It’s not the big gestures that create the most change. The flashy efforts on social media that appear in millions of feeds for a few days generate interest that isn’t sustained. These efforts are essentially splashy commercials, feel-good moments, that sink back into the ocean of currents almost as quickly as they appear.
If you want lasting change, look to the consistent actions of yourself or the people who show up in your life with regularity. If you want to know love look for the tiniest action, barely recognized, completed each day or each week by someone in your life who doesn’t ask for thanks or acknowledgement and who shows up anyway.
You’ve experienced the disconnect that’s reported in all those critical studies about technology. Families with faces stuck to their screens, friends who can’t put down their phones to spend time with the friend in front of them, the social media vacuum that sucks away hours, and the meandering labyrinth of the internet. Because of your experience you’ve made a grand pledge to change the way you use technology, similar to the pledge you made to change your eating habits (tomorrow) and to begin exercising (this afternoon). Then the designated time comes to put action to your pledge and you push it off or you actually do it for a couple of days, a week, a month, but you can’t sustain it. Life crops up, as it does, and you return to the familiar, the usual, the way you’ve always done it.
You want change; you really do, but change doesn’t come from grand gestures and big pledges. Change comes from consistent and persistent action. Change comes when you show up day after day and practice a new way. I’ve learned that change comes from tiny actions regularly practiced (like love), including the practice of forgiving myself when I don’t get it right or perfect. Because practice doesn’t imply perfection; it implies getting it wrong then trying again, getting it wrong then trying again, and again and again. It implies resilience and constancy and showing up over and over even when you fear it’s not working until finally you notice that something is shifting.
How do you change anxiety?
Notice your anxiety sensations.
Choose 2-3 quick and easy strategies.
Allow yourself to be imperfect.
For those of you who experience anxiety, it’s taking a minute or two or three every time you notice the sensations of anxiety to practice a calming strategy. Every time, because you are teaching your nervous system a new way of being, possibly after years or decades of living with anxiety. A grand gesture won’t help you here. There isn’t a quick cure or fix. You will need to try a variety of quick and easy calming strategies to find what works for you and then you will need to practice those strategies often and over time, consistently and persistently, while you learn a new way.
Choose quick and easy strategies (here) because these are the ones you are most likely to practice with regularity. I also recommend that you find at least one strategy that you can practice without notice while you are in a group because then you have something for any time.
Quick. Easy. Consistent. Persistent. All important parts of change. First though you must notice. What are the sensations that let you know you’re feeling anxious? Does your chest feel tight? Do you have butterflies in your stomach? Do you clench your jaw or your muscles? Do you hold your breath? The more familiar you become with recognizing the signs of your increasing anxiety, the earlier you can practice a calming strategy to bring it back down.
A final note:
After you notice your sensations of anxiety, practice letting go of any judgements you have about yourself in that moment. You are simply noticing a sensation then practicing a calming strategy, like learning a sport, a language, or playing an instrument. You’re allowed to be imperfect, to be human. Anxiety doesn’t define you. Show up. Notice. Choose 2-3 quick and easy strategies. Practice often. Be consistent. Over time change will happen.
I am a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Registered Yoga Teacher in Grapevine, Texas. I work with people struggling with anxiety and the effects of trauma.