10 ways to deal with anxiety

10 Ways to Overcome Anxiety

Hi, I’m Shelley Treacher from the Stress and Anxiety Podcast.

Today I’m going to be talking about anxiety. I’m going to give you 10 ways to overcome anxiety.

But first, I just want to let you know that the podcast is going to be changing slightly. I’m still going to be talking about comfort eating, emotional eating, and binge eating, but I’m going to be changing the name to reflect the fact that I talk about general mental health issues and psychology.

The podcast will also be produced fortnightly for a while, and then I’ll be going to weekly on a specific day of the week, so I’ll let you know when that’s organised. Your questions and comments are particularly welcome. I think people find them much more useful than just me talking the whole time. So please do keep sending them to me and just be assured that they will be treated anonymously.


Q&A What is compassion?

To that end, the first question I have today is, what is compassion? This is a great question because it’s actually central to you being able to give up binge eating. I’ve decided it actually deserves a whole podcast of its own, so I will be producing that at some point, along with the subject of your relationship with yourself.

But I will just simply say what compassion means to me. To me, it means forgiving being human. Most people who comfort eat have had a history of being taught, one way or another, that feelings are not acceptable. Hence having to use a substance to squash them in the first place, whenever they arise. So compassion is about learning to be kind to yourself for having an emotion.

Then, holding that with sensitivity and caring, before addressing what the emotion is actually trying to tell you that you need. So for example, you might get frustrated with yourself, or apologise for crying or for feeling hurt about something. You might get really angry with yourself. And you may never allow yourself to be upset or to feel vulnerable.

You might fear that people will think you’re too sensitive or weak. Maybe your primary caregivers were harsh when it came to emotion or reacted badly to it. Maybe being products of their generation and conditioning, they valued appearing to be strong by denying emotion. This is judgmental and unrealistic.


Accept being human

We are emotional creatures. It’s an essential part of being human, and it’s completely normal and unavoidable. So, compassion here would be to learn to accept your human feelings and to listen to what your upset or emotion is telling you that you most need. The same goes with comfort eating or emotional eating, where it’s impossible to progress if you’re always in a fight with yourself about having a feeling.

The progress literally comes from being accepting of your feelings. It’s this acceptance that will lead you to not wanting to overeat eventually, which is why I’ll dedicate a whole podcast to this subject. But the first question to ask is do you give yourself a hard time for feeling? I will also be talking more about this in the anxiety podcast today.


How do I stop myself from overeating once I’ve started?

But I’ve also had two other questions come in which relate to each other in my answer. The first question is how do I stop myself from eating once I’ve started? And the second question, how to not take the first bite. This is definitely a difficult one and probably the most common question that I hear.

Pretty much every technique in all of my podcasts and all of my training is about being able to do this and unfortunately there isn’t a quick fix. It’s the voice that makes you want to binge that is asking this question. It’s desperate for an answer, and it’s desperate for the food to squash how you feel.

But the long term practice of self compassion, self respect, self empowerment, and mindfulness will intercept that urge at some point. In the moment, whether it’s before you binge or during, It’s about being able to create a pause between emotion and reaction, like I was talking about last time with anger.

It’s learning to tolerate that moment that you dread, the moment where you don’t satisfy the urge to eat, and you study yourself instead. This takes the decision to do that. You tolerate that gap and that discomfort, exploring why you’re doing it, as in what emotion you’re feeling that caused you to binge. Calling to mind why you would want to stop yourself from doing that, how hard you’re being on yourself, and asking yourself what you really need.

I have an example from my own life this week for this. This week, I’ve been aware of an urge to eat chocolate, pretty much every day. Luckily, because I’m working, I can’t nip out to the shops to get any, so it’s given me time to wonder why am I craving it.

Staying with the feelings in my body, I discovered that I’ve been feeling misunderstood by my partner and frustrated that I don’t have the time to produce a program that I want to produce. Once I realized this, I set about trying to provide a solution and address what I really need, which I’m really grateful for because that actually led to better communication with my boyfriend, and I’ve set aside some time for the program as well, so I’m really pleased about that.

But this is the kind of thing that you miss if you just eat the chocolate instead. I know that I would have been craving the chocolate again and again because the problems and the feelings wouldn’t have gone anywhere and they’d still be there to nag me inside and give me the unconscious desire to squash them.

So thank you for providing questions like this. I hope they’ve been useful to you. If you’re enjoying this new format, perhaps you could let me know.


Coping with anxiety

Now let’s turn to anxiety. Just as I did with anger, I’m going to explain what anxiety actually is, and then I’m going to give you some ways to cope with anxiety. Although that part will also be continued in another podcast I’m going to do soon about self regulation and resourcing. We all worry, especially now.

We all have things to worry about. Like anger, which was the subject of my last podcast. Some worry is necessary for addressing what matters to us. Like anger, it helps to avert danger or discomfort. But also, like anger, we aren’t usually taught how to cope with worry. So worry can be another major reason why people might overeat or binge eat.

Although the problem here is that the real subject of the worry never actually gets addressed. It just gets squashed and denied. For example, if you’re planning a social occasion, you might worry more about how you look and your weight than the actual occasion and things that really matter to you, like connecting or having a good time.

You might worry so much about your body image that you don’t address intimacy in your love life, and so you end up feeling quite alone. There are different types of anxiety, like health anxiety, this is actually classed as a panic disorder, phobias, and social anxiety. Overeaters specifically worry about being seen and judged, so might avoid going out and being close to people.

You may also worry about food and not being able to access it. But generally, anxiety is fear of the unknown. It’s a fear of doing something or needing something and being unable to meet that need. Worry is often about the future or the past. Worry assumes that something was or will be very wrong and it asks, what if?

And the uncertainty of the answer invites much projection. Worry almost always involves giving yourself a hard time. I’ve had a previous podcast on that as well. And worrying what others think of you. The physical signs of anxiety are a flat face, breathing only in the upper chest, and in a monotone, high pitched voice.

Anxiety is a heightened state of fear and defense. What is happening in the body is that it’s getting ready to defend and to protect you. For the binge eater, as with much of Western society, anxiety is so uncomfortable that our instinct is to avoid it or to plow through. This is too harsh. It means we never get to address what we’re worried about.

This whole attitude also inspires shame for feeling or being vulnerable. So you may be eating because you’re worried about something, and also because you feel ashamed for worrying. The belief underneath worry and anxiety is that we can’t cope. We fear what we would feel, not what would actually happen.

With anxiety, we overestimate risk and we underestimate our ability to cope. Our belief systems play a huge part in this. Here are some questions to help you explore how anxiety shows up for you. How do you behave when something worries you? What do you usually worry about? And can you see that you respond to anxiety or worry with food?

The physiological state of anxiety actually increases anxiety. As the breath gets higher and higher in the body, we may start to panic. A panic attack can occur with the combination of this chest breathing and worried thoughts, especially if there is a belief that there will be a panic attack. As a binge eater or comfort eater, your body is in a state of fight, flight, or freeze much of the time.

As I’ve mentioned before, the state of binge eating is a dissociative or an angry state, where physiologically you may be in a heightened defense state when you eat. So you may be susceptible to worry. Given that this is a natural physiological state that can’t be stopped, and you can’t just be okay if someone says, Hey, calm down, forget about it.


10 ways to overcome anxiety

What can you actually do?

So here are 10 ideas that you can try. The focus of coping with anxiety is about addressing what the anxiety is and trying different ways to calm your system down. Here, I’ll start with the latter, because sometimes that’s enough. Sometimes you just need a simple technique. But be aware that if these techniques don’t help you with any worry or anxiety that you notice, it’s probably because you need to understand what’s going on underneath a little bit more.

Number One is to breathe. Just paying attention to the breath exactly how it actually is can calm you down. It’s impossible to rationalise through being in a state of heightened anxiety. The brain just won’t let you do it. So the idea here is to change your physiological state first. Breath manipulation is one of the easiest ways to do it.

So there are lots of different breathing exercises that you can find on YouTube and Headspace and all the different apps you can get, but try this for example. Just breathe in naturally and then exhale a little bit more slowly than you would, or the other way around. Inhale slowly and breathe out naturally.

Number Two, you can hum or make an ah sound. Send the sound outwards with your exhalation. You can try this by breathing out with some low sound next time you go to the fridge.

The Third on my list is trying polyvagal exercises. I showed you one of these last time. This is where you turn your head to one side and you look as far in that direction as you possibly can and you just wait until you get a big breath, a sigh or a yawn. And then you repeat the same on the other side.

Number Four, someone else’s voice can be very soothing. This is the last of the techniques that you can try.

In Number Five, I’m going to move on to exploring more deeply. So number five, sometimes you have to explore the reason why the anxiety is there so that you can address it. Be understanding and gentle with yourself for feeling this anxiety. Often we feel frustrated with ourselves when we have a strong emotion, but it’s there for a reason. This may involve understanding the root of the anxiety. This will make sense of the emotion and the experience. So ask, what is the anxiety about?

Explore what the anxiety is saying. Name the threat. Just as a mother would investigate the room for monsters if a child had a nightmare about monsters, This can often help you to see that it’s not as scary as you thought. Investigate what’s important underneath this worry. Ask what it means that you care about.

If you’re worried about being seen, is the root fear about not being able to connect? Not being able to be authentically you and acceptable? Are you afraid of rejection on a deeper level? Anxiety is often about abandonment terror. A fear of being ultimately alone. Your nervous system may be revved up from a previous trauma, so that anxiety and a feeling of not being safe is always in the background, ready to come out.

Often, this is about a feeling of not deserving love. This is something that needs such a great amount of compassion. An example of this is a fear of public speaking. This often goes back to being taught that what you had to say wasn’t important, and this might have been taught subliminally, so your parents or your caregivers might just have not been interested in what you had to say or been wrapped up in their own thing and you might have interpreted that as well I’m pretty boring then I don’t have anything interesting to contribute and now this might come out socially or when you have to give a talk.

Number Six. Observe how you behave when you’re anxious. How do you respond when something makes you anxious? Engage in reflective activities like written or audio journaling. To be aware of your anxiety triggers, and your response, get to know what thoughts or images you see and have in your mind when you’re anxious.

What do you do to look after yourself when you’re anxious? They say that what you focus on is who you are, so instead of feeding rumination and worry, focus on kindness, love, gratitude, and self-compassion, because that will grow. Change your habitual response to one of caring. This applies to food compulsion, but it also applies to the way that you think, especially about yourself.

Number Seven, develop the ability to know that you can cope. Find ways to increase your confidence. As I mentioned, worry asks, what if? So answer that question. What is the worst that could happen? What are you imagining? And then be realistic about what the actual danger is. Do some fact-checking. And list all the criticisms that you have in your head.

Then list a possible compassionate response. I have another example from my life about this this week. I’ve been learning a dance choreography to be submitted for video, but then later to be performed in person. I went through a period of being hard on myself for not getting it perfect, which would be difficult, actually, at this point in learning it, because it hasn’t been that long.

It took a while, but once I’d focused on my anxiety and the fact that I was worried about other people judging me, I realised that I don’t deserve that judgement, and I’m trying hard here, and I’m doing pretty well. I worked out that the thing I was most afraid of was looking stupid, and so I turned to face this and just thought, well I’m not stupid, so that’s ridiculous.

Somehow, through facing the anxiety, I allowed myself to contribute a video which wasn’t perfect, and I was happy with that. It was a lot of fun. So the idea here is to replace your negativity with something more positive assertive and meaningful. So, for example, if you’re worried about going out because of the way you look, you deserve to be valued for so much more than that.

So your answer to yourself might be, Yeah, I’m not happy with the way I look, but actually, I’m a really lovely person and I’m kind to most people and I’m funny and I say clever things sometimes and I have a really good time with my mates, so that is more important. Most of us value how somebody is and who they are over how they look by far.

But I know this is a tricky one for you, so please do offer up your criticism to me and I’d be happy to give a compassionate, assertive response if you’re struggling.

Number eight. Explore how your anxiety is trying to protect you. Be curious about what it’s wanting from you and what it believes.

You may find that it has held onto a belief that you don’t believe anymore. You can also ask if there’s a part of you that wants to remain anxious. How does it serve you to be anxious? In the case of binge eating, you get to eat as well as to avoid it. I’ve often heard people say that it’s easier to dissociate than to think about not eating.

Just as in the case of anger, you get to not cope. You get to remain dependent on something other than yourself. Maybe we all want that, maybe that’s human. on some level, but particularly if we fear embracing what we would be left with if we engage, which is namely we fear how we might feel. But is that what you want?

Do you want to be dependent on something outside of you when anything goes wrong? Or would some part of you really like to learn inner resourcing so that you can rely on yourself?

Number nine. Tolerate the discomfort or anxiety that you would be left with if you decided not to eat. Get through this momentary discomfort.

Be okay with not knowing how something will go or what response you might have. Do this instead of projecting an anxious belief. I know this sounds hard, but people do enjoy the process of it eventually, of going out of their comfort zone after a while, because it comes with the relief of self-acceptance, self-reliance and resources.

To finish with (Number 10), I’m going to talk about anxiety in relationships, because this is a big one for all of us. With anxiety, contrary to what might be your instinct, the solution is often to focus on yourself. Rather than somebody else’s opinion of you, of yourself and what you need and what you feel. It may also be helpful and more pertinent to focus on a real connection with others.

For example, being anxious about whether you’re liked may blind you to whether you like the other person. Also, with anxiety about being hurt, you may be so focused on your fear that you don’t evaluate the individual date or the partner. You may not consider your boundaries. You may not consider saying yes or no appropriately for you or opening up appropriately.

You might just be so focused on maybe what you look like or whether you’re going to get rejected that you’re not yourself at all. With anxiety in a relationship, the idea is to work towards a collaborative relationship, where needs are met and fears are soothed by communication with each other. So much healing comes from creating positive attachment experiences.

You can do this in a supportive friendship, relationship, group, or therapy. Here you get the opportunity to see in other people’s eyes that they don’t think what you think that they think. If you’re sitting there listening to this thinking, I don’t have anyone like that, I encourage you to become part of the new support group that I’ve got coming out.

Here, you really get to witness people going through things that you can identify with, in a safe, supportive, compassionate place. Today, I’ve talked about what anxiety is, and how to understand and cope with anxiety or worry. I’ve given you some techniques and offered you some ways of exploring your worry.


Final words on dealing with anxiety

In conclusion, I’m saying that emotion is not the enemy. I’m encouraging you to replace fear and avoidance with curiosity and compassion.

How do you want your life to look?

Keep an eye on your lifetime goals.

That’s it for today. The next podcast in a fortnight will be about your relationship with yourself and compassion. Thank you very much for listening. Please keep in touch. with the answers to any of my questions here or any of your questions. Thank you. I’ll see you next time.


If you want more help learning to manage your anxiety, contact Shelley today or download my emotional eating introductory course here.