A Trick For Reducing Anxiety About Major Life Changes

See the illustrated girl above? She’s me. She’s a lot of people, actually.

I love counseling clients who struggle with anxiety. Mostly because I struggle with it too, so when I offer them helpful tips and strategies it’s because I know from experience that they work.

(I’m kind of like the formerly bald guy from that old Hair Club for Men commercial — “I’m not only the Hair Club president, I’m also a client.”)

Lately I’ve been anxious because my husband and I are about to make a major change in our lives. I can’t share the details just yet, but I can tell you that it makes me feel like this:

This big change straddles the line between stupid and ballsy. It’s probably a bit of both, but only time will tell.

In the meantime, people are telling us our decision is stupid. I’m fine with this because if I were in their position I’d be saying the same thing…and if they were in mine, they’d be making the same stupid decision.

But even though this decision feels right in my gut, the process of change itself is no less scary. There are so many unknowns: What if something goes wrong? What if we fail? What if our back-up plan fails? What if the worst case scenario comes true? What if we come to regret making this big change?

But my Muse (the one I met during this guided visualization exercise) tells me that with too many what-ifs floating in your head, you’ll never make brave changes in your life. You’ll never push through fear for the sake of your own sanity, healing, and well-being.

So I’d like to share a 2-step process for reducing anxiety about the unknown future, specifically designed for naturally anxious people like myself. When my usual thought-changing techniques aren’t helping me feel better, this one does the trick every time.

Step 1: Accept The Truth

Accept that you have an anxious temperament. It’s part of you, so don’t judge it, don’t hate it, and don’t fight it — just learn to do brave things despite it.

Sometimes I like to imagine that we all have an invisible wild animal that walks the earth alongside us. This wild animal is the physical manifestation of our natural temperaments, including our strengths and weaknesses. Our job is to learn to care for it, know it inside and out, form a good relationships with it, and bring out its best. Same goes for anxiety — you can either accept it and transform its energy into one that pushes you to do great work (anxious people are often hard-working perfectionists), or you can hate it, fear it, fight it, and ultimately let it control you. The choice is always yours.

Step 2: Wave & Cliff Visualization

After you accept your anxiety, make peace with the fact that negative thoughts and worries will always flood your mind. It’s just part of your reality.

Imagine that your anxious thoughts are like waves crashing into a majestic rocky cliff on the shore. Yes, they’ll always keep coming. But you know what? Like waves, they always pull away too.

So when you’re in the middle of a freak-out about your unknown future, simply let the waves come. Tell them, “Oh, hi. You again.” Emotionally detach from them. Instead of listening to individual worries, just be aware that the waves are crashing against the shore again, because that’s just how you roll.

Remember: your anxious thoughts are not you, they’re just ideas that flood your head before pulling away.

Your Turn: What helps you feel less anxious when you are about to make a major life change?

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16 Responses to A Trick For Reducing Anxiety About Major Life Changes

  1. Hope says:

    Hello! I wanted to say thank you for your page on anxiety. I wanted to let you know I shared your page in one of my blog posts and I hope that is okay. http://dennahayy.blogspot.com.au/ is where you will find it in the Title “Therapeutics For the Anxious”

  2. David says:

    Hi Kimberly,i just went through your blog and i realy admire it for being so nice.By the end of reading it i felt calm myself.I agree that anxiety is a natural feeling and its within all of us and we must take it positively.For me its like a feeling which i would get before jumping off a high building to desperately land on to another.I think ultimately what lets us do it even practically is the optimistic thought that i’l jump across!and to take this feeling with enthusiasm that this fear,this anxiety is what makes it so adventurous!.And so ultimately with this we jump across easily.
    But there’s a difference,in reality or in our life we face situations which need time and patience its not a one time effort.For me it’s my career problem i am preparing for one of the toughest exams in our country it’l take me 1yr to know where i’l land up and many tests are there to face for the same.I am going about it very holistically but yet what craps in is the feeling when i dont feel like doing something,i mean i am a procrastinator and at times what i dont like i just dont do it.Then what follows is a feeling whether i’l realy be able to do it this way.So i guess there are just a few steps that must be followed:
    1)Listen to yourself and know what’s realy the cause of discomfort
    2)Challenge yourself to beat it after identifying it.Make a plan.
    3)Just jump and beat it dont think after that anymore.
    4) Remember to stop not until the goal is reached.Repeat the above whenever needed.
    5)Celebrate and be happy.Cheers!
    So going by this i realise my problem is procrastination and i guess i do that because i give up on the will to finish it.So can you tell me how to have a strong will?and ya please excuse me for writing such a long message!

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, David. Those are some great tips you offer. Procrastination is a common problem for most people, myself included, at times. As for your question, I don’t believe in relying on a strong will alone. I believe in setting up systems in your daily life that make it easier and more likely that you’ll get your to-do list done. There are books and blogs that offer tips and strategies on this. I suggest starting there. Good luck with your exams!

  3. Claire says:

    This is so helpful, thank you! You’ve written about anxiety surrounding marriage and cold feet. I was wondering how in the end you overcame the many cultural messages which say doubt means you should not be getting married or do not, in fact, love you partner (enough/at all)??

    • Kimberly says:

      Hi, Claire! So glad you found this helpful. :)

      To answer your question, I first acknowledged that not all my thoughts/ doubts can be trusted, especially since I have a tendency towards anxiety. Also, I learned that happy marriages come in all shapes and sizes; I can feel confident about our love, even if it’s nothing like a story book romance.

      I also learned that you’ve got to examine your doubt closely, and preferably with a trusted, non-judgmental person. Doubt can be an invitation to explore an important issue that must be addressed before your heart can move forward with your decision to get married. It can be a warning about the state of YOUR mental health or spirit as opposed to a warning about your relationship.

      Not sure if you asked this question because you’re in a similar situation, but in case you are, check out my friend Sheryl Paul’s website– she’s a bridal counselor who specializes in working with “cold feet” and anxious brides and moms. Good luck!

      • Claire says:

        Thank you! It’s more of an academic interest actually! I’m generally interested about cultural messages about love. Did you get to a point where you feel like you have the ‘best’ experience of being in love, despite having the doubts which our culture says spell a lack of love?

        • Kimberly says:

          Ah, I see. Well, my doubt stemmed from comparing our relationship to others (other couples– both the failing and thriving ones, other relationships from my past, and what I see in the movies). So peace comes from my constant effort to stop comparing. It comes from recognizing our marriage’s unique strengths. And it comes from accepting what it’s not and being grateful anyway. I also think the pre-marital “doubts” have evolved from worry to pragmatic problem solving. (See my post “3 Tips For Staying Married To Your Complete Opposite“.)

  4. Diane Hughes says:

    I’m finding peace in my crashing waves right now. Thanks so much for this analogy.

  5. Pingback: How To Make A Ballsy Career Move | a brave life

  6. Judith says:

    Holy crap, how completely spot on your post was given a few recent life events. Definitely love your wave analogy. I’ll be writing a post soon on Dr. Jill Taylor’s book, My Stroke of Insight, where she observes how those neurochemicals that flood your system exist for only about 90 seconds before they dissipate… so you have 90 seconds to chose to let an emotion flow through you and flow out, or to hook into that loop and let it ferment and fester in your psyche. But it’s a CHOICE. Even in just a few days since I read the book I’m already recognizing what a big difference that realization has made.

    As for your own journey, you’ve read my emails, you know I’m all for ballsy! Whether it’s a Krav Maga kick-in-the-ballsy or a buy-a-boat-and-figure-it-all-out-later-kinda-ballsy, gut is the way to go. Rock on and keep writing,


    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Hi Judith! I haven’t read Jill Taylor’s book but I’ve seen her Ted Talk. The 90 second thing is pretty interesting –it’s always good to know that my random ideas have some scientific backing to them. :) Also, I can see how the concept would apply to overeating/ false hunger/ emotional eating.

      Oh, you’re ballsy alright! I’ve mentioned the buying-of-a-boat thing to my husband (because lately I’ve been obsessed with the idea of having an alternative lifestyle of some kind before we have kids). Might not work for us but it’s something to consider.

  7. KMD says:

    Why Kim, what big eyes you have!
    I find that thinking about/planning for my future has the tendency to excite and scare the hell out of me at the same time. I think the phrases “expect the worst, but hope for the best” and “one day/step at a time” tends to apply well.

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Yeah, those are good ones. It boils down to preparing as best you can, holding on to hope and optimism, and staying focused on the present moment. Simple yet so hard to do at times. Most of us are aware of these sayings, but it’s hard to fight off anxious thoughts and replace them with these. The tendency for anxious people, including myself, is to worry and plan a bit more, thinking that this will increase the chances of a good outcome. But I hope to get into the practice of meditating on the phrases you shared, or similar ones. Thanks!

  8. Steph says:

    “I’m fine with this because if I were in their position I’d be saying the same thing…and if they were in mine, they’d be making the same stupid decision.” <— Love this!!!!!

    And also this: "Step 1: Accept The Truth…Accept that you have an anxious temperament. It’s part of you, so don’t judge it, don’t hate it, and don’t fight it — just learn to do brave things despite it."

    That is where I am right now. I come from several generations of worriers on both sides of my family. If worrying were an olympic sport I'd have a case full of gold medals. But those same two sides of my family also escaped religious persecution in Europe and came to this country with little more than the clothes on their back. If they could overcome their fears and make brave new lives for themselves, so can I!

    Thanks so much for this post Little K!

    • Kimberly Eclipse says:

      Its amazing (and scary) how not so far removed we are from horrific acts in history and from the challenges of generations before us. Really puts things in perspective, especially in terms of what makes us anxious and what it means to be brave and resilient!

      But if worry is in your blood, so are balls apparently. I’m really excited for all the changes you’ve got planned!

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