How to calm anxious thoughts and stop rumination: 6 ways

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I used to wake up every morning feeling anxious. Rather than hope, I’d experience a sense of dread and even impending doom about the day ahead.

I’d force myself out of bed and put on a suit of armor to start the day. Instead of enjoying life, I plodded through, fearfully guarded against imagined threats and dangers.

Thankfully, I’ve recovered from the constant oppression of anxious thoughts and perceived peril. Now I get to enjoy life and approach it with a sense of wonder and curiosity.

It turned out those feelings of hyperarousal came from a history of unresolved childhood trauma. Perhaps you can relate.

Even without a traumatic childhood to overcome, many of us experience anxious thoughts from time to time. That sense of nagging worry about things over which we have little to no control.

Even without a traumatic childhood to overcome, many of us experience anxious thoughts from time to time. That sense of nagging worry about things over which we have little to no control. Click To Tweet

The worry might be over nothing in particular. A general sense of unease and mild panic that sucks the joy out of life.

If you do feel gripped by anxious thoughts from time to time, here are six things you can do to relieve your pain.

1. Get a good enough sleep.

This is not always possible, especially when babies wake us up during the night.

But, if you can give up that late night TV show and get to bed at a decent hour, a full night’s sleep works wonders.

Sleep deprivation makes us feel nervous and on edge at the best of times. So, take it out of the running as one of your enemies against a peaceful state of mind.

2. Give thanks upon waking.

Rather than waking up with a sense of dread over having to face another day, whisper a thank you.

Each morning when I open my eyes, I give thanks to God for a new day. It’s made a world of difference in my attitude when it comes time to get out of bed.

No longer do I moan and shuffle my way to the bathroom. I feel genuine gratitude for a new day and its opportunities.

If you knew me ten years ago, you’d call this shift a miracle. And it is.

3. Eliminate unhealthy coping mechanisms.

This might be the hardest thing you’ve ever done. For me, eliminating alcohol meant a complete change in my life.

I had to enter a recovery program and learn how to think and live a different way. Most of all, I had to lean on God rather than trying to prop myself up all the time.

Examine whether you need to make a radical change in your life. Do you need support to stop overeating, drinking too much, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms?

These short-term solutions help us feel better in the moment. But they cause long-term grief which prevents us from living a full and satisfying life.

Short-term solutions to ease pain help us feel better in the moment. But they cause long-term grief which prevents us from living a full and satisfying life. Click To Tweet

4. Move your body to calm anxious thoughts.

Rather than a workout, this means simply moving from one place to another. Take a walk, kneel in prayer, wash the dishes.

Anything to interrupt the hamster wheel of rumination going on in your brain.


5. Call someone and tell them you’re feeling anxious.

I’ve had to force myself to call someone to share my anxious thoughts. So I understand how compelling it can be not to do so.

This might be the last thing you want to do, but do it anyway. Talking to someone else, especially one of those chatty, optimistic types, will get you outside of your own head.

Talking to someone else, especially one of those chatty, optimistic types, will get you outside of your own head. You'll feel better, like you've had a reset. Click To Tweet

Chances are you’ll feel better at the end of the conversation, like you’ve had a reset.

6. Breathe or listen to a meditation.

I love the Pause app by John Eldredge, which walks you through 1, 3, 5 or 10-minute meditations.

I’m not sure how it works, but breathing deeply and listening to a soothing voice helps me feel more calm and relaxed every time.

Creating a new approach to the holidays in the midst of grief

The following guest post is part of a series called When Christmas is Hard, which explores unique challenges and heartaches of the holiday season.

Christmas grief
Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

This past September when temperatures reached the 90’s, I made my weekly trip to Costco. A Christmas display of decorations and cookies greeted me at the door.

Some people love Christmas.  To some it’s the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it is a most painful and grief-filled time.

Some people love Christmas.  To some it's the most wonderful time of the year. But for others, it is a most painful and grief-filled time. Click To Tweet

The first Christmas after the sudden loss of my husband in 2018 was the most difficult season I experienced.

The idea of celebrating the holidays with an empty chair at the table felt excruciating. I couldn’t fathom the thought of going to a Christmas Eve service while in so much pain. 

The holidays have all sorts of attachments to them.  From the decorations on the tree, to the foods you bake and eat.  Memories come with each one.

When you have celebrated with a loved one for over 36 years, the pain outweighs the decision to celebrate at all.

Christmas unlike any other

Christmas 2018 was unlike any in the past.  My two adult children and I had a talk about the holidays in August that year. We knew it would be hard, but didn’t realize how hard.

In considering the holidays after a devastating loss due to death, divorce or a diagnosis,  the phrase, “Surviving the Holidays” seems to fit.  It is really about survival, getting through, and landing on the other side in one piece.

So much of what makes the holidays hard when you’ve experienced a loss are memories from the past.

My husband and I had gone together to buy a Christmas tree for 36 years. Christmas 2018, I made the decision not to get a Christmas tree.

My husband and I had gone together to buy a Christmas tree for 36 years. Christmas 2018, I made the decision not to get a Christmas tree. Click To Tweet

Some traditions incited triggers I didn’t feel ready for.  In making the decision, I found I was able to focus on what was going on inside of me, rather than what was taking place outside of me. 

I also became aware of how much time decorating for the holidays takes, while you are still working and doing normal tasks. 

The stress of Christmas I used to feel was diminished.  I gave myself permission to be with my grief, and not to pretend. My new reality gave me a strange freedom.

Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Grief brings a chance to grow

I began to notice deciding what not to do allowed me to make decisions of what I wanted to do instead. My two adult children proposed we take a trip for Christmas.

I wholeheartedly agreed. Making a plan to do something different became a step toward creating a new approach to the holidays. A change of scenery and being away from home allowed the three of us to create new memories amidst our grief. 

In reflecting back on Christmas of 2018, it was like listening to a weather report. Advance warning to get ready for a storm coming. 

Preparing ahead for physical, emotional, and spiritual needs became imminent. Saying no to events and setting boundaries allowed me to honor my grief. 

Saying no to events and setting boundaries allowed me to honor my grief. Click To Tweet

In essence, a space opened up to focus more on the spiritual significance of Christmas: Emmanuel, God with us.

More than any other time in my life, I embraced the true meaning of what that looked like. Peace and comfort came in a different, yet more meaningful way. 

When Christmas is not filled with what you have known, there is space for creating a different landscape. Adjusting our expectations in a difficult season can allow us to be in a hard place in a good way.

We may see through tears in the midst of a hard season.  What we can’t see yet is the growth that will come out of that hard season.   

Pam Luschei is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist. She invites women to experience a deeper relationship within, with God and others amidst the storms of life. She lives in Southern California, where she loves to hike national parks with her daughter and son.

Find her on Instagram and on her website

Why you give up easily in the face of challenges (it’s not what you think)

give up easily
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If you’ve read books or articles on why you give up easily, you’re likely to find the usual suspects. You’re weak, you lack discipline, or you need to believe in yourself more.

In other words, it’s all your fault.

I’m here to pose another possibility. One that ventures to say it’s not your fault entirely that you’ve yet to achieve everything you want in life.

What if there are real obstacles against you that have nothing to do with laziness or lack of inner strength?

Because many people we consider successful would wither in the face of what you’ve had to endure.

Here are three more likely reasons you give up easily in the face of life’s challenges. Thank goodness they’re not immutable. But neither are they all your fault.

1. Personality type

It’s no secret the world rewards certain personalities more than others. Introverts, for example, know how difficult it can be to navigate a world custom-made for extroverts.

That’s not to say introverts aren’t successful. But they have more barriers to overcome and are less represented at top levels of companies.

On the other side, extroverts suffer because they tend to need more rewards to stay interested in a project. While introverts find it easier to stick with something even if no reward comes until the end.

Type A personalities are more determined and driven than Type Bs. This gives them an obvious advantage when going after a goal.

Type Bs, by virtue of their less competitive natures, might appear to give up easily. In reality, they are choosing self care since conflict feels so bad to them.

2. Childhood trauma

If you had a rough road in childhood, those trials don’t stay in the past where they belong. They travel with you throughout life building obstacles to success.

Childhood trauma creates problems staying focused and on task later in life. Victims of childhood abuse and neglect develop huge gaps in their sense of self and personal competence.

If you’ve never been encouraged or given guidance, it’s very difficult to map out a plan for your life.

If you've never been encouraged or given guidance, it's very difficult to map out a plan for your life. Click To Tweet

If you were made to feel like you didn’t matter or were a burden, that will result in a sense of unworthiness that hinders getting what you want.

If you grew up in dangerous circumstances, your resources will go into surviving real and perceived threats. Even when those threats are long over.

When all your energy and strength have gone into survival, it’s not your fault you have little left over to realize your dreams. If you can even discern what those might be.

3. Family dynamics

Even if your home was safe, your parents may have never encouraged you to persevere in the face of challenges.

They let you quit whenever you wanted, so you learned if you don’t like something you can stop doing it. You’ve been conditioned to give up easily.

While it’s sometimes wise to drop things we don’t enjoy, it’s also important to fulfill commitments and push through the unpleasant middle to obtain the end reward.

Some parents neglect to help their children develop daily disciplines. Habits which are essential to success.

As a result, the child grows up without realizing the importance of mundane tasks to overall life satisfaction. So she never takes steps to cultivate them.

Often these obstacles to success are subconscious and we struggle to understand why we’re not getting what we want.

Often obstacles to success are subconscious and we struggle to understand why we're not getting what we want. Click To Tweet

It takes more than behavior modification or following a few steps to overcome a lifetime of imprinting. Instead, the first key is to acknowledge your true barriers to success.

Let go of the shame and guilt and invest time in understanding yourself. I recommend reading The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., which offers hope for reclaiming your life.

Why we fear success and how to overcome procrastination

fear success
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Most of us are familiar with fear of failure. But have you considered whether procrastination indicates you fear success instead?

When you find every reason not to start something. Even though you’ve done all the research and collected so much information you’re now an expert on the subject.

It’s easy to blame your refusal to begin that new project on a fear of failure. Stepping outside your comfort zone poses a risk you’ll fall on your face.

But it’s possible procrastination has to do with a fear that things will go right. That we’ll reach that stretch goal and our lives will be changed forever.

What could be scary about that? Well, lots of things.

Here are five reasons it’s completely normal to harbor a fear of success. And what to do about it.

Here are five reasons it's completely normal to harbor a fear of success. And what to do about it. Click To Tweet

5 reasons we fear success

1. Responsibility

What’s the saying? “With great power comes great responsibility.” I’m not sure who uttered this pithy phrase, but it helps illustrate why success can feel scary at times.

Success usually means growing bigger, whether it’s a business or a family. That means more people under your wing, be they employees, followers, or children.

More people looking up to you for answers. More decisions to make. And more riding on those decisions. You can see how this is a completely rational fear to have.

2. Fear of expectations

In her Ted talk, author Elizabeth Gilbert confessed to a fear that her best work was behind her.

She had written the bestselling memoir Eat, Pray Love, which got attention from Oprah and became a blockbuster film starring Julia Roberts.

If you succeed this time, that means you’ll have to do even better next time. This sounds exhausting and potentially embarrassing and makes a great case for not starting at all.

3. The higher they climb, the farther they fall

With success comes more visibility. No more flying under the radar. That means more criticism as your reach increases.

If you stay inside your bubble of supporters, you’ll hear mostly positive reviews.

The more successful you become, however, the more you’ll hear a range of opinions about you and your work. Not all of them good.

4. Alienation from loved ones

Maybe you grew up in a family that punished you for success. For example, they accused you of thinking too much of yourself when you enjoyed a triumph.

You may have had underachieving parents who resented your accomplishments. You learned to keep your head down to avoid the harsh glare of the spotlight.

Sub-consciously, you avoid success because you fear it will alienate you from the people you love.

5. Fear of disappointing people

Closely aligned with imposter syndrome, this fear of success is related to feelings of unworthiness.

You feel you don’t deserve success. And when you achieve it, assume you’ve gamed the system and people will find you out.

They’ll realize you don’t have all the answers and you’re only human. So why risk reaching for that goal at all?

How to stop procrastinating due to fear of success

fear success

1. Surround yourself with supportive people who challenge you in a good way.

Those loved ones you’re afraid of offending with your success may not be your best bet. Find people who support your aims and want to see you succeed.

Seek out like-minded people with goals similar to yours. This will help you feel less alone and give you the accountability you need to reach for what you want.

2. Acknowledge your procrastination as fear.

We’ve all seen the memes about putting things off. It’s easy to think of procrastination as harmless distraction. And sometimes it is.

But more often it’s a form of self-sabotage that will stop you from getting what you want. And leave you with a world of regret.

Struggling with self-sabotage? Download the first chapter of It’s Not Your Fault free.

3. Confront your fear.

Rather than minimizing your avoidance techniques, confront them. Consider writing down what you’re feeling in the moments before you distract yourself.

Ask yourself what you stand to lose if you don’t challenge yourself with this new goal or project. As they say, we regret the things we don’t do more than the things we do.

All the reasons for fearing success are perfectly reasonable. But that doesn't mean you should let them rule you. Click To Tweet

All the reasons given above for fearing success are perfectly reasonable. But that doesn’t mean you should let them rule you.

Be brave. Step out. Take on something outside your comfort zone. Start small if you need to, but start. Only then will you know what you’re capable of.

The first Christmas without someone you love is the hardest

This guest post is first in a series called When Christmas is Hard, which explores the unique challenges and heartaches of the holiday season.

first Christmas

They say the firsts are the hardest. First birthday, first gathering, first Christmas. They say the first time you pass the milestones that mark our days without them it stings the most, hurts the deepest. 

When her sinus headaches kept intensifying and she went to the ER and they rushed her up to Stanford I dropped to my knees to pray and then to pack up my giant red suitcase and go. We lived three states away and I didn’t know what I could do, but I knew I needed to be near her.

Over the next 22 months I was with her as much as I could be while pregnant and then after giving birth, and then lugging around three small children. We would pack that giant red suitcase over and over and the best man I know said goodbye to me and his children for indeterminate amounts of time; sometimes weeks, sometimes months. 

Our last Christmas together, when people complained about traveling or logistics I was just grateful for one more memory of her unpacking ornaments, her mistaken lyrics (even to Jingle Bells), tags with “From Mom” on them. On the 20 hour drive down with the kids, presents packed in the trunk, Bing Crosby on the radio, I remembered our looming future and tried to shake it further off.

first Christmas
Photo by Andrew Coop on Unsplash

Remembering her as I knew her

My mother died, but I want you to meet her as I knew her, not as I lost her. She had bright blonde hair she earned on a kitchen stool with my Gramma every several weeks while I grew up. She left pink lipstick on my coffee mugs which complemented the green-blue eyes she gave my daughter.

Her bangles clinked together when she moved her arms around to some silly gesture for a laugh or when she stroked my hair because I was scared. She did this scoff thing at me all the time that always felt like a prize I’d won, even over FaceTime where we met almost daily while she nannied and I mommied and we swapped the old and new wisdoms we needed for the moment.

They say it’s hard, but they don’t tell you why – probably because it varies. Sometimes it’s the things unsaid, the regrets, the apologies you never got. But sometimes it hurts because it feels like love ruined you; rooted down deep and spread out so that honest attempts at cynicism crumble before the mortar can dry.

Nobody who has lost a loved one to GBM will say it went easy, but we were grateful for the time we had. She stayed as long as she possibly could, I don’t doubt that for a second. She exhausted every moment in which we were together and when she left it was against her will, but not against her peace. It was a Good Death if such a thing can be said.

The first Christmas without her

Six months later we drove down the familiar highways while Bing Crosby crooned. We arrived at the house I grew up hearing her voice down the hall in, the one we nursed and lost her in, too. I slept in the room where she died, where I’d laid next to her while we watched Gilmore Girls and snuck Oreos close to midnight. 

The first holiday without her wasn’t easy, but the real trouble is that there was a second, a third, that there will be a twentieth. That time spreads out in front of you empty of this vital presence and every year confirms it. I’ll never hear her scoff at me again, never dig into Gramma’s pantry together like thieves, never smell coconut mixed with her skin. 

That first Christmas – and every Christmas since – we unpack the ornaments and I miss her. Christmases are hard now. They just are. But the reason it hurts is the same reason I smile to myself when I hear Jingle Bells and am overwhelmed with gratitude for time with my own children. I don’t have her here the way I wish I did, but her love is still a gift, even without a label.

Krysann is a former fundamentalist turned freedom chaser with an obnoxiously stubborn faith. She lives in Washington state with her husband and four children.

Instagram: krysannjoye