Deer with "you will survive this" text

Kate Allan Designs Comics to Help Motivate People With Anxiety and Depression

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Kate Allan, 27, likes to draw places that don’t exist – fictitious landscapes filled with colorful creatures – worlds where her anxiety and depression can’t reach.

Girl hugging creature mimicking anxiety

For Allan, drawing provides a way of coping with her mental illnesses. The Washington-based illustrator creates brightly colored images featuring motivational quotes that contrast the negative thoughts that come with anxiety and depression. “When I was struggling through a particularly bad depressive episode, drawing cute animals saying nice things like ‘you will survive this’ and ‘speed doesn’t matter, forward is forward’ helped me cope,” she said.

Turtle with "your speed doesn't matter, forward is forward"

To create new quotes, Allan looks within and writes down the words she needs to hear to get through the day. “I feel like I always having difficulty managing something, and so the text nearly always comes from what I need to tell myself that day to get through,” Allan told The Mighty. “I’ve been really anxious lately, so nearly all my captions have been about anxiety.”

Not all of her comics focus on anxiety, other captions preach self-love or provide encouragement through periods of depression like Allan’s favorite illustration – a bird with the caption, “Today is a brand new day, and you are a brand new you. Good luck!”

Bird with quote

“I tend to get stuck in a really negative mindset, and thinking this way — like every day is a new start — helps break me out of it. It’s something that’s continually stayed relevant for me.”

Now Allan, is sharing her illustrations to help others. “I didn’t think drawing things to cheer myself on would be of help to anyone else,” Allan said. “It’s been really nice to connect with people who struggle with the same things.”

Cat with "It's ok to take things on as you feel ready text"

 

Beyond helping people living with anxiety, Allan hopes to help others understand how debilitating anxiety can be. “I just wish for more awareness, that people understood anxiety disorders better,” she said. “An anxiety disorder may not be something that everyone experiences, but I think people can understand what it’s like to feel uneasy about a situation or too afraid to move forward when they can’t predict the outcome. With [generalized anxiety disorder] it’s just that, but all the time and about pretty much everything. What we feel and perceive forms our reality, same as everyone else. Our perceptions are just, unfortunately, a lot more threatening.”

To view more illustrations, check out Kate Allan’s website.

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What I've Learned About Managing Anxiety After a Decade

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I was 15 when anxiety entered my life. It started with the fear of contamination then snowballed into panic attacks and everyday fear about leaving the house. My anxiety became a full blown force in my life when I ended up in the ER multiple times with a heart rate of 160, fear of death and overwhelming feelings about losing control of everything around me. I continued to struggle with anxiety for the next two years before I sought help from a therapist.

Since entering therapy at 17, I’ve done work around learning the roots of my anxiety, coping mechanisms and practicing self-care on a daily basis. I’ve learned a few things over the past decade and wanted to share as they may help you manage your anxiety.

Coping Skills

Learning and using coping mechanisms is necessary for living with anxiety. Trust me, there are days I feel like I am just getting by with anxiety and it’s OK to have those days, but I want to feel good and like I am thriving at work and in my personal life, and the way I do that is using my coping mechanisms. Positive self-talk, exercising and talking to someone about my anxiety, be it a friend or my therapist, are just a few coping skills I use when I start to feel anxious.

Triggers

Moving, career transitions, entering a new relationship and failing health of a loved one are all things that have triggered my anxiety. You may recognize many of them are positive, happy experiences, which they are, but for me even positive changes present challenges for my mental health. Being aware and preparing in advance for known triggers can help ease anxiety.

Move It Out

Therapy, exercise, talking, writing or drawing — whatever it is, moving anxiety out of your body is something I learned is necessary and also helps to prevent future panic attacks or anxiety. Think of it this way: when you have an infection you take antibiotics to get it out of your body. Anxiety is like bacteria; it is something inside your body that needs to be broken up and moved out to feel better.

Self-Care

Forget taking the notion that self-care is only a monthly massage, or self-care is something that can and should wait till your project is done. Self-care is something that needs to be integrated people’s everyday lives. Make it a priority to do something outside your routine every day to take care of yourself. It can be a walk, playing with an animal or buying yourself lunch. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, even five minutes of focusing on just you will help. Whatever it is, as long as it doesn’t harm your body or mind, do it!

Connect

While I was seeing my first therapist, she recommended I check out an anxiety and phobia workbook. After getting through a few sections, I started to realize it wasn’t the worksheets that helped, but reading the introduction stories people shared about their experiences with anxiety is what helped the most. I began to learn other people felt the same way as I did, and I no longer felt I was the only one.

At 26, I’ve lived through over a decade of anxiety, and I will continue to live with anxiety for the rest of my life. Remaining committed to my self-care practice and keeping my coping skills fresh helps me successfully live with multiple anxiety conditions.

Image via Thinkstock.

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When I Try to Remember a Time Before My Anxiety

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Life can be broken into segments. I used to separate my life into sections according to school: Preschool. Elementary school. Junior high. High school. Older people may see the segments of their life much differently. A divorcee, for example, may see their life like this: Pre-marriage. Marriage. Divorce. Post-divorce. The human brain tends to place things into groups, to sort things so that they might make more sense, to compartmentalize and condense.

I try to do the same with my anxiety. I try to remember my life before – before my anxious thoughts became too much to handle, before I had my first panic attack. Then I find myself wondering if a “before” even existed.

As a kid, I was always a little more nervous than everyone else. I remember being in grade school and worrying about things my friends didn’t even think about. My mind would run rampant with “what-ifs” about the silliest things: What if no one wants to be my partner in class? What if there’s a fire in the school and I have to leave all my things behind and I lose everything? I remember agonizing over “silly” things for as far back… well, as far back as I can remember. That was my “normal.”

It was in high school that I began to wonder if my “nervousness” wasn’t as “normal” as I had always thought. During my sophomore year, I signed up to take the ACT — earlier than everyone else in my grade. The night before the test, I woke up around 1 A.M., shaking and unable to catch my breath. My mind was racing with anxious thoughts, and it took me about an hour to calm down and finally go back to sleep. It was only one occasion of many, but I remember the paralyzing fear of that incident better than any other.

If I had to pick a single trigger for my anxiety – the straw that broke the camel’s back – it would have to be my first semester of college. I went away to a school I didn’t really want to attend; I had received nearly a full ride, and my family convinced me it was too good of an offer to turn down. I left behind my friends, my boyfriend, and my tight-knit family, only to arrive at a school I was less than excited about.

I was only five days into the semester when the panic attacks began. I would sit in class, my mind racing, my chest squeezing, and run back to my dorm as soon as class got out. I would lie in my bed for hours, trying to fight the gaping pit of dread in my chest. Eventually, I began to skip classes. Sometimes the anxiety got so suffocating, I convinced myself I was going to die. My constant state of anxiety eventually shifted into a black fog of depression. Instead of feeling like my whole body was abuzz with nervous energy, I suddenly felt nothing. I can’t say which was worse.

I got help, eventually. I went to the mental health clinic at school, got on medication, and talked to a therapist. She suggested I transfer to a school closer to home; it was such a relief. I thought maybe if I went home, things would get better.

They did, but not entirely. Upon returning home, my anxiety found new targets. Instead of focusing on being away at school, it honed in on my relationship with my boyfriend, or my aspirations for the future. It has remained with me to this day.

The anxiety comes in waves, but it is always there; sometimes, it’s just a tiny pit in my stomach, reminding me that something can always go wrong. Other times, it’s an endless cascade of racing thoughts, horrible anxious thoughts that take away my ability to breathe. I am getting better at dealing with it; I go to therapy, I take medication, and all of it seems to help. But it is always there.

Which leads me to wonder – was there ever a “before?” I don’t think so. I now believe my anxiety has always been a part of me. I see it as a volcano that sat dormant for 18 years, only trembling every now and then, until it finally erupted with devastating and unforgiving fury. Now, it burns slowly, sputtering violently here and there. But I can live with it.

If there was no “before,” I don’t think there will ever be an “after,” either. I think many people with anxiety will always deal with it to some extent. It might be hard to accept that. But I firmly believe that accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean you’re giving up; it doesn’t mean you’re letting it win.

I think if we accept anxiety as a part of who we are, we will be better able to deal with it. We will no longer ache for an “after” that will never come. And we will thrive.

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To My Daughter With Anxiety

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I wish you could see yourself the way I see you. The way your freckles frame your beautiful face. The way you shrug your shoulders when you are unsure of yourself. The way your smile and laughter brightens up a room. You are a perfect reflection of love and all that is good in this world.

You are pure magic. You are the light of my life. Ever since you were placed upon my chest after birth, you have managed to fill up a huge place in my heart. I became a mom when you were born. I wouldn’t want to be anything else, for you bring more meaning and love into my life than I have ever known.

You may not know this, and I am sorry if you cannot comprehend how much you mean to me. It is difficult to put into words how the stars came down from the sky when you were born. They brought you to me, my shining special girl. You are so amazing, and you have no idea of your worth. Never doubt your worth, never let anyone put you down or make you feel less than you are.

You have been struggling with anxiety on and off for a few years. I know it has been difficult for you, and I would do anything to take these feelings away. You are only 10 years old and should not have to face such misfortune at such a young age. You should be living happily, frivolously and free of such adversity.

You are having a hard time adjusting to middle school and all the changes you are facing. You are no longer a small elementary school student. You now carry a heavy load of honors classes and much more responsibility. Recess is a thing of the past, and playtime is replaced with commitments and worry.

Your old friends are just a blur in the busy hallways, and new faces crowd the overwhelming corridors of your new life. You are trying to adjust, but your anxiety is holding you back. It clouds your brain, it tries to hold you back from all you are meant to accomplish.

But I have no doubt that you will overcome this difficult challenge and accomplish great things. Anxiety is tough, but you are not ashamed to admit you are struggling, you are not afraid to ask for help from the school counselor and from your after-school psychologist. You are the bravest girl I know, and I couldn’t be prouder of you.

You are putting yourself out there, you are climbing mountains and you are breaking down the walls that are holding  you back. You keep fighting every single day, and you never give up. Though you leave the house in tears often, you come back better, stronger and more powerful than you have ever been. This will build your character, this will expand your ability to feel empathy for others.

I am in awe of our strength, your courage and your willingness to help others though you are struggling yourself.

You are the kind of person I admire. You are the kind of person I still aspire to be like.

Though you are still so young, you have such wisdom packed into your little soul, and enough love in you to change lives.

I know you will learn how to cope with your anxiety and live a wonderful, fulfilling life.

Never be ashamed of asking for help when you require it. Those who do are the most courageous people in the world.

I am so proud of you and always will be. From the moment I first saw you, you were my stars, you were my heaven on Earth, you were mine.

My sweet darling daughter, never forget you can face whatever life throws your way. Always keep trying, always be yourself, always stay kind.

I cannot be prouder of you, and I will always be in your corner.

Forever walking by your side. With each passing moonlight mile.

My sweet daughter, how I love you…

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How Learning the Art of Throat Singing Benefited My Mental Health

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About two years ago I was surfing Facebook and ran across a video of a Mongolian man performing on a mountain top.

His singing technique is used by people in Central Asia, particularly in Mongolia and Tuva. It is called Khoomei. A more common name for it is “throat singing.” An advanced throat singer can simultaneously sing two to four notes and/or musical sounds at one time. To put it simply, throat singers are Central Asian beat-boxers. And they are awesome ones at that!

As you may be aware, lots of creative people are diagnosed with anxiety and depression. I am one of them, and I love music, history and art. So, new and different things spark my fancy and turn my anxiety into healthy, happy energy. Well, after throat singing caught my interest, I become outright infatuated with it.

After a few months of listening to this type of music, I followed a few tutorials on YouTube in attempts to learn it. Learning this music style allows me to depart from the anxiety that has hindered my musical progress for many years. Being a high-strung perfectionist with a learning disability, there is a tendency to criticize myself for not doing things correctly. It is difficult to memorize fast songs and complex music scores. Plus, not being able to follow instructions very well is frustrating for all involved in the music group. So, I can’t keep up. Then I mess up. Then I give up. All of this negativity triggers anxiety attacks and ruins something that was meant to be fun.

And after a few frustrating attempts to learn throat singing I decided it was too difficult and no fun at all. But, rather than give up, I decided to change my learning style. It had to be more informal, relaxed and childlike. Take toddlers for example. They sit on the floor and play with toys that capture their interest and they are full of joy. They also make funny sound effects when they play. And most admirably, they are not self conscious. There is no way the toddler can perfect any of this. There is no reason to. They are learning in the most natural way: by having fun!

Practicing this learning technique has been of great benefit to my mental health. As we get older we are taught to do things right and to be conscious of our behavior. Taken to the extreme, we can lose are joy of learning and damage our self esteem. Knowing this, it is good to learn something fun that is impossible to perfect, like throat singing. Below are some links to resources about throat singing.

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When My Anxiety Is Like a Storm

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As I was finishing my workout today, I noticed a storm rolling in. I could see the lightning striking frequently only a few miles away, and I went outside to watch it for a bit. It made me forget why I was so worried and why I came to the gym in the first place. The gym had always been my sanctuary — a place to forget and let go of everything. But today, it wasn’t working. Today, I couldn’t shake it. I couldn’t rid my mind of the plaguing doubts and fears. But for some reason, this storm did it. The rolling of the thunder calmed me, made me forget of my anxieties of the day.

There was peace within the powerful forces from the storm. There was peace within the raging winds and pouring rain. There was peace in the couplings of lightning and thunder. It was a peace I couldn’t explain as I watched after-work commuters race home, hoping to beat the incoming storm. I shook my head at their impatience and their lack of appreciation for the sheer beauty God created. I wondered what they were rushing for, who they had waiting on them, and why they were so eager to dismiss this
beautiful thing that had consumed me.

I couldn’t comprehend their rush, but I was suddenly overwhelmed again with the day’s pressures, problems, and anxieties. It made my heart pound harder and my throat get tighter. So I turned my
attention back to the storm and embraced it. I let it take over. I felt the thunder in my chest and the lightning in my veins. I let the storm empower me and calm me all at once.

And that’s when it hit me. My anxiety is like a storm. Sometimes you can see it coming from a mile away, and sometimes it comes out of nowhere. Sometimes it’s just a light rain, and other times it’s raging winds and hail. It can happen all day or strike only in the dark of night. My anxiety is like a storm.

Sometimes you embrace the storm; sometimes the storm embraces you.

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