Let me start off by saying that I’m not at all opposed to people taking meds to control anxiety symptoms. I know they help a lot of people and that’s awesome.
But they just didn’t work for me. I tried countless combinations over several years and the side effects proved to be too unbearable in the end. I felt like I was just exchanging one set of problems for another.
So the purpose of this article is not to argue against taking meds, but to share some thoughts and tools with those who, for whatever reason, are not taking meds and want to find other ways to manage anxiety.
After many years of fighting my anxiety and losing the battles over and over again, I have made a truce with it, trying to coexist. Here are five things I do to make living with anxiety tolerable.
It’s kind of funny that anxiety is called a mental problem when it actually feels very much like a physical problem to me.
I’m fairly convinced that I was born a highly sensitive person. More jittery than average. Then in childhood, I had some experiences that didn’t exactly enhance my sense of security.
And so here I still am, at age 40, a deer in headlights. Any hint of conflict, disagreement, or disapproval – spoken or unspoken – warrants a fight or flight response for my body. A tension in someone’s voice. A questioning look. My body interprets them as threats. And the body doesn’t consult the rational mind. The decision to react with fear is made in a split second before I have a chance to think.
So here’s what I do. I give my body what it’s asking for. My body wants fight or flight. For an hour a day, I give it flight.
Ages ago, our ancestors fled predators on the savanna. I run on the treadmill in my basement. But it works. Somehow running fools my body into thinking that it got away from the lions and tigers and calms it down.
If I run for a half hour a day five times a week, I notice a significant decrease in physical anxiety symptoms. If I run for an hour a day six days a week, I reach cool as a cucumber bliss. 🙂
2. FACE TRIGGERS ONLY WHEN IT’S WORTH IT
Sometimes I wish I had a clear-cut phobia, like, say, bananas. I could just avoid bananas and that’d be that.
It gets a lot more complicated when anything and everyone is a potential anxiety trigger. Constantly fighting anxiety and “doing things anyway” is exhausting. I can ignore my anxiety and make myself do anything. But even though I can talk myself into doing anything, I can’t talk the anxiety away. The physical stress and anxiety symptoms are still going to happen and they are going to tax my body.
I admit that I’ve fantasized about becoming a full-time hermit. 😉 But in the end, I’ve settled on a compromise. I don’t go out or do as much as an average person. And I’m sure some mainstream psychologists would label what I do as some kind of “avoidance behavior.”
But I call it creating a world that I can tolerate to live in. It no longer matters to me what psychiatrists, psychologists, or well-meaning neighbors think a person SHOULD be able to do or what a worthwhile life is. All that matters to me is that I’m able to do what I WANT to do and reach whatever goals are worthwhile to ME.
So I don’t let anxiety stop me from hanging out with people I love. Or doing things that are meaningful to me. Or going places I’m interested in. Or becoming a writer when clicking “publish” scares the shit out of me. 🙂
But I have dropped all the extra. I have dropped other people’s shoulds, other people’s conventions, and other people’s expectations. I say no to people a lot. I decline. I refuse. I stay home when I need to.
3. LIMIT EXPOSURE TO NEWS
Speaking of avoidance… 😉
I used to think that it was my responsibility as a citizen of a democracy to stay informed by following the news. But lately, I’ve come to the conclusion that paying attention to news hurts me a lot more than it helps anyone. Instead of kindness, tolerance, generosity, and peace, the news are filled with hate, war, exclusion, and greed. Going on CNN literally makes me feel like I need to vomit.
So I’ve gone to living in what I call a “news bubble.” I stay off Facebook, I stay off all the news websites. I turned off all the alerts on my phone. If I need information on a specific issue, I google it. I do my citizen duty by tracking legislation and emailing my representatives with my opinion.
Out of sight, out of mind.
4. REPLACE WORRY WITH EXCITEMENT
If you tell my anxiety to just stop thinking about it, just stop worrying about it, or just think positive, it will ignore you with the same intensity as my four-year-olds when I tell them it’s dinner time in the middle of a Paw Patrol episode. But if you distract my anxiety with something fun and interesting, it will forget about itself.
I would be lying if I said that I never worry or ruminate or lay awake at night obsessing. But I do it A LOT less when I have something positive to think about. Your interests may not match mine, but here are some examples of things that keep my mind occupied so well that I forget to worry:
- Read books (like these pageturners or these memoirs)
- Figure out the personality type of everyone I know
- Redecorate a room (or a whole house!)
- Get organized
- Plan and plant a garden
- Learn a craft
- Try new recipes
- Plan a trip
For me, making plans for things to look forward to is a way to replace negative anxiety with something awesomely positive.
Related: 10 Questions To Find Your Passion
5. FIND TIME AND WAYS TO REST AND RELAX
My brain and body, imperfect as they may be, are the only brain and body I have. If I don’t take care of them, nobody else will. In the past, I have gone from one anxiety-provoking situation to another, without breaks, and ended up in a state of permanent stress. And when you are in a state like that, it’s extremely difficult to get out of it.
So these days I try to listen to my body and make sure it has enough time to rest and relax in between the stresses of life. As often as possible, I try to break the stream of anxiety and give my body a rest. I let myself check out. I let myself shut out the world with music. I let myself veg on the couch and watch reality TV.
Some people meditate or do breathing exercises. I watch the Bachelor. 😉 But hey, whatever works!
Do you have anxiety? Do you have any tips or advice to add? I would love to hear from you in the comments below. 🙂
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