‘Anxiety’ is a very general term for several disorders that can cause feelings of fear, worrying and nervousness. The Oxford dictionary defines anxiety as:
“A feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome.”
Although this is a pretty accurate broad description, anxiety affects people in very different ways, and everyone has their own ways of handling the crippling thoughts, feelings and worries that seem to be the core elements of anxiety.
After the fantastic reaction to a post a few months ago about battling the winter blues, I thought it might a good time to share the top tips that work for me when I’m locked into a battle with my anxious brain – and I hope that they’ll help you too!
❤ Stop pressuring yourself
I cannot stress the importance of this one, which is why I’ve placed it at the top of this list. If you are having the worst anxiety attack and feel like your entire world is about the implode, the last thing you need is any added pressure; especially from yourself.
Don’t ridicule yourself because of the way you feel, and try not to listen to the tiny voice in the back of your mind telling you that you’re being silly. You feel this way for a reason, and trying to convince yourself that you shouldn’t and pressuring yourself to ‘get over it’ will do way more harm than good.
This one kind of goes hand in hand with the above! Work on accepting your anxiety and acknowledge it without hesitation. Telling anyone that you suffer from such a stigmatised disorder (I hate that word) is scary and difficult and for me it felt like stepping into an abyss, but since I have it’s made it easier and kick started the ‘healing’ process.
Instead of denying and forcing myself not to think about it, I have accepted that it is a part of me, and it has given me a whole new perspective.
The simplest and the most effective way (for me personally) to get a rising attack under control and to a level that I can handle is by breathing. This is such an effective tool that can be used in so many situations; out in public when it’s all getting a little too much, in the car during a challenging drive or just at home, safe and warm in the comfort of your bed.
Take a deep breathe in and let it out in a long, slow exhale. If you struggle to calm your breathing, try downloading a guided breathing app to teach you – headspace is excellent for this!
This one is very new to me, but I’m finding it super useful for tracking my triggers and anything else that I want to scribble down. I use the notetaking software on my phone; but you might find the act of physically writing in a journal to be calming in itself, so do whatever works for you. Is something really worrying you, to the point that you can’t get it out of your mind? Write it down.
If you’re caught in an anxiety loop, note down every thought that comes to your head – don’t shrug them off as being stupid or irrelevant; nobody but you has to see them. If you feel mentally fit enough, read back through it and pinpoint triggers that may have set you off, and try to avoid these in future.
Focus on anything but your anxiety. Sometimes, admitting that you’re having an anxiety attack and breathing your way through it isn’t enough, so try to shift your focus to something else. Buy a small, handheld puzzle to carry around with you or invest in a fidget cube. If this isn’t your kind of thing, look for relaxing mobile games such as ‘Prune’ and use these to shift your focus and derail that destructive train of thought.
In a terribly anxious situation where you can’t whip out your phone or start solving a rubik’s cube? Start counting! In the words of the famous Kimmy Schmidt:
“You can stand anything for ten seconds. Then you just start on a new ten seconds.”
It might seem ridiculous, but sometimes I find that it actually helps. If you’re having that flight or fight feeling, mentally count to ten – all you have to do it make it to ten. Done that? Take a deep breathe in and out, and repeat. You might be surprised by how effective this can be.
❤ Self care
Self care is so incredibly important. If your state of mind is in tatters, focus on taking care of your body. Eat well and eat what you want. Avoid stimulants that might contribute to attacks, such as caffeine and alcohol. Drink lots of water, and chow down on the things that genuinely make you happy (be it in the form of a salad or a pizza). Make regular ‘treats’ a thing – take long, relaxing baths with a book and shut out the rest of the world. Remember to put yourself first.
Make time for hobbies that you genuinely enjoy. At the moment I’m really loving relaxing yoga and gaming, and both of these things help to provide a much needed distraction when I need it. Immerse yourself in a fantasy world, or try a guided yoga routine such as this one from Yoga with Adriene.
❤ Say Yes
As difficult as it is to say no, it can be equally as hard to say yes to things that scare you. Instead of shying away from spending time with friends, say yes to plans for coffee or lunch.
Work on trying things that you’d usually ignore like the plague – the feeling when I manage to power my way through something that utterly terrifies me and come out relatively unscathed is amazing, and addictive. Start small, and see where it takes you.
❤ Reach out
Sometimes interacting with anyone is trying and exhausting, but reaching out to friends, family and even utter strangers can lift a little bit of that weight off your shoulders. If you don’t feel comfortable with friends, look at online communities and support boards such as The Tribe or SAUK.
Remember to be honest – not feeling so great? Tell someone! Don’t bottle it up. Build your own support network, and don’t worry that you’ll lose friends if you open up; if you do, then trust me when I say that those people really aren’t worth keeping in your life.
I’ve found it so difficult to open up about anxiety in the past, but I’m starting to realise that facing it head on is the best way for me to deal with it, and in turn I’m slowly becoming more and more confident and feel able to rise to the challenges that anxiety presents.
Surround yourself with the positivity of friends and loved ones and let them support you – remember to breathe and smile and laugh, and just know that you can get through this.
I believe in you!