The 80/20 Rule, also known as the Pareto Principle, shows us why 80% of our worry (and the anxiety that comes with it) is made up by us.
If you haven’t heard of the 80/20 rule (also known as the Pareto Principle), the basic principle of it is that roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.
Effects of what? Causes of what? I hear you say.
That’s the whole point of the Pareto Principle. It relates to anything – and it’s surprisingly accurate in relation to anything.
Seeing as I spend most of my time in the world of anxiety, and seeing as you’re probably here because you want to manage your anxiety better, I thought it might help us with managing our anxiety. And it does. Massively.
When I discovered the principle and how accurate it was, it helped me appreciate just how much of my worry, anxiety and stress was real and how much was made up by me.
In other words, it helped me see and appreciate that I was my own worst enemy!
How the 80/20 rule relates to overcoming anxiety
The Pareto Principle is such a powerful and accurate principle, it’s well worth us translating its meaning into overcoming anxiety. And that’s the bit I want to help you with.
When we link the 80/20 rule with overcoming anxiety, it shows us that 8/10 of your problems don’t exist.
That’s a decent bit of knowledge to have – especially when it comes to reducing our anxiety.
You’ll have about 60,000 thoughts tomorrow. If you’re dealing with high anxiety, most of those thoughts will be worrying ones. You know the type of worrying thoughts I’m talking about. They normally start with ‘what if…?’. They’re thoughts based on us trying to predict the future and worrying about the past (what’s already happened).
Summed up: Overthinking.
What the Pareto Principle shows us is out of all those worrying thoughts you have, 8 out of 10 of them won’t be real. 8 out of 10 of the things causing you anxiety is made up by you.
On the flipside of that, it means that roughly 20% of the things you worry about are worth worrying about. They’re the things worth spending your time on. And when you spend your time on those things, they make a difference to your life.
What does this knowledge do for you?
I’m hoping it does two things:
It helps you appreciate that nearly all of your worry, and therefore all of your anxiety, is made up by you. That means that when you start taking more control the impact can be significant.
It instantly reassures you to know that your problems and worries aren’t as big and overwhelming as you thought they were. When you focus on the 2/10 things that count, it gives you the confidence to know you can handle it.
Try it for yourself.
If you’ve read this and think the 80/20 rule is a bit of a crock, or you’re still not convinced, try it for yourself.
When you wake up tomorrow, have a piece of paper and pen handy, and write down every worrying type thought you have throughout the day, no matter how big or small.
At the end of the day, go through your list and tick all the thoughts you had that were made up – all the worrying thoughts that were not real – things that didn’t happen.
I’d be very surprised if at least 80% of those thoughts on your list weren’t ticked.
BTW – If you’ve got all your predictions for the future 100% accurate, please get in touch. You and I can make some serious money.
It’s time to ditch the social awkwardness so you can focus on having a good time and achieve more socially.
Most socially anxious people will avoid social and business gatherings, like parties, weddings and meetings, like the plague.
I know I used to.
I spent years trying to mask how I really felt in social situations by hiding my gut-wrenching lack of confidence with pointless head nodding and fake smiling.
I think I got away with it.
But it’s no good just getting away with social unconfidence using fakery.
Fakery is just a mask used to cover up how we really feel. Eventually, the faking catches up with us, the mask falls off, and we have nowhere left to hide.
Seeing friends, social gatherings and business events – and basically having a good time – shouldn’t be destroyed by a lack of confidence. Especially when you consider that confidence is a skill that anyone can grow.
And that includes social confidence.
Knowing that you can grow the skill of social confidence means you can take a different approach. With practice, you can look to develop your social confidence skills until you reach a point you look forward to seeing people. (Maybe even have a good time.)
Here are six ways to boost your social confidence so you can ditch being shy, meek, socially awkward and anxious.
#1: Ditch the silence
Socially anxious people are quiet. They don’t say much and prefer to stay on the outside of a conversation. This isn’t always the case. Some confident people are thinkers and prefer to listen than talk. But you know the difference. The unconfident, silent and socially anxious type get embarrassed when they’re asked for their opinion, whereas a thinker will give it without delay. A socially anxious person would prefer the floor to swallow them up rather than face the prospect of speaking in public.
Boosting social confidence means speaking out.
However uncomfortable you might feel, get involved in the conversation and get in the habit of speaking out and voicing your opinion. ‘Public speaking’ doesn’t necessarily mean getting on stage. Whenever you’re in public and talking that is public speaking. That means you’re practising public speaking just by speaking with a friend.
Whatever the circumstance or situation, there is no room for complete silence. Keep practising speaking out and voicing your opinion, whether that’s with one friend or in a group of twenty.
#2: Be comfortable in your own skin
Socially confident people are comfortable in their own skin. They know they’re not perfect (because there is no such thing), and embrace and accept their imperfections as much are their strong points. This includes both their looks and personality.
Socially anxious people are constantly looking at themselves in the mirror and worrying about what other people are thinking about them. They focus on their imperfections and, by doing so, convince themselves that they’re not good enough and nobody would ever want them.
Boosting social confidence means the ability to recognise both your imperfections and strong points – and be comfortable with both.
By accepting the fact you’re not perfect you’ll stop striving for perfection. You’ll get instant freedom and immense satisfaction from that. You’ll start to feel more comfortable in your own skin, and that will ooze out of you as self-confidence.
#3: Be forthcoming and say hello
Socially confident people say ‘hi’ first. They introduce themselves without the need to be asked. They are approachable and generous with their attention and time. They know how to use their ears as well as their month, listening intently, taking in every bit of valuable information. They are honest and don’t see value in lying or the need to boast.
Socially anxious people avoid introductions. They flit from one thing to the next without focusing their attention on one specific thing, including conversations. Due to their insecurities, it’s common for a socially anxious person to talk too much, not listen, and exaggerate the truth – to make themselves and their lives sound perfect. Imperfections and insecurities are seen as negatives, rather than something we all have.
Boosting social confidence means introducing yourself first and saying ‘hi’ even in uncomfortable and intimidating social environments.
Be disciplined when it comes to communication, be sure to listen, and make an effort to remember someone’s name – that alone will go a long way. When you are more forthcoming with your attention and time, your ability to influence others will take huge steps. You’ll embrace those imperfections and insecurities and use them to your advantage.
#4: Believe in yourself
Socially confident people know the difference between arrogance and self-belief. They know that they can’t win unless they first believe they can. That’s why they wouldn’t enter a competition unless they know they can win it. This isn’t to say that they are as physically or mentally capable as their competition. Socially confident people know that on many occasions they will be the underdog, but that doesn’t stop them from believing they can win. That’s not arrogance – that is strong self-belief.
Socially anxious people have little self-belief, with insecurity pushing them towards arrogance. Being arrogant makes up for their lack of depth and skill. Underneath the skin their self-image is meek. They have very little confidence in their ability to win and because their belief system is weak a win is a rare occurrence. It’s easier to blame external factors for a loss.
Boosting social confidence means believing you can win, whatever the circumstance.
It means painting a better self-image so you can compete with the best. When you build your self-belief by knowing you can win, minus the arrogance, you will win much more frequently.
#5: Get comfortable with being judged
Socially confident people are comfortable being judged because they understand that being judged will always be part of life – especially if they’re doing things that challenge the status quo. It’s human nature to judge, and confident people know that there will be people in their life (sometimes very close to them) who will try and clip their wings as they try to fly. They don’t take this personally and use criticism as a form of feedback to help them on their journey to achieving their goals. They understand that in the pursuit of their goals they will receive negative judgement as well as positive judgement.
Socially confident people also realise that judging others is no good for them, as it only keeps them in a negative state of mind. They keep their minds sharp and focused by concentrating on what’s important (their goals) and are too busy to get involved in drama and gossip (toxic behaviour).
Boosting social confidence means getting comfortable with being judged.
When you can use both negative and positive feedback to your advantage, don’t lose focus on your goals or get trapped in toxic behaviour, your social confidence will hit an all-time high.
#6: Adapt to your environment
Socially confident people appreciate the crucial need to adapt to their environment. They know that things are constantly changing around them. Unless they keep up with that change, they know they’ll be left behind. The best example of adaptability is in business. Businesses led by socially confident people change and evolve with the times. They embrace new systems and technology because they know putting investment into these things will pay dividends.
Socially unconfident people are scared of change and don’t adapt well to their environment. They believe that things should adapt around them and their values, which results in them being left behind. Rather than tackle a situation they will leave it in the hope that it fixes itself. (It never does.) That’s why businesses led by socially incompetent people stay rooted in the Stone Age.
Boosting social confidence means adapting to your environment and being comfortable with change.
The quickest and simplest route to making this happen is to appreciate everything is change. Nothing stays the same, including you.
Panic attacks are one of the worst physical symptoms of anxiety. What can we do when panic hits us, and what choices do we have?
At that moment, when panic attacks, it consumes us.
Panic convinces us that we’re trapped, and we’re so focused on our survival and getting through the panic, we forget that we do have options and choices.
Choices seem like the last thing we have when panic sets in, but we can do more than just allow the panic to consume us and take over.
Feeling trapped and believing our only option is to suffer the panic is part of the trick of panic. It’s a big reason why panic attacks are allowed to continue.
When we appreciate that we do have one more than choice, we can start to look at panic attacks in a different way.
We can look to control and stop them.
Here are five of our most popular reactions to panic attacks. One of them will make all the difference.
Choice #1: Fuel the fear and run
Throw the shopping basket on the floor, and run for your life.
Keep moving forward – run, walk, jog – do anything, as long as people can’t see the sweat on your forehead and the panic on your face as you have a panic attack. That would cause you great embarrassment.
What would people think if they could see me?
What people think matters, so continue to worry about what people are thinking and allow that worry and fear to stoke the fire (panic).
Like a steam train, watch as your fear keeps your panic chugging away and continues to get worse as you stoke the fire.
Choice #2: Question your sanity
Are these symptoms real?
Are they life-threatening?
Is it just indigestion?
Is it a migraine?
Should I call for an ambulance? I might look stupid.
Allow all the ‘what if. . .?’ thoughts to continue to fuel the panic and produce more thoughts about scenarios that will never happen.
Keep questioning your sanity and convincing yourself that you’re not normal.
Allow these negative beliefs to fuel your panic further.
Choice #3: Search Dr Google
Get out your phone or laptop and frantically type in your symptoms on Google.
Fuel the panic further as you read through the symptoms and life-threatening results, believing every word of them.
Spend the rest of your life in and out of doctor’s surgeries, getting more frustrated and disillusioned with every visit.
Make lots of trips to the hospital, seeing specialists and having tests, looking for a diagnosis – one you know you won’t get because deep down you know it’s anxiety.
Allow the constant need for reassurance to keep fuelling your panic.
Choice #4: Fight the panic
Fight the symptoms of panic.
Have a battle with the anxiety and panic, even though you know you can never win against something that is naturally within us all.
Continue to beat yourself up and become more and more disillusioned as you convince yourself your life will never change.
Waste all your energy so you get to a point where you feel like you have no fight left in you – vital energy that could have been used to overcome the panic.
Allow your lack of energy to continue the panic.
Choice #5: Accept the symptoms, stand firm, don’t fight and don’t stoke the fire
Accept the symptoms of panic, and when it hits, don’t fight it.
Say to yourself:
‘I recognise that I’m having a panic attack, but I also accept that it won’t last. It never has. No matter how much I panic, I know it’s never caused me any physical harm. I know it’s a fact that it can’t.’
Get immediate confidence and reassurance by knowing that a panic attack isn’t going to harm you – because it can’t.
A panic attack has NEVER caused physical harm to anyone.
It’s the unknown and ‘what if’s…’ that fuel the panic. This knowledge will help you get rid of these things instantly.
Stand firm, and recognise that, like a bully, panic feeds off fear.
When you give it nothing to feed on, the panic goes away.
Face the panic head-on, and shout out: ‘DO YOUR WORST!’. Shout it out in your head if you can’t do it publicly. Don’t worry about what other people are doing or thinking – that is not your worry or concern.
When you face the panic head-on, it won’t get worse. It will get better.
As your anger, determination and confidence grow, feel the symptoms continue to subside.
Know that when you don’t stoke the fire, panic has nothing to feed off.
As your panic is almost gone, smile. Thank anxiety for keeping you safe. Reassure it, and tell it, on this occasion it wasn’t needed. It was simply a false alarm.
Keep doing the things and visiting the places that cause you to panic, and keep telling your brain you’re OK. No need to panic.
With time and practise, watch as your anxiety and panic triggers ease each time you do these things – until you reach the point you no longer panic.
Choice #5 comes with its challenges. Facing up to a bully isn’t easy. But I can assure you of this: it is no more of a challenge than facing the prospect of being bullied by panic attacks for the rest of your life.
Toxic people come in many different shapes and sizes. Telling the good from the bad will seriously limit your anxiety. How can you tell who’s toxic and who isn’t?
Nobody is perfect, but odds would say that, right now, you have toxic people in your life.
Let’s define what I mean by toxic people:
Toxic people always have drama in their life (because they haven’t got enough going on in their own life).
Toxic people rarely have anything good to say, apart from when it’s about themselves.
Toxic people are quick to criticise and judge others.
Toxic people are manipulative.
Toxic people lie a lot and exaggerate the truth.
Toxic people rarely, if ever, apologise.
Toxic people believe their lives are perfect, and nobody else can get close to that perfection.
Toxic people make you feel like you need to prove yourself to them.
Toxic people use privately shared information against you when it suits them.
Toxic people are narcissistic and delusional about their self-worth.
Toxic people have a way of making everything be about them.
Toxic people have few friends.
Toxic people are quick to cut you out of their life.
Toxic people are deeply unhappy (but like to portray that this is far from the truth), and therefore take pleasure in bringing others down with them.
Ring any bells?
It’s the last point in this list that is the most important because toxic people will bring you down without hesitation.
Identifying toxic people in your life and doing something about them will prevent you from lots of unnecessary hardship and unhappiness – including anxiety and stress.
Because toxic people are like sinking ships.
Their lives are a mess, and they have absolutely no trouble or conscience about taking everybody else down with them.
In fact, it’s exactly what they want.
‘If I’m unhappy and miserable you can get a taste.’
Don’t take it personally. It rarely has anything to do with anyone specifically.
The truth is, toxic people don’t have anything of significance going on in their own lives, so they make it their job to create drama – and drama is always waiting around the corner.
If you’re the one closest to them (and you normally are because you are one of the few tolerating them and their behaviour), you’ll be the one to get the brunt of their dysfunctional behaviour.
Dealing with toxic people is one of the quickest and most efficient ways to deal with stress and anxiety, and here are five ways to do it.
#1: Don’t get sucked into the drama, gossip and negative energy of a toxic person.
Like a ticking time bomb, a toxic person will always have some drama up their sleeve. If you’re in the way, you’ll no doubt get caught up in the middle of it.
The only way to avoid the drama is not to get involved in it.
Distance yourself using number five on this list. You’ll never be able to stop the drama so don’t try. Just keep out of the way of it.
Gossiping about others is a common pastime for a toxic person, which is a little harder to avoid because everybody likes a good gossip, making it easy to get caught up in it.
Maybe you’ve been sucked in yourself? I know I have.
It’s incredibly difficult to break through the negativity of drama and gossip when it surrounds you. It can very quickly become your life, and before you know it, you’re in the middle of something that doesn’t involve you.
The negative energy that surrounds toxic people draws in other toxic people, so it’s common to find them in groups.
Being sucked into the negative energy tends to bring out the worse in you, so where you can, you should always stay out of the way of drama and gossip.
#2: Don’t get into an argument with a toxic person.
Talk is cheap, and words get bandied around with ease when you argue, especially when you argue with a toxic person.
Arguments can quickly turn into a petty war of he said this, and she said that.
It happens in all types of relationships every day, and I have no doubt you’ve got into such squabbles with your friends and family (toxic or otherwise).
Usually, you can get past these petty arguments, but there are occasions when you can’t – when you’re dealing with a toxic person.
An argument will almost always involve the toxic person using privately shared information against you, which has a tendency, again, to bring out the worse in you.
It’s hard to have a genuine and heartfelt conversation (or disagreement or argument) with a toxic person because they show little interest in how you are feeling.
It’s their way or the highway.
When you’re dealing with such apathy, there is little point in trying to reason.
Getting stuck in a heated debate serves little purpose. All it does is fuel their anger further – you have to remember in their eyes they are never wrong – so they end up doing something else highly dysfunctional, like threatening you or getting physically violent.
The other common trait of a toxic person is the ‘I’ll cut you out of my life, and you’ll never see me again’.
This is another example of their irrational behaviour. It’s always black or white because there is no reasoning, compromise, or rationality.
You simply can’t win with a toxic person, so it’s best not to try.
#3: Surround yourself with like-minded people.
It’s common sense really – the law of attraction.
If you surround yourself with negative, toxic people, it won’t be long before you sink to their level.
That’s why you have to surround yourself with like-minded, positive people.
Like-minded people tend to be on the same journey as you, and won’t have the time or inclination to try and dictate to you how you should live your life.
They won’t be looking at your yacht criticising it – they’ll be busy builder their own yacht.
Sit on your luxury yacht and keep sailing forward.
Pass the sinking ships with a smile on your face, and only invite like-minded people aboard.
4. Be confident, and stay polite with a toxic person.
A toxic person might be somebody very close to you, so it’s not always a straightforward situation.
You might have known them for years, and only just recognised their toxic behaviour.
You might work with them and don’t have a choice but to spend time with them.
You might have a deep love for them, and rather than want to distance yourself, you feel compelled to try and help them instead.
If it’s the latter, I love your loyalty, but you need to be aware that a leopard rarely changes its spots.
In other words, you’re going to find it incredibly difficult to change a toxic person because ultimately, they are who they are – whoever they are and however close you are to them.
Whatever the scenario, be sure to be confident and polite with a toxic person.
They will sense any form of weakness, and they will take advantage and prey on it.
Give a toxic person an inch, and they’ll take a mile!
By being polite and confident, you’re not giving them any reason to take advantage of you and your good nature. They also have no good reason to try and afflict you with their behaviour.
Like a bully, they will get bored and move on.
It’s only when they get to a stage in their life when nobody tolerates their behaviour, and they become socially isolated, they start to appreciate they need to change their behaviour.
But, with the best will in the world, it may never happen.
None of this is your concern.
It’s best to focus on yourself, rather than try to control other people and their actions.
#5: Limit your time spent with toxic people, and consider cutting them out of your life.
The most effective solution to dealing with toxic people is to cut them out of your life, and at the very minimum, keep them at arm’s length. Otherwise, you risk sinking with the ship.
I know it comes across as harsh, and earlier I said that cutting people out of your life is a trait of toxic people, but there is no other long-term sound solution.
It’s the toxic person’s choice to be toxic – remember that – especially if the person/people are close to you.
It’s natural to feel guilt, almost as though you are abandoning them. You’re not. You’re becoming the best person you can be – and that will mean cutting toxic people out of your life.
You’ve outgrown their behaviour and it’s time to move on with your life.
Plus, you’ll quickly overcome this feeling of guilt because (1) you have nothing to feel guilty about, and (2) you’ll feel much better for it.
Everybody has off days. Even the most happy-go-lucky person will struggle sometimes.
Should you cut them out of your life?
Of course not!
You know the type of consistent toxic people I’m talking about – these are the ones you need to pay attention to.
If you’re ever in any doubt, go back to the list at the top of this article. If somebody is demonstrating these characteristics on a regular, consistent basis, it’s time to do something about it.
What does BALANCE mean to you? How do you know when you’ve achieved it, and what’s the end goal? These are all important questions, and to help answer them I’ve put together the Rebalance Scale.
SCALE 7: Panic
Panic – my best friend for many years! Obviously, I’m being sarcastic – there is nothing about panic that would ever make me class it as a friend. As a high-anxiety sufferer, I have no doubt you’ll know all about it. You’ll know that it sits at the top of the scale because it represents the most extreme form of anxiety and causes an array of unwanted symptoms, typically including sweating, dizziness, nausea, heart palpitations, shaking, numbness, tingling, chest pain and discomfort, loss of breath, a smothering or choking sensation, a dry mouth, a churning stomach, chills and hot flushes … and any other symptom the mind can muster.
At the height of my high anxiety, panic attacks were a daily occurrence. Some were caused by obvious triggers, such as going to the supermarket. (The supermarket was a particular struggle for me, and always induced panic.) At other times, a panic attack would creep up on me without warning. I could be doing something as trivial as watching TV, when all of sudden I’d start to feel disorientated and uncomfortable. Because nothing obvious was causing these feelings, I’d panic because I didn’t know what was going on.
It didn’t matter how many times I experienced panic attacks and got through them, each time I was convinced there was something more sinister going on. I really believed I was ill and had a serious medical condition. It was incredibly frustrating. I’d plead with the doctor: ‘Please diagnose me with something – anything – so I can stop this torment and move on.’ But, as in so many other cases of panic, that diagnosis never came.
Examples of panic
You regularly experience sharp bursts of panic created by anxious thoughts. These thoughts sometimes escalate into panic attacks, which can last for varying periods of time.
You’re able to recognise why you feel panicky (for example, being in a place that makes you feel uncomfortable), but you’re not always sure.
Panic can be sporadic and unpredictable, sometimes creeping up on you when you least expect it. For example, while driving you start to feel a smothering sensation, which causes a panic attack.
Symptoms of panic (most likely chest pain) cause you to fear for your life and seek emergency medical assistance.
You regularly feel the urge to get away from a situation and retreat to your ‘safe place’.
You avoid certain situations and places where you have previously panicked, such as a supermarket or restaurant.
When you experience panic you sometimes feel like you are an observer, detached from your environment, looking on with a sense of unreality.
Panic sometimes makes you feel like you’re ‘going mad’, and the thought of losing control scares you.
SCALE 6: High anxiety
High anxiety is best explained using the analogy of a swimming duck. Everything above water (on the outside) might appear calm, but underneath the water (on the inside) you’re frantically paddling, trying to hold things together. I spent most of the fifteen years I suffered living like this. I’d be sitting on my sofa watching TV, yet feel like I was at war on the frontline. From opening my eyes in the morning to going to bed at night, high anxiety ruled my life, and all my decisions were based around it.
Examples of high anxiety
You avoid crowded places such as supermarkets, because they make you feel light-headed, dizzy, disorientated, or as if you might faint.
You don’t like to be left alone and have developed a dependency on somebody close to you (a partner, friend or family member).
You like to be in control of everything in your life.
You pay attention to your health and exaggerate symptoms: you think a headache might be a brain tumour, and chest pain could mean you’re going to have a heart attack.
You’re often ill and prone to illness, suffering from aches, pains, headaches and numbness in certain areas of your body, including the chest, neck and back.
You’re picky about what you eat and drink because you’re conscious about how different foods make you feel.
You regularly suffer from digestion issues, including indigestion and stomach cramps.
You search symptoms on the internet and visit the doctor seeking reassurance.
You sometimes feel fearful for no reason, overwhelmed and unable to cope.
You suffer from sleep deprivation and struggle to fall asleep at night due to not being able to switch off the thoughts racing through your mind.
You have nightmares, and often wake up in the middle of the night (sometimes with chills).
You feel physically and emotionally drained.
You have a ‘safe place’ – typically your home – and have a radius within which you’re willing to travel, feeling uncomfortable when you’re too far away. Whenever you feel highly anxious, you seek relief by returning to your safe place.
You fear the outside world and prefer to stay at home. This might lead to becoming housebound (agoraphobic).
You are sometimes plagued by feelings of dread.
You feel on edge and uncomfortable in a social environment.
You turn down social opportunities and are absent at significant events (such as weddings), which affects your friendships and relationships.
You’re highly self-conscious and sometimes paranoid about what other people think of you.
You experience obsessive thoughts and have set routines. For example, you won’t leave your house or go on a trip without taking a certain drink or an object you depend on (such as a mobile phone), or you may have to check several times that your front door is locked when you leave your house.
SCALE 5: Above-normal anxiety
These symptoms are similar to those of high anxiety, but are less pervasive. You’re able to operate and cope in everyday life without anxiety dominating your decisions, but it still plays its part, manifesting itself through mild forms of anxiety-related disorders.
Examples of above-normal anxiety
You’re snappy, short-tempered and easily aggravated.
You sometimes vent your frustration and anger on the people closest to you, including your partner and children.
You take the stress of your job home with you.
Small things you never paid attention to previously and could dismiss now bother you. For example, if somebody is critical of you, it will affect your mood.
Thoughts play on your mind and you focus on problems, rather than good things in your life. You may worry a lot about the future and everything on your to-do list.
You’re indecisive, and don’t like to commit to something and risk that it might go wrong.
You drink a little more alcohol than usual, and use it to help you relax.
You find it difficult to concentrate and remember things.
You consciously make the decision to avoid crowded places, such as supermarkets and shopping centres, or visit them at their quietest periods.
You’re easily alarmed or frightened.
You find yourself turning down social opportunities more frequently, and view them as an inconvenience rather than a positive experience, preferring to stay at home.
Your sleep pattern is affected by worry, and you often find it hard to fall asleep.
SCALE 4: BALANCE
Sitting comfortably within normal levels of anxiety and energy, BALANCE is the optimal place to be. You’re living an active and healthy lifestyle without anxiety and depression dictating your decisions and actions. Anxiety isn’t present in your immediate thoughts, and it only presents itself when genuinely needed. Until then, it sits quietly as your life companion, keeping you away from danger and helping you make sensible decisions (doing its job properly). You don’t feel tired or drained, and have enough mental and physical energy to cope with life’s usual daily challenges.
It’s likely you’ll be able to recall a time you felt like this, but if it’s been a while, let me remind you what it feels like.
What BALANCE feels like
You look forward to going out with friends, rather than counting down the days in dread.
You can do the simple things in life (like going to the shop for some milk) without thinking about them.
Going out for a nice meal with your partner doesn’t create endless ‘what if…?’ thoughts that generate gut-wrenching apprehension and worry.
An ‘off day’ is exactly that, and whenever you experience one you accept that everybody has them and move on to the next day. It doesn’t mean your world is about to cave in: it was just a bad day, and tomorrow is another day.
You can go to a friend’s wedding without feeling ill or having to make excuses for being absent.
A family holiday means enjoyment, relaxation and a well-deserved break.
You’re confident and feel good about yourself.
Butterflies in your stomach mean happiness, surprise and excitement – not panic.
Obsessive and overwhelming thoughts are replaced by healthy focus and ambition.
Small things stay small, and don’t snowball into big unwieldy troubles. Problems can be broken down and dealt with.
Being stuck in traffic doesn’t create uncontrollable rage and panic.
Your outlook on life is objective and you’re open-minded. Your immediate view isn’t negative.
You feel content and grateful for everything you have.
You fall asleep easily when your head hits the pillow, and you wake up feeling energised and refreshed.
The future is bright, and there’s plenty to look forward to.
Most importantly, BALANCE means FREEDOM. No hang-ups, no emotional ties, no psychological baggage – just you, living how you want to live.
SCALE 3: Below-normal energy
Because anxiety goes hand in hand with depression, it’s present at both ends of the scale. It will zap your positivity and happiness, and work with depression to lower your energy. The lower your energy, the greater your depression. Scale 3 represents lower than normal energy, which could be the early signs of a deeper depression.
Examples of below-normal energy
You feel lethargic and more tired than usual.
You don’t feel as happy as the people around you.
You’re unmotivated, uninspired, and lack drive and passion.
You’re cynical, and when you talk about people you pick fault with them.
You don’t feel content, and think about how unsatisfied you are with your life.
You regularly think about how you’re feeling – in a negative way.
You don’t feel good about yourself, and have little interest in activities and socialising.
You often blame yourself for things out of your control, and feel guilty, even if things aren’t your fault.
You have less time for romance, and regularly have low libido/little interest in sex.
Happiness doesn’t come as easily to you as it did previously.
You prefer not to think about the future.
SCALE 2: Low energy
Scale 2 represents a deeper anxiety-induced depression and a lower level of unhappiness; you experience the same symptoms as with below-normal energy, but to a greater extent.
Examples of low energy
You struggle to get out of bed in the morning, and lack the motivation and energy to do even the most trivial daily task.
You don’t want to face the world, and feel detached from it.
You would rather stay at home with the curtains drawn than face the prospect of going out to meet people.
You feel restless, agitated and impatient.
You can’t be bothered to shower or wash, and your personal hygiene suffers.
You have a poor appetite, which means you regularly skip meals – or you may binge on unhealthy foods.
Life feels as though it’s slowing down.
You’re easily tearful and often cry.
You have low self-esteem and confidence, and when you look in the mirror you don’t feel good about yourself.
You find it hard to get rid of a feeling of despair.
You regularly ask yourself, ‘What’s the point?’
You spend long periods resting or sleeping.
You read SCALE 4 (BALANCE) and thought being happy and free was impossible and unachievable.
SCALE 1: Sleep
At the very bottom of the scale, sleep represents extreme depression, just as panic represents an extreme form of anxiety. I went through long periods of both. When I was deeply depressed, all I wanted to do was sleep all day. It felt as though my body was shutting down (like when you reboot your computer), and sleep was my only escape from the clutches of anxiety. On average, I would sleep sixteen hours a day – twice as long as the average adult needs. In the few hours I was awake, anxiety had a way of sucking any remaining bit of life out of me. My energy became non-existent, and I felt mentally and physically exhausted every waking second of every day. It made breaking the anxiety and depression cycle very difficult, because all I wanted to do was (you guessed it) sleep more.
At the other extreme, sleep deprivation (caused by high anxiety) was the worst symptom I experienced. I know exactly what it feels like to be a zombie on The Walking Dead. Three days of not sleeping properly, red-eyed with dribble running down my chin, unable to talk, was as bad as it got for me. This is a typical example of the continuous rigmarole I went through on a nightly basis:
As soon as my head hit the pillow I have racing thoughts about all the bills that need to be paid this month and the work I have left to do. I’m exhausted, but it doesn’t matter how tired I am, I just can’t fall asleep.
I lie there with my eyes wide open, just staring at the ceiling, until I’m so frustrated I decide to get up. I make myself a drink. I know going back to bed will be a waste of time so I lie down on the couch and put the television on. It keeps me company so I don’t feel so alone.
My eyes are heavy. I look at the clock. It’s the early hours of the morning and I start to panic – I’m desperate to sleep because I know I’m going to feel like a zombie at work the next day.
Eventually, panic subsides, and through pure exhaustion I fall asleep at around 4am. After a few hours I wake up on the couch, feeling like I haven’t slept at all. I immediately start to feel anxious, and I’m already worrying about how I’m going to get through the day.
I dread going to bed because I know it’s all going to happen again.
Eventually, with time and practice, I sorted my sleep out. If I hadn’t done this, I had no chance of overcoming anxiety and depression. That’s why I can’t stress enough how important it is to get it right. A strong pattern of sleep combined with the ability to relax is essential for achieving BALANCE.