I am going to preface this by saying I am not a mental health counselor or psychological professional, just a person who has dealt with crippling anxiety her entire life and has only recently dealt with it. While these things are helpful for me and have proved to be amazing coping mechanisms, always reach out to a mental health professional during real crises.
I have read a LOT of self-help books in search for answers. Some of them have been helpful, others not. Here is a list of the things I have learned from these books and things I have troubleshooted to fit my life. You may have to do the same, but I hope that these are a good start.
Remember that all things must pass.
Anxiety has this way of making a small moment, or a day, seem like eternity. In our mind, our senses zoom in and it feels like we won’t ever recover. That’s anxiety’s way of gaining control, it grips us and we focus on the event so obsessively it truly does feel like it’s all there is. In these moments, I scoff at this notion because it seems meaningless in the moment, but then I force myself to recall a moment in time that I felt was the “worst thing” that ever happened to me. And sometimes those moments are big, and sometimes they’re small, but either way, I remember that I moved through those moments and each day became better than the next. Just like those moments, this moment too will be over. If there is an event coming up, I just remind myself that at this point tomorrow, or next week, this will be over. It helps my mind zoom out and gain some perspective.
Okay, well any self-help book alludes to this concept. Quieting the mind and learning to gain more control of our thoughts is one of the best (free) tools we have to relieve anxiety. I will admit, starting out is tough, and the results aren’t always immediate. But, if you can stick it out for one week, and then two, the rewards will become evident. Start with five minutes a day, and build week by week. There are plenty of apps, my favorite of which is the Insight Timer which can be used to simply set a timer or use some of the guided meditations they have to get started and become acquainted with the practice of meditation.
Maybe this is an obvious one too… But recently on an episode on Hidden Brain, a podcast on NPR, a researcher who studied the effects of green spaces on communities found that there were lower rates of gun violence and people we just generally, happier. They connected with those around them and felt an altogether deeper sense of community. For me, moving to somewhere with access to nature changed my life. This isn’t always an option and for city dwellers, there are still great options like parks to make use of. The researcher worked in the Boston area, and spoke of walking to her job with her eyes upward, looking at the trees and leaves and sky (obviously you should pay attention to where you’re walking) and trying to imagine herself “flying” through the sky. Stare at a leaf or a tree or a beautiful beam of sunlight and meditate on its beauty and the mastery of the Universe. After all, just like all animals, we thrive in a natural environment and being around nature- connecting with nature brings us back to our source.
Write three journal pages.
I do Morning Pages, an idea from The Artist’s Way by Julie Cameron. The concept is for creatives to get out their morning anxieties and is used as a warm-up for the rest of the day’s practices. This can be applied to anyone though. Sometimes the first things that we have in our minds are chaotic, stressful, and simply burdensome. I find starting my day of dispelling al of this onto the page in some ways, empties my brain of a lot of the silly anxieties. I have aired them, I gave them a place to be, and in many ways, I put them to rest.
This one you could probably see coming, but it’s just one of the most life-changing practices of my life and of the lives of many. Most yoga teachers have a story of how they entered yoga, and most started because they were seeking for enlightenment and for a place to release their anxiety and their muscle tension. I started yoga because I felt my constant anxiety kept me in my head. I became so detached from my physical body I would feel an estrangement and dissociation from myself when I looked in the mirror. I had always been a mover, a gymnast, dancer, and I found myself unable to move in my own body- accident prone and clumsy, a deep disconnect between my mind and body. Yoga helped me become one again with my body and focus on my breath, which like meditation, soothes our nervous system and calms the mind. There are so many classes on YouTube and you definitely don’t need to join a yoga studio to reap the benefits! Check out my post on how to start an at-home practice.
Sometimes it feels there is nothing going right in our lives and that there’s also nothing to be grateful for. When we sit for a moment and force ourselves to come up with gratitudes, we realize that while we may be facing troubles, our life still has so much richness in it. I find that while doing this one time has benefits, doing this daily truly brings our attention immediately to the positive and directs our thoughts to search for the beautiful things we have in our lives. I do this practice right after my Morning Pages.
Eat just one healthy thing.
I find setting my day in motion by doing positive things for myself helps me keep up momentum for other things in my day. If I eat junk food, I set myself up for a downward spiral of eating Not Right and then before I know it I am set in motion for bad habits for the day. Sometimes we need a self-care day to watch our favorite shows, but other times, this can just feed anxiety, especially if we are doing these things to avoid doing other things in our lives that are necessary. I can safely say I am almost an ex-procrastinator, but I still know that feeling of not getting something done I know I need to get done, and that feelings gets worse the longer I put something off.
Read a book.
Traveling somewhere else every time that we are anxious would be wonderful, but that’s not an option for everyone. My favorite escape and has been my go-to since a child is losing myself for a while in a good book. Fantasy, sci-fi, mystery- anything with a really gripping plot forces me out of my own thoughts.
Remember that nothing is personal and we can create each moment anew.
One of the best books that changed my life in one evening is The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Miguel Ruiz. These concepts of realizing that nothing is personal and we can create each moment anew, are derived from two of his four agreements. The book discusses that anything a person does is out of their own creation of reality and has nothing to do with you. Second, that reality they create is the reality we all have the power to create, and the each moment is just a construct and we can create the construct of the life in which we want to live at any moment in time. This book will change your life.
Affirmations are a list of mantras that you say to yourself that help you enact them in your daily life. Some examples are, “I am a focused, determined person.” “I am able to conquer anything I want to in my life.” You can make these as specific as you want. Incorporate goals or anything in your life that you want to manifest. If we want to achieve something in our lives, we have to believe it. Sometimes believing it when we are in an anxious rut is hard to do, so we must say these things over and over again and they start to feel more true as they manifest in our daily lives.