I don’t think it would shock anyone to know that statistically, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States. There is an estimated 40 million of us all floating around in the same boat right now, hoping for some miraculous fix for our worries. Sometimes it’s hard to even figure out what in the world is making us so anxious all the time. I know how frustrating it is to be stuck in a loop of overthinking or worrying that your heart is about to beat out of your chest at any second. It’s not easy.
There was a time for me where everything and everyone made me anxious. I couldn’t go anywhere with a crowd. I avoided specific triggers that felt more like phobias to me. I was a walking zombie who would end up at a location and not even know how I got there in the first place. My brain was on autopilot most of the time and I had no sense of control when it came to my own life. I tried different pills and medications to make me feel better and nothing really seemed to work. It took a few years of this merry-go-round before I really figured out what I needed to do. There are three things that helped me stop letting anxiety rule my life, and maybe they can help you too.
1. Identify Your Triggers
What triggers your anxiety may be completely different from what triggers an attack for someone else. It’s extremely important to start paying attention to what makes your anxiety spike at different times. Did you have too much caffeine? Maybe you skipped a meal and your blood sugar levels aren’t up to par. Is the stress from work or family life weighing on you? For people who suffer from PTSD, maybe something caught your attention that reminded you of your trauma. Sometimes the worst part of an anxiety attack is feeling like you don’t even know why it’s happening. The sooner you know what is triggering you, the sooner you can try to work through those different fears or stressors. It’s hard to fight a battle when you have no idea what you’re up against, so give yourself the upper hand by identifying them first.
2. Make The Hard But Necessary Changes In Your Life
In general, this is not a crowd pleasing piece of advice. For a long time I believed that all I needed was the right combination of medicine to make my anxiety go away. That wasn’t the case for me at all, though. What I really needed to do was make some major changes in the way I was living my life, regardless of how uncomfortable it made me. I left my dead end job that was giving me financial stress and applied for a better job. I left a relationship that was emotionally and physically unhealthy. I left an entire lifestyle and belief system that gave me the most anxiety out of all my triggers. I created a new home for myself that I actually felt like going home to at the end of a long day. I’m not going to lie and say that it was easy, because it wasn’t. What I can say is that once I stopped living my life for others and removed myself from what was holding me down, a massive weight was lifted right off my shoulders. My anxiety was not “cured,” but lessening the triggers around me gave me a sense of power and control in my life.
No one expects you to make these changes overnight. You may have to work through these changes in small steps leading into bigger steps. However, after you make the first move, the rest of the steps will start to feel easier. No matter how uncomfortable it may be, keep the end goal in mind to keep you motivated towards a life that lets you thrive.
3. Build A Support System
Remember how I said there are about 40 million of us just in the US alone fighting the same monster? That’s a pretty big pool to draw a support group from. Don’t be afraid to let your friends and family in and tell them your struggles. There may be more of them who understand you than you ever would have expected. There are support groups online full of people who feel like you do — a perfect option for someone who isn’t ready to open up to someone face to face. There are physical support groups in cities everywhere where people meet up and explore their triggers together. There are so many of us out here looking for the same support that you are. All you have to do is reach out a little bit and let us reach back. Sometimes the biggest comfort in the world is just to know that you are not alone.
After making all of these changes and building my support system, my life is still not 100% anxiety-free. Just last year I had a panic attack in a crowd that made me feel like I had taken several steps back in my anxiety management. We will all have setbacks and bad days. The goal is to keep pushing through those hard days and working towards a life that has more secure days rather than anxious ones. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, seek therapy, or use medication if those options work best for you. There is not one cure-all that applies to everyone facing anxiety. Always remember that the people who understand your struggles are out there, and we are just a phone call, text, or click away.