As many of you know by now, I deal with anxiety. I've talked about it on here before and mentioned it in my last post as one of the reasons I took a hiatus from my blog. It is something I've had all of my life and will probably deal with for the rest of my life. I mention this because of the response I've gotten from readers after talking about my anxiety disorder. I've been quite surprised with how many have written saying that they too deal with anxiety and know what I'm going through. Some have even asked for me to talk more about it. For years I kept it a secret outside of my immediate family. I was embarrassed of what people would say or how they would react. It terrified me to talk about it on here, to admit to so many people that my life was not at all what I had made it seem like it was on my blog. I thought people would think I was crazy, or not want to hear about my personal issues, but just the opposite happened. People wrote me describing their own experiences with anxiety, offering reassuring words and suggestions of things that helped them work through it and might help me as well. For the first time I felt like I wasn't alone.
I know that I'm still not alone. So many people still struggle with anxiety--whether the debilitating panic attacks, or overcoming the stigma that comes with going to therapy, or the hopeless feeling of not knowing if you're ever going to get better. I can relate to all of these things. And because of that, I want to offer what I can from my own experience. Things that hopefully may help you with yours. And while I am by no means out of the woods of anxiety, I have learned ways to better cope with it, and in doing so can offer what helps me.
1. Alleviate yourself from all unnecessary stress. I know this seems obvious, but for a lot of people this is easier said than done. You may be getting stress from things that you don't even know is causing it. It can be constant night outs with friends, unhealthy romantic relationships or even a job that gives you more stomachaches than rewards. For me, this was the internet. The internet is an extremely tricky thing. I've been addicted to it since I was 12. I have been a slave to the web for literally half of my life. It gave me really high highs and extremely low lows. The reason I didn't realize this was causing me so much stress was because I always wanted to be on it. Why would I want something that stressed me out? Because I wanted that release of dopamine when I saw a message from that cute guy on Facebook, or when someone liked one of my pictures on Flickr or left me a compliment on a blog post. Because I liked it so much I started to crave it. Before I realized it I would waste away hours just sitting online waiting for something to happen. Waiting for someone to like my Facebook status or waiting for another funny tweet from someone. And when it wouldn't happen, it would completely alter my mood.
So I would go clicking around Facebook and blogs and look at what people were doing. Look at the pictures of vacations they'd gone on or places they went with their perfect boyfriend and I'd compare my life to their's and I never measured up. But then I realized, I'm not posting all the negative things about my life on here, why would they? Nobody's life is ever as good as they make it seem online. Nobody. I knew mine wasn't, and that in itself was stressful. I started to feel like a sitting duck for people to judge me. The want of people's approval gave me more anxiety than the approval was actually worth. It got to the point that every time I logged onto Facebook, my heart would start pounding and my breath would quicken. Those are tell-tale signs that I was entering a place that made me uneasy and uncomfortable. I finally knew that it was an addiction I needed to quit.
The moment I deactivated my account, a feeling of immense relief came over me. Nobody had to know what I was doing, I didn't need anyone to know what I was doing, and nobody could give me their commentary about it. All I had to worry about was the here and now of my own life, and actually be present for it. I deactivated my account in August of last year and haven't been back since. It was the best decision I could have made for my mental health. I do not miss it at all. Imagine a life where you never have to care what girls that guy you used to like is hanging out with, or what political e-brawl is happening on your overly-opinionated uncle's status thread, or being forced to see yet another baby picture from that girl you worked with at that one job the summer of your junior year in high school. And you don't have to care about any of this because you never see it. None of that stuff adds value to your life. You're not missing out on anything. Because all of that stuff is just for show anyway. Trust me.
Whatever the "internet"--that thing that is feeding your anxiety--is in your life, get rid of it. Weed it out. Learn to say no to it. And if you don't know what that thing might be-- pay attention to when and how your mood changes or your physical wellness is disrupted. Those headaches or stomachaches you've just been learning to live with--or when your chest starts to feel heavy or your hands shaky out of virtually nowhere-- stop and evaluate what is going on. What was it that just trigged your anxiety? What did you maybe just think about that caused a change in you? Once you know what that is it's much easier to learn how to go about handling the anxiety that comes with it.
2. Bach and a Black Box. I get really nervous in the car. I get nervous going places in general, so naturally the car ride is nothing but anticipation--What's going to happen when I get there? Will I be able to leave? How long will it take? Will a lot of people be there? How far is it from my house? It doesn't matter if I'm driving to work, to a hair appointment, or even to Disneyland. (Actually, Disneyland is one of the worst car rides because it is such a commitment. It is not just running to the store that I can leave and be back to my house in ten minutes. This is a 45 minute drive to a place that has a plethora of people where you pay a month's wages for parking and need a tram to get to and from your car and once you are in there you are IN THERE. For hours. All day even. And even when you want to leave did I mention the tram you are dependent on to get back to your car? But I digress.) So let's just say that I've had a lot of anxiety in cars. Cars are probably the number one place where I've to myself, "Nope" and turned around and drove back home. The reason I chicken out going places is because driving somehow does this thing to you where you just think about stuff endlessly. It's like you have nothing else to do but just think. Which for someone with anxiety is the worst possible thing to do because we don't just think, we over think and we freak ourselves out, panic and drive home. What's even worse is when you're listening to the radio and a song comes on that reminds you of something in a way only music can. How it always somehow attaches itself to very specific memories. Then you start thinking about that memory, and it's never a good memory. It's always a song that you associate with a guy who gone done you wrong or that period in high school that you want to forget about or an event that may have caused you anxiety before. Then all those emotions are being brought up again which can reek havoc on your mental state. (Sometimes songs have no memory attached to them but tend to cause me to daydream or think up situations in my head that also can cause an overstimulation of emotion.) So this is how I deal with over thinking and with music-induced emotions:
First, I put the classical music station on in my car. I do this because, one: I find classical music very soothing and relaxing and two: because I have no emotional memories attached to classical music. (The only memory I have attached to classical music is seventh grade algebra when my teacher experimented with whether or not playing classical music during tests helped increase our scores. I don't think it did, but it was nice to listen to.) So for me classical music is kind of just like white noise, it's nice for when you don't want to be in complete silence but it doesn't evoke any real emotionally-charged response in my brain. If it does evoke emotion in you, then don't listen to it. Find a type of music that soothes you. When I would get nervous driving to school years ago I would put on Nat King Cole and that would calm me down. Unfortunately my cd player in my car doesn't work so I settled on classical music. I would say to just drive in silence if you feel like it, but sometimes silence is a breeding ground for an overactive mind. Sometimes filling your brain with something is better than filling it with an overactive imagination.
Second, I think of a black box. I know this sounds crazy but stay with me. I've tried mediating, where I think of nothing at all, and always fail miserably. Thoughts still creep back in. The only way I've ever been about to not think of something is to actually think of something--a black box. I literally visualize a two-dimensional black box, kind of like a TV that's been turned off. Sometimes I visualize the box physically blocking out my thoughts, so that there is a big black square in the middle of my mind and parts of my thoughts are visible around the edges of the box but the box is blocking me from seeing it. I guess the box can really be any color you want, but to me black just seems like the most efficient at blocking things. I do this even when I'm not driving. I'll do this while I'm laying in bed or sitting in a waiting room or anywhere where I can't shut my mind off and it's causing me anxiety. But why it helps in the car is because it forces me to not think about all the what ifs that might happen while I'm out. It helps block out any over-thinking I might start doing and any doubt or urge I get to turn my car around. Once I block out my thoughts I'm much more likely to calm down and just continue to drive to my destination. If I don't anticipate every possible scenario that might happen, I tend to not get anxious. But word of caution: even if you black out your thoughts, do not black out the rules of the road. Be very mindful of other motorists, you are still driving a vehicle after all.
I have more than just two suggestions that I was planning on sharing but I didn't realize how much I had to say about them. To save time and space (and probably your sanity) I will post the other ones later. Maybe I'll do them in segments. If you have any of your own to add I would love to hear them and share them with everyone.