I’ve suffered with anxiety for several years now, but significantly more so over the past five years. I’ll save my complete and comprehensive anxiety tale for another post and another day. For now, I want to share some of the things I have found helpful in my recent battles with anxiety.
Before I begin, I want to acknowledge that people suffer from anxiety at different levels. When my anxiety attacks are at their worst, I feel short of breath, paralyzed, and panicked. I feel as though my heart is going to beat out of my chest. If I’m alone, I’ll typically have crying spells that feel like they start out of nowhere. As I’ve learned (and am still learning) to cope with my anxiety, I want to emphasize that these coping methods work for me at different times. These are relatively simple and quick exercises that help ground me, but they are by no means a type of medical treatment. The best thing I did to learn how to cope was to seek out a professional therapist/psychologist. But more on that below.
Yes, I know there is a lot of hype over meditation and mindfulness right now, but I’m here to say that I completely stand behind it. Ha! In no way, shape, or form am I a skilled meditator (is that even a thing?) nor even a consistent one. But, you don’t have to be to reap the benefits of this magical little exercise. I first came across meditation techniques when I was studying for my bar exam in 2017. Bar prep was one of the most fun times of my life…NOT! It was miserable and I hated every minute of it. It was, in fact, the saddest and most difficult time of my life thus far. During this time, my nerves and my anxiety were full blown out of control and I was willing to try anything to just get my breathing and thoughts under control. Enter the Calm app.
The Calm app offers free guided meditations for everything you’re feeling, from anxiety to procrastination to low self-esteem. I prefer guided meditations because A). I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, B). I need someone’s voice to lead me back to the meditation when my thoughts are wandering off, and C). I will likely fall asleep if I don’t hear someone’s voice while I have my eyes closed. Of course, they offer non-guided meditations. The best part of the app is that you can choose timed meditations, starting with one or two minutes. During bar prep time when every single second felt precious to me, these two-minute exercises cleared my mind and slowed down my breathing. It was also very soothing and I really began to look forward to these little gems of relaxation time before starting my day or during study breaks.
Again, during bar prep (I can’t emphasize enough how great this time was for me, y’all) I discovered how beautiful and helpful yoga was for me. I had tried yoga several times before and loved it, but it wasn’t until this period in my life that I also discovered how beneficial yoga was for my anxiety. There are several different types of yoga classes, but I recommend a beginner vinyasa class in a chill studio. I say chill because there are yoga studios and yoga classes that are more focused on fitness and stamina (and they are amazing!), but for someone like me, a full-out endurance type athletic event kind of yoga class will do the opposite of helping me relax.
At the time, I attended yoga with a very close friend of mine who is a yoga instructor and ran her own studio. And it was the chillest, y’all. It was typically in a little house with little candles everywhere and open windows and relaxing scents everywhere around sunset. THE BEST. But since everyone can’t meet at this little house for yoga with my friend (especially since she moved to Bali. Yes. Bali! I want her life!) there is an alternative: Yoga with Adriene.
Yoga with Adriene is a YouTube channel you can access for free and practice in the convenience of your home. Her videos range from just a few minutes to about an hour and you can pick and choose what you feel like doing. Because you’re at home, nobody will judge your yoga skills and you can make your little yoga area as chill as you please. I recommend candles and dim lights! Also, Adriene is the coolest.
Walk or Jog or Just Go Outside
If you haven’t picked up on it by now, I’m here to tell you that I am not the most athletically inclined person you may come across. Exercising makes me feel good because I feel like I’m taking care of my body and showing myself some love. However, I am NOT the kind of person that’s like, “I’m going to do some cross-fit and then run seven miles to clear my head.” Um, hard pass. It takes a lot less than that for me to clear my head. More power to you if you are that type of person! I kind of wish I were that way sometimes, but pushing myself that hard makes the voices in my head louder as opposed to shushing them. For the rest of us, simply getting up and moving or just sitting outside is pretty relaxing in itself.
Take A Bath!
In all of the apartments and houses I lived in throughout the years, none of them had a bath tub until this past year. And now I can’t get out of the fucking bath tub. I LOVE being in there! If you are gloriously blessed with a bath tub, start taking baths immediately. I know you’re thinking, “Taking a bath is so basic and that is not going to make me feel any better.” I agree – that’s why you have to be super extra when you take a bath. I recommend lots of candles, dim lights, music, bubbles, a book if you’re into reading, and bath bombs from Lush. These are the only bath bombs that I’ve found to be fully effective and invigorating and just plain fun to throw in the bathtub. They smell so good and look so pretty! I swear sometimes I’ve felt like I’m high just listening to “dreamy vibes” on Spotify and watching all the colors and glitter swirl together. Take a bath, like yesterday.
Find Professional Help
I know that there is still a stigma around seeking the help of therapist. However, sometimes I forget because I’m so open about the fact that I see a therapist. And I love it! I’ve seen my fair share of therapists and counselors and tried a range of treatments from hypnotism to cupping to acupuncture. If that makes me sound “crazy”, so be it. At the different times of these treatments, they were all helpful to me. They helped me find methods to cope and they calmed my nerves. Except acupuncture. I’m not sure if it helped me or not, but I just did not like it. And that’s okay! Different things work for different people.
The thing about having experimented with different counselors and treatments, which is not a good or bad thing, is that I was never consistent for more than a few months. Again, I sought what was available to me at the time and I think approaching the treatments with an open mind helped their effectiveness. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
If you are ready to commit to actually talking it out or seeing someone, I recommend searching on Psychology Today. This is where I found my current therapist, and she is amazing! I’ve actually stayed consistent with her.
A couple things about seeking professional help:
First, it is not going to be an easy process.
I think simply arriving at the decision of wanting to seek professional help is a HUGE step. It’s not easy deciding you may give talking to a complete stranger about your deep-seeded issues a try. Like, what the hell, right? You don’t even know this person! But, this is their job. They listen to strangers and they help them cope. They went to school for that. And we all have bat-shit issues. It’s not that big a deal.
However, once you do take the step of seeking out a professional, be advised that it may not be a match made in therapy heaven on your first try. Even though all of these therapists are willing to help you, you will not have that “chemistry” with just anyone you sit down with. If you choose to make an appointment, and then that appointment turns out to be complete shit and your therapist is a full on weirdo, TRY AGAIN. Do not give up just because it wasn’t everything you hoped for the first time. I know people are vulnerable and delicate during this time of their lives when they feel they need professional help, so it is easy to get scared away. But don’t. Keep looking until you find someone you are comfortable with.
Second, emphasize PROCESS.
Once you do find someone you’re comfortable opening up to, do not think that you’re going to attend one session and be cured of all your mental ailments. Let’s get real. You didn’t develop your issues overnight, so why would you expect to be rid of them overnight? Calm down, crazy! (Just kidding. We’re all a little crazy. Who cares?) It’s a slow process. Even after you’ve attended for a while and you’ve learned to recognize your problem areas, you are still going to have days when you throw everything you’ve learned out the window and mess up. It will feel like you are right back at square one, but trust me, you aren’t. Don’t give up on yourself or your process.
Pray It Out, Write It Out, Cry It Out
To end on a less intense note, just remember to pray it out, write it out, or cry it out. What that means is to essentially do anything your body feels like doing when you’re facing anxiety. For me, sometimes that means praying. Whether you pray to the Universe, to God, to Jesus, to Buddha, to Lady Gaga, or to Santa Claus, just pray if it makes you feel better. I like to think that God is looking out for me and I’m never completely alone. And that makes me feel safe.
Sometimes I have to write it out. (Hey, what’s up, that’s why I even started this blog). Writing is an outlet for me. Sometimes I have full on stories and poems just waiting to fall onto the page. Sometimes I just look up positives quotes on Pinterest and write those over and over so my brain can start to believe them. Maybe for you it is drawing or painting or singing. Whatever it is, get it off your chest and put it on something tangible. (Or sing really loud, since you know, singing isn’t tangible).
And finally, if you feel like crying, just. fucking. cry. I was a long time believer of the school of thought that preached that you have to hold tears in and never show weakness. And you know what happened when I did that? I ended up in therapy crying my ass off with needles sticking out of every inch of my body (acupuncture, remember?). There is no weakness in crying. Crying is a release. The more I would fight it, the more it would build up. Now, once I cry it out, I feel so much better afterwards. I can move on because all of those emotions are released. I don’t mean go cry at work or by yourself in a coffee shop like a weirdo. Just find a private place and let those tears out and don’t beat yourself up over it. It’s just an emotion and it is not indicative of the kind of human being that you are.
As cliche as it is, remember that tomorrow is another day so just take care of yourself as best as you can for now.