After a while, you get good at riding the waves.
If you live with chronic anxiety, you’re not alone. An estimated 40 million adults suffer from some type of anxiety, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) – and that’s just in the United States. Anxiety disorders, including general anxiety, social anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are a global epidemic.
Anxiety can manifest a number of different ways; it doesn’t always look how you might expect it to look. In my case, I didn’t know what was happening when I started having trouble breathing and my hands went numb. My doctor explained that my anxiety was bypassing my consciousness and going right into my body, making it feel more like a physical illness than a mental one.
Since then, I’ve accepted that anxiety is just part of my life. I’ve learned how to cope with it, for the most part, but once in a while it can still sneak up on me and knock me flat. It’s times like those when I have to go back to the drawing board and try to find a way to combat my sweaty palms and shortness of breath.
However your anxiety shows itself, these nine tricks are worth trying next time it rears its ugly head…
1. Keep breathing
If you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know this is easier said than done. But that’s the point: you’ve got to really focus on it and find a way to breathe. That might mean finding a quiet place where you can close your eyes and shut out everything except the sound of your breath, and the feel of your lungs slowly filling and emptying. If you can’t do anything else, that’s okay. Breathing is enough on a high anxiety day. And eventually, it will help focus you again.
2. Let things go
Unsurprisingly, panic and anxiety tend to hit when you’ve got a lot on your plate. When they try and thwart your plans, let them. Don’t try to power through and be superwoman. Take a look at your to-do list and scratch off anything that doesn’t absolutely have to happen. That client meeting can probably be pushed to another day, and your daughter will survive if you can’t tag along on her school field trip after all. Forget about grocery shopping and order dinner in again – it’s really okay.
3. Get some sun
People aren’t that different from plants: we both need sunlight to survive. So next time you’re in the grip of a bad bout of anxiety , get yourself outside and soak up some sun. Fresh air will do you good, too. Your anxiety will probably try to tell you that you’re too busy to take a walk; ignore it. If the weather doesn’t cooperate and there’s no sunlight to be found, seek out a light box that’s specially made for treating Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), or lie in a tanning bed (with plenty of sunscreen on).
4. Drink up
No, not like that. Drinking plenty of water is essential when you’re having a panic attack. Here’s why: when you get dehydrated, the histamine levels in your body rise. Higher histamine levels trigger an increase in adrenaline, which can then lead to a panic attack. And not only that, but dehydration also causes a higher concentration of lactic acid in the bloodstream and brain, which stimulates the fear response and can make you hyperventilate. Feeling thirsty yet?
5. Run away
For lots of people, exercise is nature’s anti-anxiety medication. Study after study has shown that people who get regular physical exercise experience fewer symptoms of anxiety and depression. So if you’re able to go for a run, do it – or at least do some other activity that gets your heart rate up and makes you break a healthy sweat. You may have to force yourself out the door and to the gym or the park, but once those endorphins are flowing, you’ll be glad you did.
6. Take a step back
“You can let go of a worry by disconnecting yourself from it… One way is to imagine that your anxious thoughts are a show. Maybe they’re a little guy in a funny hat who tap dances and sings out your worry while you sit in the audience, eating popcorn, a calm observer.”
7. Lean on your loved ones
Often, those of us with chronic anxiety don’t want to burden our friends and families with what’s happening to us, again. If we’re sick of it, they must be too, we think. But if they’re true friends, they’ll welcome the chance to lend a listening ear, or just keep you company and reassure you with their presence. After all, wouldn’t you do the same for them? It takes grace and guts, but allowing your friends to support you will benefit both of you and make your relationship stronger.
8. Don’t hesitate to medicate
There’s nothing wrong with relying on good old Western medicine to see you through a bad panic attack. Pharmaceuticals should never be a last resort, or a source of shame; needing medication doesn’t make you a failure. So if you struggle with persistent, debilitating anxiety that’s getting in the way of your ability to live your life despite lifestyle interventions, get yourself to a doctor for an honest discussion of your symptoms and your options. Medication may be just one of many tools in your toolbox, including talk therapy, exercise, meditation, and whatever else works.
9. Ride it out
Sometimes, you’ve just got to surrender. Remember that your anxiety has come and gone before, and it will this time, too. Hunker down and ride the waves; do whatever you have to do to get through. Sometimes the best you can do isn’t that great. And that’s okay. With chronic anxiety, you’ll always get another chance to get good at surfing.
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