What to Do When Anxiety Rules Your Life
Advice on anxiety is complicated. Each day, the Internet pumps out countless articles on how to deal with stress or anxiety, and while great, this advice is pointless if you don’t take action.
Over 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. And oftentimes, many can’t shake this negative, scared feeling that is anxiety. Anxiety sufferers may feel a constant heaviness on their mind, without fully knowing where that not-quite-right feeling comes from.
According to psychology student Alivia Hall, who wrote in the Huffington Post, “Anxiety feels like your mind is on fire, overthinking and over analyzing every little, irrelevant thing. Sometimes, it makes you feel restless and constantly distracted. It feels as if your thoughts are running wild in a million different directions, bumping into each other along the way.”
She says that “anxiety is a liar, although it feels real.” It’s hard to ignore our own fears, questions and worries about every detail in life. The what if factor is huge for anxiety sufferers: if we stop worrying about it, then [insert fear here] may happen. It’s hard to “just let go”, like many people feel so comfortable telling us.
Often times, people opt for natural methods of dealing with anxiety over medication reliance. (Medication should ALWAYS be taken with a psychiatrist’s recommendation and never without a prescription). While each person has their preferred methods of dealing with anxiety, the anxiety disorder itself will not be cured. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety can be reduced but the disorder will always be present in some form. The site says that anxiety is sensitive to stress, but stress doesn’t exactly cause them. In addition, the site says that treating anxiety through facing fears, learning facts about your symptoms, not avoiding, learning tolerance for some experiences, or changing how you think, feel, and behave with respect to other people will help reduce anxiety symptoms.
There are many misconceptions about anxiety, so check out the myths and facts about anxiety on ADAA’s website for more information.
Yet, this still doesn’t answer the question: What do we do when anxiety rules our life?
1. Let yourself feel the feelings
This seems counterintuitive to combatting anxiety, but it’s a vital step. Be aware of how you feel and trust that you won’t always feel this way. Admitting is the first step and helps put your anxiety in perspective, because oftentimes when we feel anxious it feels like the end of the world.
2. Face your fears with an open, positive mindset
Facing your fears is really one of the only ways to tackle anxiety head on. If you have social anxiety, for example, gradually build up from being in a social place to introducing yourself to someone at a social gathering. The more you expose yourself to your fear, the less limiting that fear will seem. Sometimes, our fears turn out to be less scary than our first encounter that induced a panic attack, or feeling of helplessness. Anxiety is all about anticipation, and by not avoiding that scary anticipation, we find that our fears may not be as bad as they seem. For example, you may be nervous that you have too much to do. Reduce this anxiety by taking a deep breath, telling yourself you can accomplish it all, and visualize success.
The Anxiety Trick is a term that Dr. David Carbonell, P.h.D., the Anxiety Coach, coined. For various anxiety disorders, such as panic disorder, social anxiety, OCD, PTSD, and depression, there are various ways our mind “tricks us” into believing our fears are logical. So can we beat the Anxiety Trick? There are a few ways. One thing that Dr. Carbonell suggests is going to the place we are afraid of and feel the anxiety, but staying there and let the anxiety leave first before we do. Australian physician Claire Weekes calls this floating.
3. Breathe and meditate
Feeling your anxiety and obeying to your anxiety are two different things. Breathing and meditation help by quieting the mind of racing thoughts. Meditation helps you detach yourself from your thoughts and identify with the silence in your mind. Meditation is hard to master and requires extreme patience and the ability to embrace the quietness of your mind. Breathing exercises every night before you go to bed and when you wake up – and whenever you feel stressed – can give you a minute to calm yourself down, think about your positive goals and allow you to continue with a less stressed life.
4. Find meaning
Finding a sense of purpose is vital no matter what we have gone through in our lives. Whether we want to live everyday for our children, our friends, or our loved ones, finding meaning in what you do is important. This could mean going to work everyday despite your performance anxiety yet knowing that what you’re doing is for a greater good. A study completed by Anthony Burrows found that people have lower anxiety and stress when they have a definitive purpose in life.