I’ve had anxiety my whole life.
As a kid, I made myself physically sick to get out of school — ear infections, migraines and stomach aches all manifested from my worried mind. One day, I ran home crying. When mum asked what was wrong I sobbed, “I’m not going to pass my final year exams!”
I was eight at the time.
Back then, anxiety wasn’t as well understood as it is now. So I was put on ADHD medication and told to settle down. But that only made me feel like even more of an outsider — and more anxious!
I missed a lot of school.
But as an adult with a type A personality (“I must accomplish everything right now!”), I didn’t want to miss out on life. I had to find a way to live fully, without anxiety taking over.
Fun fact about anxiety: you can’t just pop a pill to cure it. And there isn’t one way to simmer down the mental chatter.
Making friends with your anxiety calls for patience and perseverance. It takes time to try out different tools and techniques and see what sticks. So we have to gather a mixed bag of tricks.
But believe me, once you have new habits in place, you won’t look back. You’ll finally have a hold over your anxiety — and not the other way round. We may not be able to eradicate our worries, but we can reduce the boil to a simmer.
Know your triggers
What are your anxiety triggers? Have a think and write a list of all the things that get your mind whirring, your heart racing, your hands shaking. Maybe you can’t avoid them entirely (dealing with icky stuff is just a part of life!) but knowing what sets off your anxiety can help you turn down the heat.
For example, my triggers are:
- World news
- Networking events
- Starting new activities
- A full schedule
- Noisy streets
- Caffeine and sugar
- Aldi checkouts (Seriously. It’s like they want you to have a panic attack!)
Once you know your triggers, you can come up with an action plan for each one. To stop worrying about the state of the world, I avoided newspapers and gave away my TV. To feel calm at networking events, I visualise entering the room and having a relaxing chat with a stranger, or introducing myself to the room. I also let myself leave after 10 minutes if it gets too overwhelming (although I haven’t had to yet). Bustling city streets are unavoidable, so I keep my sunglasses and headphones handy to tune out triggers.
Set your morning mindset
A healthy mindset starts with healthy habits. And healthy habits start in the morning. It took some tweaking, but I finally found a short routine that gets my mind clear and calm, ready to tackle the day.
First, I spend 10 minutes scribbling in my ‘worry journal’. Simply dump all your worries and irritations onto the page. No judgement, no editing, just free-form journaling.
Then, I do 10 minutes of ‘expansive meditation’. This is when you sit with your eyes closed and visualise how you want to feel throughout the day. Not what you’ll do, but how you’ll feel. I picture myself on a beach in the sun, content and chill. I’m not worried about money, or a loved one dying, or my boyfriend breaking up with me. I’m settled and smiling, grateful for my life.
Next, I express that gratitude in my journal (a different one to my ‘chatter pages’ — I don’t like to mix junk with jewels!). I write 3 things I’m grateful for in that moment. When we focus on the things that bring us joy, we shift from a scarcity mentality to an abundance mentality. And that fizzles our fears like nothing else.
Break a sweat
We all know exercise is a mental health winner. But when we’re highly anxious, the idea of going to the gym or starting a new class can be overwhelming.
Here’s what helps me:
- Roll out of bed and into your trainers, before your mind wakes up. Don’t give it the chance to ponder whether you should workout. Just start!
- Invest in some basic gym equipment like a skipping rope, bench, weights, mat, and kettle bell. Then you can workout (and get that awesome endorphin rush) without leaving home.
- Exercise with a friend or your partner — someone who understands your anxiety. They can help you stick to a daily habit when you’re having an off day.
- Try Iyengar yoga. It’s hard to worry about anything else when you’re mindfully absorbed in a pose, and aware of your mind-body connection.
Talk to your anxiety
This tip sounds a bit kooky, but I’ve seen it help lots of anxious bunnies. To make friends with your anxiety, you have to talk to it.
And I do mean have an actual conversation with your anxious mind. Every day, I say:
“Hi, anxiety. Thanks for your concern. But it’s OK, I can take it from here.”
I don’t know how it works, but this simple action alleviates my anxiety and turns its roar into a whisper. It puts me in control of my anxiety — and not the other way around.
Feeling anxious? You might like to try these tricks, or dabble at whatever helps you feel calm and in control.
This post was originally published on Medium.