Anxiety disorders can feel a lot like real-world danger. For me personally, it’s often like a switch is flipped without the catalyst: suddenly I’m terrified, adrenaline is surging through my body, and I am in fight or flight mode. It is as though I am facing down a predator or an attacker, but there is nobody there, no visible threat. Oddly enough, the absence of real-world danger does not deter the anxiety, which seems to have an entire mind of its own. Conquering anxiety like this can be next to impossible, which is why it is important to set up a personal routine with the goal not of eliminating the anxiety but of managing it and hopefully enabling yourself to regain some control and equilibrium.
Tip #1: Fill Your Days (but not too much!)
This one is a tricky dance. Anxiety can act as a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy: in my case, often my symptoms feel too severe for me to leave the house, but not leaving the house makes things worse, not better. It is important to handle this delicate situation in a way that is manageable for you. You don’t suddenly have to become a social butterfly. In my case, it often helps to plan one event or activity to do each day. These can be very simple: get coffee or lunch with a friend, take a trip to the library, go for a hike, go to a play or a film. Make a plan for the day, even if it is an extremely simple and short plan. It is important to feel as though you have “accomplished” something. This sense of purpose goes a long way towards fighting worries about uselessness or lack of worth. Engaging with life, even a little, can lift obsessive thoughts about having no purpose or meaning. I’ve fallen victim to these sorts of thoughts many times, and had many miserable days during which my anxiety prevented me from doing something, so instead I did nothing. I feel it is worth the effort to attempt this small victory: do one small thing. Even sitting on your balcony and reading a book can be a victory on a bad day, a way of communicating with the world, of reminding yourself of things you enjoy. We just need to try to push ourselves the tiniest bit. Of course, this is not always a perfect solution (nothing is), as we’ll discuss below, but trying to keep yourself busy or distracted can be a valuable strategy in coping with anxiety disorders.
Tip #2: Engage your Creative Side
This one is a lifesaver. For a person suffering from an anxiety disorder, so much energy is spent worrying, stressing, and feeling afraid. It can be both cathartic and an important re-engagement of a neglected side of yourself to engage in creative projects. Start small: try adult coloring books, paint-by-numbers, doodling, or writing little poems. Once you feel more confident in your creative abilities, you can tackle larger projects. This can be a good way to release some of the feelings of fear and stress that have been building up inside of you. Using creative means to express yourself and what you feel can be an enormous relief to those who feel misunderstood or isolated, as well as acting as a reminder of the kind of creative joy life can offer. A project I am currently tackling is a life journal, and I encourage anyone with mental health issues and the desire to tell their story to attempt this project. A life journal consists of telling your story using your creative skills, whatever they may be. These may include prose, poetry, visual arts (watercolors, collage, oil painting, charcoal sketches, etc.), mixed-media creations, scrapbooking, photography etc. Your life journal can take any form you want, and that is the beauty of it. You are using whatever means you want to tell your story: you are releasing the poison and taking control of your own narrative in a way that can benefit yourself and others. This can give someone living with an anxiety disorder immense relief and satisfaction.
Tip #3: Allow Yourself to Rest
We all have really bad days. Days when the anxiety feels stronger than any other aspect of our lives. Days when it’s simply exhausting to be awake. As admirable as it is to struggle valiantly against the onslaught of anxiety, it is also important to recognize when you need to take a day to engage in self-care. On very bad days, I like to do something I call “nesting.” I create a safe space in my apartment, a small area I feel is my own. I surround myself with necessities: plenty of water, tissues, my phone in case of emergencies, etc. I lean on the people in my life. I take care of myself, and I ride out the bad day as best I can, making sure I am well hydrated and that I have support. This is not a shameful thing. Constant fighting can cause burnout and worsen the anxiety. I always encourage everyone in my situation to fight as much as they can, but when you are simply too overwhelmed, it is okay to take a moment to care for yourself and allow others to care for you. These sorts of disorders take a lot out of you. These sorts of disorders can be mean, and unpredictable. It is difficult to maintain a normal life when you are suffering from severe anxiety, and it is OKAY to admit when you need a break from that normal life, when you need to take time to simply rest and tend to yourself (and allow your partner or family or loved ones to help tend to you as well) so that you can resume fighting the next day.
Author Bio: Leslie Burns was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder in 2014 after years of not truly understanding what was going on. She does have her ups and downs but is grateful for her new coping skills and routine to limit the usage of medications. She writes for Japa Organics in addition to freelance writing and playing with her dog Rex.
Image by Andrian Valeanu from Pixabay
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