How to Manage Anxiety and Negative Thoughts

A major presentation at work, moving to a new city, planning a wedding, going out on a first date - what do all of these things have in common? They all can stir up everyone’s favorite thing: anxiety! Okay, obviously anxiety isn’t a great feeling. We feel our breathing speed up, our stomach fills with butterflies, jaws clench - not fun! For a lot of us, we feel as if there is nothing we can do about how miserable our anxiety makes us. Luckily, I brought holistic mental health therapist and owner of The Wellness Collective, Danielle Massi, on to The Stress Less Show to help us address our anxiety.

Danielle knows what she’s talking about when it comes to anxiety. As a cancer survivor and a licensed therapist, she had to use all the tools she learned in school to help her deal with her own anxiety when she was diagnosed with cancer.

“I'm grateful that it happened to me because it was a crash course for myself and everything I've been preaching to other people for a very very long time. And it also allowed me to even become more integrated with who I am as a human being and as a healer.”

Since overcoming cancer, she launched the Wellness Collective to help as many people as she can take care of themselves and spread the importance of the mind-body connection.

“Our body tends to remember things that have happened to us the way that our brain doesn't. Our brain compartmentalizes, our body can't.”

Through all of her experiences, Danielle has a couple of tips on managing anxiety and negative thoughts that she wants to share with us so we can stop feeling helpless to our anxiety and negative symptoms.

Tip #1: Use Box Breathing

Danielle’s first tip is all about the way we view our anxiety. We often see anxiety as a hindrance and a negative thing. However, Danielle stresses that anxiety is actually just energy that we can channel in a variety of different ways.

“[Anxiety’s] a part of our DNA and our structure. We've always had it. In the past, it's been something that has been really useful. Think back to cave man days. If there is a bear charging at one of us, our sympathetic nervous system would kick in... and it causes us to go into fight, flight or freeze… Nowadays, our stress is different. We're not really running from any threats for the most part. It's usually something. More specific like an exam, or a work deadline, or feeling like we're behind in terms of the relationship with our peers.”

So, since we are no longer outrunning bears and fighting for our lives every day, what do we do with all of that anxious energy? This is where Danielle’s first tip comes in. She suggests using a technique called box breathing to calm ourselves down. To box breathe, breath in for four seconds, hold your breath in for another four seconds, breathe out for another four seconds, and wait to breathe in again for another four seconds. Repeat this pattern as soon as you notice the symptoms of anxiety you experience like sweaty palms, fast heart rate, and butterflies in your stomach.

“When you start to do the breathing, you'll start to notice them go away. Your thoughts will center, your breathing will slow down, your stomach will unclench. You'll stop sweating. And as that happens and you start to feel more at ease, you’ll know that it works. You completely turned it off.”

Tip #2: Create Mantras

Anxiety shows up in a lot of different ways in our lives and one of those ways it can affect us is by overcrowding our heads with those automatic negative thoughts that pop up as we are trying to live our lives. It can often feel like those thoughts are unavoidable and out of our control.

Fortunately, that is not true and Danielle’s next tip is a great way to hack our brains and transform those negative thoughts by creating positive mantras we can use when we notice them. Danielle notes that it is important to remember that these negative thoughts are not born into us, but are learned from our experiences in the world.

“Our brains are wired sort of like a really intricate highway system. And when we're born...It's sort of like being in the middle of America where there's like one highway going and there's not a lot of action, nothing's really built-in, but over time we start to lay down new highways based on our experiences.”

By saying something positive every time we notice our negative thoughts, we are paving new thought patterns in our minds to reroute our automatic thoughts. Over time, we learn to choose positivity over negativity and those negative thoughts begin to fade out of our minds.

If you are dealing with anxiety and need more support, you can learn more about The Wellness Collective here. The Wellness Collective also has a special program, UNSTUCK, to help you uncover patterns that are holding you back. Learn more about the program here.

This episode was sponsored by The Wellness Collective, located at 100 S Broad Street in Center City, Philadelphia. The Wellness Collective is a holistic psychotherapy and healing center.

View a full transcript of the episode here.