Do you deal with chronic anxiety? I sure do. Despite having a generally sunny attitude (I adore joking around, smiling at small pleasures and observations, appreciating beauty), I get anxious thoughts throughout the day, almost every day. Even when I’m smiling and being perfectly pleasant, my mind can simultaneously entertain dark thoughts about myself. These can range from:
-Oh no, I’m getting older. Things are starting to change pretty quickly!
-Let’s just compare myself to other people and feel bad about me for a tiny bit.
-I’m not good/moral/talented/hardworking enough.
-Oh no, I’m not even confident enough! (^)
-I feel so lonely! Why the neediness?
And the list goes on. These don’t typically build up to a full-blown anxiety attack, but can nevertheless have many of the same effects, just in smaller doses. You feel exhausted, like you’re suddenly all out of gas. You panic, not so much that it’s visible on the outside, but enough to rattle you on the inside. Over time, I’ve built up strategies to cope with chronic anxiety, and though it’s always a work in progress, these tips have made a big difference:
1. Recognize that anxiety is a feeling.
Some attitudes (like confidence or optimism) are–or can be–conscious choices. But anxiety is not an attitude–no one consciously chooses to feel this way. Anxiety is a feeling that comes uninvited, like anger. But that also means that you have a certain amount of control over how you react to this feeling. Accept that this is simply the way you feel now; you don’t need to apologize for your feelings, but be aware that this will pass, and that you can resume your chosen attitude.
2. Share your anxiety with someone.
It might feel worse than pulling teeth to reveal your vulnerabilities to someone else, but being open and honest about your anxieties will minimize your fear of them. Call, text, or email your friends; you could even write in your journal. Lay bare your worst anxieties–this is the simplest way to make them seem small and manageable.
3. Exercise every day.
If you are chronically anxious, you have to prioritize daily physical activity even more than others. Exercise promotes the growth of new neurons, which in general means you’re more adapted to think and emotionally react quickly–cue heightened emotions, fluttery feelings, crash and burn. But despite this, exercise also reduces feelings of stress and calms anxieties. How? According to a study by researchers at Princeton University, running stimulates the creation of neurotransmitter GABA, which calms neuronal activity after stress. Regular exercise literally changes the hippocampus in your brain, which is your emotional center, so that you are always better prepared to cope with anxiety.
4. Do exactly the thing that you’re anxious about.
If you’re anxious about having a difficult conversation, just go ahead and have it out. Have social anxieties? Go ahead and RSVP Yes to that happy hour or spring brunch. If you’re struggling with a sense of not living out your passion, take an immediate step in the right direction, whether that’s booking a weekend trip, dusting off your old dance shoes, or re-writing your resume. Anxiety is an anticipation, *waiting* for bad things to befall you–and the less you wait for things to happen, and the more you *do*, the less anxious you will feel. Some of these actions will result in positive experiences, and eventually you’ll become less fearful overall.
5. See things from other people’s point of view.
We live inside our heads so much that our problems are often all we see. Talking with other people is sometimes an excellent reminder of how well you’re doing. Chances are, strangers, acquaintances and friends will often evaluate your situation much more highly and objectively than you do. If the world thinks you are a valuable, highly functioning adult with great qualities, positive life circumstances and abundant blessings, don’t fight it. 🙂
6. Take the long view.
Last but not least, living with chronic anxiety requires taking the long view. That means not being impatient when you feel anxiety; knowing and having your arsenal of tools ready (check out Mary’s Stress Emergency Kit for ideas); and in general, being all like, “yeah yeah, I’ve been here before. This will get better too.” It’s okay if you have to live with anxieties–we all do, to some degree. Acknowledge that your anxieties exist–but also know, to your core, that you’re so much stronger than them.
Let’s hear it–are you chronically anxious? (Please don’t let me be the only one!) 😀
Related: 5 Ways to Beat Your Anxiety Attacks!
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Photo: Jonathan Kos-Read via Flickr