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8 Things I’ve Learned About Anxiety

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

Spring lip color and crossbody bags and…anxiety. The perfect progression, really. #whut

April has stirred mine up a bit (Spring does that to me for whatever reason – Heather has a great guest post on seasonal changes and anxiety), so I thought I would share some practices and thoughts that have kept me from going down the rabbit hole. For those of you who haven’t been around these parts for long, I’ve dealt with differing degrees of anxiety since my teen years – a few periods (once in my late twenties and once in my late thirties) were pretty terrifying, but pretty much peachy keen otherwise.

I get a lot of emails from readers about anxiety – many are experiencing it for the first time and are really frightened, so I thought I would put together some things I’ve learned that have been very helpful for me. I know it seems like nothing helps when you are feeling actual physical symptoms caused by anxiety (there’s been a 1,500-lb weight on my chest for about 4 weeks now), but the key is to NOT get wrapped up in the fear of it all. As good ol’ Matthew McConaughey would say, “just keep livin.” So let’s jump in.

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

1. Don’t fight it. You guys, anxiety is not something to “battle.” When you focus on something, you are calling that experience to the front of your consciousness. “Hey sensation! I feel you! But I don’t want to feel you! Go away, sensation! Now!” See how that works? Of course you are going to have that sensation when you are completely honed in on it.

Here’s a super annoying fact – the act of thinking of ways to get rid of your anxiety breeds more anxiety. Trust me. This is why so many Type-A problem solvers have anxiety. You can not solve it by thinking of ways to solve it. It’s like a vortex of doom. Try your best to stop thinking and get to doing. Get out of the house, enjoy your friends, breathe fresh air, be of service to someone, and stop ruminating about your anxiety. Focus outward.

Give your over-sensitized mind and body a rest. Because that’s what is really happening here – your mind and body are turned up to level 100 so everything seems so much louder/painful/scarier. As hard as it is, accept how you are right now as your new normal for the time being. It won’t be like this forever, I promise. When you let go, lean into the uncomfortable, and stop fighting, calm will find its way back to you. It can take some time too, and that’s okay. Don’t put a time limit on it.

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

2. Positive Thinking, Ahoy! So, your overstressed and overstimulated mind is causing all of this commotion. Either you can agree with the negative thought vortex of doom, or try your best to put a positive spin on it. Lots of people repeat positive affirmations to quiet the gloom-and-doom thoughts, but I’ve always been a fan of re-framing what my body is experiencing.

Anxiety can cause every physical symptom in the book. Even depersonalization. Don’t focus on each and every physical sensation – just know that it’s most likely anxiety and move on. When my heart seems to skip a beat or my chest feels tight, I remind myself that those physical sensations are the same ones that I have when I’m excited about something. Could there be something in your near future that you are excited about? Hmmm. It’s much better way to look at things, yes? Focus not on the fear of what lies ahead, but the great possibilities you might create.

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

3. Gratitude. In all honesty, I really thought this idea was a bunch of crap, but believe me when I say it works. Look around and state out loud what you are grateful for – okay, maybe don’t blurt it out loud in the middle of the library or the grocery store, but when you are hanging out at home, say it aloud. I am so grateful for my nutty kids who make me laugh all day, the fact that my Whole Foods now carries my favorite chips, etc. (Yes, they don’t need to be game-changer statements…just things that make you happy at the most random times.)

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

4. Breathe. Breathe, breathe, breathe. Anxiety totally screws up your breathing patterns. Personally, certain things trigger me to hold my breath. It’s a totally unconscious thing – I don’t even realize until I’m in the midst of it. Simple breathing exercises really help to regulate your stress response – you guys, study after study proves it. Deep, slow breathing makes a world of difference.

If you are new to this stuff, might I suggest this breathing exercise. Sometimes if you dive right into long inhales and exhales, it can make you feel even more anxious. Try this one: Inhale for 1, exhale for 2, inhale for 3, exhale for 4, inhale for 5, exhale for 6, inhale for 7, exhale for 8, inhale for 9, exhale for 10. Do this for 5 minutes at a time. It’s extremely calming.

Also, you NEED to exercise to burn off the extra stress hormones. 30min/day, 5 times a week is optimal, but just do what you can. A simple walk around the block will help.

5. Nourish your body. Eat your vegetables, peeps. Eat good fats, proteins, and stay away from junk. Anxiety has a tendency to keep you from eating enough – be sure you are giving your body what it needs. When you are dialed up to 100, your body burns energy like crazy.

Also, HYDRATE. Drink at least half your body weight in ounces of water every day. (120 lbs = 60 ounces of water) The signs of dehydration are eerily similar to physical anxiety symptoms, so be sure you are drinking enough water every day.

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

6. You are just just fine, I promise. I know it’s so tempting to read all the books and take all the supplements and Google to the end of the internet and back, but remember that focusing on getting rid of anxiety breeds anxiety. I love this quote by Anne Lamott, “there is almost nothing outside of you that will help in any kind of lasting way, unless you are waiting for an organ. You can’t buy, achieve, or date it. This is the most horrible truth.”

The first time I read that quote, I was flabbergasted. I mean, nothing helps?! That is terrible news. However, I totally understand what Anne is trying to say – certain things might help you head in the right direction, but ultimately, it’s the mind shift that gets you from point A to point B. That’s why there’s no “cure” for anxiety – everyone has their own journey to embark on.

This is not to say that you should sit in a corner and wait for results. Seek the resources you need to embark on your path to wellness.

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

7. Get support. Guess what? 1/3 of the population has anxiety. Look around, you are much more similar to others than you think. You are not alone. Not in the least! Talk to your friends. (But don’t talk to the ones that make you feel less than or shameful.) Find a therapist that resonates with you, and please don’t continue to see ones that don’t make you feel safe and okay about yourself. There are some really shitty therapists out there, so ask around and take your time finding the right one.

In the meantime, the best resource I can tell you about is the Anxiety Coaches Podcast. I recently found this podcast and it has been absolutely wonderful. I listen to Kevin and Kelly once in awhile, and they really put things into perspective. (Plus, they have both dealt with PTSD and anxiety personally, so they know exactly how you feel.) There are 80+ podcasts covering everything under the sun, and they average about 20 minutes so you aren’t overwhelmed with information. I recommend these podcasts 100%.

(Small caveat – In the earlier podcasts, a little too much time is spent talking about the weather and irrelevant info upfront, which is annoying, but they do get their act together. Also, because I just have to get it off my chest, the newish intro to the show drives me a little batty. “The anxiety coaches podcast” is repeated over and over and over, and it totally reminds me of this. Sunday, Sunday, Sunday!)

8 tips for dealing with anxiety

8. Life happens. Some of us are more sensitive to situations than others, but that is okay. You are more than okay. You are amazing, and in my humble opinion, the people I know who have anxiety are the brightest, most creative humans I’ve ever met. In fact, maybe you should consider anxiety as the slight downside to being such a f#$%ing bad ass. #fistbump

Anxiety can be so scary, but it doesn’t have to be. Reframe the way you look at yourself and your anxiety symptoms. (A therapist can really help you with this.) Anxiety will not kill you, although it might feel that way at times. (Fear is a real pain in the arse, isn’t it?)

Life has so many ups and downs, and who knows why anxiety rears its head in some instances, but it’s all okay. There is no shame in experiencing anxiety! Everyone’s experience is unique, but I hope some of these tips help. Take good care of yourself.

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37 Comments
  • anne

    April 29, 2015 at 10:02 am

    I cannot believe how much the innerwebs are reaching out to me today. Your timing with this piece is impeccable. (But, under drinking water you say to drink half your body weight in water… do you mean half your body weight number in ounces of water? Speaking of Type A, 60+ lbs of water is a lot of water.)

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 10:17 am

      Haha, yes, ounces!! I clarified. :)

  • Sarah

    April 29, 2015 at 10:21 am

    Spring lip shades, crossbody bags, anxiety. REAL LIFE! I love it. Those of us dealing with anxiety and soul searching also love to talk about makeup and design and visa versa. (Also, that mint green color is perfection.) Thanks for sharing!!

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Yes, real life is just a mixed bag, isn’t it? (And thanks re: the mint green! I searched long and hard for it. #typeA)

  • Rebecca Cahill

    April 29, 2015 at 10:35 am

    This is some gosh dang wise advice about anxiety. The only thing that makes my anxiety worse is focusing on trying to fix it … and the only thing that makes it better is being so engaged in activities I love that I have NARY A MOMENT to pay attention to it.

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 11:37 am

      Exactly, Rebecca!

  • Colleen P.

    April 29, 2015 at 11:15 am

    This really resonates with me today, thank you SO much for sharing! You are so right-none of us are alone in our anxiety. There are others out there that feel the same way, that understand entirely. Love the hint about the water, it sounds so simple but it truly does help-perhaps your body kicks anxiety into gear because you’re getting dehydrated? Not sure, but a nice glass of ice water always seems to make things just a little easier to deal with, for me. Great article, thank you!

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 11:39 am

      I always thought I was drinking enough, but when I broke it down, was drinking less than 20-30 ounces of ANY liquid each day. Honestly, it’s something I still struggle with – I’m not sure why it’s so hard to JUST DRINK SOMETHING, but I pay more attention now. It really helps!

  • Elisabeth

    April 29, 2015 at 12:46 pm

    Thank you for this! The more we talk about anxiety and other mental health issues, the more we empower ourselves and each other. I love the Jung quotation, and use it often with my clients (I’m a psychotherapist who sees a lot of clients with anxiety, as well as a human dealing with my own). Your advice is solid, realistic, and attainable, unlike a lot of the “just think positive thoughts! There’s always a silver lining!” tropes we see all over the Internet. I would add this: the best predictor of positive outcomes of therapy is simply having a good relationship with your therapist, so talk to a few and find one who makes you feel safe and understood. You won’t always love what your therapist has to say — therapy isn’t always comfortable — but you should always trust her.

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 12:51 pm

      Exactly – it’s so important to feel respected and safe with your therapist, and sometimes it takes a few tries to find that kind relationship.

  • Janet

    April 29, 2015 at 12:50 pm

    Shared this with my daughter. We both suffer with anxiety, me more than her, but it’s not something I want for her so I forwarded this because I think it’s good reading. Always helps to know there are others out there feeling just as you are. Not to dwell on it, though. :-) Thanks for this. I’m going to print it and keep it so I can refer back as needed.

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 12:56 pm

      Oh, that’s great, Janet. I hope you both find it helpful!

  • Alina

    April 29, 2015 at 12:59 pm

    This is a great post! I like what you said about focusing on the positive and on being grateful. I wrote a post about what works for me, and it’s all about changing channels, as in having a remote control and changing to a more positive one! And this is a M.S. Prof. Counselor speaking who has had a few encounters with anxiety herself.
    Leaving the 3rd person, now, I say, great post! ha!

    Alina

    http://www.eclecticalu.blogspot.com

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 4:34 pm

      Thank you, Alina!

  • Tiffany

    April 29, 2015 at 1:50 pm

    Every now and then you hear a quote that goes through your mind like a broken record the rest of the day. “Interrupt anxiety with gratitude” is sticking with me. I hate all of the “just don’t think about it. Think happy thoughts and everything will be ok” advice out there. Interrupting anxiety acknowledges that anxiety doesn’t always release it’s hold when and where you want it to, but you still are the boss (even if you don’t feel like it at the moment) You can gently allow yourself to take a break from what you are feeling by inserting a grateful thought. It doesn’t mean your anxiety is gone for good, or even for that day, but for a moment you gave yourself a break. A hopefully those breaks become more common.

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 4:35 pm

      Exactly. And the breaks do become more common quickly – just want to give my readers faith in that fact. :)

  • Emily

    April 29, 2015 at 2:19 pm

    This is so concrete and helpful, thank you! I too am a therapist working with folks who experience anxiety. Already steering some of them to this and will keep it on hand. The world can be a chaotic place and it’s easy for us sensitive feelers to get swept away. I like how you normalize this experience while providing hope – kudos!

  • Lisa

    April 29, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    This is SO GOOD! I can’t even tell you how good this post is! Thank you so much for writing it!

  • Trude

    April 29, 2015 at 3:43 pm

    Thank you so much for sharing this – most of the time I think I’m even keeled, but then I really have my moments. This really helps give me perspective! ::fistbump::

  • Julie

    April 29, 2015 at 4:24 pm

    Psychotherapist and PWA (person with anxiety) here. Awesome post!! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with these techniques and describing them in such an accessible way. Extra points for encouraging people to find a therapist they trust and connect with AND to hydrate themselves!

    I hope your anxiety has eased a bit into the bargain.

    • whoorl

      April 29, 2015 at 4:37 pm

      Thanks, Julie. You know, I no longer fear anxiety, so although unpleasant, life totally goes on. (And happily! Just with chest pain..haha.)

      Hoping readers will come to understand that fearing the anxiety is the worst part.

  • Kristy B

    April 29, 2015 at 10:22 pm

    I can completely relate. The best thing that helped my anxiety was going gluten free!!! What a HUGE difference. Thanks for your well thought out post.

    • whoorl

      May 1, 2015 at 6:53 am

      I’ve been gluten free for about a year and a half, and I totally agree that it has helped! In fact, I haven’t had much, if any, anxiety during this period, except for this past month.

  • Sarah Jean

    April 30, 2015 at 9:00 am

    I accidentally discovered something that helps me one day when anxiety was high and the weight on my chest was settling in. I reached into my pocket and there were two marbles there. I just held them in my hand, then started playing with them and squeezing them… and having all of my energy focused on those marbles helped calm me. After that, I never went anywhere without marbles in my pocket. Because in the moment, when I would feel myself losing control, that was the anchor that centered me. They may have also hit some pressure points in my hand when I squeezed them? I don’t know. But it worked. I haven’t needed them lately, but it was a big day when I decided to be brave and leave the marbles at home when I left. :)

    • whoorl

      May 1, 2015 at 6:54 am

      I love this idea!

  • Kristy

    April 30, 2015 at 9:51 am

    I’ve been dealing with anxiety for years. What’s been working for me when I feel an episode coming on is repeating to myself: ‘This will not kill you. You’ve lived through it before and you’ll live through it again’. Focusing on those words and controlling my breathing have been life savers (so to speak) for me.

    • whoorl

      May 1, 2015 at 6:54 am

      Great advice. :)

  • Heidi // Frantic But Fabulous

    April 30, 2015 at 11:32 am

    Another great option that might work for people (it did for me) is meditation, because it combines aspects of #1, #4 and #7. I’m a particular fan of Headspace and its app. To me, my morning meditation practice is like daily vitamins: it’s a way to set and stay at a healthy baseline.

  • Annie

    April 30, 2015 at 2:50 pm

    I’d like to add to #7, that finding a therapist that does Somatic (body processing) work, is extremely helpful for anxiety. Mine taught me how to deal with the symptoms of anxiety. She gave me so many great tools for how to cope, and even how to lessen or head anxiety off at the pass.

  • Laura @ Hollywood Housewife

    April 30, 2015 at 3:16 pm

    I thank you so much for this post, and for every time that you write about this topic.

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  • Elizabeth

    May 8, 2015 at 10:06 am

    Long time reader, first time commenter. Thank you so much for this post. I wa officially diagnosed with anxiety (and mild depression) almost two years ago, but looking back, I’ve realized how I’ve been suffering almost my entire life. Anyway, I read up a lot on tips for dealing with anxiety a lot, but you really put things in a new light for me. So thank you!! I wish you all the best

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  • Crystal

    May 12, 2015 at 11:16 pm

    Thank you for this! I have had my share of clinical anxiety, and just garden variety anxiety, and your tips are so helpful. In the last few years I have learned that when I get anxiety it’s like a proximity alert going off… In the psychological sense, I mean. I don’t seem to have a good sense of when I have too much on my plate or when I am having unrealistic expectations. Now when I get that sick to the stomach, weight on chest, tingly-hands feeling I take mental stock of what is going on in my life. Usually now I can pin point where the disconnect is and take steps to fix it. Usually this means taking a nap, reading a book or having quiet time while my husband wrangles the kids. Anxiety drives me to do more, more, more when my brain and body are screaming “give me a rest!”

  • Mary Beth

    May 13, 2015 at 12:22 am

    I don’t read your blog often, but man, am I glad I clicked over here tonight. I’m sitting on my couch, unable to go up to bed because I’m overwhelmed with anxiety. I already deal with anxiety on a regular basis, but am currently attempting to finish a dissertation, find a job, and sell my house, all at the same time. Just having a list (I love lists!) makes me feel like I can handle the anxiety front. So, I’m off to bed while chanting to myself “You are just fine, I promise.” Thank you.

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