I have anxiety.
Self-diagnosed, but anxiety nonetheless. Growing up, for whatever reason, I saw life as a large checklist -- get good grades, graduate from high school, go to college, get a degree, then find a great job. I didn’t truly take in my surroundings and the events in between the larger tasks didn’t truly affect me or, in the interest of this reflection, I wasn’t really present. Because of this surface existence, I never figured out how to navigate large obstacles and work through debilitating stress.
But life is our best teacher.
I graduated with my masters degree -- boxed checked -- but the great job was nowhere in sight. I panicked. What do I do now? The great job was the last box to check but I found myself flustered and lost. My plan had foiled and I didn’t have another one. What now? I completed the other tasks so easily. Society told me if I followed these steps my great job would be waiting for me.
Anyway, long story short, I went from floating through life to crashing to the ground confused of how I got there. So now here I am, a sometime sufferer of anxiety attacks with the common trigger being the future. It’s easy to tell someone that it is all going to work out. I say it to myself all the time. But believing it is a totally different story, especially when the track record is littered with mistakes. However, through trial and error, I’ve figured out a few things that help me work through episodes of anxiety and back to a calmer state.
Also, if you are currently suffering from anxiety attacks, please get in touch with a licensed professional for help. The below is a list of things that work for my mild, currently infrequent episodes, so same may not work for you. Investing in your mental health is one of the best things you can ever do for yourself.
So without further ado, here is a list of the things I do when I’m sitting deep in a state of pure anxiety.
Live In The Present
When I find myself suffering from anxiety, I focus on the day. If that seems like too much, the hour. If that is still too much, the minute. Not only that, but I follow focus on the task in front of me. Being present. Whether that is listening to a podcast on my way to work (and not letting my mind wander) or working through my emails at the office, I try to give 100% of my attention to that task. As I begin to make progress in my day I feel better because I made it. I made it that hour, that minute. And I will be able to make it the rest of the day.
Make A List To Tackle The Future
Sometimes living in the present just isn’t enough to calm me. When that happens, I try to make a short list as to what is causing my anxiety. From there, I identify which causes are in my control and thus, can work towards solutions. For example, if my anxiety is because I’m stressing over the next steps in my career, I try to figure out what I can do right now to enhance my career and prepare me for my next step. I usually focus on the present because writing out a five-year plan while I have anxiety only makes it worse. The key it coming up will small tasks I can complete right then or soon after, instead of large tasks with long completion dates. Checking off the tasks helps me feel better.
Stay Away From The Self-Help BS
When I first started suffering from anxiety, I read a lot of articles about how to claim my future and live my best life. I was hoping that those articles would help me create my success plan, but they only made my anxiety worse. The listicles only reminded me of what I wasn’t doing. I wasn’t running every morning at 5 am. I wasn’t meditating and revisiting my life plan before I started my day (hell, I didn’t even have a life plan). I wasn’t reading half a book before bed, completing workshops relevant to my career, posting engaging articles on LinkedIn, volunteering, cooking organic meals every night, etc. etc. And being presented with all the things I wasn’t doing that would improve my life and send me shooting towards success, left me feeling like the scum of the earth. Everyone’s journey is their own, so stay away from those articles. We’re doing just fine.
I’m alive. I’m in love. I’m healthy. My family and friends are healthy. I have a job. My dog is the greatest. There are so many things to be grateful for and listing those things out have really helped me when steps above didn’t. I take a moment and journal about it, then I pray about it, then I take those thoughts with me to carry me through the day. Using them as a blanket to comfort me when my anxiety is trying to break me. Gratitude is so powerful. Seriously, try it. Take a moment to think of all the reasons you have to be thankful today.
Call On A friend
We’re social creatures, humans. We need love and interaction and support. When I really need help, I lean on one of the loving people in my life. I don’t fully put my burden on them, but I let them know that I need a little love. Even if it’s just a few words or encouragement or sitting in silence watching a movie. I let them know that I need them. Don’t be afraid to lean on the people around you and more so, let them know they can do the same when they need it.
I hope the above helps someone in need. Anxiety is tough and if it gets too bad to bare alone, please talk to a therapist. I’ve been there. I’m currently in therapy and it’s one of the best decisions I have made to date. We can do this.