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5 Habits That Help With My Anxiety

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If you told me five years ago I’d go on medication for anxiety shortly after graduating high school, I would have laughed. I would have told you intelligent, successful, self-aware people are not prone to mental illness. Partly because of denial and partly because of my own young naivety, I would have told you I was “above that sort of thing.” Alas, no.

Mental illness can happen to anyone. It took me several months and a brief bout of depression to realize that a hypercritical analysis of my achievements and a constant need to strive for ever-loftier goals was not healthy. I now recognize I do have some tendencies toward anxiety. That’s OK. It does not change who I am, and it does not define me. I’ve learned not only to cope, but also to thrive. Don’t get me wrong, it’s taken a lot of effort, tears and time to get to where I am now — a point where I can accept anxious thoughts and use them to my advantage. Doing so has not been easy, but it has been paramount to my happiness. 

I’m not going to tell you that learning to live with anxiety can be summed up into five simple steps, but I’ve tried to highlight what has been most integral to my experience in doing so.

1. Accept help.

John Donne wrote that “no man is an island.” Don’t get me wrong, I value independence pretty highly, but accepting help — professional help — is not a sign of weakness. It will not rob you of your independence. Rather, it’s a sign you are independent enough to know what is best for you. As a scientifically minded person with little patience for emotional talk-therapy, I had my doubts as to how helpful seeing a professional might be. I was also highly skeptical of medication. I didn’t want to become dependent on someone or something for my own happiness and well-being. What I failed to realize at the beginning, however, is that sometimes we need a little push from others to get us back on our feet. (Because mental health is often not covered by insurance, it can be difficult and expensive to find care. Some therapists offer sliding rates on the basis of income. Take note.)

2. Be private. Or don’t.

Though there have been some improvements regarding the awareness and understanding of mental health issues in the past few years, mental illness is still highly stigmatized. There’s no way around it. From telling people I’ve got a dentist appointment when really I’m off to a psych evaluation to picking a therapist in different city to avoid running into people I know in the office parking lot, I’ve done a lot of hiding. I’m not proud, but maintaining a degree of privacy was necessary at first. It’s hard to be vulnerable. As time has gone on, I’ve gotten more comfortable with sharing my experience, but it still makes my skin crawl a bit. Tell people you trust, but go at your own pace. It can feel like a huge risk to tell someone you have issues with anxiety. This is OK. Allow yourself some space if you need it.

3. Keep tabs on yourself.

I never thought I’d preach the values of mindfulness, but it works. Sometimes it’s good to do a little self check-in. When I start to feel anxious, I ask myself how and why a situation is affecting me. This is usually a helpful tactic in reducing my anxious thoughts. One benefit of this practice is that it’s helped me develop a more heightened awareness of my own and others’ feelings. Anxiety has made me a more compassionate and aware human being, and for that, I’m actually pretty grateful.

4. Find healthy ways to channel your anxious energy.

For me, this means always having a creative project to pour myself into. For others, this means practicing yoga, going for a jog, listening to music, etc. Sometimes my thoughts are too much to handle, and I need to put my focus on something else. Finding a way to channel any anxious energy you may have is a great way to turn what can be a debilitating condition into something that actually helps you increase your productivity and level of functioning.

5. Stay in the present.

This is super important. Don’t get caught up in expectations set by yourself or others. Don’t blame yourself for not living up to whatever standard you set for yourself. Recognize that what really matters is not what you were doing a year ago, or what you think you should be doing 10 years from now, but rather where you are in the here and now. Take some time to drop your thoughts of the past and future and focus on the present moment. Close your eyes. Remember you’re alive and breathing, and everything will be OK. Smile.

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When Anxiety Is Like a Big, Heavy Backpack

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I love backpacking.  When I was younger, I always said that my dream honeymoon was a backpacking trip. My mom used to tell me I would change my mind one day for “grown-up reasons.” She always said there were “other” things I would want to do on my honeymoon. Well, she was right. (Yes, Mom, I just admitted on the internet you were right…don’t get used to it.)

Maybe I didn’t go backpacking for my honeymoon, but two weeks after getting married, my husband and I took off for the mountains on our first of many backpacking trips.

The funny things is, when I take my backpack off at the end of the day, the weight on my shoulders doesn’t seem much lighter. That’s because to me, anxiety is like a big, heavy backpack full of fear — a backpack that never seems to come off.

I mean, sure, you realize a lot of these fears are completely irrational. You try to explain that, but few will ever understand.

“I know the universe doesn’t have a big clipboard where it checks off all my flaws, but that doesn’t change how I…nevermind.”

“Yes Mr. Tour Guide, I realize the monkeys aren’t actually going to hurt me, but for some reason they are triggering me really badly right now and holding one right in my face isn’t going to…” *Gasps for air, returns to the boat and faints*

“I understand he is most likely not going to get in a fatal car accident, but I still feel the need to check his location every few minutes…Yes I know it seems silly but…well…fine, I’ll put my phone away and listen to you. Oh, why are my hands shaking? Maybe because my brain is screaming at me right now telling me my husband is probably dead!”

“Look, I get that it makes no sense that I can slide down the side of a volcano in a cardboard box without a problem but driving on the freeway terrifies me…it’s just…it’s just a me thing, I guess.”

But it’s not a you thing — it’s an anxiety thing. And now, anxiety is a part of you. Try as you might to explain it to them, they won’t understand the fears you carry around in your backpack.

The worst part, though, isn’t dealing with the fears in your backpack. The thing that terrifies you the most is the thought of losing that backpack.

You don’t understand it. How is it that the thing making you the most miserable is the thing you are most afraid of losing?

You feel as though your fears — as irrational as they may be — are somehow protecting you. It’s as if dropping your backpack would make you vulnerable to all the things inside it. If you were to drop your backpack, perhaps all the things inside it would escape and attack you and then dance around your remains as they chatter about how imperfect you were.

That’s why meditation is so scary at first. Your therapist tells you to relax, to release your fear each time you exhale. You try your best, but releasing your fear just scares you even more. Relaxation becomes impossible, and your backpack gets heavier and heavier. The heavier your backpack is, the scarier it is to let go of it. It’s a vicious cycle.

So, you live your life with your big, heavy backpack constantly weighing you down. Faith, therapy, exercise, medicine and healthy distractions can make you stronger and more able to carry your backpack, but they don’t always help you get rid of it. Maybe that is a blessing that can come from anxiety, after all — you learn to get stronger. Maybe that’s what makes us so special.

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The Paradox of Existing With Anxiety

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People often ask me for words to describe my diagnosis, the terms that define my illness. I have struggled for years to find such words, to put a definition to my mental illness. I have embraced a few terms, as simplistic as they may seem. Yet they encompass so much.

Broken.

It’s the only way I know to describe who I really am. The people around me don’t see it but the cracks are there, just below the surface, cleverly hidden by my smile and perfectionism. Maybe if I am good enough, do enough, smile enough and serve enough, then my brokenness won’t show. Maybe it won’t be the thing people remember about me.

Although they don’t see it now, I know one day I won’t be able to hide the cracks anymore and they will rear their ugly head. Everyone will know the fraud I really am inside and the horrible things I think of myself, all the while trying to teach others to love themselves despite their flaws. I pour my energy and thoughts into fixing their lives so I don’t have to focus on the thoughts running rampant inside my mind. While I know we are all beautifully broken, I feel as if I’m somehow the one beyond repair, unable to be mended.

Strong.

I am strong. I want to scream it to the world when I’m having a good day, when I’ve overcome an obstacle and feel as if I can do anything. When I am feeling confident, energized, capable and whole. I want so badly for people to understand I am much stronger than they realize and that battling my inner demons may not leave physical scars but the scars are there none the less. Yet, I persist.

I want the world to see that making it to work today was a hard task but I faced it anyway, knowing I am better than this disease. I want them to understand the determination it takes to battle daily with simply trying to exist and deciding I’m not willing to give up, knowing that once my spirit is that broken I will never recover. Instead, I focus on willing myself through another day until the pain lessens, and I find a safe foothold.

I have mental illness, and as a result, I am both broken and strong. The paradox of this statement is not lost on me. I am broken, but this brokenness has produced in me a strong will to fight, to never give up. Although fighting for me might mean having to stay home, avoiding relationships or taking medication, it is what must be done to continue the daily battle for my mind, my sanity.

I wish the world would see although I know the brokenness is there, I don’t let it stop me. Even though there are days when it would be so easy to give up the fight, I know I cannot do so because only then would this illness win. I would rather be broken and strong than simply be defeated.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page. 
 
If you need support right now, call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
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4 Lies Anxiety Tells You (and How Not to Listen)

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Anxiety is sneaky in the way it affects our internal dialogue. One of the problems with anxiety is that it’s so exhausting, we take these lies seriously. Because we’re so tired from trying to cope, when anxiety whispers in our ear we listen to it.

Here are some lies anxiety might tell you, and why you shouldn’t listen.

Lie #1: There is something wrong with you.

Once anxiety has our attention it quickly tries to show us evidence to support its lies.

A useful tip Susan Jeffers talks about in her book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” is to write on a piece of card “I can handle it.” She recommends keeping that card within your sight.

Get used to questioning anxiety’s lies. Don’t just accept them. Look for evidence that you are OK. Think of the last time you felt OK and think about what you can do right now to help yourself feel calm and in control.

Lie #2: You will always feel this way. 

No one always feels anything.

This is one of anxiety’s favorite tricks. To freeze us in bad feelings and minimize our happier moments.

Negative thoughts often derive their power from being generalizations.

Pay attention to your internal dialogue and look out for statements featuring words like: always and every. For example: it’s always like this, or every time…

Getting specific with these generalizations helps contain them and bring them down to scale. Once they have lost their drama you can start to look at ways to address them.

Practice noticing the times when you feel OK. Sketch those times, or note them in a journal. Practice being present.

Lie #3: Nothing works.

Look at the success stories of others with a curious and open mind. Keep trying and find what works for you.

Pick one technique and try it every day for two weeks. Make it a game — draw 14 boxes for the next 14 days and make sure you tick each box. Or get a streaks app and make it your goal to do something every day and don’t break the chain.

Recommended techniques for increased resistance to anxiety’s lies:

Lie #4: You are losing your mind.

Your mind may be disturbed, but it can be supported. You are not your body and you are not your mind. You’ll be OK.

For more anxiety-reducing tips, visit Anxiety Slayer.

Listen to the podcast below for detailed support on how to handle the lies anxiety tries to tell you:

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18 Signs You Grew Up With Anxiety

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Anxiety disorders can lead to strange and disruptive events in people’s lives, regardless of what age the disorder emerges. But for the majority of people who developed an anxiety disorder during childhood or young adulthood, separating the disorder from everyday events can be a difficult task.

 

Over the last several days, Twitter users have used the hashtag #GrowingUpWithAnxiety to tell their stories of living with an anxiety disorder as a child or young adult.

Here’s what they had to say:

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 18 Signs You Grew Up With Anxiety

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To the People Who Chastise Me for My Anxiety

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I wish you could see me through my anxiety.

You might think I’m high-maintenance or tell me I should just accept that everything is OK.

What you don’t see is the enormous effort it takes to simply live my life. My mind is never quiet, running through multiple scenarios constantly. I agonize over whether I have offended others inadvertently, whether I have done or said “the right thing” in any given situation, whether I will be abandoned because I am not “normal” and have an illness that still carries a stigma.

I wish you could see the things that really matter about me. How hard I work to advocate for other people, how much I love my children. The way I can see into people’s hearts and help them work through their pain. I wish you could see how I cherish my friends, making an effort to know them deeply, to be there for them. To love them. I wish you knew how much I cared — about you and your well-being, my family, my clients, the larger world around me. I wish you knew that when I’m told I’m too intense, it invalidates the very quality that gives me my passion and my capacity for empathy.

My anxiety is a part of me, and I spend time and energy coping with its symptoms and trying to manage them the best I can, to not be a “burden” to the people around me. But it is not all of me. I am so much more than that, and I have so much to give you and the other people around me if you can just be a little patient with me. Give me a chance to show you who I really am and what I have to offer. See me through my anxiety and I guarantee you will have a loyal, loving friend for years to come. A friend who will always try to see you through whatever challenges you may have.

I’m here, I’m waiting. See me for who I really am. I’m worth the time and effort.

Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images

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