This post is for those of you who know firsthand what it’s like to feel like you’re drowning in your own mental chaos–Anxiety can be suffocating. I’ve been learning about and coping with my own over the last twelve years, and although I’ve grown a lot through it and do pretty well most of the time, I still have days that feel like I’ve gotten nowhere with it. Some mornings I wake up petrified for no apparent reason at all, the thought of getting out of bed seeming like the worst possible thing I could do. It’s not that I’m just feeling lazy and don’t want to work, it’s that being around people and forcing smiles and small talk sounds absolutely terrifying–even though usually I love talking and listening to all these same people.
Anxiety issues are much more common than we tend to think or talk about, and having them is definitely nothing to be ashamed of. All you have to do is learn how to recognize it and how to help yourself during those tough times. My hope is that I can give you some ideas for how to cope with your own anxiety by sharing some of what helps me.
ACKNOWLEDGE AND ACCEPT YOUR ANXIETY.
Once you’ve experienced major anxiety a few times, you get better at identifying it. Once you can realize, “Okay, this is my anxiety talking,” you remove its power over you. No, the anxious feeling doesn’t magically disappear, but if you know it’s just this chemical reaction going on in your brain, there’s something empowering about that. You can remind yourself this won’t last forever. You don’t have to fix anything at this moment. This too shall pass, just like it always does.
I know that can be the most annoying bit of advice because, duh, we all need to breathe. But there have been so many times I’ve stopped and tried to take even just two or three deep breaths—and it always amazes me how incredibly hard that can be. The more I force myself to breathe, the slower my thoughts become.
BE HONEST WITH YOURSELF.
It tends to make you feel a whole lot worse if you’re thinking about how you should be happier, should be calmer, and/or any other “should”
thoughts. Be honest with yourself—if you’re feeling sad, let yourself feel sad. Stop fighting it. You’ll be able to pick yourself back up later once the anxiety has calmed down; until then, stop beating yourself up for how you feel and making it worse.
ONCE YOU’RE HONEST WITH YOURSELF, BE HONEST WITH THOSE AROUND YOU.
You’d be amazed at how much stress is removed from your interactions once you’ve explained where you’re coming from. Sometimes people won’t understand, but I’ve found that if I warn my husband or boss about how I’m feeling, it helps me avoid any miscommunication due to me seeming different or difficult. I usually say something like, “Hey, if I seem off the next day or two, it’s because my anxiety is messing with me. Nothing to worry about, and it has nothing to do with you.” They usually thank me for giving them the heads up and let me know to tell them if they can do anything. Easy peasy!
GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.
Let’s face it—we can really make our anxiety worse just by thinking too much about it. Sometimes the best prescription for an anxious mind is to get out of that mind and see a new perspective. Everyone will have their own go-to distractions, but I’ve found that the two activities to really pull me out of any negative mindset are either “Make something” or “Go somewhere.” It doesn’t matter what or where; it just matters that I’m escaping my chaotic thoughts. Find whatever it is that even mildly distracts you, and do it!
And the last, most important coping mechanism of all when it comes to anxiety:
BE KIND TO YOURSELF.
I cannot recommend anything more highly than that simple statement. Be kind to yourself. In the same way you would console a friend who was struggling, comfort yourself. Remind yourself that this too shall pass, and that it’s okay to not be okay for a little while. All you have to do is survive it like you have every other tough time. Stop beating yourself up—no matter how much your repetitive thoughts are trying to—and be kind to yourself.
Anxiety can ruin days, but you don’t have to let it ruin your life. You don’t even have to let it ruin your day if you just choose to look at it from a different perspective. No matter how impossible it may seem to be, the more you practice pulling yourself out of anxiety attacks and anxious days, you will get better at it.
On a final note, please know that even if we have never talked, you can contact me any time to talk, cry, vent, ask for advice/second opinion, anything! You are not alone.