Anxiety is a debilitating, frightening, and physical emotion. The fear that coincides with anxiety, whether real or imagined, can caution and sometimes prevent us from engaging in relationships, attending events, and embarking on new opportunities. Anxiety can also present itself physically: a racing heartbeat, clammy hands, an increase in body temperature, tightness in the body, upset in the stomach, etc., etc. A certain degree of anxiety is normal. For instance, test anxiety, nervousness before giving a speech, going on a blind date – these are circumstances in which anxiety rears its ugly head (and rightfully so!). Anxiety becomes abnormal when it is persistent, unmanageable, and causes havoc in our daily life. Although it is rarely talked about, anxiety disorders affect nearly 40 million adults in a given year.
I have always been an anxious person, even throughout my childhood. I remember getting really worked up over minuscule things – hyperventilating, feeling panicked, and choosing to isolate myself to avoid these feelings. I didn’t realize I had a problem with anxiety, an actually anxiety disorder, until college. New experiences often bring about anxiety, but unlike my classmates who were able to adjust after first day jitters, I found every day to be equally frightening.
I remember sitting in a psychology class during my sophomore year and feeling as though I was having a heart attack. My heart was racing, my chest was tightening, and I was convinced that this unpleasant feeling would last forever. Of course, I wasn’t really in cardiac arrest – I was having my first panic attack. It definitely felt like a lifetime between the height of my anxiety and the resolution. After this experience, I sought out professional help. Medication can be a very helpful tool for those coping with an anxiety disorder. It has definitely helped me control my panic attacks and bring my anxiety down to a level in which I can manage. If you are struggling with anxiety, here are some tools that have worked for me and that will hopefully work for you.
1. Learn to identify the early signs of anxiety.
Practice recognizing when anxiety is building up, not when it has reached its full potential. Pay attention to your body and notice any physical sensations that arise. These external symptoms are clues as to what’s going on inside; notice them, take an inventory, and identify that you are beginning to feel anxious and where you feel it most. After a few times of doing this, you will notice a pattern of symptoms – these are your keys to identifying anxiety early on, before panic sets in.
2. Dig deeper.
What’s going on inside? What’s bothering you? What may be causing the anxiety? There isn’t always a reason or a circumstance causing your anxiety so don’t stress if you are unable to answer these questions. Sometime anxiety “just is” – learn to accept this. Tell yourself “I am feeling anxious.” Simply stating that you are anxious takes a bit of its power away.
3. Find a safe place.
Sit, close your eyes, and breathe. Deep breaths in and out. Imagine breathing in good feelings, and exhaling your anxiety, stress, and worries. If you are in a situation that is triggering your anxiety, you have full permission to remove yourself and find a place in which you feel calm and collected.
4. Tell yourself you’re okay.
It might sound silly, but say it over and over again. Get use to mantras like: “I am okay.” “I can do this.” “I can do anything for “x” amount of minutes.” “This too shall pass.” Whatever you find that works for you, say it…repeat it… breathe it in and into life.
5. Seek professional help.
Find a psychiatrist or therapist in your area with whom you feel comfortable discussing your anxiety with. Medication can be a useful tool, but don’t rely on medication alone. Use some of the previous tools and discover the strategies that work best for you.
And most importantly, remember that you are not alone. We have all experienced anxiety at some point; and although unpleasant, it is not uncommon, nor will it last forever.