It's something we don't talk about enough, despite the fact that so many people suffer from it. And when I say suffer, I truly mean it. Anyone that lives with anxiety can attest to the obstacles it creates in life and how much of a struggle it can be to do what others consider to be small, every day tasks.
I've lived with anxiety for as long as I can remember. In fact, I can't think of a time in my life where it wasn't present, even as a small child. But it doesn't hold me back from doing things in life the way that I used to allow it to. I'm not embarrassed to talk about it anymore. I used to let my anxiety make me feel weak, but I don't think about it that way anymore.
I believe that being self-aware enough to recognize your own triggers for anxiety and educating yourself on how to manage them shows incredible fortitude and resilience. We should be made to feel that way about it. Hell, we should be made to feel empowered. And so I'm sharing a few tricks that have helped me through some really tough moments in the hopes that these may help you do the same.
This sounds pretty simple, but it's one of the most powerful. One of the symptoms I experience when I'm in the throes of an internal melt-down is a rapid heart rate. My heart pounds and my patience run short. I feel as though my head or chest may explode and I can't absorb or focus on anything else around me. Those moments can happen at the most random times and one thing that helps ground me is to take deep breaths until the moment passes. Breathe in. Hold it. Breathe out. Pause. Repeat. Something so simple has helped me countless times.
Talk to Yourself
I do this all the time. No, I mean it. All. The. Time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed about bills or work, when I'm in an uncomfortable social setting, or when I start to panic about something in the near future, I simply talk to myself with positivity and strength. It helps change the way I'm thinking and offers me a different way to think about or approach whatever is bothering me. I tell myself that this moment won't last forever, that I'll get through whatever I'm dealing with at the time, that I should enjoy little things in each moment instead of rushing through it, and that I alone hold the power to make myself calm. I truly believe that perspective is a powerful weapon in the anxiety war.
I'm someone who instantly feels better the moment I am outdoors. The sun on my face, the cool breeze on my skin, and the smell of the outside air all help me get back to the moment at hand instead of getting lost in my head and thoughts. I don't feel as closed in when I'm outside. It helps open and quiet my mind. Taking a walk in the middle of my day has become a new habit, one that I look forward to and one the helps ground me when my head is spinning.
Play with an Animal
I'm an animal lover and especially a dog lover. I truly believe animals have healing powers and understand us and our emotions better than most people do. When I was going through a lot of emotional stress, my dog was the only thing that could bring a smile to my face. He comforted me when I cried. He jumped on my lap or cuddled me when I felt lost and needed a friend. He never left my side. He was my shadow in every sense of the word and he always knew exactly what I needed when I was spiraling out of control mentally and emotionally.
This may seem like a strange one, but I promise, it really works. I used to chew gum the way a lot of people smoke cigarettes—multiple packs a day. I almost always have gum with me and it's an easy technique when you're in a space that make the other tricks hard to accomplish. The scientific reason behind the success of this is that chewing gum helps reduce cortisol levels. A study done in 2008 showed that "the use of chewing gum was associated with higher alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and improvement in overall performance on multi-tasking activities."
Listen to Music
I have always listened to music to help relieve stress. I throw on a sad song to cry it out or an upbeat song to sing or dance it out (sometimes both at the same time). If my work day is getting a little stressful, I'll take a break and dance around the room (the benefits of working for yourself, avoid this at your job unless you have a very understanding boss and/or coworkers!). If I'm feeling overwhelmed by the ever-growing task list in front of me, taking a short break to focus my mind on something else and get my body moving helps me to be more productive when I do return to my work.
I find that when using all of the tricks above, it also helps to be mindful of my senses. I take notice of what I'm touching, feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Doing so forces me to be in the moment instead of simply going through the motions. It helps slow everything down when I feel like my <insert stress, anger, patience, fear here>) is spinning out of control.
Doing all of these things helps me to feel like I'm the one in the driver seat, instead of letting my emotions take over. We control what we give power to and what is important. These little techniques help remind me when I lose sight of that. I hope they help you, too!