Ask yourself this ONE question to instantly reduce anxiety! (including a guided exercise)

autism recovery
how to instantly reduce anxiety

My book Rainbow Girl is officially launching in just 3 days! I’m so so so beyond excited for you to read my entire life story about growing up undiagnosed autistic, how this led to the development of an eating disorder, and what it took for me to recover and become label free. Although I’ve gotta be honest with you, there’s a lot of anxiety coming up as well! So how am I dealing with this anxiety? In fact, the whole reason I felt called to write this post on anxiety in the first place is because it keeps coming up with my clients...and consistently, I’ve found that when I ask them this ONE question, we make major breakthroughs! So whether you personally are struggling with anxiety or want to better support someone who is, keep on reading :)

What is anxiety really?

ANXIETY! I feel like that’s become such a buzzword nowadays, especially in the neurodivergent and eating disorder recovery communities. We often hear anxiety to be a comorbidity of another condition or illness, but I personally believe anxiety isn’t really a separate entity. I believe anxiety, like many autistic traits, is an adaptation. What do I mean by this?

Well first, we need to understand the root cause of anxiety. I’ve always been described as an anxious person. You’ll find it in all of my medical records, my parents will tell you so, my teachers wrote it in my report cards, and it’s how I labeled myself for a long time too. It wasn’t until I read the book Uniquely Human which contained a quote by an autistic person – not surprising! – that I realized what anxiety really is. Here’s the quote: the opposite of anxiety isn't calm, it's trust.

I’ve actually shared this quote on the podcast a long while back – in case you’re curious, the episode/post is called Alexithymia: A scientific link between autism, anorexia, and anxiety – but I didn’t really internalize the full meaning of that quote until much later. When I did, I was able to formulate this question that I swear, once you ask yourself consistently, you gain enormous power to take back control over your anxiety!

Guided exercise to let go of anxiety

Instead of just saying the question and being like "Okay bye, now you know!" I really want to guide you through an exercise that will help you let go of anxiety in an aspect of your life. Not only do I guarantee you’ll get immediate results through these simple yet powerful steps, but you’ll also immediately get a taste of what it’s like to work with me in case that’s something you’ve been pondering!

Okay so let’s start. I want you to grab a pen and paper. You could do this on your phone, but I personally do believe when we physically write things down the old-fashioned way, we’re able to make our thoughts much more tangible, and therefore directly make them changeable. But like I said, you do you!

Whatever writing method you choose, I want you to write down ONE thing that’s contributing to your anxiety right now.

You may be thinking, “Just ONE? But there are so many things!” and I’m sure there are. But what’s the first thought that comes up? Just right that down. Maybe it’s what you’re going to eat for your next meal or snack. Maybe it’s that you fear you don’t have enough money to pay the rent. For me, it’s anxiety around my book launch and fear that everything won’t go as planned.

Now that you’ve written down your one cause of anxiety, here comes the powerful question:

What about your current situation do you not TRUST?

Obviously, this question is a direct implementation of that quote I mentioned earlier: the opposite of anxiety isn’t calm, it’s trust! So what don’t you trust? Write it down. If you have anxiety around eating, maybe you don’t trust you’ll feel satisfied. Or maybe you don’t trust your stomach will feel okay. Or if you’re afraid you won’t be able to pay your rent next month, you don’t trust that you will keep receiving consistent pay cheques. From my personal example around my book launch, I don’t trust that everything will go as planned.

What is trust?

Now, let’s take this whole trust piece a step further. We’ve established anxiety to be a lack of trust, but what is trust? Trust is knowledge…which means that a lack of trust is simply a lack of knowledge. Just think about it: as humans we trust what we know. Growing up, you’ve likely been told to not trust strangers. Why? Because you don’t know strangers! Or an example more relevant to autism and eating disorders: what is a safe food? It’s a food you trust. Why? Because you know the textures and flavors involved. You know how it’ll make you feel. Hell, you KNOW that it makes you feel safe! Therefore, fear foods are merely foods you don’t trust because you haven’t provided your brain with enough knowledge that they can be safe as well. And the way you provide your brain with knowledge is by taking consistent action. By consistently showing your brain the outcome of a specific behavior.

What's in your control?

But Livia, how do I take the actions to overcome my fears if I’m afraid? Where do you start if you don’t yet have any trust? Here’s where two sub questions come into play.

  1. What about this situation can I NOT control?
  2. What about this situation CAN I control?

A huge part of anxiety is caused by trying to control circumstances that are really out of your control. That’s why the rumination is literally never-ending, because the very aspects you’re ruminating about – the aspects that are out of your control – cannot be solved by you, much less by you thinking about them! So you go on and on and on in your mind trying so desperately to find an answer, but because the outcome of the situation simply cannot be predicted or changed, you continue going on in your head in an attempt to predict the outcome.

What is fear?

It’s when you’re in this spiral, trapped in the illusion that your thoughts will generate an answer, that you create FEAR in your head. And when I say FEAR, I’m actually talking about the acronym False Evidence Appearing Real. The more and more you ruminate without any hope of solving whatever you perceive to be a problem, the more opportunity you’re giving yourself to imagine every worst-case scenario. That’s why I love this acronym so much, because all fear really is, is being afraid of a worst-case scenario you have no evidence will even come true!

That being said, I invite you now to take whatever anxiety-inducing situation you wrote down before, and write down everything you cannot control. In the case of my book launch, one of my biggest fears is that there will be problems with the print version…that the alignment will be off, that I missed typos even after spending thousands of dollars on an editor and reading the manuscript over twenty times, that the cover will be blurry. So, what I cannot control in this situation is how the printers end up printing my book. I also cannot control how people are going to react to reading Rainbow Girl, which is of course another aspect that’s bringing up those “what ifs.”

However, and this is what I can control, I did everything in my power to submit the manuscript and cover so that everything would go right. I did everything in my power to ensure there are no typos. And here’s the big one, I accept that not everyone is going to resonate or enjoy reading Rainbow Girl, because Rainbow Girl isn’t for everyone! Just as not everyone in the world will be your friend, it’s simply impossible to write a book that everyone will love.

Your turn!

Now, I invite YOU to write down what YOU can control about your chosen situation. For example, if you want to tackle a fear food, you can control at what time, in what environment, what plate or bowl you eat off, what utensils you’re going to use, you get the idea. As you can tell from these examples, there are several small ways in which you can make the situation more predictable and therefore, gain trust. This inevitably will reduce your anxiety about the situation. Of course, you’re still going to have some anxiety as that’s why it is a fear food and it’s going to be uncomfortable, but by listing out what you can control and coming up with creative ways to use that knowledge to your advantage, that is how you take back control over your anxiety!

I really hope this guided exercise was helpful for you my friend! It IS possible to reduce anxiety and what we just went through together is just a tiny tip of that iceberg. To get an individualized action plan for your recovery from an eating disorder, you can book a consultation call for 1-1 coaching here. And depending on when you’re listening to this, you can read MY full story to recovery from an eating disorder in my memoir Rainbow Girl which will be out July 14th, 2023! Whether we chat again in real time, through my book, or in the next post, I can’t wait to connect again soon <3

Want to learn how to navigate ED recovery as an autistic person?

Listen to my FREE TRAINING teaching you how to use your autistic traits to your advantage in ED recovery 💪