Anxiety: The Attack No One Sees Coming And 5 Ways You Can Help

I never thought it would happen to me.

To David Horning – the dude who preaches mental toughness, emotional intelligence, and leadership when others experience stress. I had my first anxiety attack earlier this week, and, for a moment, it crashed my entire worldview.

For awhile, I resisted it, throwing away everything I’ve learned and taught others about dealing with stress, overcoming adversity, and accepting reality. It shook me to my core, crumpling up my identity like a discarded joke premise and throwing it into a California wildfire, then dousing it with hundreds of gallons of water, and backing over the ashes with a big rig. After all of these years of preaching to “Accept the present moment,” “Look for the opportunity,” and “What can I you with what you know?” I became someone who was saying, “You’re a piece of shit,” “You’re not worth it,” and “Everyone should feel bad for me.”

Talk about a 180.

After a few days of reaching out to people around me – my family, my girlfriend, and my roommates – I came to the realization that this was a test to challenge the mettle of the identity I had created for myself over the years. And now, sitting in a crowded coffee shop as the aroma of chai lattes and the sounds of ambient music fill the air, I realize that now I have a chance to create a connection with those struggling to connect with others experiencing difficulties – whether they’re colleagues, friends, or family. All it took was a fresh perspective, and that’s what I hope to share with you through the 5 things you can do when someone you know is suffering from anxiety.

1. Communicate That You’re There To Support Them By Listening

This can be as simple as a comforting hand on their shoulder, eye contact, or a smile. It can be verbal reassurance that you’re willing to take the time to simply be in the room. It can be in the form of a card, a voicemail, or an invitation to lunch to just hear their side of the story without any judgment. Sometimes just offering an ear can help them verbalize what they’re going through in a way that helps them discover the light at the end of the tunnel.

2. Don’t Give Advice Unless They Ask For It

The last thing you want to do is to tell a person going through a bout with anxiety what they should do. Sure, what you’re saying may make objective sense, but someone going through anxiety’s fight-or-flight response cannot see the full picture, no matter how sensible you are. It’s not that they don’t want to feel better – they do (duh) – but if they’re not ready, you’re only going to contribute to the anxiety. Giving advice will make them resist what you’re saying through argument (fight) or simply shut off to you and turn elsewhere (flight). Or they’ll just punch you and run away (fight-AND-flight). Unless they explicitly ask for your help, simply being there is the best action you can take.

3. Share Your Experience

Be real. Share the most gut wrenching story from your life; was there a time you faced crippling anxiety? Depression? Even suicidal thoughts? The moment that began shaking me were hearing from my dad – one of my role models – share how he couldn’t sleep for days at a time, had lingering pains in his chest, and cold sweats while he struggled to raise a young family amidst unemployment and a bad economy. Then, a good friend reached out to me about how he contemplated suicide amidst the worst anxiety attack in his life. Finally, my roommate – whom I’ve known for all of two months – opened up about his bouts with anxiety. Sharing that you’ve experienced the same symptoms, but have a different story offers a fresh perspective that can shake the sufferer out of their current tunnel vision. Notice how none of this involves giving advice.

4. Offer Perspective

Whatever they’re going through, there’s someone, somewhere who has had it worse and overcome it. When someone is experiencing extreme anxiety, all they’re thinking about is how bad they have it in that moment, and it’s incredibly difficult to shake this perspective. Telling a story about someone you know, someone you’ve heard of, or even sharing a humorous anecdote can provide a jolt of, “It could be worse.” The other night, I was wandering aimlessly through the grocery store on the phone with a buddy of mine. As I tried to pick out the Holy Grail of avocados (why are they only ripe for seven minutes!?), he put the image of living in the Middle Ages through the bubonic plague in my head. As stupid as it seems, it made me feel silly for thinking my problems were so bad and shook me out of my funk for the time being. Oh, and I found the perfect avocado.

5. Ask Open-Ended Questions

When they ask for your help, it may seem natural to simply tell them what to do next, but that’s not what they really want. They just want to know how to break out of their funk, but doing it in a way specific to them, and the best way to point them in that direction is to ask them open-ended questions that will help them find their own answers (no closed-ended questions that lead to yes or no answers). The goal is to help them discover answers that make them feel better about themselves, reframing the situation so they can find a path up, and asking them what actions they can take to get there. In doing this, I was able to see that the anxiety I was feeling was all self-inflicted, that I’ve overcome every roadblock ever put in front of me, and that I have growth opportunities all around me. Now, I have an action plan in place to grow myself, discover new things, and use this experience to help others. That’s why I’m posting this now – I was in the middle of reaching out to secure new speaking gigs when inspiration struck from a question my dad asked me: “What are some things you can do now?” If I can leverage my experience to offer ideas to people who are dealing with others with anxiety (or dealing with anxiety themselves), I have to take the opportunity to do so.

Without others lending a hug, empathy, perspective, and asking perspective-expanding questions, I’d be in a much worse place right now. If you know someone going through anxiety, reach out, and at the very least, let them know you’re there and just listen.

Who knows? You may be saving a life.

Enough Fighting! The Solution: Start From Common Ground

It seems like nowadays, there’s constant conflict with no end in sight between groups with opposing ideologies. “I’m right, you’re wrong” conversations based on judgment have overshadowed actual conversations focused on solutions, and enough is enough!
Instead of telling all of you fierce Democratic debaters and Republican retaliators that you’re wrong for your behavior, I’m here to present a solution.
In order to get anything done, it’s important to begin from a common origin – common ground, if you will – and the common ground is an issue I think we can all agree on: ambrosia salads need to be banished.
Forgotten.
Exiled to the annals of history.
And then those annals need to be burned.
If you disagree, you’re what’s wrong with the world today.

Thanksgiving is coming up, and for some reason, we all have a distant relative who decides it’s a great idea to bring a bowl of fruit, marshmallows, and some sort of creamy, disgusting, dairy-based mixture to keep the party going.
This is why you’re a distant relative, Aunt Patty!
Really, have you ever been to a holiday potluck and thought, “Thank god someone brought the ambrosia!”? You haven’t!
It’s one of those foods that’s there, but you only take one tiny scoop so as not to hurt anyone’s feelings.
Then people act surprised when there’s so much left over, and they try to pawn it off on everyone else.
“Take some home! There’s so much left over!”
There’s a reason: it looks like the after photo of what happens in a garbage disposal!

First of all, the name sounds like a skin condition – “Stop scratching! You’re making your ambrosia worse!” – but is actually more arrogant in origin.
It references the food of the Greek gods.
Point me to the immortal being who orders the ambrosia, because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.
Your ass is banished from Mount Olympus!

Ambrosia salad is what you make when you’re broke and all you have left is Del Monte fruit cocktail, Cool Whip, marshmallows, and the pecans you found in the back of the cupboard from last year’s Thanksgiving.
If I were starving to death and you offered me ambrosia, I’d take a heaping spoonful of death.
How this dish keeps appearing on tables at holiday gatherings is beyond me.
When my mom makes sweet potatoes, people ask her to make it again the next year.
When someone makes ambrosia salad, people ask them to never come back:
“Maybe go spend next year with the other side of the family.”
But alas, they’re back, and with a fresh bowl of vomit, completely ignoring the explicit context clue that no one even touched their heaping bowl of why white people need to check themselves last year.
Yet, there they are.
“Guess what I broooooought! Everyone’s favorite!”
This needs to end.
Now.
Democrats!
Republicans!
Heed my words: ambrosia salads need banned, and that’s something you can all reach across the aisle about.
If President Trump tweeted his disdain for the dish, it would be his most liked and least controversial tweet EVER.

I’m not saying that banning ambrosia salad is going to unite all sides on all issues, but starting from common ground and working towards solving other, more controversial issues is much more productive than starting from dissenting points of view.
If we admit that we share a perspective with even our most fervent of detractors, the stereotypes that come to mind when we think of our rivals dissipate, and we see the human behind the label.
Unless the human likes ambrosia salad, in which case I hope they get struck by lightning. Twice for good measure. Because Zeus ain’t standing for that shit.

Gun Violence and the Solution That’s Right Under Our Noses

Last month, President Donald Trump and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos hosted a roundtable discussion where they invited victims of school shootings to the White House to discuss their experiences and ideas for solutions. Regardless of your position on the president and Mrs. DeVos, this was a welcomed development in the debate over gun violence. Instead of debating, arguing, and the typical candor between politicians, real people came together to share solution ideas for a problem that has divided us for years. Not one to watch the news (or what I call “the noise” because I’m just so damn clever), I was transfixed. In a culture where we’re focused on who’s right vs. who’s wrong rather than “How can we come together to create a solution?” for once those in attendance had a common goal: create a culture of safety. Not five minutes after the meeting ended, came the hot takes from pundits and social media accounts focused again on who was right and who was wrong, why the president is an asshat, and his meeting notes, including a reminder to “hear” those voicing their concerns. We were right back to focusing on problems instead of creating solutions. In all this noise, we missed out on the solution to the problem that was offered during the meeting that doesn’t just take care of the symptoms like mental health reform, banning certain guns, or arming teachers: a cultural shift focused on how we see one another.
During this meeting, one person really stood out to me: Darrel Scott, father of Rachel Scott, who was killed in the 4/20/97 shooting at Columbine High School. This was the school shooting that brought the topic of gun violence into the national spotlight almost 21 years ago, and still, few solutions have been reached. In fact, mass shootings have only intensified, because in these twenty-plus years, Columbine has dropped out of the top 10 list for deadliest shootings (um… yay?). It’s time for new ideas, because the ideas we’ve been working with for over two decades are clearly not doing the trick. What Scott said struck a chord with me since I study and share how to create positive workplace cultures for a living. Scott has a brief opportunity to get to the core of, not only the issue of gun violence, but the issues of violence in general and the underlying lack of happiness plaguing the country. Scott isn’t just talking about it a solution, he’s actively doing something to fix the deeply rooted cause of violent behavior: a lack of human connection.
Since his daughter lost her life, Scott has founded Rachel’s Challenge,* a nonprofit on a mission to create a positive climate focused on making schools safer, more connected places where bullying and violence are replaced with kindness and respect. According to Scott, the program has touched 28 million students since its founding in 1998, has prevented 7 school shootings, prevents an average of 150 suicides a year, and has seen improvements in the schools with whom they have partnered. According to the website, this includes gains in community engagement, faculty/student relationships, leadership potential, and school climate, as well as reductions in bullying, alcohol, tobacco, and drug use. While debates rage on over whether to arm teachers, ban automatic weapons, or apply stricter background checks when purchasing a firearm, Scott, a private citizen just like me and you, free from the entanglements of bureaucracy and politics, is, putting it bluntly, getting shit done.
Scott’s solution: “We must create a culture of connectedness. We must create a culture in which our classmates become our friends.” He goes on to explain how he has seen students connect with one another and makes a fascinating point: “Every single one of these school shootings have been from young men who are disconnected.”**
In his book, Flourish: positive psychologist Martin Seligman lists positive relationships as one of the five elements of human well-being.***

“Selfish-gene theory argues that the individual is the sole unit of natural selection. Evidence shows that the group is a primary unit of natural selection.”

Sure, I have read books in the field of positive psychology that re-affirm this, but it’s through my research in other fields like leadership, history, and, yes, even improvisation that have led me to go as far as to say that a lack of human connectedness is the causation of aggression, violence, and discrimination.
From Simon Sinek in his book Leaders Eat Last:

“When we cooperate or look out for others, serotonin and oxytocin reward us with the feelings of security, fulfillment, belonging, trust, and camaraderie.”

Humans are wired to get along, but we’re conditioned to covet personal gain, which goes against this biology, and costs us opportunities to make connections, become happier, and grow exponentially. In his book Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, historian Yuval Noah Harrari wrote:

“Evolution favors those capable of forming strong social ties. In addition, since humans are born underdeveloped, they can be educated and socialized far greater than any other animals.”

To solve the problem of gun violence, we must create a culture focused on humans connecting with one another in order to make each other better and to make the world a better place, which is what Darrel Scott and his wife are doing with Rachel’s Challenge. I believe that the long-term solution is an overhaul of the education system where the goal is for students to learn to connect with one another and work together, rather than work separately for individual accomplishment. Until then, each of us can play a small role on creating a culture of connectedness in our own lives and circles. Though each of us as individuals has a small voice, we have an opportunity to come together and connect as a cacophony of voices on a quest to create safety, happiness, and love. It is in the pursuit of creating something we all believe in that can connect us, rather than arguing over who is right or who is wrong, which denies us the chance to create connection.
Darrel Scott is just one voice who has brought together a chorus of many voices to make a difference and bring us closer to a more human culture:
“The focus must not be just on unity or diversity, because if you focus too much on diversity, you create division. If you focus too much on unity, you’ll create compromise. But if you focus on relatedness and how you can relate with one another, then you can celebrate the diversity and you can see the unity take place. The focus really needs to be on how we can connect. That’s something our organizations have learned: how to connect students with each other, with themselves, with their teachers, and with their parents.”

Imagine the freedom of walking the streets without the fear of violence – with a feeling of confidence that every person you pass has your best interests at heart. We have the choice to focus on how this isn’t possible, which is what has been happening, or we can shift our focus onto how we can come together and create this culture. One thing you can do today is not to debate, but to listen to the ideas of others and remember that no matter who we are, we all want to feel safe and loved. How can you help make this happen and connect with others today?

“The most important decision we make is whether we believe in a friendly or hostile universe.” – Albert Einstein
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands, but in looking with new eyes.” – Marcel Proust
*Darrel Scott speaks at about 33:50 in this video:
https://www.denverpost.com/2018/02/21/darrell-scott-columbine-shooting-donald-trump/
** Learn more about Rachel’s Challenge and how a culture of connectedness is helping students all over the country build relationships with classmates, parents, teachers, and themselves.
***The other four are positive emotion, engagement, meaning, and accomplishment.

How We Can Learn from Our Evolution

Have you ever read a book, watched a TED Talk, or heard a quote that made you take a step back and ponder the meaning of your existence? Check out this excerpt from Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari:

“The evolution of animals to get to where they are on the food chain took hundreds of millions of years constantly checking and balancing so that one species wasn’t dominant. Humans jumped from the middle to the top in such a short time, ecosystems didn’t get much of a chance to evolve along with them. Moreover, humans also failed to adjust. Having so recently been one of the underdogs of the savanna, we are full of fear and anxieties over our position, which makes us doubly cruel and dangerous. Many historical calamities, from deadly wars to ecological catastrophes have resulted from this overhasty jump…”

If you’ve ever wondered why humans can be such dicks, it’s because we haven’t had time to mature yet! As a species, we’re still in the snapping bra straps, giving Indian rug burns, harassing people for being overweight phase of life while we’re at home worrying we’re not good enough, insecure about our own status as the cool kid. Still, that’s no excuse for the way we’ve been acting lately. We’re at the top of the food chain, and unless Earth is invaded by the Yautja species from the Predator movies, that’s never going to change… unless we decide to dethrone ourselves.

“Tolerance is not a trait of sapiens. In modern days, as simple a difference as skin color, dialect, and religion has been enough to prompt one group of sapiens to set about and destroy another group.”

Whoa.

We’re so worried about losing our spot as the coolest kid in class, we kill people who are different than us because they’re “threatening us.” It’s not politics, religion, or skin color that cause violent conflicts, these are surface issues. Deep down, it’s our evolutionary software telling us that everyone unlike us is trying to murder us.

The good news is that we reached the top of the food chain, not because we made weapons and killed all of the other predators, but because we developed a brain that allows us to learn from our mistakes and plan for the future, and we also learned to work as a team to overcome obstacles. Our physical adaptations worked against us so hard, that the only ways to adapt was using our brains to learn and plan and teamwork. Think about it:

· We have no fur to protect us from the cold

· We’re slower than most of our predators

· We can climb trees, but we’re not exactly great at it

· Our nails and teeth are barely butter-knife-sharp

· Our children aren’t self-sufficient until they’re basically teenagers, sometimes later

So how do we overcome our self-destructive behaviors?

Knowing that humanity is the greatest risk to humanity’s success is a great place to start. Whether it’s violence, greed, or a basic “I’m-better-than-you” mentality, these behaviors are a result of our hardwired insecurity. To overcome them, just like we overcame predators and unfriendly climates, we need to take full advantage of our evolutionary adaptations:

1. Learn from mistakes and plan for a better future

2. Work as a team to overcome obstacles

Though our insecurities lead to the differences dividing us, it’s these different perspectives, life experiences, and talents working in unison toward a common vision that will better our planet, better each other, and better our species as a whole.

IF WE CONTINUE ON THE “I’M RIGHT, YOU’RE WRONG” PATH, HUMANS ARE GOING TO KEEP FEELING THREATENED, AND WHEN HUMANS FEEL THREATENED, WE KILL EVERYTHING.

That’s just stating a historical fact.

Let’s learn from our past, imagine a better future, and work together right now to start making that happen because there’s no reason to feel insecure; we’re the cool kids around here and we aren’t moving down the food chain anytime soon.

This Study Could Change the Way We Think

Every so often, there comes a scientific discovery that dramatically changes the world. Many of these studies have no impact on our day-to-day lives, and we’re left saying, “That’s great, but what does that have to do with me?” I spend a lot of time asking questions and doing research on thinking and how it affects our results, so I find some interesting articles and try to apply what I learn to my life. This article, however, made my jaw drop. A psychology student at Colorado College decided to do a sleep study on two groups of students for her thesis, and the results are incredibly far-reaching. And yes, the results do have something to do with you, me, and everyone else.

Here’s the link to the report on the Colorado College Placebo Sleep Study if you want to read it yourself: https://www.coloradocollege.edu/newsevents/newsroom/the-power-of-positive-sleeping#.ViemgEuXHKB

If you don’t want to read it, let me sum it up:

The subjects of the study were informed that, using new technology, the quality of their sleep the night before could be measured. This was a lie. They informed one group that they had an above average night of sleep and the other that their sleep quality was below average. Each group was informed that their sleep quality had a direct impact on their cognitive functioning. The groups were then given the same test to assess their ability to listen and process information. Guess who performed better? Basically, if you believe you got a good night’s sleep, no matter the sleep you actually got, you perform better the next day.

These findings are revolutionary and are another instance of scientific proof that it isn’t the event, but our perception of the event that determines how we respond and perform, and how we perform directly impacts our results. This means that whatever we face, if we believe or don’t believe we can overcome it, our results will respond in kind. Wait, what?? You mean I could have made that sale, got that date, or achieved that goal even though I didn’t? Yep! And because you weren’t able to get the win, it can only mean you let thoughts like “I can’t” or “It isn’t realistic” get the best of your thinking process. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Let’s apply this to work. Suppose your boss came up to your desk and said, “Mr. Peterson is very interested in committing to our product; I just need you to give him one last selling point. Can you do it?” Now suppose your boss said, “Mr. Peterson doesn’t seem too thrilled about our product; could you go try and convince him otherwise?” You would respond differently to each challenge. Just like the group of students who believed their sleep aversely effected their performance, the latter work situation is much more likely to produce a negative result. If you believe with every fiber of your being, with no inkling of a doubt, that you’re going to make the sale, guess what? Your sales pitch is going to be infused with confidence, positivity, and further actions that will produce the intended result. If you don’t believe the client is interested in coming on board, your sales pitch isn’t going to be very confident, and may come across as desperate. You may include certain sales pitches that you wouldn’t if you had belief in the outcome, and these pitches might not be the strongest selling point of your product.

Essentially, positive thought -> positive action -> positive result. Negative thought -> negative action -> negative result. It’s not often we find that positive thought -> positive action -> negative result. You don’t prepare an apple pie and, when it comes out of the oven, expect key lime.

So when you find yourself doubting the power of self-belief, take a look back at the philosophies on self-belief of Aristotle, Plat0, Socrates, Confucius, Buddha, Jesus, Descartes, Twain, Emerson, Gandhi, Oprah, and Yoda. Need more sound scientific evidence than some of the names that transcend history?

Here:

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/1998-10-21/news/9810210019_1_placebo-effect-poison-ivy-patient

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2002/07/020712075415.htm

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2007/february7/dweck-020707.html

Learn more, achieve more, earn more, and live a more positive, fulfilling life. All you have to do is believe you can and you’ve given yourself the most important head start you can, no matter how much sleep you’ve gotten.

(If only more people read about things like this and less about what’s wrong with (insert political candidate here), Lamar Odom and the Kardashians, or about people being bullied and how bad it is, this world would be a much more self-aware, positive place. So please, share this blog post with people you know and care about – it can have a positive impact on the way they see themselves, and I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need a little self-belief.)

Stop Stressing: 6 Ways to Eliminate Stress

“I’m so stressed out right now.”
“Do you like being stressed out?
“No.”
“Then don’t be.”

If only it were that simple…

But guess what? It is.

I know you’re thinking, “He doesn’t know what I’m thinking.” You’re probably also thinking: “What does he mean, ‘It’s simple to not be stressed out??’ I call bullish!t.” I thought the same thing until I put techniques into practice that I learned by studying spiritual teachers, psychologists, and neurologists who have mastered inner-peace. Right now, I am working on all facets of launching my own business while working a second job. The to-do list is constantly growing, no matter how hard I work, so it should be easy to slip into some serious stress. But I don’t because I like having fun, and being stressed out isn’t fun. My guess is you like having fun too. Have you ever noticed that when you’re feeling stressed, your heart rate quickens, you break out into cold sweats, your vision blurs, you can’t think straight, your breath shortens, your head starts pounding, you’re constantly on the brink of tears, and you’re tempted to punch the next person who says, “You don’t look so good”? These are some of the instantaneous effects of cortisol, the chemical our brains release when we get stressed, and these are the furthest things from fun. Some of the long term effects of the continual release of cortisol include heartburn, cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, random aches and pains, lethargy, acne, ulcers, depression, an underachieving immune system, heart attack, stroke, cancer, diabetes, memory loss, infertility, irregular periods, commas, and semicolons, and most importantly, erectile dysfunction. Yeesh! This blog is a call to action. Nobody wants to have a mental meltdown, heart attack, or erectile dysfunction (unless you’re on stage wearing sweatpants), so what can you do about stress? These are the six steps I take on a daily basis to catch stress before it has a chance to affect my penis. (Note: there are many techniques that are out there, just waiting for you to discover them. What works for one person, may not work for everyone.) You can turn your life around by kicking stress in the mouth and then replacing it with joy, inner-peace, and mental freedom. Here’s how:

1. Change the way you talk to yourself

If you have read any of my previous writings, attended any of my presentations, or engaged in a deep conversation about life with me, this is always my first step. Why? Because we’re driven by our programming, and we become programmed by what we tell ourselves over and over and over and… You get the picture. If we tell ourselves “This thing is really stressing me out!” a ton of times, our brain acts on this command. The more we tell ourselves we’re stressed out in certain situations, the easier it is for our brains to oblige. The more our brains oblige, the thought becomes lodged in our subconscious, and before we know it, we become stressed without even having the time to say, “This situation is stressing me out.” It’s like typing ‘f’ in your internet browser’s search bar and being taken to Facebook without having to press more than 2 keys. When we start to hear the toxic words or feel the negative emotions, all we have to do is listen to the words we’re saying to ourselves, question them (Is it really true that this thing is the worst ever? Is this thought helping me or hurting me? What’s are the best-case, worst-case, and realistic scenarios here? Etc.), and replace them with thoughts that don’t stress us out.

“I’m getting this done in time and my audience is going to love it.”
“Every step I take is bringing me closer and closer to my goal.”
“If this situation were to turn out in my favor, what would it look like?”
“What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?”

Since I’ve trained my brain to think these thoughts to replace the stressful ones, they always bring about an inner calm and a sense of excitement – definitely better than breaking out into a cold sweat, especially if I have to shake someone’s hand.

2. Look at the situation from a different perspective

You’ve been hit by the stress bus (ouch), but there’s still a chance to save yourself! Quick, change the camera angle through which you see the situation! There are two ways to do this:

A.) Realize it’s not the situation, but your thoughts about the
situation that are causing you stress.
B.) See the stress as an opportunity to grow.

A.) Realize it’s not the situation
I recently had a projector malfunction on the morning of a presentation. The first thoughts that went through my head included, “This is bullsh*t! How could this happen to me!?” “I’m going to have to wing it, it’s going to be terrible, and I’m never going to get to speak again!” “I’m going to be so late – they’re going to hate me!” Once we have thoughts like these, our actions follow. In this case, I proceeded to barrel through the house, knocking things over, forgetting the whiteboard I was going to use in place of the slideshow, and cussing my way down the highway at 90 miles an hour (even though I had plenty of time to get there). My heart was pounding, I had an abnormal amount of pit sweat, and I almost got into a car accident. That’s when I saw an overturned semi truck on the side of the road and I was finally able to catch one of these illogical, toxic thoughts. I immediately re-framed the situation and started to laugh when I got to the, “Are my thoughts helping or hurting me?” question. The answer was obvious, but because I was stuck on the idea of the situation being more powerful than my thoughts about it, I couldn’t reframe until I mentally took myself out of the situation and was able to adjust my perspective. That’s when I:

B.) Saw the stress as an opportunity to grow
Feelings are our subconscious’ way of telling us if we’re on or off track. Once we realize it’s not the situation, but our thoughts about it that are eliciting the feelings, it becomes easier to see that we’re off track. That is the silver lining of stress: it’s a sign that things aren’t going great, but if we succumb to the stress, we miss out on an awesome opportunity to change our behavior through new thoughts. When we feel stress, it’s an opportune time for us to say, “Hey, that’s a feeling I don’t like. I should do something about it!” instead of saying, “I’m so stressed out and I hate it. Work is stressing me out, my partner is stressing me out, the way the birds seem to be waking me up earlier and earlier is f*cking stressing me out.” Use stress as a launching point to find a solution, but don’t focus on the stress for too long.

3. Breathe in the moment

That sounds a whole lot like “smoke weed, dude.” Even though drugs, cigarettes, junk food, sex, or alcohol provide a temporary respite, we can’t solve an internal problem externally. Real change comes from within, which is where our breath – the thing which gives us life – comes from. If you’re feeling stressed, sometimes the best thing to do is:
> Close your eyes
> Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose while simultaneously
pushing out your belly (this is called diaphragmatic breathing)
> Exhale slowly out of your mouth. Do this a few times while focusing on
the air flowing in and out of your body. In fact, notice your body and
feel gratitude that you can feel your feet, legs, torso, hands, arms,
shoulders, neck, and head. You exist and that’s kind of a miracle
considering the vast infinity of the universe.
> Replace any thought that may try to pop up, thank your brain for trying
to think, and remind it to focus on how awesome just being and breathing
is.
This technique introduces more oxygen into the brain and gets the blood flowing, as well as bringing you a sense of calm. When we get stressed and start to shorten our breath, it limits the flow of oxygen to the brain and cells. When this happens you start to think, “I’m going to die,” which makes no sense if your stress is being caused by a significant other’s lack of responses to your texts. This method takes a little bit more practice, but I promise, it can become one of the most cathartic and exciting parts of your day.

4. Do one thing at a time

One of my self-talk replacement questions from number one is, “What step can I take right now to get from where I am to where I want to be?” The most important part of that sentence is “What step can I take right now?” When we get stressed out, our thoughts quickly tend to snowball into irrationality because we’re taking ourselves out of the moment and thinking about everything that needs done or could happen in the future. This doesn’t make sense. Why? You only have one brain. Even though it’s a powerful brain, by creating all of these negative, potential future situations, it can’t focus on what needs to be done right now in order to avoid those situations. “What can I do right now?” There’s always only one thing to do at a time. Take a deep breath and get to work on that one thing, when that’s done, get to work on the next one thing, and so on. When our negative thoughts snowball, we get overwhelmed and slip into a self-induced paralysis, thus bringing our imagined horror-filled future into the present. When you feel your thoughts slipping into the future and bringing you stress, simply ask, “What can I do right now?” and do that thing.

5. Reach out

My philosophy is that life is a people business. I look at everyone I meet as a family member, friend, client, customer, etc. – no matter how rude (they’re probably just dealing with stress). The cool thing about other people is that no two human beings share the same perspective. Sometimes, when we’re in a stressful situation, it becomes difficult to objectively view the scenario. So reach out to someone, even if it’s the person whom you believe is causing you stress, tell them what you’re trying to achieve, the obstacle that’s stopping you, and what you’ve done so far. Don’t complain, argue, blame, or make excuses, otherwise you’ll push the other person away or they’ll simply tell you what you want to hear. Open up, be honest, give them those three bits of information, and just listen. Don’t think or interrupt – just listen. Many times, we already know the answer deep down, we just need an alternate perspective to confirm it. Then be willing and excited for the time when someone comes to you in a pinch. Human interaction is really a fascinating medium, and, at it’s highest potential, can be used to boost ourselves while simultaneously boosting others. That’s a pretty sweet concept. Take advantage of it.

6. Realize that it’s not that serious

Think about how many times you’ve been stressed out and remember that you’re still here, in one piece. You’ve overcome every single obstacle and roadblock that you’ve faced and you made it here today. These stepping stones make us who we are, and sometimes we may slip and fall, but we’d never learn to swim if we didn’t get in the water. That’s all stress is: an opportunity to learn, grow, and take your life where you’ve never taken it before. We’re all on our own journey, but think about how boring Lord of the Rings would be if they just walked right into Mordor, said hi, plopped the ring into the volcano, and went home. Things would go from a quest to an errand in a second. Sometimes the situations we find ourselves in seem so serious, when in reality, they’re just situations and we have the choice to make them serious, or enjoy the journey of learning how to overcome. If it’s a big deal, it isn’t. If it’s super stressful, it’s super not. Just learn to see whatever it is in a way that makes you laugh. Why? Laughter releases endorphins – chemicals that have the opposite effects of cortisol – from your brain. Laughter strengthens your immune system, boosts your energy, diminishes pain, relieves tension, increases blood flow, relaxes your muscles, eases fear, expands perspective, strengthens relationships, maximizes creativity, and so much more. I’m pretty sure it results in a healthier sex drive too.

“I feel so good right now.”
“Do you like feeling good?”
“Yeah.”
“So then keep doing it.”

It’s that simple.

PS.) Remind me not to wear sweat pants on stage.

Sources:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Broadway Books.

Amen, D. (2000). Change your brain, change your life: The breakthrough program for conquering anxiety, depression, obsessiveness, anger, and impulsiveness. New York, NY: Times Books.

Katie, B., & Mitchell, S. (2002). Loving what is: Four questions that can change your life. New York, NY: Harmony Books.

Pietrangelo, A. (2014, August 25). The Effects of Stress on the Body. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body

Shimoff, M., & Kline, C. (n.d.). Happy for no reason: 7 steps to being happy from the inside out.

Smith, M., & Segal, J. (2015, August 1). Laughter is the Best Medicine. Retrieved October 6, 2015, from http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/laughter-is-the-best-medicine.htm

Tolle, E. (1999). The power of now: A guide to spiritual enlightenment. Novato, CA: New World Library.