I’ve been dealing with anxiety for the last 14 years, since having my first panic attack at age 12. For many people with anxiety disorders and other mental health conditions, their disorder is a lifelong battle. While my anxiety is not “cured,” I’ve discovered coping skills and techniques that help me to feel less anxious and able to get on with my day.
The bright side of all the horrible anxiety attacks and overall anxiousness I’ve experienced is that I’ve learned a lot from it all—not just how to help myself, but how to also help others.
You don’t have to have an anxiety disorder to experience anxiety. During stressful times or major life changes (or a pandemic!) even people who are normally pretty calm can experience high anxiety.
So, to anyone who’s feeling overwhelmed, anxious, scared, or worried right now, I’m right there with you.
I spent way too many years beating myself up and hating myself and my brain for being the way it was. Do you know where that got me? Nowhere. When you’re in a state of high anxiety, practice self-compassion. Talk to yourself (either out loud or in your head) as if you were calming down a loved one who was in a state of panic.
For example, instead of thinking “Oh my god this is so annoying why do you have to be this way!? This is so stupid and I hate it and I’m going to lose my mind,” say “It’s okay that I’m feeling this way. I’m not any less of a person because I have anxiety. I’ve gotten through this before, and I’ll get through it again.”
When my mind’s racing and I can’t get the negative thoughts to shut off, I like to journal. Putting my thoughts on paper – physically with a pen and paper, not on the Notes app – helps my thought process to slow down, and helps me make a little bit more sense of what I’m feeling. Don’t worry about making it sound good. You don’t even have to write in full sentences. Just dump all your thoughts onto the paper without judging yourself.
Sometimes when your anxiety is high, it can be really hard to talk yourself down from it or even get your mind off of it. I’ve found doing something that I enjoy that requires a lot of attention can help redirect my attention from my anxious racing thoughts to something else. For me, this is playing piano or guitar or doing a crossword puzzle. For you, it can be any hobby, puzzle, or task that allows your anxious thoughts to take a backseat.
Sometimes with anxiety and other mental health conditions, you can get so wrapped up in your own head that you feel like you’re the only one dealing with what you’re going through. I have found so much solace in talking to people who get it. It makes me feel validated and much less alone. Plus, sometimes you really just need to vent to somebody who knows exactly what you’re talking about. If you don’t personally know anybody else with anxiety (but I bet you do!) you can turn to online forums like Reddit to find others in your position.
I used to hate when people told me to exercise to feel better mentally. I’d fight back saying “It’s not that simple!” Well, exercise isn’t a cure-all and it won’t stop your anxiety forever, but now that I’ve given in, I’ve found that exercise is a great way to distract yourself, and temporarily get out any pent up energy and aggression you may be holding in your body.
For example, when I’m feeling really stressed like I’m about to explode, I go on the treadmill for 20 minutes, and my mind will be so much clearer after. You can do any kind of exercise, or even just go for a walk. Plus, aerobic exercise is scientifically proven to lower levels of stress hormones in your body and release feel-good hormones instead.
Remember: you are not alone in this. Anxiety is uncomfortable and unpleasant, but you’ll get through it. If I can, you can.
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