I’ve talked about my anxiety on here before. It is an issue I’ve had to revisit many, many times over the course of the past two years or so. I’ve had to do a great deal of soul searching to come up with ways to combat the intense, nearly debilitating feelings and emotions that consumed the better part of most of my days for a long while. There has been a lot of talk about mental health buzzing around the web lately and wanted to share how I’ve learned to manage my Anxiety Disorder.
There was a time when I didn’t think I could manage the anxiety and the panic attacks. I focus a lot of my blog content on physical fitness, however, there was a time that I found my anger, resentment and anxiety bubbling to the surface. There was hurt and anger I felt that was infringing on all aspects of my life. I quit exercising. I quit taking care of myself. I quit doing the things I loved. I was fragile. I was friable, delicate and uncomplicatedly vulnerable. I was not fit emotionally, mentally or spiritually. I wasn’t handling situations with grace and composure in the manner I wished I could. Everything, or so it was intimated, was unmanageable and I couldn’t rein in my emotions. In lieu of tending to my wounds, I shoved them down, where they festered and multiplied–in the form of anxiety and obsessive thinking.
Anxiety. Obsessive thinking. A few events where someone was mean-spirited, made rancorous remarks or virulent rebuffs could send me through a cycle of hurt, anger or a vicious sequence of self-shaming thoughts swirling in my head. My reactions. My actions. Did I make the moral, upright choice? Did I speak without thinking? Did I overreact or retaliate? Did I catastrophize and make an unintentional slight into a big deal? How did my behavior affect the situation? Did I do something that made the circumstances worse? Did I screw up? What could I have done differently? Some self-reflection is good, even necessary. Yet, obsessive, over-thinking? It isn’t productive at all.
Over the past few months, I’ve learned some amazing skills to counteract the anxiety. There have been some humbling experiences that leveled my ego and while incredibly painful, it has been equally beneficial. I find it easier to admit when I’m wrong. I find it easier to forgive. I am not afraid to confront difficulties and have learn to not go straight to anger when things go wrong, as they often do. I am more empathetic to others. I make an effort to understand another person’s point of view. I discovered that I have the choice to spend time with positive people, doing positive things. I have free will. If it doesn’t work for me, I can politely decline and do something else that suits me better.
Most importantly, when the anxiety and panic set in, I have an arsenal of tools that can get me on the right footing again. I do still have anxiety on occasion, at the same time, it doesn’t have the same power it used to. I can identify it before it flattens me and do something else. I’m not perfect, nevertheless, I have peace most of the time when I employ the methods I’ve committed to.
Here’s my top 12 ways that I manage stress and anxiety:
1. Get exercise EVERY DAY!
I notice that when I get anxiety, a run or even a brisk walk will snap me out of my funk. When I am moving, my thoughts tend to get worked out and I come back with a clear head. Nothing like getting sweaty to move me out of my intense thoughts. When I am working, I try to get up and stretch at least once an hour. I take a break, get a tall glass of water and do some mild stretching.
2. Write it down.
I have a couple of things I do. I have a small notepad next to my computer that I write things down that are bothering me. I evaluate if it’s something I can change or it’s just me, being crazy. If it’s something I can change, I either fix it or I create a plan of action for later on. I recently started writing things down in ten words or less, tearing off the paper, folding it and putting it away. This was suggested to me by a friend. It’s called a God Jar or Worry Jar. When I worry, obsess or feel anxious, I write down what is bothering me, put it in a jar, close the lid and give it to God to handle. I find that once I lock my worries away, I don’t feel the need to think about them so much. It is very cathartic. Even if one isn’t religious, the process of writing down the worry, fear, anxiety and locking it away is a freeing experience!
3. Do something nice for someone else.
I find that when I am involved with helping others, I am less likely to obsess about my own life. I have started making phone calls to see how other people are doing or having lunch with an old friend. When I’m with others, I’m not so self-absorbed/focused. I’m working on getting involved with some volunteer work, which I welcome to get me out of my own head.
4. Stop it with the caffeine!
Oh my goodness! This has become a problem! I have to really be careful not drink too much coffee. I find that my mind races if I have too much coffee in the morning. I can start out with the best day ever, but if I consume too much caffeine, it wreaks havoc on my brain. I’ve taken to cups of hot herbal tea or an herbal iced tea.
5. Use the call a friend lifeline.
I have a friend that is very honest with me. She knows me well enough to know when I’m feeding her bull crap. She calls me on my stuff whenever I’m out of line. Her probity keeps me on track and her wisdom guides me when I need a dose of the frank speak. She has talked me down from many a ledge and I always know I can count on her to tell me truth, even when it isn’t what I want to hear. She is my mentor. Since she isn’t in the middle of my problems, she has objectivity and discernment about circumstances that I can’t see through in a moment. Everyone should have that one friend. Of course, my mom is that person for me too. I know I can call her and ask for advice or an ear. It also helps to have an amazing, kind and loving husband that’s always there. I am truly blessed.
6. Meditate, pray and read.
When I get up in the morning, I get grateful, just acknowledging the beauty of the gift of another amazing day. For me, I find praying when I first get up in the morning is transforming. I thank God for another amazing day ahead. It always get me thinking more positive. Then, I read. I have a book of quotes and inspirational stories. I try to read for at least a few minutes to get me on the right train of thought for the day. I read bible verses, self-help books and other daily reflections to try to center myself and feed my soul. For me, I need my time alone with my thoughts and with God. It makes me more sure-footed the rest of the day.
7. Go outside.
I work from home and I am a stay at home mom. Some days, it’s easy to stay indoors, especially when the southern California temperatures are soaring. Lately, I’ve tried to get outside to get some fresh air, take a walk or even stand quietly and appreciate the world around me. We live in an area where there are lots of birds, wild life and beautiful views. Sometimes, I have a tendency to lock myself inside, with the air conditioning on and forget about the natural beauty around me. At times, it’s an effort to get outside, but I never regret it!
8. Breathe in, breathe out.
I find that when I am stressed out, my whole body is tense and my breath is shallow. When I notice this, I take a deep breath in, from my diaphragm and slowly let it out, focusing on releasing the stress and tension in my whole body. I instantly feel better. If I don’t feel better instantly, I do it again. I never realized previously that one can forget to breathe. Now, when that anxiety rears its ugly head, I ask myself, “Are you breathing?” It’s amazing how shallow my breathing usually is in those moments. It’s a wonder that I am not turning blue from a lack of oxygen.
9. Focus on the solutions, not the problems. Change the perspective.
There are days I can’t get whatever is bothering me out of my head. On those days, I give the problem, irritation, stress, worry or whatever it is some attention. I contemplate the issue and try to search for an answer. Is there an answer? Then, do it! Is there no answer? Then, I let it go! Is there a lesson to be learned? Then, grab onto it!
10. Break tasks into manageable chunks. Don’t get caught up in the enormity of the task.
I used to let myself get so overwhelmed with the number of tasks on my to do list. I would obsess over everything that needed to get done. It was paralyzing! I would sometimes get so spun out of control that I couldn’t do anything. Now, I take a look at my list and prioritize. I try to check off little things on my list that I’ve been putting off. It is often the little tasks that get me so worked up and if I just do them, all seems right with the world again. I’ve stopped making enormous lists that can’t be humanly be accomplished in one day. If I have a long list, I pick a few that I commit to doing and leave the others for another day.
JUST DO SOMETHING! I think that one of the most difficult thing is to just get started some days. On those days, I pick one small thing that can be done quickly and give me instant gratification. Before I know it, that task is done and I can move on to the next thing. When I think too much, I always get myself into trouble.
11. Stop taking myself so seriously. Give myself a break.
Very few things in life are worth the time and anxiety I give to them. I am a fallible human. I make mistakes—occasionally great big, unfixable blunders, but more often smallish, fixable ones that don’t alter the course of the universe. If I wrong someone, I promptly accept responsibility once I realize it and genuinely make my apology. If it is a situation that can’t be changed, I have to acknowledge it, try to learn from it and expeditiously move on. I have to forgive myself for being human. I have to see the lessons in life and make changes within myself—not harbor the mistake forever.
12. Give others a break.
I have to watch myself and make sure I’m not being critical of others. It’s easy to do—being critical. People make mistakes. It is difficult when they don’t own them and lash out when I know I’ve done nothing wrong. I have to remember that I can be like that and have been in the past. I need to forgive others, even when that forgiveness is not sought by another. I don’t have the right to judge. I don’t know what is going on with them and I am not blameless.
I’ve had to recognize that some people are just down-right mean. Who can know why? Maybe they were mistreated as a child. Maybe they had a bad day. Maybe they feel vulnerable and fearful. Maybe there is no reason at all. For my purposes, it doesn’t much matter. I’m going to come across these individuals, nonetheless, the cycle stops with me. I don’t have to replicate the bad behavior. I can forgive and have compassion. Forgiveness and compassion release me from the grips of the negative.
I’ve had to learn to let go of how I perceive I’ve been wronged. It is like a cancer and it eats away at my soul. Holding on to anger and resentment is something I’m learning more and more. Being bitter solves nothing.
So, that’s how I’ve learned to manage my anxiety and panic attacks. It has been an epic journey and I am certain I’ll be revisiting this topic many, many times. As long as I am an imperfect human (forever), I’ll have difficulties to overcome. At least now, I have some strategies to keep me moving towards a more positive direction. I’ll likely never be “cured” of anxiety, nonetheless, it doesn’t have to dominate my life.
Remember to be kind to one another and to yourselves!