I am an anxious person. Not just in the sense that I am constantly worried about tomorrow, but in the sense that I suffer from anxiety. However, not that kind of anxiety that seems to be trending right now where people seem to feel anxiety about a single event in their life and or if they don’t have the kind of frappuccino they want; the kind that you manage with medication and gives you panic attacks; the kind you have to really become aware of it before it takes over you. Today is one of those days that I started to think about all the topics I avoid thinking. They bring up all sorts of unpleasant thoughts and feelings that need managing, or else I’ll spiral down into not wanting to leave my bed. I’ve read many posts about people’s anxiety (the serious kind) and today, since it is one of those days, I thought it’s my time to share about how I cope with anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Let me start by saying I am in no place here to talk about the technical details of anxiety since I have no technical knowledge of the subject. I have taken a class and talked to my doctor about it, but still, I’m no expert. I can, however, talk about it from my point of view. That said, I think there should be some clarification on what anxiety actually is before I start talking about it in my life. This 5-minute video will quickly help you better understand what Anxiety is.
How it all started…
I guess it all started when I got married and moved to the United States. Don’t take me wrong, I’d still marry Fabio if I could go back in time, but what triggers my anxiety is usually the fact that I am unable to work since my visa doesn’t allow me. The sense of feeling useless, unproductive and not being able to contribute to our family’s finances. Today, it’s thinking about the possibilities of volunteering in the field I used to work; leading to would I still like to work with it; followed by I can’t work anyway so why am I thinking about this possibility; then back to the idea that if I could work we wouldn’t struggle so much financially and I wouldn’t still depend on my parents at 32; ending in I shouldn’t just think at all. Do you see where I’m going with this?
Lately, I’ve been coping well with these feelings and I’m able to function as a normal person. And I’ve had more good days than bad. I have been taking one day at a time and not really thinking about tomorrow or the things that I can’t control. Today, however, I could not avoid the thoughts and feelings.
So for the last three years, my life has been a constant management of my thoughts and emotions. As you might guess, it’s not at all easy. It’s even worse because I cannot control the outcome at all. I think this is one of the downsides of moving to a new place (which we did recently) since meeting new people involves telling them what I do, and people feeling pity for me and trying to help my helpless case. I get it that it all comes from good intentions, but it doesn’t really help. I guess I’ll have to deal with it for a while. For me, it’s not just the general anxiety that I have to cope with, but social anxiety plays a huge part in my mental health as well.
9 Strategies I Use to Cope with Anxiety
It’s not all hopeless! I have been dealing with it for three years now and it is something that I’ve learned to cope with. Here are the strategies I use when I realize that my head is somewhere it shouldn’t be.
- I try to rationalize my feelings. It might sound counter-productive to think out feeling, but it’s an exercise that helps me understand what is triggering my emotions. Once I know what the trigger is, it’s easier to soothe the physical consequences of them. Heavy breathing, constant crying, chest pains, panic attacks, you name them – I’ve had them all.
- I talk to someone I trust. I know I need to somehow process the feelings, and sometimes I can’t do this kind of mental exercise on my own. So by talking to someone I trust, I am able to understand what is triggering me. Most times it is helpful, sharing my feelings helps ease whatever it is that I’m feeling. But I have to be honest here, it doesn’t always work. Hence #3.
- I try to be by myself. Sometimes all people can do is feel pity and say “that sucks”. But that doesn’t really help. Today is one of those days that there’s nothing anyone can say that will really help me. I caught myself lying to my husband, as he left to meet a friend, saying that I wasn’t feeling sad, so he didn’t have to worry. But most people don’t really understand that being alone is helpful sometimes. I cry if I feel the need for it without anyone judging. Honestly, it’s a lot harder to cry in front of people you love, because it’s one thing to feel hurt, but it’s another to feel that your hurt is hurting those around you.
- I breathe and meditate. I started meditating about 6 months ago. And even though I’m not super disciplined and don’t do it every day, I have noticed that it helps me remove myself from whatever is that is triggering me when I’m in crisis. But in my everyday life, being present and still in the moment helps me avoid thoughts that trigger my emotions. It’s a practice that I don’t plan changing anytime soon.
- I don’t journal – I pray. Usually, I pray after meditating. I’m a believer in Jesus Christ and I know I have a relational God. By praying I am able to pour down my innermost feelings and know that they’ll be in a place safe and filled with love. The book of Psalms is full of David’s prayers when he was anxious. But if you don’t believe in the same things I do, that ok. I’m not here to force you into becoming a Christian or anything. Journaling is what most people do when they want to pour their feelings. I used to do it myself, but it doesn’t really do anything for me. I start spinning in my thoughts and, usually, I get pages and pages of me rambling. When I pray, I’m able to have a concise train of thought and not dig deeper. Praying is what works for me, but if journaling works for you, that’s perfect!
- I engage in something mentally active. I need my mind to slow down and sometimes the best way of doing it is by changing completely where my thoughts are at. For me, it usually means editing pictures I took. Today, it was writing a blog post about anxiety in my life.
- I don’t watch TV or take a nap. I’ve learned that engaging in any activity that numbs my brain only helps dig a deeper hole. The lowest I’ve been was when I was non-stop watching TV and taking naps in the middle of shows. I’m numbing the pain and not really doing anything about it, almost as if I’m waiting for time to go by faster and an end come sooner. Yeah… that’s exactly where I’m going, hence: NO NAPS.
- I go outside and see the real world. It’s all about a change o focus. I’m trying to show my mind that there’s a reality better than what I’m seeing; that I’m in no real danger, so there’s no reason for my body to respond to the way it is. Also, I have to be somewhat presentable to leave my house. So putting on something other than home clothes, fixing my hair and putting some makeup on helps my self-esteem.
- I dance. Nothing like good EDM and dancing like no one’s watching (another reason why I need to be alone sometimes). Releasing stress by engaging in a physical activity is incredibly helpful. The excess of mental energy from the stress caused by whatever triggered me is transformed into physical energy. Dancing is fun, but I don’t go clubbing as often as when I was single in Brazil, so I practice yoga now and I find that it challenges my mind and my body, making it a great way to re-focus my energy and my thoughts.
I don’t really know when or if ever I’ll be able to have a “normal” life. Anxiety in my life comes from trying to do something about things I cannot control. And honestly, these triggers might never change, at least not in the near future. So the only thing I can do is to constantly be aware of how I feel so I can easily identify if I’m in a place where my anxiety starts to become depression (which is a whole different problem).
Listed above are the 9 things I do when I’m in the middle of a bad day. But in reality, these are practices that I do (or should do) every day. I have to constantly rationalize how I’m feeling – even when I’m happy I have to tell myself that I am and why I’m happy. I have to pay attention to how many hours I’m sleeping a night and if or not I’m napping without a need for a nap; if I’m spending more time numbing my brain by watching TV or am I watching TV because I’m engaged in the show I’m watching. It’s a challenge not to give in.
All in all, I can say is this: I started to write this post to help me in a moment of crisis, it actually helped. The pain in my chest is still there, but it’s easier to breathe. I also don’t feel like crying uncontrollably. My thoughts aren’t spinning anymore and I feel as if I can have conversations with close friends (no acquaintances or new people for now). I really hope this post can help people other than just myself.
Tchau for now!
What are your strategies for when your head is spinning with anxious thoughts?