It’s worth a try, anyway.
As a person who struggles with chronic anxiety, one of the things I wish people understood is that I don’t necessarily have a choice about whether or not to feel anxious. It’s a brain thing; sometimes the anxiety just takes over, no matter what I do or don’t do.
If you have anxiety, you know exactly what I mean: there are days when things should be totally fine, but you’re suddenly knocked off your feet by panic and dread that seem to come out of nowhere.
Still, there are definitely things I do to try and control my anxiety – like avoiding caffeine, exercising regularly, and making sure I keep my Klonopin prescription filled, with a bottle stashed in my bag for those inevitable emergencies that leave me short of breath. There’s nothing more terrifying than not being able to breathe – and that’s how my anxiety manifests.
So if, like me, one of your New Year’s resolutions was to be less stressed out and more chilled out in 2017, there are a few things you can do to try and make sure it doesn’t fail – like most New Year’s resolutions do.
Because while we may not have complete control over our mental health – especially as we anticipate what will happen to women in the Age of Trump – it’s worth a try, anyway.
1. Run away from it all.
Getting plenty of exercise is super important when you’re dealing with mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. If running is hard on your joints, try swimming, spin class, yoga, or anything else that gets your heart rate up and makes you break a sweat. It can be hard to get motivated to exercise when you’re feeling down or panicky, but if you can manage to force yourself, it’s always worth it. You’ll feel good afterward – promise.
2. Sleep it off.
Everything seems worse when you’re sleep-deprived. The irony is, when you’re anxious, it can be hard to get a good night’s rest. Even worse, researchers have found that the very people who are most affected by lost sleep tend to be those who struggle with anxiety anyway. UC Berkeley psychology professor Matthew Walker, senior author of a 2013 paper on sleep and anxiety, says “those people who are anxious by nature are the same people who will suffer the greatest harm from sleep deprivation.” So whether it’s warm milk, melatonin, or just an earlier bedtime, try to find a way to get that shut-eye.
3. Lean on your friends.
When you have anxiety, it’s even more important to have a network of support around you. If you don’t feel like you have a lot of friends you can turn to, work on building up your circle of friends so you always have someone you can call on. Nurture relationships with people who will understand if you suddenly have to bail on plans, and who won’t take it personally when you’re flipping out.
4. Be grateful.
Keeping a gratitude journal is a concrete way to focus on the positive things in your life, which will naturally lessen the amount of brain-space you have for ruminating about the crap. And while sometimes you just have to embrace the crapstorm that is your life, making a daily practice of writing down the things you’re grateful for will keep you from getting pulled too far down into the muck.
When your mind is racing, you can calm it down with just ten minutes of meditation. Sitting still and emptying your mind might feel impossible, but Deepak Chopra, MD, says that anyone can learn to meditate, no matter how restless and anxious they are. In recommending that anxious people establish a regular meditation practice, he referenced studies at Stanford and Harvard universities that found meditating can actually change your brain chemistry, reducing the reactivity of your amygdala – the part of the brain in charge of your emotions.
6. Consult a professional.
If you haven’t ever talked to your doctor about your anxiety, it’s worth a visit to discuss whether therapy, and possibly medication, could help. Your primary care doctor should be able to refer you to a counselor or psychiatrist who will talk to you and work with you to figure out what sort of treatment might be appropriate. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help; it’s estimated that 40 million adults in the United States suffer from some sort of anxiety disorder. And globally, at least one in thirteen people struggle with anxiety, making it the most common of all mental disorders in the world.
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