Living with Anxiety
Let's be real -- life is hard. For anyone. And then add anxiety into the mix, and things can get out of hand. It's not uncommon in today's day and age to hear someone mention that they have anxiety. We live in a society that tells us to go go go and that if we ever stop, we're somehow doing something wrong.
And while we live in a time that anxiety is running rampent through the population, the tools to manage these feelings -- to truly manage these feelings -- still aren't reality available to your average-joe. Because while self-care spa day, massages, and wine can be nice treats, they aren't the solution to learning how to truly manage one's anxiety.
I didn't learn how to manage my own anxiety until I began to see a therapist. I've been an anxious person for as long as I can remember. Even as a young girl, no older than elementary school-age, I was filled with nerves and anxiety. I never understood why, and worse, I never knew how to manage it.
My anxiety turned into depression -- or maybe my depression turned into anxiety, it's still hard to say -- and I turned to food and exercise to cope. I was never taught about mental illness in school, so I had no idea how to manage my own. For a while, I had no idea that I even had any mental illnesses.
My anxiety controlled my life. It decided whether or not I went out, how fast I would get my homework done, and how responsive I would be in a conversation. It got worse and worse as the years went on until it became so debilitating that all I could do was lay and stare at the ceiling -- any other activity would be too stimulating and too anxiety producing for me.
I accepted that this was my life. I worked and then I came home and stared at the ceiling. It's what I had become accustom to, and I didn't think there was a way to change it. But slowly, after months of long, hard work with a therapist, I began to uncover different skills that helped me manage my anxiety and live a fuller life.
Now I can go out and be fully present with those around me, and when I come home, I can fill my evenings with activities. Anxiety still pops up in my life, but I can manage it, thanks to learning and mastering a few skills that work for me.
Everyone's anxiety looks a little different, and so everyone's ways of coping with anxiety will look different as well. But there are some fundamental skills that can help everyone, no matter what their anxiety looks like. So I'm going to share a few of my favorites here:
1. Deep breathing -- now I know it seems cliché, but there is real science behind the concept of taking deep breaths. It slows your heart rate and presses your lungs against a nerve in your abdomen that stimulates calm and relaxation.
2. Kinetic sand -- giving your hands something to do and your eyes something to focus on can pull you out of your head and into the present moment, relieving some anxiety. I particularly like kinetic sand because of the texture and interesting visual it has as it slides through your fingers.
3. Journal -- sometimes just getting your thoughts out can majorly help to reduce anxiety. Dumbledore had it right when he said that sometimes he just needs to cast away his thoughts into the pensive to make room in his mind.
4. Gradual Muscle Relaxation -- you can find tons of these online, or you can make one yourself. All you have to do is go through every part of your body, tensing and relaxing each one individually.
5. 5-4-3-2-1 Mindfulness Exercise -- this is one of my favorites! It works to ground you in the present moment and shift your focus away from your anxiety and onto the environment around you. First you name 5 things that you see, then 4 things that you hear, then 3 things that you feel, 2 things that you smell, and 1 thing that you taste.
Living with anxiety sucks, but it doesn't have to define your life. You have the power to take your life into your own hands and learn how to manage and cope in a way that works for you. There is always light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark the now might feel.
And now I want to know -- what are some of your favorite coping mechanisms for anxiety?