I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder about 4 years ago. In reality I have suffered from anxiety for as long as I can remember. It wasn’t until I received my diagnosis, however, that I was able to take control of my anxiety. Below I list 4 changes I made to my life that help me manage my anxiety every single day.
1. Instead of “Sleeping it Off”, Try Meditation
When my anxiety was at its worst I loved to sleep. At the time that was the only way I could escape the physical and mental symptoms I was struggling with. When I was sleeping I wasn’t scared, I wasn’t hearing the mean girl in my head, and I wasn’t overwhelmed by a constant stream of irrational thought. I also wasn’t shaking, I wasn’t feeling my heart working over time, and I wasn’t having to focus on making sure I was breathing. The downside to “sleeping it off” is that it never worked. I was just as shaken and overwhelmed when I woke up again. Sometimes the anxiety was what woke me up! So in the end what did the sleeping do? NOTHING.
I never understood meditation until a few years ago. I didn’t understand how anyone could sit with their eyes closed and not either fall asleep or go crazy with boredom. Then I went to a yoga class. The instructor was amazing and she ended the class with a guided meditation. This is still my preferred meditation years later:
“Close your eyes and relax your body. Then, starting at your head, acknowledge each part of your body down to your individual toes. As you acknowledge each body part, try to completely relax it. As you do this, take deep, even breaths. Visualize your exhales as black and smokey; you are removing all of the negative energy from your being. Every inhale imagine yourself breathing in a happy color. (You choose the color here. It should be whatever color you associate with happiness, peace, your best self. For me that has manifested as a glittering gold. But you do you girlfriend!) Whatever your color, imagine breathing it in and filling every inch of your lungs and your spirit until you feel renewed.”
When you meditate you ground yourself. And in doing so you help relieve some of anxious feelings you were experiencing. Basically, take the great parts of sleeping, add in a feeling of being centered and calm afterwards, and that’s what you get with meditation. It’s truly magical.
2. Instead of Ignoring Your Anxiety, Try to Recognize and Acknowledge It
I think that as humans many of us have a tendency to push down and ignore negative emotions. People respond well to our happiness and excitement, so people pleasers like myself learn to put those emotions in the spotlight. And keeping a positive attitude is super important, don’t get me wrong. But we all have negative emotions, and bottling them up never has positive consequences.
In the beginning I tried ignoring my anxiety, because I thought if I didn’t give it my attention it would go away. This almost always led to a panic attack as the anxiety built up over time. I would ignore the shaking in my hands until they went numb. I’d ignore my shortness of breath until I was dizzy. I thought if I just tried harder the next time I could eventually will my anxiety away. Guess what? It never worked. Ignoring mental illness doesn’t make it go away. You’re just letting it manifest itself by not addressing it. Which is why I started to face my anxiety head on.
After years of anxiety I can recognize it pretty easily. It’s kind of like how I know I’m dehydrated, or I know when my period is coming. I don’t always recognize it immediately but I always have a moment of realization that that’s what the feeling is. So now I call it out. “Hey anxiety, I see you over there, what’s up?” And in doing that I already am taking back control. Then I sit with it. I feel it. I let it make my hands shake and my heart beat faster. But then, because I decided to let it in, I also decide when it’s done. And I do my breathing, and my various other coping mechanisms until I have seen the anxiety to the exit. Is it always easy to show that kind of control over mental illness? No. I can’t always do this. I have been on medication for 3 years to control my anxiety and that treatment has gotten me to this point. But if you can catch it early, and grab it by the horns, it could help you down the road.
3. Instead of Letting the Negative Thoughts Win, Try Positive Affirmations
I think everyone experiences negative self talk. I don’t think this is purely an anxious trait. I do know anxiety can take the negativity to an extreme, where we convince ourselves the world is ending around us. When I said in Number 2 that I allow myself to feel my anxiety, I do NOT mean letting the negative thoughts take over. Sure, I like to consciously acknowledge them, but only so I can rationalize and be rid of them.
Speaking positively to and about myself has been a game changer. I have always loved quotes, especially the corny inspirational ones. I’d like to say that my positive thoughts are always original, but sometimes staying positive can be tough. In those situations it helps to have sources of external positive to turn to.
Wondering where to get inspired? Podcasts, books, and even the people in your life provide you with positive affirmations every day! I used to think self help books were silly, but once I let go of that stigma I have learned that they can really give me affirmations to tell myself during the hard times. I recommend writing them down where you can see them!! Write them on sticky notes and post them everywhere. Fill a journal with your favorite quotes and phrases. Find a phone/tablet/laptop wallpaper with inspiring words. If you’re actively hearing and seeing positivity, you will start to believe it!
4. Instead of Letting Anxiety Make You Stagnant, Try Movement and Exercise to Release It
Fight or flight. I hear it all the time in regards to anxiety. I have never really had either response. I just freeze up. Maybe that’s because I can’t always flee, everyday life just doesn’t allow for it. Does anyone else experience this? All I know is my anxiety leads to me moving as little as possible. Curled up in a ball, wrapped up in a blanket, just sitting as still as possible.
And yet, the easiest way for me to release anxious energy is to MOVE. I’ve started dancing when I’m anxious. Just a little hip wiggle or shoulder shimmy no matter where I am. And I’ve realized people don’t even notice it most of the time, and when they do they tend to think I’m happy or excited. And a warm smile from someone can always help me calm down.
Dancing it out in the moment is great, but exercising is a really effective way to get anxious energy out. Structured movement that gets my energy out in a healthy way? Amazing. (The endorphins and serotonin are also a serious bonus.) Sometimes I get anxiety about working out, but now that I’ve started exercising at home that’s definitely diminished! Find what works for YOU.
None of the changes listed above have cured or will cure my anxiety. And I’m not suggesting that they will cure yours. But I have noticed that when I consciously started to make these changes, my anxiety was something I could MANAGE better. I am still medicated for my anxiety. I still have days where my anxiety makes me cry and cancel plans and hide from the world. But any small progress helps me stay positive even through those rough patches. And if you can take even one thing away from this and apply it to your own life, I want to know about it! What changes have you made to your life that have helped you with your anxiety? What works for you? What doesn’t?! I’m always looking for even better ways to fight my anxiety.