042: Dealing with Anxiety – A Talk with Neil Hughes


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“I think I’m dying.” –Anxiety

Tools and techniques for understanding and relieving anxiety.

Dealing with Anxiety - Neil Hughes
Neil Hughes getting into some stand-up comedy

Constant worry and fear about the possibility of something terrible happening make it really difficult to take action on the things which matter to us.

I’ve suffered from anxiety and many of my friends and family have as well, but what actually is it? Where does it come from? How can we find effective relief from it?

I needed some answers.

It just so happens, Neil Hughes knows a lot about anxiety. He’s the author of Walking On Custard: A Guide for Anxious Humans and regularly shares his experiences of managing anxiety on his blog, and more recently, his entertaining TED Talk: A New Plan for Anxious Feelings: Escape the Custard!

Neil used to think of himself as a worrier but it wasn’t until his late-twenties he realised he was dealing with anxiety.

In this talk, Neil shares how anxiety is different from genuine fear, why self-awareness is key in relieving anxiety, and the importance of talking with others and asking for help.

Show Notes

  • Ben: Where did this journey start for you? 04:22
  • Neil: It wasn’t until my late twenties that I started looking into my anxiety. I was experiencing stomach pain and sickness. I didn’t know what was happening. 04:33
  • Ben: What’s your definition of anxiety? 07:13
    Neil: Anxiety is when the fear you’re experiencing is disproportionate to what’s actually happening. 07:33
  • Ben: Do you have an idea of where you’re anxiety came from? 09:13
  • Neil: I’ve found it can be a bit of a trap to spend time worrying about where my anxiety has come from and why it’s there. 09:34
  • Ben: How do you handle anxiety when you feel it? 12:04
  • Neil: There’s no one magic cure for anxiety. I’ve found it helpful to identify what sort of anxiety I’m experiencing – chronic anxiety or background anxiety. I’ve found it very helpful to not fight anxiety. 12:22
  • Ben: Have you noticed any long-term changes from retraining yourself away from anxious thoughts and feelings? 17:32
  • Neil: Anxiety is still a reality in my life but I don’t fear it anymore. 18:01
  • Social anxiety is something I haven’t struggled with, I would be fine getting up and doing stand-up comedy. I experienced more disaster anxiety.
  • A lot of dealing with anxiety is about tuning into reality. 21:28
  • Ben: Was there a particular moment when you realised you were separate from your anxious tendencies? 22:36
  • Neil: A thought in your head is just a thought in your head. You don’t necessarily need to believe it. Recognising when we’re having anxious thoughts is helpful to this process. 23:26
  • Ben: I’ve been using my body like an alarm system so I know when to pay attention to emotional tension going on inside me. 25:37

Neil: Self-observation is key to dealing with anxiety. It can help us come out of an anxiety loop faster. 26:37

  • Neil: When we’re paying attention to what’s going on for us we get the ability to consciously choose how we’d like to act. 27:29
  • Ben: Everyone’s physical reactions to anxiety are unique to them. It can be helpful knowing what anxiety feels like in your body. 29:41
  • Ben: Are there any lifestyle habits which have helped you minimise your anxiety? 31:05
  • Neil: I divide up the causes of anxiety into three different areas: 31:31
    • The Universe – Everything that’s outside of me that I don’t have direct control of e.g. work, home, relationships.
    • Body Chemistry – I can manage my body chemistry by getting enough sleep, not too much caffeine, not too much alcohol.
    • Mental Environment – Everything that goes on in your brain. Changing how you react to the thoughts inside your head. This is the area that brings the biggest wins with anxiety.
  • Ben: What would you recommend as a simple first step for beginning to deal with anxiety 34:51
  • Neil: Everyone is so unique. I don’t feel there is any one answer that will solve anxiety for everyone. 35:10

    Neil: When you’re really in the depths of anxiety you need the support of other people. 35:44

  • Neil: I really struggled with opening up about my anxiety. But when I did I realised I wasn’t alone and that there was a way out. 36:18
  • Ben: I struggled with opening up and asking for help, too. I felt I needed to keep pretending everything was ok. 38:20
  • Neil: It’s hard. But no one’s ever told me that opening up about their anxiety was the worst thing they’d ever done. 39:04

Mentioned in this Episode


Featured image by
Chris Jones

Licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The Podcast

The B is for Being Podcast is a collection of conversations with friends, psychologists, and thought-leaders on the most effective tools for uncovering authentic expression and navigating the obstacles we may encounter on the way to discovering ourselves.

About Benjamin

Hi, I’m Benjamin. I podcast and blog about authentic expression and self-discovery. I also make slow-videos for rest and reflection. You can read more about me here.

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