As I said in last weeks post, I was diagnosed with social anxiety and general anxiety during my last years of high school. That’s been about 7 years now, and although it’s still a bit of up and down, I can quite confidently say that I’ve somewhat figured out how to best deal with it.
From one anxiety-sufferer to another: here’s some tips that can help you deal with (and even survive!) anxiety! First off: what exactly is anxiety?
What is anxiety
According to thefreedictionary.com, anxiety is “A state of apprehension, uncertainty, and fear resulting from the anticipation of a realistic or fantasized threatening event or situation, often impairing physical and psychological functioning.” Although that’s a pretty basic definition, it does cue in on some of the main aspects. Anxiety has both physical and mental symptoms which are the consequence of your apprehension of something that may or may not really happen -usually a combination of the two. There’s actually a huge variety of “types” of anxiety – you can find more info on that on webmd.com.
Second: how exactly will you “feel” anxiety? As I already said, anxiety has both physical and mental symptoms. Most people know what “feeling anxious” is like on a mental level, but the physical effects are way less known, so here’s an overview of some of the main ones:
- Upset stomach
- Feeling tired all the time
- Being short of breath
- Head aches
- Low fever
- Sweating excessively
Again: if you want a more inclusive list of symptoms, you can check that out on webmd.com, but suffice it to say that the list can go on and on – and can be different for everybody.
What’s more, the way these symptoms are present can change from day to day, and can vary quite a bit in gravity!
Finally: there’s a difference between having anxiety and having an anxiety attack – while the first is more of a “general state of being”, the latter is usually triggered by something and is both more temporary and more intense.
How to deal with anxiety
So, then, how exactly are you supposed to deal with all of this?
The first, important, step is to identify exactly what it is that gives you anxiety. For example, I have general anxiety disorder as well as social anxiety and at times my anxiety will be aimed at something in particular (for the longest time, that was dogs). Specifically, I tend to be a “worst-case-scenario”-thinker to the extreme and having to interact with people is, to me, absolutely terrifying. Depending on how I’m feeling on any particular day, however, I can be okay with any of the things that would usually stress me or they can trigger me into having an anxiety attack.
Second: what are some of the things that make you relax on your good days? For me, for example, that’s listening to calm music (for example: the sound track of The Holiday), reading a favourite childhood book, doing power training, using calming breathing techniques, … Whenever you feel like you’re getting more anxious (in other words: when you notice that, on a regular basis, you’re getting some of the symptoms of anxiety) I try to make sure I get those things in on a daily basis.
At the same time, I try to pinpoint exactly what it is that’s giving me anxiety in that particular instance, and I try to either eliminate it (if it’s certain people, a certain social gathering I don’t need to be at, …) or make it more easy to deal with (for example: make smaller tasks out of one big one, practice giving a presentation, …)
In other words: I try to minimise the anxiety-inducing elements and maximise the calming elements in my day.
Some times, however, all else fails and then I (inevitably) end up getting an anxiety attack. These are, to me, some of the scariest and most difficult parts of having anxiety, just because they make me feel absolutely powerless over my own body. I don’t have any control over my breathing, over my shaking, over anything really.
The number one thing I then have to do is make sure I have some food in me (because not being able to eat is actually a major trigger for me).
Second of all, and something that helps for most people, is making sure to control your breathing: breath in for 4 seconds, hold your breath for 7 seconds and exhale for 8 seconds.
While you do this, it can be really useful to have someone breath along in this rhythm, so that you can follow them.
It is also quite useful to have someone count out loud for you, so that you can focus on something outside of your head. The internet really is your friend when it comes to figuring out how to deal with anxiety. For example, here’s a list of positive (in other words: you can use before you get to the breaking point) anxiety coping tools, as well as a handy post on progressive muscle relaxation, a technique which has proven to be really useful for me.
Finally, an important option that should not be overlooked is medication – although i know that many people aren’t all too keen on taking medication unless they absolutely have to (hey, I’m one of you!), it can be really useful to talk to your doctor about anything they might offer you that can be helpful in dealing with anxiety, be it therapy or other coping mechanisms, or actual medication. After all, anxiety is the consequences of a chemical unbalance in your brain, so it’s only logical that chemistry (read: medication) might be necessary to make it cope-able.
Here’s the thing that might just have helped me most when dealing with anxiety: realising that there is no shame in having it – some people are born near-sighted, some have asthma, and some have anxiety. What’s important is figuring out how to deal with that in a way that suits you best – and then going on to live your best life.
If you suffer from anxiety, what has helped you deal with it? Be sure to let me know below!