One Harvard Psychologist’s Powerful Anxiety Hack

Most of us suffer from anxiety in some incarnation. For the lucky ones, it’s a mild nuisance.

Anxiety does not dominate their daily lives, but rather causes moments of inconvenience and frustration. It might manifest in a reluctance to board an airplane or a shaky breath before stepping onstage. For them, their experience with anxiety ends here. The feeling remains sporadic and bearable.

For others, anxiety is a significant daily struggle. It permeates our work, our relationships, and even our ability to get out of bed in the morning. It can interfere with the very fabric of our lives. We may need therapy, medication, or breathing exercises to keep it manageable.

Whatever anxiety looks like for you, it is always unpleasant. We could all use another trick to keep it at bay.

In her new book, Presence:Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges, Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy reveals her best tricks for tackling modern anxiety. She teaches practical ways to use our sense of courage to bring our authentic self to new challenges. She describes that rattled feeling we’re all too familiar with. Then, she details ways to overcome it by accessing our personal sense of power.

Her most empowering tactic is also one of her most simple.

To access the power of who we are, we first must remind ourselves of exactly who that is. Most of us are familiar with verbal affirmations that focus on our personal strengths. Although these are valuable, this strategy misses an important bit of wisdom.

The essence of who we are does not lie in our strengths.

It does not lie in our talents, our accomplishments, or the things we do well.

The core of our being lies in our values.

The next time you are experiencing anxiety, Cuddy suggests you take a moment to write down a core value that is meaningful to you.

This may be kindness, advocacy, family, education, service, or anything else that serves as a pillar for the way you choose to live. Then, write about a time in your life when you felt this core value working in an intense way. Write about a moment when you chose to live by your principles.

How did it make you feel?

This exercise is effective because it reminds us of who we are. It bring to surface the things that matter most. There are few things more empowering than the knowledge that we are living our lives in a way we find meaningful. This exercise reminds us that we have the power to be who we want to be. It also shows us how we have chosen to do so.

This affirmation exercise is unique because it is personal. It cuts to the core of who we are. According to Cuddy, this practice is “a way of grounding ourselves in the truth of our own stories. It makes us feel less dependent on the approval of others and even comfortable with their disapproval if that’s what we get.” It’s sure to become a go-to for me in times of stress and uncertainty.


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