People describe it as being stuck inside their own personal hell. And there's a lot of truth to that. It's an endless stream of thoughts about worst-case scenarios, what-ifs, past events where you may have said that one thing wrong, and 10 years in the future when xyz might happen. It's incessant.
We've written before about anxiety (and will likely write again about it). It's important to talk about the experience of having it, as well as ways of coping with it.
A couple of caveats - finding ways of coping with anxiety doesn't necessarily mean that it's going to go away. Having anxiety or being prone to anxiety might mean an ongoing "struggle." Except for people who have had it a long time and have learned ways of coping, it's less of a struggle and more of a nuisance. For others, it's a perpetual struggle.
One of the hardest pieces is that it requires a getting-to-know-you experience before anything else. For example, if you wanted to pull a weed, would you just pull the top of it? Probably not. You'd go for the root. You'd dig into the soil around it and make sure you got all the little tendrils out - because you know as well as we do that one root can grow into multiple roots that dig deeper into the soil, and that can grow into multiple weeds that keep spreading in the yard. And then you're out there digging out weeds all the time instead of tending to the garden and the vegetables or plants that you want to grow.
Understanding Your Anxiety
This is the hardest part - often the scariest, too. Because it requires doing the complete opposite of what anybody with anxiety wants to do. It requires turning towards the anxiety, exposing it, questioning it, allowing space for it, and really trying to fully understand what it's about.
HEAR US OUT, PLEASE!!
We know it sounds ridiculous, but if we don't fully understand what it's about, then how can we be sure to effectively cope with it?! That'd be like a doctor telling you to put your arm in a sling without ever doing an x-ray. Sounds silly, doesn't it?
it's the same thing. Okay, not the exact same, but very similar.
There are different kinds of anxiety and they show up in different ways. Not only are there different diagnoses (i.e. generalized, panic disorder, health anxiety), but each diagnosis (depending on the person, although there's some consistency) can be exacerbated by different things, including sleep, life stressors, food, drugs (yes, including alcohol and caffeine), and exercise. That's probably not even all, but it's the start.
So, before even moving on to coping (which we're going to do, anyway), the first step is really diving into what kind of anxiety you deal with and what exacerbates your anxiety.
Coping with Anxiety
Again, understanding is the most important part, but we're softies and want to share four tried and true methods for coping with anxiety.
- Exercise. 3-4x/week for 30 minutes at a time. Especially cardio/aerobic exercise. Weights are also good, but aerobic is better. And don't act like you don't already know this is a thing! Everybody knows the need to exercise, but most people don't find the time or don't have the inclination. For anxiety warriors, it's a must.
- Sleep. I'm pretty sure I read that the majority of the U.S. are sleep deprived. Yes, majority. For people coping with anxiety, that's a no-no. It wreaks havoc on your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle that you body naturally falls into). And good sleep also means good sleep hygiene (i.e. screen time, caffeine consumption). We'll write more about that later.
- Thoughts. What do you spend your time thinking about? Do you ever take time to be present, or are you stuck in your thoughts more often than not? If the latter (like most folks with anxiety), then this is a great place to start. Pay attention to what you're thinking, how it impacts you emotionally, and how thinking a different thing can make you feel better.
- Meditation. Another one that everybody knows is good, but most people don't do. I'll tell you a little secret. Meditation, literally, changes your brain. As in, for real, changes the activity (i.e. slows it down) and structure of your brain. It's unbelievable what it can do for you (most of these things on the list, actually). And if you think that it's "not thinking" for 10 minutes, you're mistaken. It's simply about paying attention to one thing - a mantra, your breathing, the present, an image, or something else.
There you have it! Four simple (and highly effective) ways of ocping with anxiety. Doing them all on one day won't make everything better, though. Just something to keep in mind. They require consistent practice and you end up seeing profound effects (especially the longer you stick with them).
Good luck, friends! And if you want help along this journey (it can be trying going at it alone), reach out to us. We're happy to support you in any way possible!