I was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder seven years ago. I had my first boyfriend, I was a freshman in college, and my mother was going through her first round of cancer. Plus, anxiety and mental illness runs in my family. Unsurprisingly, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States with a whopping 18% of the adult population being diagnosed.
Before I get into what I do when my anxiety is taking over, I just want to mention a few things that it is not.
Anxiety is not:
Something one can just “get over”
The ways people experience anxiety are different. What triggers my anxiety might not have any effect on someone else. The best way I’ve found of describing my physical manifestation of it is the feeling you get right before you think you’re going to hit/be hit by another car while driving. It’s that scared tug in your stomach when you just know something bad is about to happen. Your heart starts racing, your breath quickens. Except it isn’t just a split second ordeal. It’s a constant. When my anxiety is triggered, I get that feeling, my fingers go cold, and I instinctively (though subconsciously) find a corner or tight space to go into. What’s worse than something triggering your anxiety is when you start getting an attack for no discernible reason. You’re doing nothing in particular and then all of a sudden you get that feeling. You get the jitters and you feel like you simultaneously want to hide and run a mile at the same time.
When I start getting an anxiety attack, whether I can figure out the trigger or not, there are a few things I do that help. Don’t get me wrong, these are not long-term solutions, and they’re definitely not to be used in place of actual treatment, but they do help take the edge off. Also, these are just things I do for myself. What works for me might not work for others, and vice versa.
Watch an episode (or 2) of a silly show
I have two shows that I can put on that always make me feel better: Miranda and The IT Crowd. They’re both light-hearted, silly British comedies that offer little, if any drama. It’s always nice to escape in your favorite show, but when the world feels heavy, sometimes you need an escape from the drama, fictional or real.
Eat or drink comfort foods (in moderation)
I’m a pretty healthy eater most of the time. I don’t pig out on tons of fast food or junk food, and I’m pretty aware of my portion sizes. I know what my body can and can’t handle and I let treats be treats. That being said, one of the best ways I can be comforted when I’m weighed down with anxiety (assuming I have an appetite) is by eating food that is yummy and makes me happy. Sometimes that’s a chicken strip combo from Chicken Express. Sometimes that’s a burrito bowl from Chipotle. Sometimes that’s a damn good giant chicken Caesar salad. It’s not not always food that’s bad for me, but it’s food that tastes good that I don’t have to put any thought into. That goes for drinks, too. Maybe I need a hard cider (not a beer drinker, and Woodchuck hard ciders are my one true alcoholic love). Maybe I need a Dr Pepper. Maybe I need a freaking $5 Starbucks latte with an extra shot of espresso. Whatever it is, I let myself give in the one or two times, because the stress over something so small isn’t worth withholding the amount of happiness that tiny thing gives me.
I feel like this one is a no-brainer and a pretty common coping mechanism. Sometimes after a long, stressful, anxious day, the best solution is to sleep it off. And if you can’t sleep, curling up in bed under the covers is a good alternative. Basically just getting your body to relax works wonders. Sometimes that’s a warm bath. Unfortunately I don’t have a good enough bathtub for that, which is why I demand a garden tub in my future house. 😉
Talk to someone
My husband doesn’t quite understand my anxiety. That’s okay. I’m glad he doesn’t understand because it means he doesn’t experience it. But he does try to help. When I’m feeling anxious and I don’t know why, or nothing seems to be working, I tell him. Usually it’s something like, “Babe, my anxiety is really bad right now. I just need you to be extra sweet and lovey to me.” And he does. He’s silly and goofy and sweet and affectionate. He is more patient and doesn’t question my ridiculous requests. Now, that’s not to say that he isn’t usually affectionate and sweet, but he is more so when I’m anxious. He puts aside whatever he’s dealing with to deal with me. But what if you don’t have a spouse or even a significant other? Ask a family member! I’m fortunate enough to have a mother who gets it and is always willing to help. Talk to friends! Explain to them what you’re going through, and even if they don’t quite understand it, being clear with them what you need can do wonders. Sometimes it’s hard to verbalize what you’re dealing with and identify what will help, but this is where knowing yourself comes in handy.
Love on a pet
I am such a dog person it’s not even funny. Okay, maybe it is. Especially when I’m at a party and I see a dog and I go sit in a corner to play with the dog. Dogs (and cats) know when something’s wrong. They can sense it. Sometimes the best way to make yourself feel a little better is snuggle with your pet. My Pascal, when I come home everyday, is so excited to see me. He doesn’t care that I’m a mess or that I’ve seriously fucked something up in the day. He’s just so genuinely happy that I’ve come back for him at the end of the day. His love is unconditional and real and to me, that’s so humbling. He thinks I’m the greatest human being in the whole world (unless Shane is home, then he goes back and forth between the two of us). How amazing is that? How reassuring?
Anxiety manifests in different forms for different people, and as previously mentioned, is triggered by different things. When someone is experiencing anxiety, it isn’t to seek attention, it’s to let you know why they are acting a certain way or can’t act a certain way. Talking about it, and relating to someone who also has it is vital. If you haven’t been diagnosed, or you need help managing yours, please consider medication. I understand the resistance to it, but with the right doctor, dosage, and treatment, anxiety can be manageable. When it is managed, you’ll still have your off days, but it’s so much easier to go through life. Especially as an anxious introvert like me. If your anxiety turns into depression and you’re having thoughts of suicide, please seek immediate help. There is absolutely no reason you can’t come out of it. Your anxiety makes you doubt and question everything, but please try and remember that it’s not real. Your over-analyzing brain is not telling you the truth about the situation. If you’re considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Someone is available 24/7. You are worth it.
With genuine love,