing it, which simply isn’t true.
The truth is that everyone gets scared, everyone has doubts and insecurities — Makers is a bootcamp after all. You can assume that most of your cohort likely feels similar to you at some points, although it might not be that obvious. We wind ourselves tightly when we don’t see the bigger picture. Remind yourself that what you’re going through is part of being human.
I encourage you to reach out. Socialising and connecting with fellow cohort members and the larger community is often a huge boost away from feeling like your struggles are unique and you’re alone.
Read Makers student blogs. There you will find sincere, personal accounts of other Makers adventuring through what you’re currently experiencing.
3. Mindfulness vs. over-identification
Jon Kabat-Zinn defines Mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally”.
One of the reasons Makers meditate daily is to stay calm and grounded and avoid anxiety. This helps to cultivate mindfulness and helps us manage our thoughts and emotions better as we practice observing ourselves objectively. We gain space from our thoughts and feelings and identify less with them. We’re then able to consciously respond better to stressful situations rather than react in auto-pilot mode.
Mindfulness increases emotional awareness. When you’re feeling anxious, unhelpful thoughts can be highly seductive. It’s typical to go round in endless circles of thought in your mind. This worried state is often not as effective as a calm clear mind when it comes to finding solutions.
You’ll often hear me tell Makers to “go into the body”. Feel the physical sensations associated with the anxiety and describe them to yourself. This is called “affect labelling”. Studies show this is useful for regulating our emotions as we gain more control and perspective by not ‘being’ the emotions but rather sensing and observing them.
Practising self-compassion helps one shift from an ‘I’ve got to fix myself’ mindset to an ‘I need to love myself’ mindset. The latter is what leads to a path of joy and wholeness.
We stop feeling so bad about our anxiety and instead use it as a signifier to care for and explore ourselves. We start to make better decisions in favour of our wellbeing which enhances the rest of life.
The effect is long-lasting as it’s woven into the fabric of your relationship with yourself. If there’s ever a rip in the fabric, it’s okay because you’ll have compassion for yourself about it.
Some other things that can help to manage anxiety:
Coaching and therapy. Externalising your thoughts and feelings with a professional who you feel well-matched with can certainly help. You can gain insights and tools to heal root causes of anxiety.
Journaling. This helps you to clarify your thoughts and feelings while releasing stress. It’s also a great problem-solving tool. By externalising your thoughts and feelings on paper, you can reflect upon them and address things that are within your control.
Do something that makes you feel in control. Anxiety can make us feel like we have little or no control. Ensure time for yourself when possible to engage with activities such as a hobby, that make you feel more capable and in control to help you feel more balanced.
Make peace with imperfection — be ‘bad’ at things. We all have to start somewhere and putting pressure on ourselves to perform well at something we’ve not been practising, can be anxiety-inducing. Give yourself space to ‘suck’ and keep iterating (with self-compassion) for improvement.
Yoga helps to calm the nervous system, helping to bring the mind and body in balance. It’s great for cultivating a growth mindset and promotes self-acceptance.
Connecting with nature. Researchers found a decrease in both heart rate and levels of cortisol (a hormone often used as a marker for stress) in subjects in the forest when compared to those in the city. They concluded that stressful states can be relieved by forest therapy.
Calming breaths help to get us out of ‘fight or flight’ mode, enabling us to release stress in the body and think clearer. Try the following:
- Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs;
- Hold your breath for 3 counts;
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach;
- Practice calming breaths throughout the day and use it any time you begin to feel anxiety or panic building.
What works best for you when it comes to soothing anxiety? Share your comments below.