Without warning or a trigger, I felt weight – heavy and suffocating - crashing over me.
Is it possible to feel energy literally leaving your body?
A racing heart, a throbbing forehead, a knotted stomach with dancing worry butterflies.
It had a hold of me – that gripping, tightening sensation of fear and dread about…
- the state of some struggling family members
- growing disappointment in myself and my inability to accomplish my self-imposed life to-do list
- uncertainty about the immediate and long-term future
- everything I had to do and be for myself, for my family, for others
I am not okay.
Anxiety – the controlling, familiar, sickening hurricane created by worry, fear and stress and my failure to take good care of myself.
I’ve known anxiety since I was a young girl growing up with a chaotic life. Its power over me strengthened as a teenager and then hit its peak when I was a young grownup trying to balance far too many responsibilities.
In fact, when I was 26, these anxiety attacks happened every few weeks. At my office. Driving in my car. Or the second my head met my pillow at night.
I was absolutely terrified that I was losing hope, losing myself.
At that point, in desperation, I finally decided I had to keep away what made me sick: Anxiety.
Here are eight ways I learned to deal with anxiety:
1. Tame the moment.
If you find yourself in a panic, in an anxiety attack: Take deep breaths, relax your muscles, walk, listen to music, pet your dog, call that one friend who always has funny stories to share. Have a treat. For me, it’s a cup of fancy tea or a new iTunes download. If you can go outside (if safe), do it. I swear there’s no better remedy than that. Nature is magical.
2. Pin point what’s causing the anxiety and write it down.
Just recently, I’ve been writing down everything I’m worried about – from the minor to the major. I’ve found that there are changes I can make to eliminate some of the stuff on the list. There’s something very powerful about seeing your worries on paper or on screen. It reminds me that I have zero ability to control the things that worry me most. Take action on what you can control, let go of what you cannot.
3. Get enough sleep.
When our bodies don’t get enough sleep, just about every part of our bodies suffer. I feel like a phony baloney right now. I do not get enough sleep but I’ve been making adjustments in my lifestyle to accommodate it. I don’t consume anything with caffeine after lunchtime. I don’t read the news in the evening. I do not watch TV, unless it’s one of my favorite comedies, because laughing is just about the best thing in the world for me. I turn my alarm clock to face the wall so I don’t watch time pass with frustration as I struggle to fall asleep.
4. Find humor.
Sometimes I pretend my life is a reality-TV show. I’m pretty sure it’d be a hit among those who love tales of the average, non-famous and non-glamorous. Family drama/problems. Awkwardness. Nine hours a day in an office. Strangers I meet while standing in line at the grocery store. Periods of extreme bad luck.
I’ve learned to find a lot of humor in my life, in those around me, in myself. Sometimes I find moments to be extraordinarily hilarious.
Taking a bird’s eye view in the most stressful of moments also helps me to decide how I should respond: Is this worth getting upset over? Usually, it’s not. If it is, then I more clearly see changes I need to make ASAP.
It’s a medical fact that when you exercise, your brain releases feel-good hormones.
I don’t do yoga or go to a gym but I should. I run. Sometimes, I walk. Think Prancercise lady, sort of? Yep, hip and arms swinging like a lady 40 years my senior. Find what works for you. If you don’t have time, give up something to create the time.
Ever hear of the Canadian Olympian Leah Pells? Running is how she coped with the chaotic effects of her mother’s chronic alcoholism.
6. Don’t claim other people’s problems as your own.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is to detach from other people’s problems. You may be the go-to person when something’s gone wrong. The one who always responds to texts and calls. The listener, the advice giver, the drop-everything-and-come-to-the-rescue person.
I still absolutely, 100-percent have to work on detaching from my family members’ problems on a daily basis. It’s my own fault that they all come running to me like I’m a human crutch. People lean on me way too much because I let them do so for so long. Unhealthy for everyone involved. This is called co-dependency, an extremely common trait for those who grew up with a chaotic life at home. I still feel guilty when I have to say “No, I can’t help you with that right now.” I’m getting better at this, as I grow.
7. Do what makes you happy, even if you only have 15 minutes a day.
When I was a girl, I loved to write stories and read books. But in high school, I stopped. I have no time for hobbies like that, I told myself. At 26, I was depressed and desperate to feel the joy I’d felt as a girl. Only at that point did I make the decision to read and write again. Some days, I only had 15 minutes to give to it. I wouldn’t go to sleep until I’d given 15 minutes to writing or reading. Those 15 minutes had a hugely positive impact on my life outlook. In fact, it was a major turning point in my life and I’m forever grateful.
8. Spend time with people who inspire you.
Even if you don’t know many inspiring people you can call up and go to lunch with, find them. “Spending time with” inspiring people can come in the form of reading what they have to say through books, blogs, tweets and posts. God bless the Internet for providing a way to find far more inspiring people than you may have met in person.
Though I’m doing great today, anxiety is still around like a jerky former boyfriend who waits for an opp to show up on my doorstep at a vulnerable moment, knowing exactly what to say to make me instantly feel like crap about myself and the world. This is why I now understand the importance of taking good care of myself – so that anxiety will never make it to my doorstep.
How do you cope with anxiety? What works for you?