9 Ways to Treat Your Anxiety with Loving-Kindness
We have a lot to gain from being a little kinder to ourselves and others
Are You Being Too Hard on Yourself?
Please raise your hand if you’ve ever had one of the following thoughts:
- “What’s wrong with me, I’m going crazy!”
- “Why can’t I just get my shit together?”
- “I’m so weak and scared all of the time!”
If your hand is in the air right now, you’re definitely not alone!
These thoughts and many more are examples of the harsh self-talk experienced by anxious people across the world.
And with the pain, frustration, and confusion anxiety so often causes, who can really hold it against you.
But I need to make sure you’re aware of something important.
There’s a very real downside to all of this self-blame and anger… It takes a considerable toll on your mental health.
In truth we have a lot to gain from showing more loving-kindness to ourselves and others.
I think John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert put it best in their book The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety.
“This simple idea isn’t fluff, for it now stands on a growing research base showing that learning to be kind to ourselves is one of, if not THE, single most powerful antidote to suffering with anxiety, fear, and other forms of emotional pain. Period!”
Below you’ll find nine ways to introduce more love and kindness into your own life.
I hope these exercises, practiced regularly, can help you find some more peace and control. So let’s take a look at them together.
1) Self-Care Isn’t Selfish
Self-care essentially means any activity you do in order to improve your own well-being.
Some examples could be:
- Getting an hour extra sleep
- Spending time with friends and loved ones
- Setting boundaries and being assertive (learn to say no)
- Exercising and eating healthy
How much time do you spend taking care of yourself? Think about it for a minute and see if you can get an overview.
You might find, like many do, that self-care has taken a backseat and become low-priority.
This is how it usually goes, as self-care is rarely obligatory it’s easy to overlook and ignore.
You might even feel like setting aside time for yourself is selfish, but that’s not so at all!
Taking care of yourself is not only important, it’s necessary for your ability to take care of others.
Just think about it, how much easier is it to be loving, understanding, kind, and caring to others if you’re calm and in control?
That’s what taking care of yourself does, it increases your capacity for taking care of others.
So in truth, the people who stand to gain the most from your self-care are your loved ones!
2) Paying It Forward
Here’s one of the simpler things you can do to introduce more loving kindness into your life.
Commit to doing one good deed every day. One is really all it takes.
This plays perfectly into the concept of paying it forward, of which I’m a big fan.
You do one good deed, be it helping someone cross the street, sharing your food, asking if someone is alright, or anything else you can.
Not only do you feel great, but you’ve now empowered one or more other people to do a good deed of their own.
Is it certain that they will? Definitely not. But it’s certain they will feel grateful and have their spirits lifted, even if they don’t say so.
We also tend to learn through association, so over time love and kindness begets more love and kindness.
So if you wish to be surrounded by more love and kindness, it starts with your actions today.
3) Try Loving-kindness Meditation
Meditation typically involves focusing your attention on a specific stimulus.
Traditionally this might be your breath, a sound, an image, your thoughts, etc.
Loving-kindness meditation follows this same pattern, but what you’re asked to focus on is perhaps a little more vague.
You’re asked to bring your attention to feelings of love, compassion, and empathy.
This is known to increase compassion, empathy, and feelings of positivity.
To practice, start by finding a place and time where you won’t be disturbed and get into a comfortable position.
Now bring your attention to a loved one and visualize them in front of you.
Wish them love, peace, and happiness by repeating the following statements or whatever else you feel more fitting.
- May you be loved and appreciated
- I wish you good health and happiness
- May you find success and be safe
Now imagine that they do the same for you, and join in.
- May I be loved and appreciated
- May I live in peace and safety
Extending your focus to other loved ones, send them some love and kindness as well.
And finally send that same love, affection, and well-wishes to the entire world.
4) Keeping a Gratitude Journal
A gratitude journal when used correctly can really help you increase life-satisfaction and well-being.
It does so through making you more aware of all the small joys and blessings in your life.
All of the things you’re probably very grateful for, but tend to take for granted.
This is how it works: A few times per week before you go to bed get out a piece of paper.
Now think back on the last day asking yourself what you are thankful for.
- What happened that made you feel happy?
- Did anything surprise you positively?
- What about the people in your life, who do you feel grateful for?
After writing down what comes to mind, spend a minute meditating on the feelings of gratitude and thankfulness.
5) Honesty Lasts Longer
Being honest might sound like a favor and kindness to the people around you, and I guess to some degree it is. But that’s really not what I care about.
At least in theory you can go through life lying and deceiving, and if you’re good at it, other people will never know nor take harm from it.
But there’s one person you can never fool… Yourself.
I wish I could remember where I first heard that simple little fact, because it hit me as hard as anything could.
It doesn’t matter if you fool everyone else, because at the end of the day you’ll still know about your own dishonesty.
Yes, you’ll know deep inside of you that you’re not a trustworthy person, and that makes all the difference.
I think that kind of knowledge, of your own negative character, will tear at you and destroy you from the inside over time.
So being honest isn’t as much a kindness to others as it is to yourself!
Commit to never being dishonest and I guarantee you’ll be all the better for it.
6) Forgive, But Don’t Forget
Just like being honest, you might assume forgiveness is a kindness to other people. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.
It’s a kindness to yourself, through and through. And it’s in no way a sign of defeat or weakness as some might think.
Just think about it, what do you or anyone else stand to gain from not letting go of pain and suffering from the past? Not much, I bet.
You’re certainly the only one still suffering because of it.
I can tell you right now, if someone hurt you in the past and you can’t forgive it, they’re not losing any sleep over it.
Chances are good that they don’t even know or care that it still bothers you.
Or as John P. Forsyth and Georg H. Eifert put it in The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety:
“If you look closely, you will notice that holding on to past hurts in the spirit of unforgiveness ultimately hurts you, you, you!
It is a poison to your spirit and growth and does little for those who once wronged you. This is why it needs to stop.
Learning to forgive is the single most powerful way to soften the pull of your painful past.”
7) You Have to Stop Labeling
When we label things, as the name implies, we put a label on ourselves or someone/something else.
This habit of placing things into boxes might make for a less complicated life, but it’s not very helpful or realistic.
The thing is that our labels are rarely good representations of reality, but they certainly influence the way we view ourselves, other people, and our surroundings.
Take for example the thoughts/beliefs:
- “I’m such a worthless idiot!”
- “Going outside is too dangerous, I simply can’t cope with all of the anxiety.”
- “He’s an evil jerk, there’s no point trying to change that.”
There’s something inherently limiting and close-minded about most labels, and that just doesn’t fly well with loving kindness.
Whether it’s yourself, others, or your surroundings, be wary of placing things into overly restrictive boxes.
Or as David D. Burns writes in his book Feeling Good:
“Labeling yourself is not only self-defeating, it is irrational. Your self cannot be equated with any one thing you do.
Your life is a complex and ever-changing flow of thoughts, emotions, and actions. To put it another way, you’re more like a river than a statue.
Stop trying to define yourself with negative labels – they are overly simplistic and wrong.”
8) Smile and Laugh More
Happiness tends to go hand in hand with smiling and laughing.
Your guess might be that this is because happy people simply smile and laugh more, and that’s probably true to some degree. But I think there’s more to the story.
I think it’s equally true that people who smile and laugh more end up happier over time, because that’s the effect smiles and laughs have on the body and mind.
It’s for example well documented at this point that humor can be used as an intervention to reduce pain and increase mood.
And I’ve personally heard stories of people going on comedy movie binges to combat spells of depression.
Let’s also remember the words of the Dalai Lama:
“A simple smile. That’s the start of opening your heart and being compassionate to others. “
Smiling and laughing is as contagious as something can get, so I invite you to try this for yourself:
For the next two or three days, commit to being more lighthearted.
Smile and laugh more, even to yourself in the mirror and in the general, and even when you don’t really feel like it!
You might just find that it lightens your mood and puts a bigger smile on the faces of the people around you.
9) Choose Value-Oriented Actions
Here’s the number one thing you can do to introduce more loving-kindness into your life!
(It also happens to be the end goal in acceptance and commitment therapy and arguably the only way to live a fulfilling life.)
You need to start living in ways that align with your values!
As Steven C. Hayes writes in Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life:
“We believe that right now at this very moment, you have all the tools you need to make meaningful and inspiring life-choices for yourself.
You not only have the opportunity, but the actual ability to live in the service of what you value.”
This is no simple task however. Just figuring out what your values are can be a struggle.
But I want you to consider just how important this is… Your life is essentially just a long sequence of choices, leading up to the present moment.
What those choices are will determine where you end up and who you end up being. So if they don’t align with your values… What are you actually doing?
To me that sounds like the worst thing anyone can do to themselves, living a life full of choices that they’re not proud of. Yet it’s how more or less everyone lives.
If you want to break out of that habit and start living your best life, you need to determine your values and start acting accordingly.
I recommend looking into acceptance and commitment therapy if this sounds interesting.
Steven C. Hayes’ book Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life is a great place to start.
I know it helped me, and I’m sure it’ll do the same for you!