Do you need strategies to beat overwhelming anxiety? Are you feeling a constant knot in your stomach? A tightness in your chest with that unpleasant fluttering? Hands shaking no matter how much you try to steady them…legs starting to quiver too as the anxiety takes over? Maybe the world is moving so fast that it’s dizzying and hard to catch your breath. I’m so sorry if you’re feeling something along these lines; I have too and for a long time. I’m doing my best to recover, with my habits, changing my thought patterns and the help of my medication, but that stupid monster in my head still sometimes makes me feel like I’m barely above water. Do you know what I mean? Sometimes I can calm myself down, manage the anxiety and use it to focus, but other times I really do need a literal ‘chill pill’.
If I were you I’d probably want myself to shut up and give some answers because that’s what we desperately hope for right? A quick fix to ease the pain. The problem is, I’m one of you and I don’t have an answer sheet. Our minds don’t come with instruction manuals, you know? Man wouldn’t that make things easier! Who knew growing up and becoming an adult was so hard! Life is stressful…there’s no getting around that. Anxiety is a part of life but when it gets out of hand it becomes a problem. What I do know and can share is what helps me, what I’ve read, and what I can come up with while rational. This will be the first article of more to come, because yet again this topic is too large to cover in a tiny article!
Can you do me a favour please? Take out a pen and paper or use your phone…up to you…but take a minute and forget everything else you have to do and do this bit of homework ok? It’ll just take a minute, I promise – set a timer if you’d like! Use this minute to scribble down everything you’re anxious about. Big, small, in between…as much as you can in one minute. Ready? Go!
How did that go? Was it a frantic minute of emotional vomit? (Yeah…that happens to me a lot.) Or, was it hard to write things down because everything felt too huge to explain? (Yup. Been there too.) If you need a bit longer, please take the time because I assure you that it’s worth it; get it down as best you can. Once you’re done with the scribble list, read it over and type it again in a way that breaks it down into different ‘items’ of anxiety. If you can put them in order of most anxiety inducing to least, (relatively) that’s even better! I know that if I asked some of you “why are you anxious, what are you anxious about?”, I might hear something like “Everything! I don’t know! My life…it’s just a mess…I don’t know how to get through all this. Where do I start? I’m stuck and I’m so tired.” I completely understand; anxiety can be so overwhelming that simply EVERYTHING is making you anxious at this point. This is extremely important though…we really have to bring it from everything, down to a list. Even if that list is depressingly long, it’s the better alternative to an all-encompassing anxiety.
Let’s Take Another Minute
You want to skim this article and hopefully come out with a simple take-away, am I right? I get it. But seriously you deserve another minute. I assure you that it won’t make things worse or take up too much time. Take a breath ok? In and out, and just count if you can. Inhale…1…2…3…4…5…hold the breath for 2 seconds and exhale…1…2…3…4…5. If you can make your breath last longer I encourage you to do so.
While you breathe, please read this as calmly as you can:
I’m Karina, and I relate to your pain even though we experience things differently. You’re having a hard time right now…but it’s going to get better because you have more control than you think. You also have more power than you think and you’ve already proven that you’re strong to be continuing despite these bad feelings. Even if you don’t believe this next part, please read it anyway. It’s written from your perspective but with my words. All I ask is for you to read it out loud to yourself in a place where you’re alone. If not, read it in your mind. Try to emphasize the italics, they’re there for a reason.
I am not anxious. I am experiencing anxiety but I am not merely an emotion. I am a human being with the capacity to feel many different emotions all over the spectrum. I am currently feeling the impact of an emotion that I don’t like. It’s very uncomfortable and causes me pain, but there have been many other struggles in my life that I have gotten through. I’ve survived this long in spite of various obstacles but I always find a way to succeed. Even when I make mistakes this is a good thing because it’s how I learn. Learning is a success in and of itself. I am not a bad person nor am I weak for feeling the way I do. This emotion is a wave. I may be at the peak of anxiety right now, but it will drop. I am kind and patient with myself and I deserve to be because everyone does. It’s a human right so even if I feel unworthy, I’m not. Absolutely not, because that’s just my head messing with me. I have to take things one step at a time and fit in healthy breaks for breathing outside, spending time with someone I love, eating a mood-boosting piece of chocolate or anything else I find comforting. I am safe, I am secure and I am in control. I have an anchor that keeps me from flying away and that anchor keeps me grounded. I am capable and strong. I may be tired but my spirit is tireless because I am confident in myself even when my mental mirror is lying to me. I know better. I can, and will, do this.
Close your eyes and let that sink in for a bit. Try to believe it, because I’m not lying to you.
I cannot overstate the importance of positive self-talk even when you can’t believe it. I used these very same phrases to help reduce the tremendous anxiety I experienced while hospitalized for my anorexia. Being re-fed was one of the most torturing experiences I’ve ever had. Thankfully, my dad took the time to write out these statements for me to read many many times a day. I didn’t believe it. I was the stupidest, ugliest, fattest cow that ever lived. But…about a month later, I was released on Christmas Eve. For the first time in 4 years, I ate the same dinner as my family.
So you’ve made a list, and now I think it’s time to list the more immediate stressors that you CAN influence. I’m going to use an example of working and going to school. (Virtually or otherwise.) Of course this is just one example of anxiety.
You’re struggling with your mental health and what’s expected of you is weighing you down like a cement block. You’re working on weekends because you really need to make money, and during the week you have multiple classes. You need to balance work, school, time for self-care AND safely maintain your relationships in this extra difficult time. We’re halfway through the semester and from here on in it only gets more challenging, right? More studying, more essays and projects, tests, preparing for exams…etc. But, “when times get tough…the tough get going” … in a healthy and productive way that can be maintained without endangering yourself!
As I am in a very similar situation of anxiety and trying to stay afloat, this topic of beating overwhelming anxiety will be continued soon. For now, these are my tips that I hope will help you as soon as possible.
- As mentioned, prioritize your anxieties.
- Prioritize what you have to get done in terms of when things are due.
- Be realistic and accept that you can’t do everything at the same time.
- Breathe every morning when you wake up and try to read the self-talk paragraph I wrote. Even better, write your own that applies specifically to your situation! I’d recommend doing more deep breathing before you go to bed.
- Please take breaks to do something completely different than what you’ve been focussing on and worrying about.
- If something is nagging at you constantly and the anxiety is really building up, try to address that issue first to the best of your ability. Even if it’s very large, working towards the solution can feel much better than doing nothing or avoiding it because it’s scary.
- Don’t keep your anxieties to yourself. Never be afraid to talk to someone you trust. You also never know if they can help you with what’s making you anxious; either by supporting you or by having ideas/knowledge about your work.
- Try to eat healthy and keep your sleep patterns as regular as you can. Of course also do your best to sleep enough hours per night.
- If you are constantly exhausted and burnt out to a point where it’s no longer manageable and is really hurting you, please please please speak to a professional. Nothing is worth more than your own mental and physical health! Your school can connect you with someone that understands and can really help you. This can make all the difference! Outside of school there are also plenty of options to choose from and if it’s too difficult for you to deal with finding someone, just ask a person you trust to look into it for you.
If you would like to read more about anxiety in the meantime, you might be interested in reading Conquering Anxiety (Beat Fire with Fire)