When you’re on an anxiety kick, your thoughts gain momentum and your speedometer goes from zero to 100 in a matter of seconds. You leave rational thought in the dust and barrel toward breathing-into-a-paper-bag status. For those of you that have never experienced this feeling, it’s comparable to that time you took too much adderall and thought you were having heart palpitations. (What? You didn’t do that junior year of college?)
Eventually, it subsides and real life comes crashing back into the picture.
And that’s when it hits me: I’m gonna be so late for work.
Anxiety wasn’t always a morning thing for me. When I first moved to LA, it was whenever I hit traffic. (Something about that feeling of going nowhere on the 405, and not being able to do anything about it, sent me reeling.) As a kid, it was around meal times. I’m sure one of these days it’ll move back to the before dinner slot, an old favorite.
We always talk about anxiety like it happens when you’re alone, in a corner, in a dark room. The fact is, you could be overcome by anxiety in public, and no one would ever know it. And because it’s internal, the moment it’s passed is no different from the moment before to anyone else.
You’ve just got to go with it. It’s a bizarre thing to be shaking one minute and walking into work the next. Making pleasantries about cereal choices and bad coffee feels different when you’re still trying to steady your heart rate.
All too often I get asked: “Have you tried meditating, yet?”
Absolutely, I have. (I respond with an unjustified amount of sass, because I’m Indian and my people were meditating centuries before hot yoga came to Hollywood, thank you very much.)
Meditation is a great solution, but the key is to let thoughts pass when they come to you. On the flip side, anxiety works by snatching concerning thoughts that pass and multiplying them. So, if you can pull off meditation, it’s incredibly helpful. If you can’t, you’re just sitting there, with good posture, while the need for peace and the need to freak-out wage war on your mind. It’s a great recipe for a splitting headache.
I’m not giving up on meditation any time soon, but I’m trying a new tactic. If you can’t tame your thoughts or push them away, then it’s better to channel your energy in to other things when you feel the anxiety coming on. You’re not giving your mind the opportunity to go spiraling into the deep end if you’re consumed in something else. A few things to try in lieu (or in addition) to meditation:
Get lost in chopping vegetables. Follow a recipe. Learn to poach eggs… it requires more concentration than you think.
2. Read or write.
Lose yourself tapping away on your keyboard, reading an interesting article, or even revisiting Gone Girl for the third time. In the morning, I routinely read the news before starting my work, and it helps steady my day.
3. Listen to comedy.
It really works to quell traffic anxiety. It’s also how I developed a huge crush on John Mulaney. You can find comedy radio on Pandora or Spotify.
4. Stop scrolling.
I often scroll through Facebook unconsciously, but don’t actually process, which leaves my mind to wander in a negative direction. Instead, click on one of the articles someone’s posted and read it. Play with filters and post a picture to Instagram. Do whatever will make you more engaged.
Stretch. Do yoga in your living room. Jump up and down. Generally when anxiety starts to set in, I stop moving. Break the trend and go do a handstand and it’ll remind you to not let the anxiety take over.
I’ve heard others say this works for them. I’m jealous. It’s never worked for me. Instead, I just have anxiety and an apartment that desperately needs to be vacuumed. So if it does work for you, hats off.
It also helps if you can realize that while some of the concerns we encounter are very serious, occasionally we all have some ridiculous freak-outs. Try to laugh at yourself. (On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone remark on how concerned I look standing in the middle of a Trader Joes. It’s never not hilarious.) I don’t care how cliché it sounds: Smiling really does relieve tension.