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How to Change Anxiety in Increments to Be Mentally Healthy

November 10, 2019 George Abitante

How can you change anxiety, bit by bit? Would you believe me if I told you that math can provide phenomenal motivation? Hear me out.

If we multiply one by itself 365 times, what do we get? Well, we know it doesn't change at all -- it's still just one. And this makes intuitive sense too, right? When we don't make any changes in our lives, it's hard to see a difference, even if we wait for a year.

But what happens if we do make a small change, and I mean a really, really small change? Well, when you multiply 1.01 by itself 365 times, you get 37.8. This is incredible in my mind and is such a beautiful illustration of the power that incremental change can have in your life. Anxiety can change, powerfully, in a short space of time.

The Power of Changing Anxiety Incrementally

When you think about changing your anxiety, it probably feels like you need to make an enormous change to something in your life to see any difference. But this example suggests something completely different. You don't need to make an enormous change to see a difference in your life -- in the example above, we actually just made a change of 1/100th, and look at the effect that had. Regardless of what it is we're working toward, the change we want in our lives can be accomplished over time through consistent effort. The key is simply to start today. When we get too focused on how much needs to be done, we lose sight of the remarkable power that repeating an action can have. 

I hope I've convinced you that this is a valuable perspective to have in general, but we still haven't discussed how it can be useful for changing anxiety. Well, this idea is a great way to think about your anxiety because it allows you to feel more relaxed day-to-day and it can motivate you to identify small changes you can make in your life to reduce anxiety. Below, I'll discuss three ways thinking about incremental change can help you work through your anxiety more easily. 

Use Incremental Change to Reduce Your Anxiety

  1. Think change over time. One of the challenges anxiety brings is that it draws your attention to a single point in time, whether that is focused on something you're afraid of in the future or something you're worried about right now. But thinking in terms of incremental change can actually help us avoid fixating on one moment. Change over time means we aren't focused on a single moment, we're focused on the cumulative effect of little actions instead of on the momentary effects of anxiety
  2. Start now. When we embrace the mindset of incremental change, we also realize how valuable each day is. This mindset teaches us that it doesn't matter so much how big the change we make today is, instead, it's just about getting started because we know that little change will get much larger over time. We just want to achieve 1.01 and avoid 1.00, we don't need to jump to 1.50 or 2.00. 
  3. Relax. When you feel anxious and find it difficult to take steps to reduce your anxiety, it can be really stressful when you notice the discrepancy between how much you wanted to do and how much you did. When you shift to this mindset of incremental change, however, it allows you to forget about that discrepancy and instead focus on just doing something every day. This can be a liberating mindset because it transforms each day into an opportunity rather than an obstacle and can allow you to feel positive about what you did instead of wishing you did more. 

I hope this article has given you a new way to think about changing your anxiety in a healthier, happier manner. When we shift from focusing on how much we want to change to just what we need to do today, improving anxiety can become a more manageable prospect.

What are your thoughts on how to change your anxiety for the better?

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2019, November 10). How to Change Anxiety in Increments to Be Mentally Healthy, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2020, December 1 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/treatinganxiety/2019/11/how-to-change-anxiety-in-increments-to-be-mentally-healthy



Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
November, 11 2019 at 11:02 pm

This is a wonderful read! Any size step is a step towards progress, and that is such an important and powerful thing to remember. Love this: "The key is simply to start today. When we get too focused on how much needs to be done, we lose sight of the remarkable power that repeating an action can have. " We can get so overwhelmed thinking about a big, far away end goal that we don't even give ourselves to space to take those initial steps. It all starts with one small thing

November, 12 2019 at 9:49 am

Hi Lizanne,
Thanks for your comment! I absolutely agree, I think we get pulled off track more often by trying to do too much, just taking those initial steps helps so much!
George

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