I’ve Learned to Manage My Anxiety This Year

And I have some tips that might help you manage yours, too.

  1. Ditch Judgement: So, one of the most frustrating components of anxiety is that it can and will feed on itself until it gets so big you feel you’ve completely lost your control of it. It starts off small: “Dang, I’m feeling worried. I’m feeling shaky,” and then you just have to judge yourself for feeling that way: “Ugh, I don’t want to feel this way. Why are you so fearful? Why aren’t you tougher? You’re a real coward, aren’t you?” and you’re off down a dark, cavernous rabbit-hole of doom. Judging yourself for feeling scared especially when you have every right to feel the way you do, will only amplify your discomfort. Instead of judging yourself for being completely human, try validating your feelings. “Gee, I really understand why I would feel scared, right now. This is hard. This is scary.” And even though you don’t want to feel anxious, you’ll be amazed how much lighter you’ll feel if you don’t add self-loathing to the mix.
  2. Write it Out: Anxiety is often considered the plight of the intellectual. Those of us with busier-than-average brains can often get caught in our own heads, sometimes dreaming up new and exciting projects and developing big ideas, but in less ideal circumstances, our imaginations-gone-astray can lead us through doomsday scenarios that are so outrageously far-fetched and unlikely that we would laugh if we actually said them outloud. Or scream. But either way, they’re almost always just ridiculous. The point is, when I notice that my thoughts are racing, the surest way to find calm is to get a pen and paper and just start writing. Sometimes I will literally write: “What am I afraid of?” And then streamline-of-conscious babble comes pouring out onto the paper and by the end of it, I realize I’m actually okay. And I always feel better. Come to find out, I’m pretty good at talking my way out of fear, but the written word holds me accountable in a way my mere thoughts could never do.
  3. Talk it Out: Another somewhat obvious but not-to-be-understated tool for dealing with anxiety is to talk to someone about it. My strongest recommendation would be to seek out a professional like a therapist, counselor or religious leader to help you navigate your feelings. But if you don’t have access to any of that, talking to anyone is better than trying to hold it in and manage on your own. Maybe you call your mom, or pick a friend to share daily “self-care” updates with — I do all of the above. And let me tell you, its all a huge piece of my ongoing anxiety management practices. You are not alone and talking to others helps you to regularly remember that.
  4. Practice Acceptance: A dear friend once told me that trying to force away your anxiety (or any other unwanted emotion) was like trying to move a 500-pound boulder out of your living room. You really don’t want the boulder to be there. What an ugly, inconvenient boulder! It’s embarassing and totally ruining the aesthetic and it’s just in the way. Come to think of it, that boulder is totally ruining your life. It absolutely must go. You must move it. Now. There is no other option. So you push it from every angle, you try to break it up, lift it out, shove it behind the armoir. It’s not frigging budging. Because unless you are that huge guy from Game of Thrones, you ain’t moving a 500 boulder by yourself. So, what are your options? Basically, you learn to just sit with it. Accept that it’s there. You maybe wish it wasn’t, but are you going to let it totally ruin your life? What if you just went on about your business and let it be there? Could you find a way to take some enjoyment from your life even if you couldn’t do anything about it? Yeah, because what other option do you have? Eventually, if you stop focusing on it, wishing it would be gone, planning how to remove it, exhausting yourself to do the impossible, with time, the boulder will just go on it’s own. It will! Funny how it works. Moral of the story is: you can’t force yourself to stop having anxiety. There is no magic trick. There is no “on/off” switch. I tell myself on days when my anxiety is high: “Hey, you. I see you. I’ve got a lot to do today, so you’re going to have to just come along for the ride.” And then I just go about my day and try not to feed the beast. It works.
  5. Move your Body: Nothing too flashy. When I’m feeling especially awful, a walk is my magic bullet. Nice and long, but not too fast. I walk at a Birkenstock pace, which is to say, not so fast that I need my sneakers on. Get that deep breathing going, don’t listen to music if you can help it. Just listen for birds, leaves blowing in the breeze, the sound of your feet hitting the trail or pavement. Practice mindfulness in your movement. Just be where you are and know you are safe in that moment. That’s my favorite fitness ritual these days. And that’s coming from an absolute gym rat fitness junkie. Take it easy! (…she said to herself, because she needed the reminder, too.)
  6. Get Spiritual: And last but certainly not least, I’d be remiss if I neglected to include the importance of practicing spirituality in the quest for attaining freedom from my anxiety. For me that has looked like studying buddhism and practicing meditation. It has meant attending church services at the amazingly progressive and inclusive Methodist church down the street (now enjoyed via livestream from the comfort of my bed.) I pray, I write to God and try to practice surrender when I struggle to have faith. It means learning some of the tenants in the new-age “A Course in Miracles,” with my friend who always has crystals and Tarot Cards for me when I am feeling a little wigged about for whatever reason. Ultimately it means the acknowledgment of the unknown and appreciation for a power greater than myself. It gives me a break from having to be God, and honestly I was doing a rubbish job of it anyway. A counselor of mine will often remind me: “Fire yourself from the job of playing God.” And in order to do that, I have to invite in something greater.

Writer, Musician, Activist.

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