My Struggles with Anxiety and The Best Ways to Cope

It’s important to own our stories.

This past Tuesday was World Mental Health Day, a day to raise awareness of and shatter the stigmas associated with mental health issues. In honor of World Mental Health Day—and really, for the purpose of helping myself and others cope with all the crazy stuff going on in our beautiful minds—I want to give my take on mental health (anxiety in particular) and share some of the practices that have helped me heal and cope.

So. Anxiety.

Every human being experiences anxiety at some point or another, whether before giving a presentation, while loved ones are traveling, or when meeting new people. However, when the anxiety becomes so strong that it interferes with our basic, daily living, it becomes a problem. I’ve lived in this place before, as many of us have, and I know that it can be a dark place. It sure does make it difficult to live a joyful life, although not impossible. Nevertheless, I know that because of the anxiety I experience, I can expect certain things:

For one thing, I can only watch comedic TV shows and movies. If I watch anything that is “thrilling” or suspenseful, there is a pretty high likelihood that I will have an anxiety attack afterward.

I can also expect to feel numb a lot—as if my heart is nothing but a vacuum. This can happen during stressful times, but it can also happen when I’m in a joyful setting surrounded by loved ones. There are some days when I feel simply incapable of internalizing any of the love given to me (or giving any in return).

I can expect to feel tired and fatigued yet restless and nervous at the very same time. This can make it difficult to get things done. I can also expect to cry most days because I’m afraid of everything and nothing at the same time.

Sometimes my body also responds to anxiety with heart palpitations, as well as with aches and pains all over. Often, aches and pains spiral into more anxiety as I wonder if there is something wrong with me. I tell myself not to worry, that fears about my health are a normal symptom of anxiety, and that they are only that: fears. Not real.

I know that if I want to have an exceptionally wonderful day, I cannot under any circumstances listen to the news. While some people can hear the happenings of the world and be totally fine, I tend to carry the weight of the world on my shoulders. The stories of suffering are just too much.

I can expect to have random, unwanted thoughts during joyful moments. I might be sitting in a movie theater, enjoying a movie, when suddenly, I think, “What if somebody stood up and started shooting right now?” I might be having a wonderful conversation around the dinner table with my family, when suddenly, I think, “What if [insert name of family member] dies tomorrow?”

You get the idea. My anxiety can be extremely invasive in my attempts to cultivate my loveliest life possible, and sometimes, I get so frustrated with myself for letting it get to me. I think of who I was before my anxiety set in, and I often have to remind myself that I still have the large, loving heart I’ve always had. I have to remind myself to be gentle and compassionate with myself, and to be patient with my healing process.

Thankfully, I have an awesome mom who has a great understanding of the genetic factors that affect mental health, and she has been able to give me certain supplements to take that can help me (side note: she actually is a professional who offers a variety of services and has helped SO many people. Here’s her website). I also have a store of techniques that I can use when I feel the anxiety coming on.  I work actively every day to cultivate positivity and peace within my heart, and I understand the importance of letting the light in. Here are a few of my favorite ways to cope with my anxiety (and so far they have really worked for me!).

Spend time in nature.

If you read my article from this past Monday, you know all about me and nature. We have a great relationship. I’ve found that being inside for too long (whether for class, work, or in my free time) makes me feel that antsy, nauseous feeling that anxiety brings. When the feeling hits, if I’m able to, I make an escape to the fresh air. There’s a lovely little city park behind my apartment building, and I love to go out there and spend time breathing it all in. Sitting on the ground, in particular, really brings me a feeling of peace as I connect with the healing energy of the earth.

Read a self-help book.

I am reading a fantastic book right now called The Gifts of Imperfection by Brené Brown, Ph.D. It’s all about letting go of who you think you’re supposed to be and accepting yourself as you are. Sometimes, I wish I was further along my path of healing, and it makes me frustrated. This book is helping me be more compassionate with myself. There are plenty of other wonderful self-help books out there, too, and picking one up is a great way to ease your mind and help you cultivate self-love.

Meditate.

Meditating is probably one of the most effective coping techniques I’ve come across—especially when coupled with some time in nature or after reading a chapter in a good self-help book. Here’s how I do it: I usually lie down with my eyes closed (but you can also sit up if that is more comfortable for you). My arms are at my side, with my palms facing up to receive the energy of the Universe. I take three deep, cleansing breaths, and then I ask myself three questions: Who am I? What do I want? What are my unique talents/what is my purpose in life? (Yep! This is where those three lists come from!). I then take another deep breath to release those questions to the wisdom of the Universe, and I begin to breathe gently and steadily in and out, focusing my attention on my breathing. If a thought comes to my mind while I’m meditating (which will always happen, without fail, every time you meditate, unless you are some kind of meditation master), I simply acknowledge it gently and let it pass. I bring my focus back to my breath. I meditate like this as long as I need to, usually about 15-20 minutes, and it always helps me feel more peaceful and centered. Meditation is a MUST for combating anxiety.

Do something you love.

Sometimes, when we’re having an anxious moment, we just need to put our thoughts and attention toward something more joyful. I love trying out new recipes and being able to eat them. Cooking brings me joy and inspires creativity within me. Even though I might not feel like cooking when I’m feeling anxious, I usually feel better once I start doing it. Bonus: I get to enjoy delicious food afterward.

Take a mental health day.

This is one of my favorites…because guess what! It involves staying home from work. There are some days when the stress of class or your job might just be too much to handle on top of your feelings of anxiety. It’s totally okay to take a mental health day once in a while to spend time doing things that bring you peace and healing. I have personally taken a few mental health days, and I always end up feeling more calm and refreshed the following day. Don’t be afraid to take care of you.

Watch something funny.

Okay, sometimes watching TV makes me feel more anxious (like if I’ve been binge-watching Friends for 5 hours straight) just because I start to feel restless. However, after I have an anxiety attack, I usually just want to watch something funny to help me pick myself back up and take my mind off things. I’ve really been enjoying Friends lately, but Family Guy and stand-up comedians are also a few of my go-to choices. You know what they say—laughter is the best medicine!

Phone a friend.

Nobody should suffer alone. I don’t know what I would do if I didn’t have two awesome roommates/best friends and a wonderful family to help me out when I’m feeling anxious and low. Reach out to someone you trust, talk to them, and let them help you. Everybody needs human connection, and it can work wonders to pick you up when you are feeling scared, anxious, and alone.

So, those are some of the techniques that have helped me cope with my anxiety. Please remember, you are never alone in your suffering, and having mental health issues is nothing to be ashamed of. We are all human beings, and we all deal with them on some level. It’s important to own our stories. Let’s keep talking about mental health, and let’s allow our discussions to bring us to a place of greater positivity and acceptance.

With love,

Sonia

How do you cope with anxiety? Tell me about it in the comments.

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