I have had Anxiety all of my life, from my early childhood until now – though I didn’t have a name for that feeling, or a formal diagnosis until several years ago. Anxiety is one hell of a thing, it’s an incredibly isolating, and often times indescribable feeling. It can make moments that should be exciting, nauseating. It can take times of joy and turn them into times of panic. It can cause seemingly irrelevant moments to turn into anxiety attacks without notice. It’s a terrible thing, but I talk about it. I talk about it to my mom and to my friends, so that they’re aware of how I’m feeling when I’m around them. I talk about it on here, because I know many people are struggling in silence. I talk about it because it shouldn’t be a taboo topic, it shouldn’t be something we feel pressured to hide. If it’s something you live with, and live through, it’s worth speaking about.
Anxiety is often synonymous with being nervous, and while the feelings can indeed be similar, the causes often aren’t. Being nervous or feeling anxious before an exam, an interview, a date, a new job, or a flight seems to make sense right? But what if you’re anxious without reason? What if there’s nothing that has happened to cause your anxiety? What if you’re sitting at home watching tv, and suddenly you feel anxious? What if you’re about to meet with friends who you can’t wait to see, but you feel so anxious that you’re trying to convince yourself to cancel? What if you’re excited about a new opportunity, but your anxiety slowly turns the excitement into dread? That’s the thing about anxiety – it can pop up at any time, and often times in moments when it doesn’t make “sense” to feel anxious. You can feel anxious out of the blue, when nothing has happened to provoke your anxiety. You can feel anxious about seeing people that you love, or doing things that would usually cause you joy. Despite popular belief, you can feel anxious for “no reason.” Why? Because anxiety doesn’t ring the doorbell before it comes over, it just barges through the front door like a mother-in-law with no sense of boundaries. It shows up unannounced.
So, what can you do?
ACKNOWLEDGE + ACCEPT
Acknowledge your anxiety, and more importantly acknowledge that it’s okay to feel that way, even if it is seemingly without reason. If you have a reason to feel anxious, that is valid. But guess what? If you don’t have a reason to feel anxious, that is valid too. Your feelings are valid regardless of when or why you feel them, and your anxiety is no different. It is there, so don’t invalidate how you feel – acknowledge it and acknowledge that it’s okay for it to be there. The only thing worse than having anxiety, is trying to suppress that anxiety, by attempting to convince yourself that it shouldn’t be there, or that you shouldn’t feel that way. Imagine trying to convince your flu or cold to go away because you “shouldn’t” have it. That wouldn’t work, and it also wouldn’t help you to feel any better. Acknowledge it, accept that it is present.
Anxiety can be like an elephant in the room. Back when I was too embarrassed to let people know about my anxiety, I would have to make excuses for my behaviour. If I couldn’t make it to a dinner with friends or to a birthday party because I was having bad anxiety, I would tell them I had the flu (which is an excuse that starts to look suspicious when you’re “getting the flu” weekly.) Or, if I was already with friends, I would have to make excuses for why I was acting a bit “off.” I would say that I was just tired or stressed or not feeling well, when really, I was anxious.
As silly or uncomfortable as it may sound, if I’m with people and I’m feeling anxious, I let that be known. Yep, I announce that I’m anxious. I don’t stand up in the middle of the room and announce it like I’ve just won the lottery, but I will let the people that I’m with know, by casually (or sometimes not so casually, I’m not big on being subtle) letting my friends or my momma know. Why? Because then they’re aware. They’re aware that if you’re acting quiet or reserved, or if you’re being short or non-talkative, it’s because you’re having anxiety. They’re aware that if you decide to leave suddenly, it’s because you’re having anxiety. They’re aware that if you cancel plans last minute, it’s not because you’re flaky, but because you’re having anxiety. When you’re open and honest about your anxiety, everybody wins. You feel relieved having finally been honest, you no longer need to make up excuses for your absence or for your behaviour, and you ultimately take the power away from the word. I own it, and because I own it, I reclaim my power. I have anxiety, it doesn’t have me.
Meditation and breathing exercises can be unbelievably helpful in relieving and calming anxiety. If you’ve never meditated before, it will likely feel quite unnatural in the beginning. And you’ll likely be thinking, “How am I supposed to quiet my mind when it’s racing?” The good news is that meditation is not about stopping your thoughts, it’s about acknowledging the thoughts that pop up, and redirecting your focus and attention to your breathing. Anxiety can make it feel hard to breathe, you may feel like there’s a boulder sitting on your chest, and in severe cases, you may even feel as though you’re slowly suffocating. This is why focusing on your breath is so important, and can provide some much needed relief during times of anxiety. Focusing on your breath will calm your body and mind, and doing so on a regular basis can help your anxiety to subside. You don’t need to be an expert, you don’t need to turn off your thoughts, you don’t need to meditate for an hour a day. Simply strive for 5 or 10 minutes a day.
Apps like Headspace and Insight Timer are incredible. They’re both free and they feature guided meditations (which are great for beginners). Insight Timerhas thousands of guided meditations, many that are specifically tailored to calming anxiety. Search “Anxiety”, listen to a few different ones, and when you find one that you like, try to meditate to it daily. I meditate every single evening before bed, and my anxiety (though still present) has improved immensely.
We commonly associate exercise with being beneficial for our physical health, but it’s also incredibly beneficial for our mental health. Exercise is often recommended as a treatment method for anxiety (and depression), because it has been proven to help lessen or relieve symptoms of anxiety. It doesn’t matter what type of exercise you do – cardio, weightlifting, yoga, Pilates, or anything else – in time, it can be a valuable tool in managing your anxiety. Personally I have found cardio (not only running, but walking), to be the most helpful for my anxiety, and some days the difference between me feeling anxious and feeling calm, is a single 40 minute walk/jog.
This would seem like the simplest option of all, yet it can be the most difficult to do. The hard truth is this: Sometimes it will feel as though nothing will relieve your anxiety. You can meditate, exercise, or try any other trick in the book, and some days nothing seems to help. I experience these moments and days myself, and I’ve learned that the kindest thing I can do for myself is to just be. I don’t fight it, I don’t question it, I don’t stress about it. I don’t get angry with myself for feeling anxious, I don’t feel sorry for myself, I don’t try to suppress it, or ignore it, or “cure” it. I let myself be. Just be. And in time, it passes. Not always on my terms, or in the timing I would prefer, but nonetheless, it passes. The next time you’re feeling anxious, what if you say to yourself, “I’m just going to let it be.” It’s easier said than it is done, but it takes a lot of the pressure and stress away from trying to stop your anxiety from happening, and allows you to simply be.
Anxiety can feel unbearably isolating, which is why it’s important that you know you’re not alone. There are so many of us living with, and struggling with anxiety, but unfortunately fear of judgement or feelings of shame often keeps us silent. This is why I share my story and my struggles with you – to remind you that you’re not alone. It’s okay to be anxious, it’s okay to be anxious for “no reason”, it’s okay to not be okay.
Sending love and support your way,