My anxiety has sort of become a running joke amongst my friends. I’ll quickly go “My anxiety is flaring” in response to the smallest thing as a way to deflect from the big picture in a nonchalant/humorous way. But my anxiety hurts like hell. It’s debilitating, decapitating, and at times leaves me unable to move. I’ve had anxiety attacks that have left me unable to breathe and numb for hours. Defined as a general term that refers to several disorders, anxiety is marked by nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worrying. I’ve lived with diagnosed Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for the last four years. Described by Medical News Today as unrealistic, chronic worry about nonspecific life events, objects, and situations GAD can take many forms and has impact ranging from mild to severe.
It took me a long time to get comfortable sharing about my anxiety, for a long time opting to keep it private and my knowledge of my “quirks” relegated to a few close friends. I’ve found it difficult to explain my anxiety to people who don’t know me well; I’m a pretty boisterous person and often the last person one would expect to be overwhelmed, especially socially. Alas, that is the case. I struggle with large group settings (I spent a weekend in bed last month after working myself into a frenzy about going to a BBQ alone), I magnify small disruptions in every day life and obsess over them until I can find a “solution,” I’m a fixer of others. My anxiety takes many forms but it’s me and I work daily to live with it and embrace the curves. With that transparency and read of my entire life, some ways that I deal….
1. Find a Therapist/Confidante.
The first time I had a panic attack (that I can clearly define and remember) was my senior year of college at work. I was overwhelmed with my course load, my extracurriculars, and the looming fear that I wouldn’t have anything lined up post-graduation. Typical, right? Not typical was the fact that I stopped breathing at my desk. It felt as though my lungs had collapsed and that shit was scary. So I did what any other relatively sane human would do; I ran to my supervisor’s office. *disclaimer: my supervisor from that time period is now one of my closest friends and a surrogate mom so this was sane for me* I described to her what was happening and she immediately directed me to breathing exercises and we practiced. Then she had me call student health to talk to a therapist. In that moment, a person I cared for and trusted didn’t look at me as if I was nuts; she created an action plan because she knew I needed help. From there I was able to go to not just her, but eventually a therapist as well to help me have an arsenal of techniques and methods to use when my anxiety overwhelms me. Mental health care may still be a taboo subject, but I personally enjoy clarity of mind and breathing evenly so shout out to Della and Deborah.
2. Sticky Notes are Your Friend.
My anxiety/panic attacks typically stem from me overthinking my life goals and next steps. It starts off as a casual conversation with myself and soon I’m scrubbing my tub listening to Beyonce because somehow bleached tile is the solution. While I enjoy a clean bathroom, that’s by no means the answer. If you go into my bathroom, you’ll see a collection of teal sticky notes with affirmations, quotes, and scriptures. I have them there as a part of my goal setting (small reminders of statements that I value) and as something to read when I’m anxious and worried. So every few weeks, I sticky note. I spend a few hours on a Saturday and find quotes and sayings and write them on sticky notes. Then I post them in my bathroom and each morning, read them. This routine not only affirms me in my life principals but it’s comes in hand when I need small reminders of the big picture.
3. Have Real Friends.
Don’t be shy about your mental state. You should be able to share struggles and accomplishments of all kinds with real friends. I don’t hold back with mine; my friends know about my anxiety and can identify when I’m about to spiral. Having them know my triggers and my needs gives me the space to be emotionally available in a healthy way. Talking about mental states of any kind can be so intimidating but when you have friends who are the safe spaces you need, they can be pillars to lean on when you are overwhelmed or down.
Yes, I recognize prayer is not a part of everyone’s life. Yes, I understand that if it is, we all have our own thing going on with God. I also recognize that prayer is not THE solution (see #1 for said solution). But, if you pray and you believe, then apply it to your anxiety. I usually write my prayers out so that I’m more intentional and I’ve found that the combination of writing and exercising my faith at the same time does wonders. Seeing my thoughts, fears, and worries written down makes them not so overwhelming. No, they do not go away just because I wrote them down, but many times my worries have solutions when I see them written. If you don’t pray, regular journaling works just as well.
5. Find an Outlet.
At different points in my life, rather it be from dealing with increased anxiety or general depression, I’ve looked to art as a productive outlet. Rewind two years ago to a really bad situationship breakup, one of my closest friends made me a playlist (“Songs for Ashley”) to calm my racing mind.
From that point on, I was hooked. Music as an outlet has helped me in unimaginable ways; rather it be a release for pain or an opportunity for calm. Typically I make playlists when my depression really hurts but many times, it’s a quick distraction from my anxiety. At times, I’ve curated ones for close friends who were going through their own thing (“Dream”). Sometimes the best rememy to a racing mind and heart is the melody of escape. What better way to do that than to curate your own playlist to soothe your racing mind (“Unravel”).
6. Own It.
You get anxious, who cares. Any person who cannot “deal” with your physical and emotional responses shouldn’t be around. Friend, family, partner, colleague, whoever. If you cannot be transparent about the fact that you suffer from anxiety and they can’t understand that sometimes anxiety means “No, I can’t do xyz,” delete their number. I’m so grateful for a life where I can blatantly say “I’m not well today” and those close to me, personal and professional, will go above and beyond to create a space for me to re-center myself. That does exist and you deserve it. You have anxiety, not the plague. Own your shit, live your truth, and remember that you aren’t trash because sometimes you need your space.
Anxiety is real and that’s fine because life is better than and greater than it. The moment that we get out of our own way is the moment we can begin to recover. Each day will not be a walk in the park; sometimes the last thing you will want to do is deal with your shit. And that’s perfectly fine. What matters is that you DO deal with it and you do so in ways that are positive, affirming, and deeply rooted in your truth. Now, go grab some sticky notes.