By Liz Hankin, M.A., MFT
In todays digital age we are all very concerned with what’s coming next and never seem to be happy in the moment. I swear every time a new iPhone or Apple Product comes out anxiety amongst the masses skyrockets. This need to be the best, by always knowing what is coming next in the technological world sometimes bleeds over to our personal world. I know for me, who still has an iPhone 5 s (I’m fine with it), I still find my anxiety spiking at various times due to my mind pushing me into the future before I am ready. Living in the future in your mind and making up possible outcomes to things that have yet to occur, can make anyone anxious. It has been said that, “anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength”, and as someone with a Anxiety Disorder I tend to agree. In recent years I have gotten my anxiety under control, now I no longer even need medication to get me through my days. Over the past 10 years here are some things that I have used to help me get to the point where I am today, at peace with my anxiety.
1. Anxiety is NO JOKE: If you feel as if you are having anxiety, take a moment to think about where it is coming from? Where in your body do you feel its effects? Is there some way to alleviate the situation before it turns into a panic attack? Ignoring your anxiety could lead to more severe attacks down the line. If we do not deal with our anxiety it can begin to find its way into other areas of our life where we never thought we would have anxious feelings (think, going for a drive or having sex). So assess where it is coming from.
2. Find someone to talk to: Whenever I find my anxiety levels rising I make sure to talk to a friend or family member who I trust to hold my feelings, and validate my experience. Even when I do feel better after talking to this person, I still make an appointment with a therapist. A therapist can serve as an impartial sounding board with whom to work through your anxiety.
3. Find a Physical Outlet: When my anxiety began to get really bad, I was living far away from my family for school and could not move home. I felt like everything that I did that was not geared towards helping them was selfish and a waste. My therapist talked with me about getting into some kind of workout. I found a boathouse nearby and began to row Crew, something I had not done since high school. I found that the intense workouts coupled with the quiet mornings spent out on the water helped me to clear my mind and began to help me think more lucidly about the matters that were causing my anxiety. Exercise, especially where we need to focus on the task a hand, allow for a sort of “mental vacation” this can also be said about mediation.
4. Find a Mental Outlet: The calm and tranquility I found out on the water changed my whole perspective on what was worth worrying about and what was not. I began to research meditation. Now, being someone who was diagnosed with ADHD at 8 years old, I do not pride myself on my amazing concentration skills, I have let that ship sail, but there are meditations that I have found that have worked for me. Progressive muscle relaxations and guided mediations that I found on Youtube have made a lot of difference in my life. Starting the day with a 5-minute mediation helps to slow my thoughts down, and keep me present to set my intentions for the day. The brain is a muscle so start short and build your way up to longer mediations, if this is a route that speaks to you.
5. Say NO to your every day legal stimulants and depressants: This is probably obvious to some, but coffee is a stimulant and thus will raise your heart rate and, in turn, your anxiety. LAY OFF until you can pinpoint where your anxiety is coming from and treat it. Do not poke the bear!! Drinking, though a depressant also has the ability to spike your anxiety. Many who suffer from social anxiety use alcohol and other drugs to calm themselves. This is not recommended and can also cause your anxiety to get worse when you are in the hangover or withdrawal phase of use. Again, until you find where your anxiety stems from, try to avoid things that are under your control that will affect you.
6. See a Psychiatrist: If you are still struggling with getting your anxiety under control please see a psychiatrist. A psychiatrist can prescribe you things like benzodiazepines or anti-depressants to alleviate your symptoms. Benzodiazepines (such as Xanax, Valium and Klonopin), are considered “short term” and “quick fixes” by most Psychiatrists. This is the type of pill I was prescribed by my doctor, which helped me when I felt a panic attack coming on and helped me calm down enough to fall asleep. These drugs are highly addictive and should only be used in moderation, as prescribed. Anti-depressants on the other hand are used for more long-term alleviation of symptoms. Both should be closely followed by the prescribing doctor and should also be coupled with psychotherapy to receive maximum benefits. After being on Benzodiazepine’s for years my therapy began to get to the root of my anxieties and now I no longer need any medication to deal with my anxious mind.
In the end, you need to find what works or you. Whether it is one or two of the things I listed or all of them combined. Most importantly though, please do not ignore what your body is saying to you. One day I hope that you can make peace with your anxiety the way that I have and not miss out on things just because they scare you. Trust me, I still get anxiety and anxious thoughts run rampant in my head sometimes but instead of letting them cripple me I use them as a reminder to stay present and enjoy the discomfort because in the end that is how we grow and change.