By Lo Bosworth
I’m an anxious person by nature. I recently suffered from a period of depression and anxiety that stemmed from serious vitamin deficiencies (you can read that article here), but anxiety is part of the framework of who I am. I’ve always worried about something bad happening to my loved ones when they leave the house, I can send obsessive text messages to make sure someone is okay, and facing my own day is a challenge in and of itself.
I sometimes think of anxiety as different kinds of monsters that follow me around the house and down the street.
Being paralyzed by fear, or the unknown, or a physical discomfort is so debilitating – it makes normal things, like taking a walk or grabbing dinner with friends difficult at times. Not every day is bad, that’s for certain, but go through a period of stress, and the inflamed mind can take its own vacation into a land of discomfort, a place it knows very well.
I’ve been learning and practicing different tools to help me overcome my moments of anxiety for a while now. The following list is certainly not extensive or complete, but simply my go-to toolbox when my mind starts to race and I’m feeling like I could use support beyond just a tight squeeze from my Mom. Some of these things are quite obvious, and some I’ve picked up in therapy.
Stop “What IF-ing”
My fabulous therapist told me a long time ago that I do a lot of “what if-ing”. Thinking about anything that is not the here and now is essentially that. Say the words “what if” out loud followed by some thoughts and you’re doing it. In essence, this is anxious worrying about things that have not materialized and are simply conceptual. It can apply to literally anything: finances, sleep, picking your kids up from school, relationship woes, etc. Instead of “what if-ing” all you have to do is replace the “if” with “is”.
Say the words “what is” out loud now and follow them up with exactly the position you’re in. What is real, what is now, what is around you. For example, if I can’t sleep and my mind begins to wander into what my schedule looks like the next day, essentially turning on my brain power and putting sleepiness to the side, I try to get into the headspace of “what is” instead of “what if”. What is really happening right now is simple: I’m just laying in bed. The moment is now. Being present, and not worrying about the future or fantasies does something to stem the anxious thoughts that flood through a stressed-out mind.
Create A Scheduling Pattern That Works For You
Whether it’s by journaling, using a to-do list app like Evernote, or leaving a Post-It next to your bed, create a small to-do list for the next day. As someone who works from home and has a fairly open schedule, just tackling the day is one of the hardest things for me to do. It sounds really simple – just go be a human, but for someone with anxiety and free-time on their hands, it’s a problem. I’ve found that creating just a small list of things I’d like to accomplish the next day can be incredibly powerful in releasing your mind from thoughts about what’s to come (essentially “what if-ing”), allowing you instead to ease into a nice book, TV show, or the attention of your partner.
This list does not have to be stuck to. The exercise of getting your thoughts out, and providing yourself with some structure to follow, is what’s really helpful here. I’ve woken up plenty of mornings without a clear feeling on what to do with myself. It can be pretty painful, to be honest. It should be easy to get up and get moving, but it isn’t for everyone.
For me, taking my dog to the dog park for a morning romp, followed by exercise and a steam bath are how I like to start my days. Creating behavioral patterns helps me to get up and go like most people do. Knowing I have a responsibility to my pet to get out the door and face the day is a great way to avoid morning thoughts of discomfort.
Do One Thing Every Day You Don’t Want To Do
This exercise is new to me, but let’s face it, there are of course things in our daily routines we don’t want to do. Recently the lightbulb went off in my mind, allowing me to see that the things that I don’t want to do are generally tied into some sort of social anxiety. I don’t love the idea of going to the gym because being around a bunch of strangers I’m not brave enough to speak to can feel daunting. However, I recognize now that when I get that feeling of “no” I must, at least once a day, turn it into a feeling of “yes”.
I don’t want to go out to the dinner with friends that’s been on the books for weeks? It would be easier to sit at home alone? Bingo, but I MUST do it. Getting into the habit of driving yourself through your discomfort to your destination, at least once a day, can provide relief on the other end. Being able to recognize that feeling of “no” as anxiety, instead of just sitting in it, can help lead you to make positive changes for positive change.
Feeling anxious? Not feeling anxious? Cool, either way. Have you started meditating yet? I learned the practice of transcendental meditation 3 years ago, and though I don’t do it every day, I certainly rely on it when times are tough. There are a few apps I like for guided meditation – my favorite being Headspace – that take the hard part out of focusing inward and releasing your body of stress.
That’s what meditation does – the stress literally seeps out of your brain and your body, leaving you feeling much more aware, in control of your emotions, and in control of your thoughts. Meditation requires you to train your thoughts to a certain degree so you can connect the dots with how it helps with anxiety as well.