As someone who suffers deeply from anxiety and super intense panic attacks–suffers as you would from an affliction, not an attitude–it affects my life in a variety of very damaging ways, and often leaves me feeling as if I’m totally dysfunctional, which in turn causes more anxiety. A lot of the coping mechanisms in my employ at the moment are pretty unhealthy; the obvious one being smoking cigarettes to calm down.
What helps a lot is something that I’ve been practicing since I was young and realized how cathartic writing or self-talk could be. Holding a conversation with my anxiety is one of the healthy ways I manage it. I’ll make a list of all of the possible causes of my anxiety, things I actively think about and things that sit in the back of my head, and break them up into smaller problems. That way I can address each of them with my full attention and problem solve. I don’t try to take my anxiety in one lump anymore because it fries my brain.
If that doesn’t work, my back-up plan is to stop the cycle of my anxiety with something external. If I’m taking a prescribed anti-anxiety medication, I take the dose. If I don’t have that but I think I’m in the realm of a stress nap, I sleep. If I can think of giving myself something I enjoy, like an extra good cup of coffee, and I can afford it, I buy and consume it.
Talking is another defense mechanism. Catharsis can be key to processing my anxiety in a healthy way. I’m lucky. I have a bipolar mom who’s been talking me down since I was a small child. I’ve built up a support system of close friends, a lot of them bipolar themselves, and we relate to each other.
You cried behind a dumpster at work?
Hey, me too. What a trip, man.
Trying to break the cycle of anxiety is difficult, but worth the effort. When my anxiety is based off of seemingly nothing, that’s what we refer to in my family as the “impending doom” feeling. Try to recognize if your anxiety is situational or merely impending doom—what I also like to refer to as “the nameless void.”
Can you tell I’m fond of my labels?
Sometimes taking all of that nervous energy and naming the nameless as something without a name helps me understand that it’s not me, or my personality, but merely a loose wire cooking my brain.
Self talk, the way we shape our personal narratives, can have a huge impact on how we feel about ourselves and the world. Are you feeding into your anxiety? I used to anticipate my anxiety before it hit me—if I was anxious at a certain time the day before, I would assume that I would be anxious the next day. That’s just not always the case, and waiting for the feeling of impending doom to swallow you up can lead to it happening. I try not to write self-fulfilling prophecies in regard to my mood swings and anxiety, because it opens me up to being unstable and upset.
If I feel anxious on the bus to work, I try to talk myself out of it: I feel a little anxious, but not that anxious. This is manageable and will go away. I do this with other feelings as well. If I admit to myself how tired I am, I find it makes me more tired. If I give more energy and focus to the part of me that is awake, I have more energy to deal with the day.
In short, don’t give up. It’s totally doable with practice to manage your anxiety in healthy ways. If I can manage it half the time, so can you.