I have had anxiety for almost as far back as I can remember. In 6th grade, I vaguely remember my mom taking me to the doctor for the stomach aches that would, without fail, occur every morning before school. I missed a lot of school. I got chastised for faking it because as soon as I didn’t have to go to school I was magically better. I remember the doctor asking if I liked school. I think I said yes. I did like school in an intellectual sense. I made good grades and I never got into trouble, it just completely stressed me out.
I always had this fear of failing. Of getting detention. Of being bullied. Of this big undeniable BAD THING that was just bound to happen.
I remember thoughts going on, and on, and on in my head in a repetitive loop, and as a middle-schooler/high-schooler there are A LOT of thoughts going on. Anxiety is having all of those insecure thoughts on overdrive.
One thing that I specifically had problems with was sitting in the front or middle of the class. It always made me anxious. I felt trapped and claustrophobic and sometimes I’d have trouble breathing. I’d obsess about telling the teacher how I felt. I’d rehearse conversations over and over in my head, every day, constantly, but I’d be unable to say anything because I had also thoroughly rehearsed the misunderstanding, mocking, censuring, answers I was bound to receive.
So, before school every morning, I’d take a swig of Mylanta and hope my tummy felt better.
I had my first full-blown panic attack in 9th grade in history class.
I had stress migraines in 11th and 12th grade that would end with blinding nausea.
I didn’t realize how completely my anxiety had affected my life.
I couldn’t even think of applying for college because every time I thought about it, my brain would freeze in this wave of anxiety. The thought of the paperwork, the rejection, phone calls, talking to strangers… CHANGE… it paralyzed me. I didn’t go to prom and I skipped my graduation. I never went out with friends. I didn’t date. I purposefully alienated myself from my peers because I didn’t feel like I was a “normal” teenager. I always had the worst outcome about every situation perpetually on a loop in my brain.
My plan as a young adult to deal with it was AVOID, AVOID, AVOID. Don’t do anything to upset The Anxiety. Hide from it like it’s a big, bad, monster. Be quiet, tip-toe, and maybe it will leave you alone. It took me a lot of time to realize that my anxiety was something that I had the ability to manage. I didn’t have to let it run wild over my life. There were things that I could do to lessen the control that it had over me.
Everyone is different, everyone needs something different, but here are a few things that helped me deal.
Routine is important.
My biggest coping tool is creating a nourishing routine. Anxiety thrives on turbulence and uncertainty. I’ve found that coming up with a good routine helps eliminate a lot of it. You know what you’re supposed to be doing and when. You’re not worried about getting this done or making time for that because you already know when it’s supposed to be done. I make self care a huge part of my routine. Every single day incorporates something good for me.
Sleep when you’re supposed to, wake up when you’re supposed to, and don’t be afraid to embrace routine. A routine life doesn’t have to be a boring one, it’s all in what you add to it!
Rationalize, Rationalize, Rationalize.
Your anxiety will try to make you believe a lot of things. Most of them are grossly untrue. Anxiety likes to pull out the Worst-Case-Scenario and then wave it in front of your face. “See! Look what’s going to happen!!!” and it’s hard not to listen because you know that bad things do happen, so maybe you should listen… just in case…. Work on rationalizing your fears. Tell yourself over and over and over that it’s not going to be as bad as you imagine (most times it isn’t!) and focus on reality. List all of the reasons why the big bad is unlikely to happen.
If there’s one bad scenario that you just can’t get out of your head, make a contingency plan for it. When that thought comes up again you can comfort yourself with knowing that you have a plan to take care of it and you’ll be able to handle it.
Talk about it.
Don’t be afraid to talk about your anxiety. A lot of people experience it on some level. Find friends that will be able to help you rationalize. That will pull you back when your brain is making like a run-a-way train. Just talking about your anxiety fears can do wonders for taking away the scary power of it. Don’t let it alienate you and make you suffer in silence.
Don’t believe that you are a burden, or that no one cares, or that no one is interested. People love you. People will care. People will listen.
It’s also okay to talk to your doctor or health care provider. If your anxiety is really messing with your life it’s okay to take medication. Never allow yourself to be shamed for taking care of your mental health. If you don’t want to do medication there are alternative therapies, vitamins you can take (magnesium has done wonders for me!), behavioral therapy, talk therapy, but all of those things happen when you start the dialogue of “How do I help myself get better?” So talk about it.
If you have anxiety, chances are, you hate, hate, HATE phones, calling people back, vague voicemails, and making appointments. Or maybe that’s just me. I make myself schedule those things into my day. I give myself a time limit (usually within 24 hours) and I stick to it. I will call that person back at 2pm, no if, ands, or buts. I will not put it off. I will not postpone it. I will honor what I say, and what I say is that I will call them back at 2pm.
I try to schedule things like doctor’s appointments, repair services, ect in my head so that I can countdown to it. Never too far in the future because then I’ll stress out over it in the in-between days – but I give myself firm limits. If my anxiety levels are pretty low I make myself call right away, so I don’t give myself time to think about it.
If there’s something that’s triggering your anxiety try scheduling it into your day/week and doing your best to stick to it. Putting it off indefinitely only makes it worse.
Mindful and mindless activities.
Sometimes you need an activity to actively pull you out of your anxiety and other times you just need a distraction from your thoughts. It’s important to learn which one you need and when. When I’m having anxiety that I just can’t put my finger on, or the kind that is in-your-face and all encompassing, it’s important that I take the time to actively deal with it. Meditation, calming music, yoga, jogging, journaling, and dialectical behavioral therapy –those are all things that actively help me deal with anxiety.
When my mind is stuck in an obsessive, anxious, loop about something that – in reality I know is silly – distraction works wonders. Mindless activities like playing World of Warcraft, watching Fuller House, or reading – takes my mind off of it and usually the thoughts fade.
Find things to occupy your mind. Be the thing that calms you down. Focus on taking care of yourself in all ways.