Changing my Relationship with Anxiety
We’ve all met anxiety before, for some of us only briefly, and for others maybe even on a daily basis. With social media, the constant onslaught of news, and the ever-increasing speed of day-to-day life, it’s only becoming more prevalent. All of a sudden it’s become the new normal for stress to completely dictate the way we eat, how we sleep, the interactions we have with people, and how we talk to ourselves.
For me, anxiety started becoming a part of my daily life around the age of 11, and as of yet, it hasn’t left since. But, what has changed over the years is how I’ve learnt to interact with it. I have learnt to take the power out of the hands of anxiety and put it back in my own, and through this have even learnt about myself in a way that I might not have done without that experience.
So here are my tips for how to change your relationship with anxiety, and hopefully, make it more manageable:
- Express yourself!
Avoidance is a major factor in maintaining anxiety, because you never get to address what was causing it in the first place. So when those feelings arise, instead of telling yourself you should just ‘get over it’ or ‘let it go’, try doing something that helps you process and work through it instead. This could be anything from writing it down, to talking to a friend, to going for a run and sweating it out.
- Remember that you and your experience are entirely valid.
Anxiety can be caused by anything and everything. Sometimes it can be a huge, momentous event that becomes a weight, permanently residing on your shoulders. Other times, it can just be that really long shopping list you know you have to get through. Both can cause anxiety, and both are just as valid as the other. Telling yourself that your reason for feeling anxious isn’t good enough doesn’t get rid of the anxiety, it just adds guilt to the mix. So whatever you’re feeling and for whatever reason, no matter how big or small, remind yourself that it’s ok to have that reaction and experience.
- Celebrate the small stuff.
The feeling of being overwhelmed can be an entirely consuming and debilitating one. Sometimes everything just feels too big and out of reach. So when that happens, break things down into small tasks. Maybe on a really bad day, you might even just start with something like making your bed or getting yourself breakfast. Focus on one task at a time, and each time you’ve completed one, take a moment to congratulate yourself! Allow yourself to feel good for completing that task. It is a serious accomplishment to be able to focus on doing what you can, with what you have, and one we often forget about when getting caught up in never-ending to-do lists and thought cycles of ‘not enough.’
We’ve all experienced being told to ‘take a deep breath and count to ten’, which rarely does anything but make you want to scream, but does have some truth to it. With mental health it’s easy to approach everything from a ‘neck up’ perspective, but the body plays a huge roll too. So when thinking just feels too much, starting with bodily experience and physical sensation can be a great way to reverse-engineer; instead of trying to use the mind to make the body feel better, try using the body to make the mind feel better. A good place to start is with breathing. Learn how to take a proper, diaphragmatic breath- let the belly expand on a long, deep inhale, and relax on the even longer exhale. Sometimes taking that moment to calm down the body can be just enough to give you a little more clarity of mind too.
- Confront your anxiety head on.
With avoidance and anxiety running around hand in hand, we often rarely get the chance to see if we can learn to shift our reaction. So, try putting yourself in situations that normally bring anxiety, with the intent of learning how to deal with your response, and eventually respond differently all together. Start in small doses. If you hate giving speeches, maybe try offering up a suggestion at a group meeting. If meeting new people makes you nervous, start with smiling at strangers as you walk down the street. This can become an opportunity to show yourself that you’re capable of persevering and remind yourself that you are the one with the upper hand, not your anxiety.
Above all else, it’s important to remember that sometimes it won’t matter how proactive you are or how many things you put in place to help yourself. There will still be times where you’ll have a frustrating, can’t-get-anything-done, everything-makes-me-want-to-scream-and-hide kinda day. And that’s ok. It doesn’t make you a bad person, nor does it make all the work you do useless, because luckily, it’s not an all-or-nothing game. So stay curious and experiment with what is helpful for you, with the awareness that what works for one person might not work for the next. And throughout it all, keep in mind that whatever it is you do to help yourself, you are 100% worth the time and energy that it takes.
I initially decided to try yoga as a way to manage stress and anxiety. My first class was pretty different from what I had anticipated, but above all else I was left intrigued, so I kept going back. Consistently practicing led me to feel stronger in my body and more secure within myself, and though it wasn’t a cure-all for stress and anxiety, it helped me learn how to navigate them in a more manageable way. I am trained in Forrest Yoga, which drew me in as a challenging, therapeutic and ever-evolving practice. It is through this that I hope and aim to create a space in which people can be curious and explore what it means to live in their mind and body.