“Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.” – Jodi Picoult
Sometimes, I feel a nonstop sense of panic. It feels as though something bad is coming, although I don’t know what it is. This is when I know anxiety has a grip on me. Anxiety is a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome.
I often wonder what it would feel like to not worry. My doctor once said, “Anxiety is an owl looking for a place to roost.” A person with an anxiety disorder can always have something to feel anxious about. People with anxiety feel like they are trying to save a drowning person, who has a grip on them, but they can’t let the person go to save themselves.
Anxiety clings to you and pulls you down. Intellectually we know there is nothing bad coming. Yet, emotionally we are waiting for the next terrible thing to happen.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength, carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow. It empties today of its strength.” – Corrie ten Boom
Carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength means carrying the worries of things we can’t control. We can’t control the things we worry about and we worry about things that are beyond our control. We use up a great deal of energy worrying and feeling anxious. It can be extremely exhausting. I get most anxious when I am faced with something I can’t control, like the reactions of other people, trying to find a parking spot or driving somewhere and getting lost.
What can we do about living with anxiety? How can we live a full life when we are in a state of worry and apprehension? Here are some tips for coping with anxiety.
1. Learn relaxation techniques.
This might mean meditation, breathing exercises or muscle relaxation techniques.
2. Challenge your negative thinking.
One of my biggest worries is about my car. I am always sure it is going to blow up or get a flat tire. I manage it by talking myself through the scenario. Will my car actually blow up? No. Cars don’t spontaneously explode. Could I really get a flat tire? Yes, it could happen. Will it kill me? No. It will suck, and I will be OK.
3. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake.
Both alcohol and caffeine can make your anxiety worse.
4. Get enough sleep.
When you are sleep deprived, you are more prone to worry. When you are in a state of anxiety, you need more rest.
Something as simple as going for walks can really help to manage your symptoms.
6. Be mindful of what you eat.
Eating foods high in antioxidants like blueberries, almonds, dark chocolate, fish and pumpkin seeds is said to lower the hormones responsible for stress. I don’t know if this is true, but there are no negative effects to eating these things. So go for it.
7. Say no.
Seriously, say no. It is important not to become overwhelmed by commitments. We lead such busy lives, and we over commit ourselves. Learning your limits and respecting yourself enough to enforce them is a wonderful gift. This might mean staying home on a Friday night when all your friends are out having fun. That is OK. You don’t have to do everything.
8. Keep a journal for times when you are anxious.
This can help to identify what you are feeling anxious about. As you journal and discover what is causing your apprehension and fears, you can uncover the things that are within your control. Then, you can make changes to the situation. Of course, there are situations beyond your control, and you can focus on the things that you can change.
9. Set aside “worry time.”
I give myself 20 minutes each day where I allow myself to worry about everything. I can stress, freak out and run every situation over and over again in my head. When the 20 minutes is up, I am finished. There is no more worrying allowed.
10. Have an uplifting distraction.
I put in my earphones and listen to happy music, music that makes me feel good or music that has positive memories tied to it. When I feel like it, I dance along. It is almost impossible to feel anything but happy when you are dancing and singing along to “Sweet Home Alabama.”
11. Use positive thoughts to challenge the negative ones.
It important that these thoughts contain the word “and” instead of the word “but.” The word “but” negates the first part of the sentence. Challenging negative thoughts doesn’t mean erasing them. It means allowing them to exist while acknowledging there are other possibilities. For example, “This is scary and I will be OK,” or “This is awful, and I have some strategies to deal with it.”
12. Ask for help.
If anxiety is running your life, then seek support from friends and family and potentially from a health care professional.
Living with anxiety is really challenging. I get it. It sucks. Thankfully, there are ways to manage your anxiety, and you don’t have to do it alone. Remember to be kind and compassionate with yourself.
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