Four unorthodox ways to cure your own anxiety and become a better person. (from a guy who struggles with both)

John Joseph
8 min readJan 7, 2023

If you’re anything like me, you live with an engine of anxiety whirring away inside of you. Sometimes it purrs, sometimes it roars. Lately, my engine has been winding up again. It isn’t fun, but it’s a much needed reminder to return to the habits I know will get my mind back under control.

When I’m at my best, my anxiety stops holding me back and instead propels me to be a stronger, more productive person. I’ll share the habits that work for me in a moment, but first I want to talk about the patterns of anxiety. If you can relate to the problem, maybe you’ll also be able to relate to the solutions.

Do you feel like your anxiety is random? I felt that way when I was younger. Sometimes you wake up with the cruel face of reality inches away glaring into your eyes and whispering terrible truths.

You know everyone you love will die eventually.

You waste so much time. You’ll never achieve everything you dream of.

Remember when you said that thing five years ago that was incredibly embarrassing?

The worst part of these sweet nothings courtesy of my subconscious, is that they are all technically true.

Everyone dies. I do waste a lot of time. And sometimes those embarrassing faux pas pop into my head so viscerally that I involuntarily say “ouch” out loud.

If it’s all true and the universe really is a cold place for cruel happenings, why am I sometimes blithely unaware of those facts? There have been times in my life that these thoughts rarely occurred to me, or if they did they just didn’t have the same impact.

My parents took me to therapy once when I was very young. The therapist recommended mental exercises to “bat away” anxious thoughts. Literally, visualize myself smacking away intrusive thoughts with a baseball bat.

The anxious brain hears that and thinks, “Ok, so sometimes you just aren’t thinking clearly about how terrible everything is. Good for you, but I’ll be over here confronting reality.”

When you’re in an anxious state, the thoughts aren’t baseballs. Your subconscious is lobbing bowling balls, and your conscious bat is made of foam. The idea of batting away thoughts isn’t entirely useless, but it only works if you can shift the balance of power between your conscious and subconscious minds.

When I’m at my best, terrible truths slide off my back like water off of a duck.

The anxiety-engine is still throwing those intrusive thoughts all the time — they just don’t have the same emotional impact. John at his best isn’t ignoring the underlying horror of reality. He just knows how to deal with it.

You know everyone you love will die eventually.
“Yeah, and that sucks, which is why I’m doing my best to value everyone in the present.”

You waste so much time. You’ll never achieve everything you dream of.
“Nobody accomplishes everything they dream of. I’d be happy to accomplish even half of it!”

Remember when you said that thing five years ago that was incredibly embarrassing?
“Ouch. Oh well.”” Did I say that out loud?

Where does that confidence come from, and where does it disappear to when we need it most?

I’ve paid attention to this for a long time, and I’ve realized that my anxiety level has almost nothing to do with my internal habits, and almost everything to do with my external habits.

I’ve identified four main strategies that take my nasty subconscious and pummel it into submission where it belongs. The anxiety-engine runs no matter what we do. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing. With the right habits, we can slip into high-gear and convert all of that wasted energy into power and productivity.

I’m listing these roughly in order of most-to-least impactful for me. Obviously, your mileage may vary, nothing is one size fits all.

1. Get tired. Really tired.

I think that the modern, sedentary lifestyle is a big problem for our mental health. Our bodies and minds were built for action. When I sit around, I’m like a car in stuck in neutral with a brick on the gas peddle. My engine revs, and I go nowhere.

Once I start moving, my body and mind sync up their energy levels. I first made this connection at 16 when I started my landscaping business. All of my nervous energy suddenly had an outlet. Rake those leaves. Cut that grass. Fix that fence.

When I start to work really hard, something magical happens: my subconscious stops poking me. My conscious mind and my subconscious mind both start to focus on the same thing: the present.

Paradoxically, my overall energy level goes up, because I’m not wearing myself out on pointless anxiety. Once the bickering between my conscious and subconscious stops, I’m more creative, more focused, and more centered.

Being tired physically as well mentally has the added bonus of improving your sleep. In my younger days I would toss and turn for hours, because I couldn’t shut off the endless stream of thoughts keeping me awake. When I keep busy physically, I don’t have that problem. I just fall asleep, because I’m exhausted.

My landscaping business became a bit of an addiction because of those fringe benefits to my mental health. I pushed really hard as a result, and eventually got a little burned out — but that’s okay! Pushing myself to my limits taught me the relationship between my physical and mental health, and allowed me to recalibrate to a healthy level of activity later.

I can’t stand going to the gym, so I pursue work that keeps me active. If you don’t have that option, there are tons of other activities that accomplish the same thing. Hiking, backcountry camping, and doing chores outside are all excellent alternatives.

If those don’t speak to you, read on to the next strategy, it might help.

2. Do Things That Satisfy Your Monkey-Brain

I am a firm believer in our animal nature. Civilization and culture constantly stretch our ability to adapt, and we generally deal pretty well. But the further we drift from “normalcy” in a natural sense, the more our minds start to rebel.

I think that one of our greatest sources of anxiety in the modern world is how abstract our daily productivity is. We move numbers around on paper, attend meetings, make phone calls, and so on. A huge percentage of our activity is focused on the movement of information and ideas.

There isn’t anything inherently wrong with information-labor, but our brains evolved in hunter-gatherers that value things like big piles of meat and nuts. Real, tactile resources that satisfy our deepest instincts.

I’ve found out that my Monkey-Brain deeply craves two activities: food labor, and crafting labor. I’ve taken it to an extreme. I raised all my own meat for years, grew a massive garden, and built chicken coops, greenhouses, and more. I’m lucky to have those opportunities, but there is plenty of lower-hanging fruit available to everyone.

Simple things like cooking meals with whole ingredients, growing a kitchen garden, going fishing, whittling at the kitchen table, having a backyard campfire, and more can all satisfy that primal instinct to hold real things in your hands and generate concrete, *immediate* value. Doing it with a group of people you love multiplies the effect.

You’ll notice that most of these also burn up your physical energy. Experiment, figure out what makes you tick. I love gardens and livestock. My dad loves fishing. Everyone’s Monkey-Brain has different preferences, you just need to find yours.

3. Eat a Low Sugar, Low Carb Diet

I know that dietary choices are strangely politicized, but please try to hear me out with minimal prejudice. I’m not suggesting that everyone needs to cut out bread. I eat a ton of it myself because I love it. All I know is that there *is* a relationship between my diet and my mental state, and being aware of that fact helps me manage both.

When I was in my early teens, I ate cereal constantly. I loved it. Breakfast, lunch, after dinner snack, it didn’t matter. I was also at peak anxiety during this time. It was not a coincidence.

There are a lot of things going on with carb and sugar heavy diets. For one thing, both sugar and carbs are generally fast-burning fuels for our bodies. When we eat a cup of sugar, we’ve consumed hours worth of calories, but it all hits our bloodstream at the same time.

I imagine eating carbs and sugar like throwing gasoline on a fire. It puts out a lot of heat very quickly, and is gone in flash. In our body, this leads to peaks and valleys of high and low blood sugar, which play havoc with our mental state. (Sugar is by far the worst offender for me.)

I’m a person who tends to get hangry. I think we all know we people who struggle with this. What I’m proposing is that many people are regularly hanxious without fully realizing it. In my experience, the boom-bust energy cycle of carbs and sugar feels a lot like drinking too much coffee. For lack of a better term, I feel jangly.

Jangly feelings are very similar to nervous feeling. They don’t help me feel good.

Fat, on the other hand, burns like an oak log in a fire overnight. Slow, steady heat. I eat as much fat as I can get my hands on. Cheese, bacon, eggs, whatever. I love vegetables too, but the fat is what keeps me going.

I don’t worry about my health. I’ve been eating this way for years, I’m 5' 9' and 140 pounds. If it feels right, it probably is right.

4. Read More Books

Hey, finally some advice that isn’t “revert to a Neolithic cave person.” Reading books is a great way to get control of your subconscious mind while bettering yourself at the same time. I’m specifying books here because reading on the internet does not usually make me feel good.

Internet content tends to be flashy, emotional, and quick. Books are long-form and designed to hold your attention for hours. That is what I want and need.

The magical thing about reading is that it’s the only form of media that directly injects another voice into your head. Nothing else does that. Videos and audiobooks are incredible resources, but they both leave your mind free to wander.

When you read, your subconscious takes on the voice of the writer and conjures it inside your imagination. As a way to break vicious patterns within, nothing beats reading.

Also, I know I said internet reading isn’t good, but maybe make an exception for my articles. And other positive voices too, I guess, but mostly mine.

Closing Thoughts

If you deal with anxiety, I really hope that one of these ideas can help you approach the problem from a new angle. I know that writing this out has been beneficial for me purely as an exercise in self-reflection.

If you’d like to hear more from me, consider being the first to join my free Substack, “An Alternative Perspective.” I publish on history, economics, natural living, and whatever else strikes my interest. Thanks for reading!

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John Joseph

Poultry farmer and part-time handyman. Now I write on the internet.