10 ways in which I manage my anxiety in times of stress
It has been a manic month or so professionally, and of course that has a direct effect on my personal life. Previously at times of extra stress I have just about pushed through it all only to come out the other side and totally flat line. By which I mean I have fallen from the cliff of adrenaline into the ocean of dark anxiety, panic attacks and general confusion. The most recent time that this happened to me, the levels to which I sank was such a total shock that I set about finding a way to keep my head above water well and truly, you can see my blog about this time of my life here.
Only a short time since my decision to fight and move forward I was faced with another immense stress as my role in work changed and evolved with a promotion, one that I knew would be a challenge but a challenge that I had felt was the right thing for me at this time in my life. Did I deal with every single tiny moment in precisely the way I would have liked to? No of course not, but did I manage to maintain my mood and then prevent a crash at the end, yes I did. I am not a trained therapist, but I thought that actually these methods might make some kind of sense for an anxiety sufferer to hear from an anxiety manager. (I will always have anxiety but right now, I am living with it and living with it well.) So here are 10 ways that I manage my anxiety at times of stress.
Calm down, no really calm down. This is all the meditation really is, but unlike those moments when someone who is not in your mayhem filled body tells you to calm down and you want to hit them over the head with a fish, learning the simple act of meditation teaches your brain to tell itself to calm down without the voice in your head struggling to be heard over the cacophony of noise. Daily meditation, just a few minutes a day, has been proven to ease anxiety. I cannot say this enough, but meditation is not just sitting down and making ‘oamm’ noises with your eyes closed, or having a nap sitting up. The best way to get started is to find a guided meditation app like headspace or calm and start slowly. Don’t expect instant results and do commit, if you think you don’t have time then pay attention to how many blooming times a day you look at facebook, or watch the tv or any number of other unproductive distractions.
I wish I could explain how it works, but the best way I can describe it is like teaching yourself to speak a new language, you listen and try and listen and try until one day it comes naturally. You teach or reteach your mind to act or react differently, tuning into not just your mental or emotional responses but also your physical and somehow suddenly, taking a deep breath in a wobble moment means you let go of the wobble mind and body and can continue without hinderance.
When was the last time you took your time walking to or from work, when you sat and did absolutely nothing in total silence for a few minutes, or even enjoyed your lunch as you sat staring at your computer screen and powering through your non existence lunch break? Giving yourself those extra few moments to really be mindful to the tastes, the smells, the sounds, the sensations of the world around you balances your perceptions and resets your internal scale.
Next time you are storming down the pavement to work, take a slower step, look up and not down, breathe in the air and identify the scents, listen to the medley of noise making up the orchestra of life and enjoy the sensation of the sun on your skin, the wind in your hair and the soft clothes on your skin.
3. Mind over matter
Don’t you hate it when there is a drama, a nightmare a complete and utter mess of a situation? Oh my goodness the stress! Well, stop it! Ok so this is obviously an apply where appropriate situation (there is nothing in my life or work that is a life or death situation) but essentially don’t be so fixed with your expectations, so you’ve planned for something to happen a certain way, something out of your control means this plan has to be altered or cancelled, ask yourself the following questions before you allow your blood pressure to rise and your tone to become clipped.
- Is there another way?
- Have you offered/thought of every alternative?
- If it doesn’t go ahead, apart from disappointment, does it really matter?
- (And my favourite) is this a professional issue or a personal issue?
And I am going to answer these for you; there is nearly always another way you might not want to do it but you are causing your own stress by closing your mind to possibility, if the answer is yes then you have given it your all and then although disappointing it probably doesn’t matter if it doesn’t go ahead and lastly, if its at work then yeah its professional, NOTHING is personal unless you take it that way, you are responsible only for your reactions not for other peoples actions so don’t blame someone for their actions because you reacted badly. If it is in your personal life, then oddly the same rule applies, you cannot control other peoples behaviour so pay attention to your own and be true to yourself.
On a side note, laughter therapy is real people. Take that stress, deal with it and then laugh about it because you more than likely allowed yourself to stress over nothing of true substance.
This can also apply with people focussed situations, someone is shouting at you, being difficult, saying something that is just wrong, or that you don’t agree with, your pulse races and you can feel the prickly sensation of adrenaline fuelled sweat on your back. Stop, listen to what they are actually saying, apply analytical thought, is there a solution or do they just need to feel listened to (this is more often the case than anything else), take a deep breath and relax your body, it is talking too loudly as body language has a tendency to do, lower your voice, soften your face and use positive, considerate language.
It sounds obvious, but conflict often occurs from our own defensiveness. Anything else you think they are saying or implying is just in your head, because remember you cannot control their behaviour but you can and absolutely should look at your behaviour in response. This is the true meaning of rising above a situation.
4. Brain space
Did you know that recreational reading for six minutes a day is proven to reduce stress? That people who read fiction have higher levels of empathy? That exercise creates endorphins and helps maintain better mental health? That gardening is prescribed as an effective therapy for select groups of people on the NHS for mental and physical illness?
It doesn’t matter which one on the list or otherwise you choose, just choose the one or two that work for you and make sure you take the time to practise self healing and maintenance. Shock horror the big one for me is reading, and I don’t just mean from a written text I also mean listening to audio books or reading a magazine article. There are no limitations, you know what makes you feel good so do it, at least once a day! You will thank yourself for spending time caring for your mind and your body and gently encouraging your mind to move away from that all encompassing situation that is causing additional stress at the moment.
5. Self care
Talking of caring for yourself, don’t skip on the menial things. When you are in the shower, don’t rush the scrubbing and don’t wash away the bubbles before they have even settled on your skin. You don’t need to have a bath and relax and pamper every night or morning (whichever your cleansing routine follows), but do take the ten minutes in the shower to allow yourself to care for your body. Brush your hair, moisturise your face, clean your teeth and choose your soft and comforting clothing without rushing or skimping on small stuff. Your are subliminally reminding yourself that you are important and your self care does not come secondary to any one person, situation or thing. This can include eating well. On the other end of the scale, allow yourself to totally be spoilt with a slab of chocolate cake or a long relaxing bath or glass of wine, or all three at once.
6. Let it out, let it go
Sounds like a bad explanation of a fart, but what it means is that occasionally there is something, a niggle or an irritation that plays over and over in your mind and you cannot let it go. I don’t actually mean tell another human being, in all honesty it is probably not a big deal but for some reason your mind is obsessed with it. I have a book that I keep next to my bed, on particularly stressful or busy days, no matter if I think I have a niggle or if I think I am coping well, I take the plunge and I write. It can be varied and would be exceptionally boring for anyone (including me) to read back, but it can go something like this:
“Today went well, I felt glad that I was able to stay calm when the cashier ignored me and I had to ask for her to scan my points card and then for a bag.”
Or it can read like this:
“C really upset me to day when they were so dismissive of my idea, I could feel the tears in my throat but then I realised that C doesn’t know that I was already feeling insecure about the matter and so couldn’t have known that this comment would upset me. I need to remember how to take a step back and assess at the time so that I am not obsessing over it after.”
It really doesn’t matter what you write, but it is amazingly therapeutic to put it all down and then close the book on your days troubles – literally. In professional terms this is called a worry diary.
7. Don’t open up
Say what? This has no relation to reaching out to talk with someone about your anxiety – which by the way you should always do, in talking about something you feel ashamed or scared or confused about with another human person, the burden can be lessened and that person can become a support, tell another and you have a network upon which to build yourself back to strength with.
What I mean by don’t open up is, in the same way that writing it down gets it out of your head, more often than not talking to someone about a particular situation can actually feed it back into your head and build it up and up and up until it is no longer a small issue that you will find a way to let go of, but a massive issue that has taken root in your belly and refuses to be ridded from your sphere of wellness.
There are several contributing factors hear, there are always two sides to every coin, this isn’t to say that you don’t try to recall a situation as it was, but it will always be as it was to you and like it or not we are always biased to our own opinion. And this is true of listening to other people also, sometimes when someone gives an impassioned retelling of a story or situation, they are telling you because they know that you will feel or think the same as they do and this validates themselves, don’t be a validator and don’t allow yourself to be validated by anyone other than yourself. It is actually more harmful to start a circle of validation that to spend the time working through the thought and then discussing it as a thought you have allowed your mind to ponder and distance your emotions from. Your instinct will likely always be to seek validation, whether consciously or not, but try to resist, you do no one any favours by doing so. My advice would be to start with point 6.
8. What if action is required
This is really a decision, if you have worked through point 6 and the issue is still there floating at the forefront of your mind then there are couple of things that you need to consider further to a written expression.
- What if – is this situation likely to happen or is something that you have worked up in your head and could go either way but is probably a total hypothetical situation?
- This situation is real, I cannot let it go but I don’t know what to do dilute its potency in my head.
And as per before, I am going to (attempt) to answer these, what if’s are a red flag for general anxiety and there are a few ways in which you can help yourself, as always I would advise seeking the advice of a professional but my personal experience found that thought diaries (which are different to worry diaries) really helped to direct and analyse a situation. You can find templates online, but essentially what they do is look at your what if as a series of events, a trigger, your physical reaction, your automatic thought and then look at a new automatic thought and how you will measure the success of this new process.
If the situation is real then it has a solution, if it doesn’t have a solution then it is likely a hypothetical or a what if. Solutions are hard however, because really if your brain had wanted to act upon this solution then it would have done so already. But often it is because the solution includes something that makes you anxious, like confrontation or taking the tube line you know has loads of rodents on (the struggle is real people although I am managing it at the moment). These are the times that the solution means working through and pushing back against the anxiety in the long game to strengthen your mind and change its automatic thoughts and learned behaviours. It is hard, it is exhaustive but it is bloody worth it.
9. You got this
There is no shame in taking a moment to look at all you have achieved, in fact you absolutely should do this at least once a day, sure the obvious things are easy to feel proud of like completing a project and receiving good feedback. But look at how you got to the finish line, how many times did you worry you were teetering on the edge but pushed through with a single positive thought, a smile, a moment of silence instead of retaliation. Even the small act of getting out of bed everyday, brushing your teeth and putting your clothes on is a win in the most integral terms. We rarely stop to consider our achievements unless someone else is praising us, you are falling in to the validation trap again, stop it! You don’t need other people for validation, be your own supporter, your own believer and congratulate yourself for the things you did well that you would have done differently 6 months or a year ago. For those things you hold some regret for, analyse them, identify where the space for improvement is and then let it go, your brain is a powerful thing and you will have subconsciously worked out the kinks in your behavioural memory the next time you are faced with the challenging situation. You got this, really you do.
10. Don’t just stop
You are exhausted, it is time for a well earned rest, sorry but no. Rest more than you have been, yes absolutely but if you stop entirely you are no better than going cold turkey for an addiction. Even at your best in times of stress or increased business, you will be running hard on adrenaline and so when you stop and sit on the couch to watch episode after episode of ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ you are letting your body and mind plummet from a great height and you are not doing anyone any favours. So watch an episode, but get up and shower, run the hoover around, pop in to town just to get a milkshake and then read for a bit. Slowly, bit by bit you relax your entire being until suddenly your brain feels as rested as your body and you have avoided the clifftop plummet into the icy cold sea.
Can see a defining factor through all of these points?
Anxiety is not controlled, anxiety is managed. Anxiety is not eradicated, anxiety is managed. Anxiety is not all that you are, anxiety is a small quirk of your brain and there is so much more to you than anxiety. Anxiety isn’t choosy, it applies to any and all, some manage, some do not but you cannot control other peoples anxiety anymore than you can control their actions, so stop trying and focus on your actions and reactions and don’t forget to pat yourself on the back occasionally when you find you have done better than you could have hoped for.
You are learning, you are growing and you are managing in the best way.