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5 Tips for Coping With 'Behind-the-Scenes' Anxiety

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Living with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) means spending a lot of time dealing with symptoms of anxiety head-on. Whether it’s panic attacks triggered by specific stressors, stomachaches because you can’t stop thinking about something or staying inside because you’re afraid being around too many people will make you lash out, anxiety is often front and center.

But there are stretches of time when the anxiety has no obvious reason. Perhaps you’ve yet to identify the root cause, but it often feels like there is no cause. Which tends to cause more anxiety because you’re left wondering, “Why?” The way that anxiety-prone brains are wired, there is truthfully sometimes no “why” at all.

I have a habit of taking care of myself in a reactionary way, and not putting enough effort into preventative self care. When things feel “OK,” I let it coast. In this headspace, things pile up and all of a sudden I find myself a week later completely in the depths of instability.

Of course, that’s not sustainable. While reactionary self-care techniques are really important, I’ve gathered a few proactive self-care skills that have also helped me in my day-to-day life with GAD.

1. Check in with your body.

My body’s changes are one of the biggest giveaways that anxiety is creeping its way in. This may not happen to everyone, and if it does, it is different for everyone, but try to be mindful of little ways your body is signaling that your brain may be overwhelmed. Stomachache? Unusual pimples? General aches? Could be a sign, and you may need some rest.

2. Write.

When I put my pen to paper, it’s amazing how things reveal themselves that I didn’t even realize were eating away at me. It’s a spring cleaning of sorts, to dig through and write down all of the stressors or even little annoyances throughout the day that might be clinging too tightly to your well-being.

3. Try answering “How are you doing?” with an honest response.

This is tough. Many “how are you” texts or discussions at the dinner table have had me touting this version of myself that is totally fine and totally not worried about anything, when in reality, something is on my mind. I never regret, if the time and context is right, just explaining what I’m feeling. The people you’re close with truly do want to know, especially since you’re always there for them.

4. Do something you actually, really love to do.

Do you like doodling? Writing poetry? Going for walks? Volunteering at animal shelters to meet all the adorable, perfect puppies and kittens? Do it. Just for you, no other reason than you just want to do it.

5. If it’s too much, don’t take it on.

This could be interpreted in whatever way you need it. For me, it’s often taking on tasks for other people to please them, which piles up. It almost always comes from a place of genuinely wanting to help, but then I want to help too much, and it all implodes. Understandably, there are certain things in our lives we wish we didn’t have to take on, but we don’t have the freedom to let it go. But for those extra things, it’s OK to not take them on if it would take too much of your time, sanity or emotional labor. It’s one of the best ways to ensure your brain feels able to function without panic. 

Anxiety is sneaky, but there are ways to intercept it before it becomes smothering. It’s OK if it gets to that point – anxiety disorders are so hard to work with — but hopefully these five tips can get you thinking of ways to check in with yourself so that you arrive at fewer of those breaking points.

Unsplash photo via Laura Marques

Originally published: September 17, 2018
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