Anxiety, no matter what form it chooses to show itself, tends to cause similar reactions within our minds and bodies: Our hearts pound, our breathing intensifies, our minds feel out of control which makes us feel powerless against ourselves. Because of the seemingly ceaseless ‘what-ifs’ and startlingly detailed nightmares we play on repeat, we become our own worst enemy when it comes to kicking anxiety out of the driver’s seat of our brains. The fight to win back our brains back seems hopeless.
At least, that’s what anxiety wants us to believe.
“Anxiety is a liar and therefore cannot coexist with truth.”
At its core, anxiety is a liar and therefore cannot coexist with truth. Though truth may feel absent in our moments of intense worry and fear, there are practical ways for us to let it in and recover. The following tips are what I find to be helpful on days or in seasons of anxiety:
1. Self Distance
“It’s not me, it’s just the brain.”
You are not your anxiety, nor are you your brain. It’s a weird idea to fully comprehend since the brain’s goal is to keep us alive, but, we are not our brains in the same way we are not our lungs or large intestines. When an outpouring of negative thoughts begins, label them as being from the brain, not from you.
The inability to breathe is often one of the first side-effects of anxiety. If this is true for you, find a few different breathing techniques to turn to when you need them. A personal favorite of mine is to put one hand on my chest and one hand on my abdomen. With my eyes closed, I visualize myself breathing deeply into my abdomen, careful to not breathe in a way that would make my chest rise and fall. In short, the hand on the abdomen should move with each breath, and the hand on the chest should stay still.
Counting can be a helpful tool for anxiety-managers, especially for those of us who aren’t exactly math wizards. Some begin at 100 and count backward, others begin at a randomly high number and subtract by 7 over and over again. The intent here is to be so focused on subtracting or counting correctly that the anxiety lessens over time. My go-to strategy has always been to count from 1 to 20 while being sure to inhale deeply (see #3), then saying the number on the exhale.
A great way to healthily manage anxiety is by writing out exactly what it’s making you believe, fear, or obsess over followed by speaking (writing) truth directly to each issue. This can help you to ground yourself in your current reality (ex: I am safe/I am inside/My kids are upstairs sleeping/I am valued) instead of getting lost in your head. Next, spend time writing about what, or for whom, you’re thankful. If it feels overwhelming, start small (ex: I’m thankful for the sun). Soon, you may find your pages overflowing with gratitude rather than worry.
5. Tell Someone
Anxiety has less of a chance to survive or sustain its power when it’s spoken about out loud. Pick a trusted, empathetic friend or two to whom you can go to or call at any time when anxiety is attempting to take over and tell them what’s going through your mind – your thoughts, beliefs, fears, images. Like journaling, this action can help relieve your mind of the weight it’s been carrying around, with the added bonus of loved ones listening and sharing the load.
6. Distract Yourself
I kid you not – every time I alert my husband that my anxiety is increasing, he shows me cat videos on YouTube. It sounds silly, but it’s an easy way to pull my mental focus away from the anxiety and onto something else, like tiny kitties playing in a bathtub. Pick something you know will have the same effect to distract yourself out of your mind, back into the real world.
7. Change Your Diet
If you’re in a season of anxiety, altering the way you eat and drink can go a long way toward supporting your mental health. Consider eliminating caffeinated and alcoholic beverages as well as fast food, whole wheat bread (gluten), and trans fats. *Research food items or talk with your doctor about what to keep and what to eliminate as articles tend to have conflicting opinions*
8. Stay in Community
Stay with your people. Anxiety will try to use fear to keep you isolated, but hiding out will only make it worse. Open up to the individuals in your life with whom who feel safest so they can support you when you need it most.
Remind yourself often of these truths:
You are worthy.
You are valued.
You are loved.
You will recover.
And — you are a rock star.