I’ve done all of the things in regards to my anxiety. I have gone to SO many counselors. I have tried changing my diet. I prioritize sleep. I have begged and prayed for God to take it away. I have sought prayer from people around me. I have a toolbox available when I feel like anxiety is coming my way. I have studied the brain. I’ve tried forms of hypnosis. As I shared in my last blog post, I take medication. Yet, I am still not free from my anxiety. But I live in more freedom than ever and I’ve learned a few things along the way. This blog will be different than most, I’m going practical.
Before I move on, let me remind everyone that I’m talking about what has worked for me. If you try these things and they don’t work-keep on researching, keep on trying until you find the things that do work.
1. I prioritize sleep. I’m one of those that needs 9 hours of sleep. It’s incredibly inconvenient. No one has time to sleep 9 hours a night. I’ve tried so many times to live on less sleep, but it doesn’t work. Those that know me, know that I have a hard time not expressing all of my thoughts and emotions to everyone around me in my most healthy state, so when I’m tired, it’s not even worth the effort. I have 0 filter. I am mean. I get anxious. So when I start feeling my anxiety creeping up, I stop and think-am I really anxious or am I just tired? If I conclude that I’m just tired, I cancel things or rearrange my schedule. And I go take a nap. An hour of sleep can keep me from days of anxiety. This should be a no brainer. I recognize that my schedule is very flexible but I firmly believe that we make time for what is important to us. So at nine o’clock when you decide to watch just one more episode, you need to ask yourself “Is this show more important than a day free from anxiety tomorrow?” If you struggle to answer that question, let’s talk.
2. I prioritize exercise. Most people have heard that exercise is important when you are anxious and depressed. If you hate exercising, find the thing that you hate the least. There are hundreds of ways to get your heart rate up. Weight training is incredibly important, but for emotional regulation, cardio is what you are looking for. And please, if you haven’t been exercising-don’t start with running. You will hate it and you may never exercise again. I can hear people pushing back, “Well, that’s nice. I work full time and have three kids. I don’t have time to exercise.” You do. I always tell my clients if you have time for TV, you have time to exercise. Jog while you wait for your kid’s practice to finish. Run around with your kids at the playground, that will get your heart rate up. 20 minutes is all you need. I would love to help you figure this out.
3. I practice mindfulness. I’m a super practical person and honestly even writing this bothers me. It sounds so out there, so let me break it down. Anxiety generally is worrying about things in the future that we have no control over or agonizing about how to change our present reality. When I say I practice mindfulness, this is what I mean. When I start getting anxious, I pause and I say to myself “What is real right now?” I simply acknowledge the reality of each of my body parts. My feet are on the ground, they are touching the sidewalk. My knees are sore. I am sharing a space with (fill in the blank). My arms are at my sides. I go through as many body parts that I need to in order to bring my thoughts down to reality. When my mind quickly begins to wander away, I start again “Where are my feet?”
4. I tell someone that I’m feeling anxious-in the moment. It’s really vulnerable to share your current emotions, it’s much easier to talk about them after the fact. But I don’t find as much healing when I share later. I make it sound better than it was. I downplay the significance. So I push myself and reach out in the moment. I ask my friends to pray for me and allow them into my moment. This is hard to do in person, but I’m telling you it’s powerful. When you can’t muster enough strength to share in person, text someone. I’m grateful for texting. Everything feels bigger and scarier when you don’t tell anyone. I find that when I share that I’m anxious, it takes the power away. But let me caution you, keep that group small. Share with people that you know will pray for you and will stand with you. I have found that when I have shared with people that don’t get it, I feel like they downplay my feelings and it makes me even more anxious. I feel ashamed. Text me or even tell me in person! I’d love to pray and walk with you through this journey!
5. I create a time to be anxious. I do want to acknowledge that sometimes my anxiety is so visceral that this doesn’t work. But if I can catch my spiraling thoughts early on, this has worked for me. When I find myself getting really worked up about something, I tell myself, right now I can’t deal with these feelings, I will think about these feelings later tonight. I even plan a specific time that I can be anxious, from 3:00-4:00 pm as an example. Personally I have found that one of the worst things I can do is tell myself to stop being anxious. It never works. So for me, I don’t try to tell myself not to be anxious, I just give it a space and place. Most of the time I don’t end up using my allotted time to be anxious.
6. I accept it. The more you fight anxiety, the more it will fight you back. When you are in the midst of having a panic attack the worst thing you could do is try to not have a panic attack. It will just get worse. Ride the waves. Make accommodations if needed. The more you fight it the longer it lasts.
7. I try to remember that my anxiety is not who I am, it’s just a strong emotion I am experiencing. When I feel anxious, it helps me to say out loud “I’m anxious. But I’m also passionate. I’m also friendly. I’m also a fighter and a seeker of truth.” My anxiety is one of the many aspects of who I am.
8. I try to remember that anxiety comes in waves. I have gone up to a year of being fairly anxiety free. When I would go long periods of time without anxiety and then it would resurface, I would feel despair and assume that I was going back to square one and that all the work I have done was worthless. There is nothing true about that. There is a good chance you will experience periods of anxiety your whole life. The less I freak out when a wave of anxiety hits, the less damage it seems to create.
9. I try to refocus my attention. This has looked differently for me in different seasons. When I have an idle mind, that is when I tend to get anxious and crazy. Sometimes it just helps to binge a TV show, which I usually would never encourage. Read a book. Take up a cause. Learn how do something new. Learn about something new. Reach out to someone in need. Anxiety is obsessive thinking, try to obsessively think about something else. Once I was in a deep pit of anxiety and a friend called me and told me she was in the middle of a horrible panic attack and asked if I could come over. The request took my attention off myself and onto to her needs. All of a sudden, my anxiety no longer mattered.
10. The last one is the worst one, but I have to say it has been the most helpful for me. You have to fake it until you make it. Even when I am anxious I do the next planned thing anyway. Even if it means taking more medication for bit, you need to get out of bed, you need to get dressed and fake it until you make it. One step at a time. The first time I heard that, I was appalled. When I am anxious all I want to do is curl into the fetal position and cry. But if I let myself do that, it’s just going to get harder and harder to take that first step. Keep your expectations low for yourself. Celebrate that you showered and got out of bed. Don’t expect to be yourself. Silently be angry at all the happy people around you (I think we would all be surprised at how many other people feel the same way we do). Acknowledge that it doesn’t feel fair that everything is so hard for you. I’m not asking to change your feelings, I’m saying you must act in spite of them. If people ask what is wrong, and they are not safe, tell them that you feel sick. But stick it out. I’m usually pleasantly surprised by how I feel by the end of the event. Then when it’s over, go back into your fetal position and cry and be grateful that you made it. Then get up and do it again. I promise you the more you push on the front end, the less time you will spend pushing.
If you read my blogs, you know that I love Jesus and my world centers around my faith. In this blog post, I have intentionally kept faith out of it. I feel like there are many wounded Christians out there that have been given trite answers to deep agony and distress. So take a breath. We will go there. We seek will Jesus in the midst of our pain. But today, just look at the list, pick one you haven’t tried and try something. Don’t focus so much on changing how you feel, but just focus on changing something you do. Share what you did below and if it helped. We will meet again soon.
We are in this together,