8 Things I’ve Learned About Anxiety
Green beauty and unfussy style and…anxiety. The perfect progression, really. #huh
April has stirred mine up a bit (Spring does that to me for whatever reason), 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 I’ve been 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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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.
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%. (Edited to add: as of Spring 2016, there are over 175 podcasts, and it seems a new host. Haven’t checked it out in awhile, but I’m sure the podcasts are still super informative.)
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 fucking 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.