Hello my fellow weekend-lovers! Welcome to this week’s post.
As I continue to watch my site grow and am beginning to notice new names on my subscription list, I have been diligently brainstorming new topics, new stories and new inspirations to share with all of you. I love speaking about my adventures and things of levity and fun but I also think it’s important to discuss topics that may be more difficult, personal and real for many people out there. If I can help or relate to one person on the other end of this screen in some small way, I know it’ll have been worth it to speak on.
I bounced back and forth with the idea of speaking about anxiety (particularly my own), but I came to the conclusion that it’s a very raw and trending topic that so many of us face on the daily, it deserves to be spoken about and shared. I am by no means an expert on this, but I’ve definitely had my run with it and would like to tell you about the struggles I’ve faced and what I’ve learned along the way. The more mindful you become, the easier it will be to tame this ugly beast.
You see, growing up..I generally was not an anxious child. Sure, I can remember always liking things in an orderly fashion, sticking to my set schedule of homework, shower and bed without fail or not stepping on the sidewalk cracks as I skipped to the bus stop. I can remember being an angsty middle-schooler who would get the occasional rush of nervousness or worry over essentially nothing, only for it to pass shortly after. But to me, these were never red flags and certainly were no indication that I’d be an anxiety-prone twenty-something in years to come. I just thought they were age-appropriate feelings and phases.
Let’s talk about the word…
Anxiety is a general term for several disorders that cause nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. These disorders affect how we feel and behave and can cause physical symptoms. (www.medicalnewstoday.com)
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the population every year.
- Anxiety Disorders are highly treatable, yet only 36.9% of people receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events. (adaa.org)
Let’s push these stats and medical terms aside for a moment because realistically, the word anxiety means something different to everyone, mainly because every person feels or experiences it in a different way or for a different reason. To be honest, I was a young adult when I started hearing this word tossed around and I genuinely had no idea the significance it held. Was it real? Does it mean you’re just nervous about something? What was it to truly feel the wrath of anxiety? I couldn’t understand the people who claimed they had it…and in many cases, I thought it was some sort of cop out or excuse.
That was until I faced my first true bought of intense and all-encompassing anxiety when I was just 22 years old and in the years following. It is by no means an excuse, but a very real and scary continuous internal struggle. A struggle that I still face but have now managed to combat with my own mind and fortitude.
If you ask anyone that has suffered from severe anxiety of any kind, they will likely tell you that they can’t pinpoint exactly why it came on..it just happened one day. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people have valid reasons or traumas that may have caused it, but for others it seems that anxiety rears its ugly head almost unexpectedly. unnaturally. For reasons we may not always realize right away. And for people who have never experienced it before, it is that much more terrifying.
For me, this happened three years ago. A recent college graduate facing the real world for the very first time…and newly broken free from a very toxic, intense and unhealthy relationship that had entangled me for almost two years. I was lost. sad. fearful. uncertain. About pretty much everything in my life.
I didn’t quite realize the severity of the impact this relationship had on me until I was, well, out of it. The pain of a heartbreak combined with the stress of graduating school and making that big transition from student to working adult was not easy for me. Slowly but surely, I slipped into what felt like a whirlwind of perpetual panic and angst. Feelings I hadn’t felt on this level, ever. Who am I? What am I doing? What’s going to happen in the future? Am I a good person? Will I be okay? I constantly felt scared. I constantly felt as though I was walking a thin tightrope that would eventually snap. Each night, laying down to go to bed would result in a fit of panic and a heart beating so fast, you’d think I had just run a marathon. And the same would repeat with each passing morning. No matter what I did, this would not turn off.
Perhaps the hardest part for me was this lack of control I felt I had over my own mind, this discomfort in my own skin. The way my thoughts would spiral and play in a loop until they were beaten to death. Until I was physically and mentally drained. Until I was completely petrified of them. Every negative thought that came through my mind got stuck there and I’d spend the whole day talking myself through what seemed to be a do or die problem in my head. Begging for reassurance from others, constantly. I spent days, weeks, even months having a hard time getting myself to feel relaxed or at peace, sometimes scared enough to not have the strength or desire to leave my house. At this point, it’s hard to imagine that you’re not going crazy. You feel lost in your mind. Alone. Confused. It’s even harder to explain to others who don’t understand this feeling how petrifying it truly is. (I thank my mom for holding me and laying with me, although she didn’t always get what was going on when I called her crying.)
The most important piece to understand out of all of this…is that anxiety can change forms at the drop of a hat. At least in my case. For example, one minute I’d be nervous about my future or question who I was as a person, yet the next I’d be recollecting and agonizing over a mistake I made 10 years prior (no joke). The day after, I could turn on the news and see a segment on a car crash…and BOOM. I was anxious and petrified over driving, out of fear of the uncontrollable. In the world of anxiety, this is known as a “trigger“. I was surrounded by these triggers daily but didn’t know how to adequately face them. My mind was in constant motion, my body in perpetual upheaval.
Through my own continuous research (thanks Google), I learned that what I was suffering from did in fact coincide with generalized anxiety disorder, more specifically rumination and if you want to get even more technical, obsessive/intrusive thoughts (a subset of OCD). Remember those cracks I couldn’t step on as a kid? Yeah, me too.
It turns out that most people who experience anxiety have likely had it their whole lives. It just lays stagnant until something detrimental happens in your life, causing it to sweep in and ignite a roaring fearful flame within you.
For me, this “something” was an abusive relationship. One that battered my confidence and constantly made me question my worth and direction in almost everything. One that made me consistently feel like I was the one doing something wrong and I wasn’t good enough, when that wasn’t the case at all. In the moment, it’s easy to believe that it actually is you and not them. You are the problem. If you had just done what they had said, they wouldn’t have treated you so badly. Until you’ve removed yourself from this situation, can you really understand how toxic it really was. How many warnings signs you ignored. How insecure this person really must have been in themselves to be able to take your strength and diminish it.
Your situation may have been different..but that was mine.
When all is said and done, anxiety feeds off of these weaknesses. Poor confidence. A sense of feeling lost. Lack of hope. Grief. Fear. Anxiety LOVES fear. Whatever the situation that may have caused you pain, anxiety will take full advantage of it and breeds in your vulnerability. I know this, because I lived it.
But I’m here to tell you this. This will not last forever. You will have bad days, plenty of them. It will come back time and again. But you are stronger than it. There are several ways to stare this beast dead in the face and tell it that you’re not afraid of it.
I’m not someone who jumps right to the medicinal route when it comes to ailments of any kind. If you choose that option, that’s great..you need to do what works best for you! Remember that in terms of mental illness or anxiety, medicine is just a band-aid subduing what’s already broken, not a permanent resolution to the problem. Through time and experience, I have found natural ways to combat these feelings, which I continue to practice to this day.
Here’s what worked for me….
1. Remember, it’s not you.
The first thing I forced myself to recognize early on when I began getting these anxious spells was that this was the anxiety talking. This was not who I was as a person. Despite what your mind is telling you. Trust me, this isn’t always easy at first. It may take time to understand this. You’ll get moments of panic followed by moments of clarity. It’s hard to assert this notion when anxiety grips your mind..because anxiety really will make you believe crazy things about yourself and the world around you. You can’t control the triggers that set you off, but you can learn to control how you let these triggers affect you. Fight tooth and nail to say, “This is not me. This is a brain glitch I’m experiencing and it’s causing me to feel upset, confused and nervous. I will get past this.”
2. Sit with the feeling.
I know you’re probably thinking that I’m completely crazy for saying this, but it’s necessary. What I mean is this. When you feel anxiety wash over you, let it. When you feel it affect you physically, let it. When you feel like you want to cry or scream…do it. Let yourself feel. Don’t try to fight it or suppress these emotions. I’ve noticed that trying to fight it takes twice the energy out of you and most likely won’t make a difference anyway. By feeding into this mind game, you are giving the anxiety more fuel to grow and instill fear. Let the spell run its course by sitting in the discomfort and waiting for it to pass. The more you do this, the more immune you will become to the feelings of panic and dread that come with an anxious attack.
Depending on your personality, this may not always be the first thing you want to do in this type of situation. But I promise it will make a world of difference. Sharing your feelings with someone you trust and are comfortable with. Writing what you’re feeling down on paper. Talking to a professional who can offer an unbiased opinion and advice. These are all ways to release the negative emotions and transfer them to a place other than your mind. When I was at my worst, I always battled with wanting to share how I was feeling with others because sometimes I felt I couldn’t even explain what was happening, even if I tried. I soon realized that speaking to my parents or my friends was therapeutic because it released some of that burden off of me. And another thing guys…don’t ever be ashamed to reach out for a different type of help or decide that you may want to speak to someone outside of your family/friend circle. Therapists are practically a trend nowadays and they are there for a reason..they are trained to help you!
4. An uplifting playlist..
If you know me personally, you know that I’m obsessed with all things music. I always have been! I truly don’t know what I’d do without it. Believe it or not, music really can change your mood and outlook, too. Whenever I felt anxiety coming on or was in the thick of it, simply turning on happy music or a good playlist would instantly calm me down. For me, this could be something that reminds me of a tropical vacation or brings me back to a fun time in my life. Music has a funny way of doing that. Hearing a song could remind you of a certain time or place, completely transporting you from the present. Thinking back on fun, happy memories is an amazing way to shift your focus to the positive, rather than the dark rabbit hole your anxiety is trying to drag you down.
5. Mindfulness, Meditation & Yoga
These three things are by no means easy..but they do really help if you consistently practice them. I have no where near mastered meditation (or yoga for that matter) yet, but quieting your mind is something that really helps keep obsessive and anxious thoughts at bay. Two apps that I have used and find beneficial are Headspace:Meditation and Stop, Breathe & Think . Both offer guided audio meditations based on your type and level of anxiety. I find it best to listen to when I’m laying down in bed at night. Meditation allows mindfulness; the ability to focus on the present moment, while accepting and acknowledging your thoughts, feelings and sensations. You’ll be able to feel your body relax as the negative thoughts are replaced with the words of the guided audio meditation. Lastly, yoga is also a great way to calm an anxious mind. It can be difficult to get the hang of at first, but the point isn’t to be an established yoga master. It’s again, to be mindful and to listen to the affirmations the instructor provides throughout the class. Some of these affirmations are really geared towards a mind that doesn’t always slow down. This can make a huge difference in what you allow to occupy your mind.
This is kind of an addition to point number 3 on this list but more specifically..cling to those around you. Do not shy away from or isolate yourself from others based on how crummy you are feeling out of fear they won’t get it. Open up to people because chances are, they might understand your anxiety and be able to help! This can be really tough, I know. Luckily, I was blessed with friends who understood what I was feeling because they, too, experience or have experienced anxiety at some point in their lives. To be able to explain what you’re feeling to someone who says “I get it. I’ve been there.” is a surefire way to kick this thing in its butt. I thank my best friends who helped me by sharing their own individual struggles and support…my mom for being my peace and comfort, even my best friend’s mom (love you Mrs. Murray!) for taking me on a frozen yogurt date one day last year, simply to tell me that it’ll all be okay, that she has been through it too and offer her advice. But guess what, even if someone doesn’t directly get it because they’ve never been through it..it doesn’t mean they can’t offer just as much support. Having a significant other who’s wonderfully caring and understanding and wants to learn more about your anxiety, (even if they can’t relate) is the best feeling. (shout out to the sweetest boyfriend…thank you a million times over.) Having support means everything!
7. Stay busy
When anxiety strikes, you may not always want to get off the couch. Or go out to dinner with friends. It of course may feel easier to cancel all plans and stay in the house. But when you do this, you are doing yourself a disservice and giving anxiety what it wants. There were many days I would get home from work and have a lovely date with my sofa, neglecting doing the things I loved because I physically and mentally felt horrible. This actually winds up making things worse. Staying inside and brewing over how crummy you feel sinks you deeper into the pit. Force yourself to take on hobbies. Force yourself to get up and go to the gym or that yoga class, say yes to dinner plans or do something fun during the weekend. Force your mind to shift its attention to something else. Don’t get me wrong, you may still feel anxious when you’re out and about..there is no guarantee it’ll just disappear. But it is much better to keep your mind and body busy, as opposed to sitting on your couch or in bed feeding into the negativity.
8. Exercise & Diet
This. is. HUGE. Seriously. You may not realize, but everything you put into your body can have a negative or positive impact on your brain chemistry. Just as the same goes for the physical. When my anxiety was really bad, I noticed this immediately. A 20 minute run on the treadmill could calm my mind just by releasing those endorphins. On the other hand, junk food or lots of coffee would amplify my panic and keep me on edge. It’s important to take care of your physical health when your mental health isn’t quite functioning properly. Not skipping meals, eating plenty of healthy foods and getting adequate rest are all part of your “mental health” maintenance and healing process. Getting into the habit of hitting the gym or going for a walk can help boost the happy hormones in your brain. There is a park/preserve near my house that I relied on heavily when I was going through this…walking there everyday gave me a chance to relax and reflect. To this day, I’m reminded of how much it helped me during that rough time whenever I go there.
9. Keep the faith.
In the words of Billy Joel, Keep the faith. Always! Whoever you believe in, whatever you believe in. Faith does something for us. Faith takes all of the pressure and fear that life brings off of us and gives it to a higher power. In my experience, faith has enabled me to stop worrying about the future, to stop worrying about the unknown, the What Ifs’, the Whys’ or Whens’ and it has let me put my trust in the man upstairs. There is something so calming about releasing your troubles, with the understanding that all will eventually be okay. When I’m having a bad day or moment, when I feel anxious thoughts creep in, when I’m unsure..I remember that I am not in control. I do not know what my future holds for me and I have to be okay with that. I turn to my faith which helps me understand that things happen for a reason and I will ultimately end up where I need to be. Faith helps me realize that better days always come back around and that this too, shall pass.
10. Make a decision.
If you’ve reached the end of this, congrats..and thank you. I know it was a lot to digest. My last tip for conquering anxiety is this. Decide whether or not this is how you want to live your life. The answer is obvious, I know. Of course no one wants to live like this. But then comes your call to action. Ask yourself these questions out loud. Do I want this thing to control me and instill fear in me? Do I want to waste another minute of my life letting my negative thoughts consume me? Or do I want to shut anxiety down and beat it at its own game? Once you’ve affirmed your answer, it’s time to set a series of goals aimed at conquering your anxiety once and for all. Taking the power back into your own hands. Goals may start small, like opening up to a friend and talking about it. Next, it may include taking up a new hobby or forcing yourself out of the house. A more final step may be letting these thoughts and fears in but dismissing them. Once you start practicing this and truly start believing that you have nothing to fear and are stronger than your thoughts, you are home free my friends.
I have reached the point in my journey where anxiety will undoubtedly try to creep in and pull me under but I fight my hardest not to let it. I recognize my thoughts for what they are…thoughts. I accept them and dismiss them. I of course have days, even weeks where I feel its wrath physically and mentally, but it’s in those times that I cling to my loved ones and give myself extra TLC. I choose not to give anxiety any more power than it deserves and most of all, I choose happiness and faith.
At the end of the day, life is short and fleeting. There are so many moments and milestones to enjoy and be present for. Do not waste them on this. Anxiety wants to make you believe in all the reasons you can’t, instead of the reasons why you can. You are destined for greatness. We all are.
If I’ve talked to you a million times or I’ve never even spoken to you at all, please reach out to me if you’re struggling. A simple message. I’m here to listen because I understand. Never feel alone…everyone, (I literally mean everyone) has felt this before at some point in their life. From celebrities to people like me. If they tell you otherwise, they’re lying.
I hope you read this and sought some sort of comfort. I hope you gained the courage to open up and speak about it. It’s nothing to be ashamed of!
I’ve been working on this post for some time and little did I know that the day I finished would be World Mental Health Day…meant to be, huh?
I want the best for you all. Let’s conquer anxiety together.