Whenever I would share a certain aspect of my life that I struggle with, people would gasp in disbelief. “I would never have guessed!!” The surprise on their face looks in no way fabricated to hide the fact that they knew all along and was trying to be polite. No, they are always genuinely surprised and bewildered that a person so put-together as me can struggle so much with anxiety. The truth is everyone deals with anxiety to some extent, but a few of us struggle on a severe degree (like me). However, I’m here to reassure you that even the most severe anxiety can be managed!
I’ve had general anxiety since I was 12 years old. Suddenly, the things I found common place evoked feelings of dread and pain. My body grew paralyzed and in shock without warning, and I couldn’t shake that painful, searing feeling of panic and dread. It’s similar to the sensation you would get if someone was holding a gun to, not your head, but to the head of someone you love. I’ve always been on the outside looking in when it came to controlling my emotions, as if my brain was on auto pilot. I dealt with the pain all throughout college until last month I picked a book called F*ck Feelings. Before I begin to list coping mechanisms I learned from this awesome book, I’m going to give a brief overview of what’s going on in your brain when you have anxiety.
Anxiety is the normal reaction to when you brain perceives some situation, object or person to be some how threatening. However, for people who suffer with excessive anxiety our brain creates a life threatening situation from a situation that isn’t at all life threatening. I find that before I even step into the made up “life threatening” situation, my brain is already preparing my body to fight or flight! That’s when your anxiety spirals. Before any situation occurs, your body is preparing to defend itself. Thoughts may fly through your mind about all the reasons you may want to opt for the “flight” option, but then you may feel guilty about doing that. So you consider the “fight” option, but it’s so painful, so you’re back to square one. Though this sounds troubling, all is not lost! Over the years I’ve learned how to cope with my anxiety and I’m excited to share them.
According to the School of Life, Philosophical Mediation is the act of thinking through the things you are anxious about. Are you afraid of missing your flight? Think about if you actually did miss your flight? What would your plan be? Would it be the end of the world? Probably not. This western style of meditation focuses on creating solutions to the problems you’ve created in your mind.
Listen to Loud Music
Don’t blow your eardrums out, but listening to music at louder volumes has been proven in a few studies to relax you. Try turning up your tunes and tuning out the world.
Manage Your Emotions
Go ahead and accept the fact that you cannot control your anxiety. You can’t command it to stop when you get frustrated and you can’t tell it to roll over or play dead. Anxiety doesn’t work that way. Instead of fighting so hard to stop your anxiety, learn to regulate it. Learn little ways that you can manage your anxiety when you feel it coming on strong. I like to rationalize what I’m being anxious about. Force your fears into the lime light and call into question whether it’s actually work freaking out over. Once I’ve zeroed in on what I’m actually afraid of, I quickly learn that it isn’t rational at all. From there, I counsel myself using logic and rational. “Okay, I’m afraid of X, but in reality…” “If X does happen, then Y is the plan for getting past it.” Don’t try to fight away how you feel. Instead, take a second to confront your feelings. Bad things WILL happen, but think about your plan when they do. It’s a fruitless task to be constantly in fear of bad things.
Don’t Beat Yourself Up
I’ve been reading an excellent book called F*ck Feelings by Sarah and Michael Bennett. The book provides practical, brutally honest advice on how to deal with your anxiety. One key piece of advice the book provides is don’t be upset with yourself if you get too anxious to do something, just accept what you can’t control and manage what you can. If you allow your anxiety to get the better of you and it causes you to behave in a way contrary to the way you prefer, don’t become guilty or usept with yourself. Forgive yourself and make a note to be more careful next time. Self-destruction is a wicked cycle. You do something wrong, then you beat yourself up, then you become more anxious/depressed, then you do something wrong again. The cycle continues. End the cycle and make a point to give yourself a break.
Understand Your Anxiety but Don’t Try to Find Its Origins or Roots
jj As F*ck Your Feelings so eloquently states, do NOT try to go rooting around in your childhood, subconscious or heart and soul to figure out where you anxiety is coming from. It’s a pointless way to avoid dealing with the problem. However you got it doesn’t matter so much, all that matter is that you have anxiety right now and need to deal with it. Instead, try to figure out what it is your afraid of and how you can deal with it.
I have pretty severe anxiety according to my doctors and these tips have been so incredibly life changing! I know they can be for you too. Just remember not to take life too seriously. Have fun and reward yourself when you rationalize your fears or manage your anxiety in scary situations.