I have anxiety.
Yup, I said it…. on the internet… for everyone to see. Because the best thing we can do to combat the stigma around mental health is talk about it!
Each generation changes the world in some way. And as much as people may hate on millennials and say we talk about our feelings too much, I think that is our gift. We need to be talking about our feelings because we’ve recently discovered that… well, we’re all human! Yeah I know, what a brilliant revelation!
But in all seriousness, we have discovered that we all are dealing with the same emotions, the same worries, the same pitfalls, and yet, no one talks about them!
So, I have anxiety. And maybe you do too! If you do, you’re not alone and here are a few tips that I have discovered throughout my experiences with anxiety that I hope can help you.
1. Find some cool air.
One of the first symptoms of anxiety is feeling hot and feeling a lack of fresh oxygen around you. When this feeling comes about, don’t be afraid to open a window, turn on a fan or even step outside for a moment. It is absolutely amazing what fresh air and even just a little bit of nature can do for our bodies.
Now if you’re like me and something that makes you anxious sometimes is work, but you work in a high rise building where opening the windows is not an option, I’d like to introduce you to your new best friend…. A $10 Amazon desk fan! Yes, it seems small, but it is certainly one of my favorite Amazon purchases in the last year!
Unfortunately, a business professional persona does not include showing external anxiety symptoms and the need to hold back emotions is still present in corporate culture today, so having a little fan to turn on and give yourself a moment of extra air is a game-changer.
2. Soft lighting.
Although it is a big part of American architecture and found in almost every modern home, overhead lighting is actually very harmful to our bodies.
I’ve always had bad eyesight so I’m not sure if it’s something to do with my vision or not, but I always been a little extra sensitive to lighting and when feeling anxious, bright lights certainly don’t help.
Surround yourself with soft lighting. Turn off any overhead or fluorescent lights and turn on a lamp or a nightlight. Doing so will not diminish the amount of light in the room, lamps are wonderful and can provide a great amount of light, but it is a different style of bulb with a softer glow and your body and mind will react differently to the softness.
In my room, I have a nightlight that is also a wax warmer and provides the perfect glow and a nice smell in the room which I also find enjoyable and calming. I also have a set of string lights which I highly recommend! I call them my sparkle lights and with my sparkle lights alone, I have enough light to read a book, watch some Netflix, scroll through Instagram—whatever I may be doing, the soft lighting is calm and relaxing.
3. Cold water!
During one of the more anxious times in my life, someone told me “make sure you have plenty of cold water with you at all times! Then when the anxiety starts to rise, just take a sip and focus on the water.” I use this advice all the time. I invested in a hydro flask and it is certainly one of the best things I have ever done. It keeps water extra cold for an extra long time, so I never need to worry about constantly having ice water. It will keep for a while and I know it will still be cold and there to calm my nervous system when I need it.
Taking a sip of cold water, feeling it cold down your throat not only is a great mindfulness exercise, it also feels wholesome to be nourishing your body and taking care of yourself like that. In a moment of panic, taking a step back and doing something great for your body is a huge accomplish and will help combat negative thoughts.
4. Relax every part of your body slowly.
Close your eyes (if you can) and starting with the tips of your toes, think about each body part- your toes, your feet, your ankles, your shins/calfs, your knees –work your way up your body paying attention and relaxing each of your muscles, becoming more aware of the space inside your body, the matter you are made of. Your body is matter. Your body matters. You matter.
5. Turn on your favorite tv show/movie – one you’ve seen million times before.
I read somewhere recently that anxious people tend to watch the same movies and tv shows over and over because the ending is a never a surprise and I don’t think I’ve ever related to a statement more.
I have a few shows that I watched over and over because I find them comforting. I love the characters and there are classic scenes that I enjoy seeing every time. A few of my favorites include Friends, Grey’s Anatomy and New Girl.
Regardless of what you choose, having something on in the background, some form of conversation—whether it’s between characters on a tv show or between a couple of people doing a podcast—will give you a distraction and your mind will naturally begin to remove itself from the thoughts that were making you anxious.
6. Identify your anxiety.
One of the reasons anxiety is so overwhelming and isolating is due to the stigma around it, as if “you shouldn’t be having those feelings.” When I first started experiencing anxiety, I didn’t know what it was and I had never seen anyone else with the symptoms.
I vividly remember my first panic attack. I was on campus at my university walking home after class and I felt like all eyes were on me, like I was some freak for not being able to hold it together while going about a regular day. This feeling made everything ten times worse. I stepped off the path and placed my hand on a nearby tree hoping it would ground me and help me catch my breath. After finally regaining the ability to breathe, I instantly burst into tears, ashamed of my feelings and embarrassed in the middle of campus. Learn from my experience- don’t let this happen to you! Suppressing anxiety will only make it worse for yourself and further perpetuate the stigma and already present “need to hide” mentality.
In the moment, identifying the feelings you are having as anxiety will help you accept the emotions, calm your nervous system and the symptoms will release much faster. Simply by saying, in your head or out loud, “this is anxiety” or “I’m having an anxiety attack” will help. It is okay to be having those feelings. It is not something anyone needs to hide and we all play a part in removing the stigma for ourselves and for others.
One tool that I love to use is my anxiety buddy. A while back, my therapist told me that anxiety is like having two voices in your head. She advised me to begin identifying when each voice was talking. For example, if I was headed to a social event and suddenly began thinking “I want to go, but what if no one wants me there?” I would then break down the thought into two voices. My own voice was saying “I want to go,” whereas my anxiety was saying “what if no one wants me there?”
After using this tool for a little while, I slowly began to picture a character for my anxiety to further distinguish the two different voices. Mine happens to be a small purple troll-like friend, but you can create whatever character you would like and it will further help you decipher your thoughts into what is just your anxiety talking and what is the real you.
I hope these tips can help you accept your anxiety and combat your anxiety. Wherever you may be in your journey, know that you are stronger than you think you are and you are never alone!