1. The opposite of addiction isn’t sobriety, it’s connection. The same is true for anxiety. Anxiety is being disconnected from the present moment, other people, or yourself. Usually all three. You must reconnect with your life.
2. You must give yourself permission to want what you really want. There is no way around this. Whether it’s a romantic partner, a better job, some more money, recognition for your work, see it and accept it, even if you think society says it means you’re shallow or broken or don’t “love yourself” enough.
3. If you can’t figure out what you really want, look straight at your deepest fears. What’s on the other side of them? That’s what you want.
4. Be grateful for your discomfort. The sad and weird thing is that happy people are complacent. Feeling uncomfortable is the signal that you’re on the precipice of something new, and better, but you must take action.
5. Your new best friends will be structure and productivity. It’s not about checking off a 100-point task list, it’s about knowing that you accomplished something (anything!) that contributes to your well-being each day.
6. “Irrational anxiety” is usually cured by doing very practical things. The nonsensical things you worry about are usually aggrandized projections of real concerns that you’re not dealing with.
7. You must start where you are, you must use what you have, and you must do what you can. Anything else is running away from your problems and abandoning your life and yourself. Real change is a product of evolution; thinking otherwise is an illusion that will keep you separated from the very stuff you need to heal.
8. Make a conscious effort to connect and reconnect with the people you already have in your life – even if it’s just one person you trust and connect with. This will begin to re-form healthy emotional attachments. It’s not weak to need love.
9. Buy a notebook that is exclusively for junk journaling, which is what you’re going to do whenever you feel pretzeled up inside. Write down whatever comes out – whatever gruesome, awful, self-hating, embarrassing thoughts come up, let them out. Once you do this a few times, you’ll believe me when I say this will release them.
10. The only thing you should ever try to do when you’re very anxious or panicked is to comfort yourself. You cannot think clearly, and shouldn’t make assumptions or decisions about your life in that state. Figure out what soothes you (a snack, a bath, talking to someone, doing something you really enjoy) and get yourself out that energy before you do anything else.
11. You will need to figure out how to live in the moment, even if that seems boring, impossible, terrifying or all three. Anxiety is the warning sign that we’re too much in the past or the future – and being there is affecting how we make choices in the present.
12. You will need to take action on the things that are holding you back from pursuing the things you actually want. As Cheryl Strayed says, “Real change happens on the level of the gesture. It’s one person doing one thing differently than they did before.”
13. Read. If you don’t read, it’s not because you don’t like reading, it’s because you haven’t picked up anything that interests you. What you read now will affect the person you’re going to be for decades to come. Read articles and essays online about how people cope with their fears – in it you will find camaraderie, how many strangers feel just as you do. Read about things you don’t understand, that scare you and fascinate you. Just read, damnit.
14. You can change how you feel. This is something you must remember. It’s as simple as: “I want to feel differently about this, so I am going to focus on a different aspect of it.”
15. If you want to buy into the idea that you cannot “choose” happiness or how you feel or what you think, you are condemning yourself to an extremely hard life, and should stop reading now, because doing those things is the only way to save yourself.
16. You will always have anxiety. You will always feel fear. If you give a damn about your life, or if you’re even playing the slightest bit of attention to what’s going on here, you’ll know there’s a lot to be anxious and afraid of. The end goal is not to eliminate those feelings, but to strengthen the mental muscle that will allow you to choose to be happy in spite of them, not become paralyzed when they’re present. That’s all.
17. For some people, strengthening that muscle will require a simple shift of perspective. For others, it will be years of medication and therapy and more work and effort than they’ve ever put into anything before. It is the fight of all our lives and the thing we most owe to ourselves. If you’re going to pick a battle, pick this one.
18. The problem is not the problem. The problem is how you think about the problem. Your internal guidance system is sounding off right now because something isn’t right. This doesn’t mean you’re barreling toward a life of perpetual, unescapable suffering. It means somewhere deep down, you know there’s another way – a better way – to live. It means you know what you want, even if you’re scared of it.
19. You need to choose love. This sounds like annoying advice but you cannot give up on the people who light you up inside, on the things you love to do (even if they aren’t work) on what you want for yourself. You must choose love even if it scares you. (In fact, your fear about doing something is proportionate to your love for it.)
20. You must learn how to express pain when you feel it. This does not mean you can justify reckless, unchecked behavior, it means you need to learn how to acknowledge your pain, communicate it clearly to others, and deal with it as it comes up.
21. You must learn how to unravel whatever emotional toxicity is built up inside you. For example: if you don’t let yourself feel and accept that you were hurt badly by your ex, you will constantly be projecting ideas about how your new fling will hurt you and how you shouldn’t even try, thus re-creating the situation you’re most afraid of. The unraveling is seeing, feeling and accepting. Life is sometimes brutal and unfair and unspeakably horrendous. (We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.)
22. Separate sensations in your body from what you think they mean. When you’re seriously upset, ask yourself, what do I actually feel in my body right now? Like, what do I actually feel? Chances are it’s nothing more than just a little tension, or discomfort. The rest of your panic is everything you’ve chalked that sensation up to mean.
23. Don’t trust all of your feelings. Conventional wisdom says to, but that’s insane considering how many of those feelings stem from irrational thoughts and past experiences and so on. If you blindly trust all of your feelings, you will be thrown around by them constantly. Decide which ones mean something and which don’t.
24. Utilize the most powerful growing tool of all: “future-self work.” If you’re on the fence about kids, imagine your life at 75. Do you want your own family around you, or are you okay on your own? Imagine your life in three years from now. Will you be happy you didn’t try harder in that relationship, or that you didn’t save any money, or that you wasted your time watching Netflix when you could have been writing the book or starting the business or playing music like you really want to? Imagine your life from the perspective of the person you hope to be. It will place many things back into alignment.