Transform your anxiety into something useful. Here’s how

Going around in the early morning. A low but constant hum in the brain that frustrates concentration. A feeling of tense restlessness.

Most have experienced this type of anxiety, not clinical anxiety, which could result in a full-on panic attack, but the run-of-the-mill kind that makes you feel uncomfortable.

“Anxiety is this simple definition: that feeling of fear or worry that arises in situations of uncertainty,” neuroscientist Dr. Wendy Suzuki recently told CNN chief medical correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta on his Chasing Life podcast. “That’s my simplistic definition of everyday anxiety.”

That experience is not pleasant. “The general feeling is, ‘I just want to get rid of it,'” said Suzuki, a professor of neural sciences and psychology at New York University, as well as dean of the school’s College of Arts and Sciences. She is also the author of “Good Anxiety: Harnessing the Power of the Most Misunderstood Emotion.”

“The misunderstanding is that it is valuable,” Suzuki said. “It is an alert system that we all need. It is a tool that helps us discover what we appreciate. “If we don’t have that, I think something important is going to be taken away from our lives.”

You can hear more about how anxiety can be good for you here.

Suzuki explained how anxiety evolved to protect us. “It’s hard to imagine that these days,” he said. But 2.5 million years ago, “an ancestor with a little baby was walking around trying to find food, and you hear a twig cracking and that could be… a big animal coming to eat it or it could be a twig cracking.” . “She better be ready, or we won’t have any ancestors after her.”

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The snap of the twig left her anxious but alert to danger. “And then her body is in the fight or flight response,” she said.

“That same response, including the whole fight or flight (reaction), is activated when we look at the news, when we look at social media, what’s happening today,” he said. “Our heart rate increases, our breathing rate skyrockets; That’s not good for us physiologically. And so… that is the number one reason to learn to modulate that stress response.”

The first step to getting to “good” anxiety, Suzuki said, is learning to reduce the level of everyday anxiety.

So what can you do to reduce it? Here are Suzuki’s top five tips:

Take a deep breath

Practice breathing meditation.

“Breathing meditation is the oldest form of meditation and can be very effective in really calming us down, and immediately,” Suzuki said. “That’s my number one resource for people who say, ‘I just need something right now.'”

A calming pattern is box breathing. To do this, inhale deeply for a count of four, hold for a count of four, exhale for a count of four, and hold again for a count of four. “Repeat to calm your mind and her body,” she said.


Go for a short ride, Suzuki recommended.

“Did you know that just 10 minutes of walking can significantly reduce levels of anxiety and depression in people? You don’t even have to change your clothes to get it,” she said.

“What that does is stimulate the release of neurotransmitters that don’t necessarily decrease anxiety, but increase feelings of reward and happiness,” he said. “Those neurotransmitters that increase include dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine and endorphins. Every time you move your body, it’s like giving your brain a wonderful bubble bath of neurochemicals and it works immediately.”

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Reframe your anxiety

Turn anxiety-provoking situations into personal challenges to foster growth and resilience, and enjoy the novelty of uncertain circumstances.

Paraphrasing Deepak Chopra, Suzuki recommended embracing uncertainty because it can make life interesting.

“In my life, uncertainty can be something that generates emotion, it can generate joy. Not all the time, but maybe you can take some of that and accept it as something useful,” she said.

For example, he said, “If the same thing happened every time I went on vacation, it wouldn’t be a fun vacation. I like novelty; I like learning new things and being exposed to new things. And I can’t control that by definition.”

Turn straw into gold

Turn your worry into action.

To improve productivity and reduce worry, transform your anxious what-if list into a productive to-do list, Suzuki advised.

“I like to say that there are gifts that come with anxiety,” she said, citing what often happens to her right before she goes to sleep.

“I have this list of worries that comes to me right before I go to sleep. And then what do I do? I turn that list of what-if situations into a to-do list,” she said.

“I just say, ‘Okay, I’m going to remember these things, so Wendy, you can go to sleep now.’ But the next morning I go and take all those things that kept me awake the night before, and do something about it. …That way, I become more productive. And I use my anxiety like the tool it’s supposed to be.”

Practice compassion

Support others, Suzuki said, letting them know they are not alone.

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“Say a kind word to someone experiencing similar anxiety,” she said, noting that some people feel embarrassed about being anxious about a certain situation. “This simple act can release dopamine and improve your own mood.”

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