4 Reasons Tap Dancing Helps Me Cope With My Anxiety

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I’ve been living with terrible anxiety since I was a little girl. As I’ve grown older, I’ve tried a ton of remedies — yoga, coloring books, talk therapy, medication, meditation, mindfulness, massage therapy, aromatherapy and all the self-care and self-help books I could find.

And I’ve got to be honest with you all, my dear Mighty readers — none of them hold a candle to tap dance for me.

I danced when I was young and tap was always my favorite class. Since I’m about to start grad school (as well as an intense internship), I decided to re-visit the great art of tap dance so I had some kind of physical outlet during this stressful period. I’ve only been taking classes for a few weeks and it’s already done wonders for my anxiety.

Here are four ways tap dance has helped me — and four reasons I think you should try it, too.

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1. You get to let out all of your frustrations.

The whole crux of tap dancing is stomping your feet on the ground — which is incredibly cathartic for someone who’s dealing with intense anxiety or stress. I can physically release all the pent-up feelings that us anxious folks typically hold onto.

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2. You really work up a sweat. 

I really wasn’t anticipating this, but you get really sweaty during a tap class. Why? Because it’s a pretty intense cardiovascular exercise. And as we all know, exercise can be help with anxiety (and depression!). I’ve never been an exerciser; I hate running and don’t at all enjoy going to the gym. So it’s awesome to finally have some kind of work-out routine and get those health benefits from doing physical exercise.

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3. It requires you to concentrate on something other than your anxiety. 

Tap dance requires a lot of mental concentration. You have to think carefully about which part of your foot is hitting the floor on which count, how fast you’re transitioning from foot to foot, etc. It’s amazing to walk into a tap class and have all my worries melt away — mostly because there’s no room in my head, since I’m trying to get that combination down.

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4. It’s a great way to meet people (but not in a scary way). 

I moved to a new state almost a year ago and still haven’t met a ton of people (mostly because I work from home, running this blog you’re reading!). I can be shy around new people and don’t like putting myself out there, but tap class has been a great way to make friends in a low-stress environment. Everyone is there to have fun; we’re all beginners, so it’s not a competition; we laugh at ourselves when we mess up and cheer each other when we nail a step. It’s nice to have a little community.

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When Anxiety Makes You Feel Like a Burden

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I’m sorry.

My life has been a series of saying, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes, I don’t know what I’m sorry for, the two words just slip out. Most of the time I’m sorry because I feel as though I carry a great deal of baggage. I feel like a burden. I don’t want to put anyone out because of my anxiety and the person I am. I don’t want people to judge me, but I don’t have control of that. I don’t want to say sorry, but honestly, I am.

For so many years, I’ve felt like a burden because of my anxiety. I put myself in a bubble because I was concerned if I let my guard down, you’d see me differently and insist I was being dramatic. I guess those concerns came to fruition because I’ve heard, “You’re just being dramatic” quite a bit.

Interestingly enough, anxiety isn’t acting. Anxiety comes in many different forms, but having anxiety doesn’t equate to being dramatic. So please, don’t tell me otherwise. I’ve heard how ridiculous it is that I worry about certain things and have been told on numerous occasions, “I don’t need to worry.” If only it was that easy.

Does anyone truly believe I enjoy worrying? Do you think I enjoy when my stomach is in knots? Do you think I enjoy when my body shakes or my mind and heart are racing? I’m sure you can answer those questions on your own. Please, know if I could flip a switch and turn off the anxiety, I would, but anxiety isn’t wired that way.

Teasing me about my anxiety and panic isn’t funny. I know you say you’re joking, but there’s always some truth behind every “just kidding.” With my anxiety comes sensitivity. I’m a fragile person. The way in which you use your words are not taken lightly by me. I need you to know my anxiety isn’t something that should be mocked or joked about. It’s an illness.

Anxiety doesn’t come with a guide. It can hit you anytime, anywhere and can leave you in a heap in the middle of the floor. I’ve been there a thousand times.

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The thing is: Anxiety is real. It’s painful. It’s numbing and it’s a great big ball of fear, tangled thoughts and worry. When I’m in an anxious state, I can’t think straight. I fixate on things. When I say fixate, I mean I obsess and overthink. For some reason, I think if I fixate and obsess on something it’ll go away, taking my worry and fears with it. But guess how many times it’s worked? None.

Please, be gentle with me. I carry a sign that says, “Handle with care.” I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love with everything I have.

Often times, when I’m in an anxious state, I can’t hear the words you say to me because the thoughts in my head are much louder. Sometimes, I don’t need you to say anything. Just hug me. Just sit with me. Just be there for me. That’s all I need when I’m spiraling.

Please, don’t disregard my worry and fears. It just makes the situation worse for me. If you tell me you locked the door, I have to check it. If you tell me you’re going to do something, then please, do it. I may ask you four or five times just to make sure. I know it can get frustrating for you, but it’s what I need to feel secure, to feel like I can put my faith in you. Please, know I don’t think you’re a liar. I just need to feel like I have some sort of control of my mind.

My anxiety is a battle, but I’ve chosen to put my armor on to take on the task of tackling the giant. Anxiety doesn’t define me, but it’s a huge aspect of my life and I’ve come to accept that. I hope you’ll accept not only that, but also me. I am who I am. Even though my mind and body are riddled with anxiety, I still believe I can make a difference.

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For the Times I Don't Tell You I'm Struggling With Anxiety

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Dear friend,

Just know that no matter what, I care about you. If I ever hesitate to share my struggle with you, no matter how much you ask, it’s because I’m afraid you’ll leave. You’ve seen how I am day-to-day, absolutely fine right? Wrong. Although, maybe you already know.

The truth is, there are days where I can hardly hold it together. Going through years of depression and suicidal thoughts can change your personality. Struggling with anxiety and low mood disorder means that most of the time, I’m just hiding what’s really going on inside. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t struggling with mental illness. I’m afraid of developing more diagnoses and symptoms until my toiletries bag outweighs my clothes bag on vacation. Do you want me to tell you about this? Or to tell you how emotionally unstable I’m slowly becoming, like when I teared up multiple times watching “Eddie the Eagle”? Or how my exhaustion level continues to skyrocket — mentally from being anxious and constantly around people, emotionally from bottling everything up inside and physically from difficulties sleeping? Even if you genuinely want to know when you ask how I’m doing, I’m scared that being completely honest, or at least going deeper than a simple, “I’ve been better,” will be enough to scare you away. To be honest, I’m scared of being deadweight in our friendship.

It’s hard having to redefine success. To have to accept walking out the door without exhaustion or worry as a morning gone well. To celebrate waking up after a luxurious seven hours of unbroken sleep. Not to be nauseous once during an entire day. To come home and not worry about or analyze every conversation. To go to a therapy session and be honest about how my last week has gone. To have a crappy day and not be debilitated by anxiety at the end of it. I look around me and see so many people standing on a pedestal, and even though I know everyone has different challenges and success, and I’m level with where they’re building, my foundations are in a deep hole. Success to me is not seeing the world like that every day.

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And here’s the toughest part — I don’t see the world like that all the time. There are days where I am fine, where I can honestly tell you that (almost) nothing is wrong. Sometimes all it takes for things to get better is just a text or a conversation to help me remember that I’m not alone and that whatever new horror I’m fixated on won’t be the end of the world. But then I’m afraid I’ll sound like the boy who cried wolf when life isn’t easy. “Yesterday wasn’t like this, so why is this coming up now?” is how I picture you responding. So there are times when I hide my problems behind a smile and simply wonder if it’s obvious I’m hiding something.

And I know you care about me, because you’ve said so, but I know that as well as I know what the dark side of the moon looks like. I’m scared you’ll give up on me. That I’m too much of a drag to you. If I ignore a text from you, it’s because I don’t have the energy to worry about how to respond to you. But if you ignore a text from me, it’s full alarm bells in my brain. “Why? What did I do wrong? How can I make this up?” I’m scared that one day you won’t respond anymore. That I’m too high-maintenance. I know it might seem silly, but every time you gloss over something I’ve just said or passed off a joke I told, I’m scared there’s more going on, even when there isn’t.

I know I have a few irrational fears. But just because you tell me to ignore the lies doesn’t mean I can so easily. I know I’m not perfect, but I’ve been left on the curb, abandoned by those I thought cared most about me. Those are the traumas that I write about to process, that I discuss at therapy and that haunt me unceasingly. Sometimes even a heartfelt assertion can feel like a Band-Aid on trauma. But knowing that you’re saying it, sticking with me through everything and carrying the weight when I can’t means more to me than I can ever share.

Thank you.

Sincerely,
Your friend

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. You can reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741.

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What It Means to Have a Friendship Anxiety Can't Touch

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Dear Best Friend,

When I moved two hours away from you, I was so worried our friendship wouldn’t survive the distance and our busy lives. You promised that wouldn’t happen and you followed through. You continue to show up in my life for big and little moments. I know you are always just one phone call away should I ever truly need you by my side.

You have talked me down from more anxiety attacks than I can count. You have always managed to know what to say when my anxiety and depression start winning our constant battle for dominance. For that, I thank you.

Actually, there are so many things throughout the course of our friendship I want to thank you for. For constantly reminding me that, while I have seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and depression, they do not define nor own me. For all the times you dragged me out of our apartment instead of letting me close myself off from the world. For all the times you have let me walk through worst case scenarios that will never happen. Instead of belittling them, you have kindly and gently helped me dismantle the odds of those events occurring.

For understanding confrontation is hard for me and never mocking or ridiculing me when I come to you with note cards or a letter in hand when I feel we are having issues in our friendship. You realize what I’m trying to say is more important than the medium I use to convey my thoughts. For every time you’ve asked a waiter a question for me and the times, you’ve let them know they got my order wrong without even asking because you know I won’t do it. For always shooting me a quick text when you have to miss my call just to make sure my call was one that could wait and not a mental emergency.

The list could go on for days because you have been one of the greatest sources of support in my life. I will never be able to repay that. There is, however, one thing I need to thank you for above all else. Thank you for being patient, loving and kind enough to build a friendship with me my anxiety cannot touch nor make me doubt. It means more than you could ever be able to know.

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When I Have Dark Thoughts After Anxiety Hits

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First, let me define a dark thought of mine for you. I have moments when I am doing everything I can to try to be stronger than my anxiety and nothing is working. When I try to exercise, pray, meditate, read positive affirmations, practice breathing and try not to run, I end up failing.

These are moments that lead up to dark thoughts. When I can’t walk my dog to the end of my street because a month ago I had a panic attack in “that spot” and it came out of nowhere. This is a moment that leads up to my dark thoughts. When I text my husband to come into the store with me while he was waiting in the car because I feel anxious. This leads up to my dark thoughts.

My dark thoughts don’t happen in the midst of my anxiety. They happen after the fact. When I’m sitting on my bathroom floor crying and feeling like a failure because I couldn’t be stronger than those situations. My dark thoughts are the lies my mind tells me that I am a loser and I will never get through this. My dark thoughts are the times I think I am a burden to everyone and I might be better off not here.

In those darkest times, I remind myself of all the things I have done in spite of having anxiety. I make a list of all these things I have done that some people even without anxiety are too afraid to do.

These are things like:

I have flown on a plane and went to another country.

I went for my motorcycle license.

I chaired a conference of 400 people.

I fought cancer and went through two major surgeries.

I continue my list and I write as many things as I can think of. These were times I know I have faced fear in the face and won. I have bad days. I have bad weeks and I have even had bad months. I have also had good days, weeks and months. As long as I still have those good days, I know I’m going to be OK.

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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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What My Anxious Mind Believes People Are Thinking About Me

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For someone who has anxiety, or for anyone who is an over-thinker for that matter, there is an understood rule: We often degrade ourselves and make up things that people aren’t really thinking. What do I mean? Here’s an example:

A friend hasn’t talked to me in a little while, maybe several weeks. Last time we talked the subject of my anxiety came up, and I feel like I may have over-shared with that person. So I am now thinking, Of course, that person is being silent because they think I am “crazy,” strange, maybe even annoying. Who wants to be friends with someone who worries all the time? How could they just desert me like that, though? Now I am upset. Thinking, Wow, there goes another friend lost. After maybe a month I hear from that person. And now I have harbored resentment against them and act coolly. With the toss of my head I say, “Oh, how nice to hear from you.” All the while thinking, This is fake, like they really care.

OK, so this may be an extreme example. But I would say it is just one of the ways someone with anxiety may think — this is just the thought pattern of someone who may either expect to be rejected, or worries when they do not hear from others. In the other person’s mind it may just seem like life has gotten busy and there hasn’t been time to catch up with all the people they would like to talk to. So why is their friend acting so passive aggressively all of a sudden?

Well, it is because we expect others to be thinking about us what we think or say about ourselves. Do I daily tell myself about all my failures and call myself stupid? You bet I do. So after a long time of doing this, it is only natural that I assume others are thinking these things, too. But it just isn’t true. These things we imagine about ourselves and others is wrong, because those thoughts are based on our own undervaluing of ourselves.

The biggest thing I think I would say to someone who struggles with anxiety, depression or even someone who just thinks too much is this: Step back and realize you are your own worst enemy. Take your thoughts captive, and reverse the way you think. Stop speaking negative words over your life. Be positive and love yourself as much as you love others. Those compliments you give to others? Try saying them out loud to yourself. Start recognizing your successes instead of dwelling on your failures.

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Anxious person, this post is about you. I have previously written about what the loved one in your life should or shouldn’t say to you, but this post is about what you should and shouldn’t say to yourself. Replace words like ” stupid,” “failure,” “worthless” and “hopeless” with words like “loved,” “valued,” “beautiful” and “talented.” Because friend, you are those latter words. We all fail, we all make mistakes and we all have our bad days. But if I know you, I know you are going to take those things a little harder than those around you might. And you are going to turn those feelings into an angry storm of self-defeat. Hear me say: Don’t do it! This road leads to destruction.

And if ever you need that reminder from a friend, write to me and I will remind why you are beautiful, loved, talented and worthy.

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