I would love to tell you how to deal with anxiety in three easy steps… But if Im being honest here I have no idea how you could. It is a life crippling thing. For me there is a sudden panic that sets in and a heavy weight on my chest, my stomach cramps, my blood boils under myskin, I’m left extremely agitated and in a lot of pain; its a little bit more than overwhelming.
I will disclose now that I am not a doctor and in no way can I medically diagnose or give any professional advice on the matter. I have experience that I would like to share and that is all, hopefully it is of some help. Before I go on, I recommend if you are or think you are suffering any form of mental illness, seek out therapy or counselling. Finding a psychologist aided me in identifying what triggers my anxiety and helps me understand my mind on a more personal level. In saying this I am not here to substitute therapy or to identify your individual anxiety, instead I’m sharing overall strategies that may help you live and thrive with anxiety.
Unfortunately, 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety and/or panic attacks over the course of their life. I am one of those women LIVING with this mental illness. I’d like to say livingrather than dealing because its one thing to stay alive when experiencing anxiety and its another to continue to LIVE. To not let this disease control you is a power amongst itself.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term anxiety, it is a mental illness that usually accompanies stress. It can come in many different forms such as generalised anxiety, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic attacks and phobia. My psychologist said it usually occurs when the little part in our brain that is meant to balance safely between our fight and flight reflex screams, Get me out of here! Everything is bad!
We don’t know how to handle it, sometimes we don’t know why were even anxious and so we feel we have lost control. When you can’t control your mind you question if you can control anything. Then you doubt yourself and everything around you becomes scary. It’s important to gain that sense of control again, to know that you have anxiety but you still have power. It is acceptance.
It’s not easy and it wont be but in order to feel comfortable you need to accept the discomfort. I have bad days- horrible days- where the last thing I want to do is go out and feel my stomach gurgle as I nervously attend appointments and run errands. Some days I’m in tears and the idea of a waiting room makes me run to the bathroom and hurl up my hopes of ever living what I thought was a normal life. However, once I’ve attended that appointment or once Ive gotten through my day, I feel achieved. It did not stop me from doing what I wanted to do, therefore I won.
Something I like to do is tell myself, You’re going to feel anxious today, Teigan. Its going to be hard. You’re going to want to leave but you wont. You’ll stay because you can do this.How I deal with my anxiety may not be how you are able to deal with yours. How you experience your anxiety may not be how I experience mine. The disease is different within each person but what isn’t different is that YOU have the power over your mind and your anxiety doesn’t. In a way my anxiety blessed me with the realization that my body needs to be taken care of. I began to exercise as a form of stress relief and eat healthy foods. I realized it made me feel good about myself whenever I exercised and those little endorphins that my body released made me forget about the pain of my anxiety. Exercising is a safe haven in my mind now and it is a shield against fear. It built up my confidence and helped me jump on track to a better me. I’ve learnt while my confidence increases, my fear and doubt decreases.
I firmly believe alongside exercise and healthy habits another remedy for anxiety is deep breathing. This tiny action can be critical mid panic attack. You’ve probably been told 1000 times to just breathe when you start to stress out but sometimes it feels impossible to do that. Practice. Gain control of your breath now in order to gain control during panic. Count your breath for 60 seconds, aim to slow your breathing down to about 14 breaths per minute. When that next panic attack comes your way, nip it in the butt with some controlled breathing. Follow this method up with making a mental note of 5 things you see, hear and feel around you. Grounding yourself is important, especially when you feel like you have no control over your body. You have no idea how many times this little trick saved me from walking away from my responsibilities.
Other forms of grounding yourself could include Yoga, cooking, a good book, lounging in your PJs once a week all day or consoling in a good friend. You could climb a mountain, learn something new or make crafts. You could write a letter with all your anger and fears and then just set it a light, let the wind blow away those thoughts- because all they are is thoughts.
Another way to live with anxiety is to ensure you are happy. This doesn’t mean you are happy every single minute of the day because it is alright not to be alright. What this does mean is make sure there is something in your daily life that makes you smile. It could be a person, a place, an object, an inspiration or even an idea. Wake up in the morning with a little bit of happiness and it will become a little bit easier to overcome each obstacle.
Sometimes a partner to anxiety can be feelings of sadness, depression or loss. You’re mourning for the old you before all these apprehensive feelings. Know that you are still you, remind yourself of this. I could never say it enough, anxiety is just some bad weather, its wont storm forever.
Anxiety is not your life. You are not anxiety. Take a day at a time and take small steps. Expose yourself to those fears (within reason of course). Go to the grocery store that is too overcrowded. Attend that dinner with your colleges. Say no when you want too. Say yes when you want too. Move forward. Take the trip. Meet new people. Say goodbye to those weighing you down. Make one small change and keep on doing it until eventually it becomes easier. Prove you can do it. Change scares us and to prove you can make change is to prove you have control.
The mind is a powerful thing that creates horrible feelings like anxiety and were so petrified of this monster in our head that we feed it with fear. Why not just accept it exists and move forward? Eventually it’ll have nothing to live off and it will just disappear.
This is what I mean by LIVING with it. Accept it. You’re going to feel anxious and as horrible as it is what can you do to make sure that anxious feeling doesn’t consume you? Remind yourself you’re in control. It wont be easy but it will get easier.
Life is full of crazy, beautiful things so don’t stop yourself from experiencing them. You can find a way to live with it and you can thrive.