A lot of us are feeling anxious at the moment. I could say I’m a bit of an expert on this topic. I’ve struggled with anxiety since I was a young kid, but I didn’t know that it was “anxiety” until I was in my early 20s. I knew I had a sensation that followed me everywhere, and it was difficult to relax. It followed me through my college years and eventually law school. It was during law school that I knew I had to address it. Since then, I’ve studied and researched anxiety and how to deal with it. It was a bumpy journey, but in the end, it made me a much stronger and more empathetic person. In this post, I enumerate five essential things I did to lessen my anxiety.
1. Make Anxiety Your Friend.
If you decide to make anxiety your enemy, you’ll never win. Our anxiety was biologically programmed in us to help us. Anxiety is defined as, “a psychological, physiological, and behavioral state induced in animals and humans by a threat to well-being or survival, either actual or potential.”
When I figured out anxiety was not the enemy, it was a huge shift in my healing process. Sometimes what causes us distress is anxiety about feeling anxiety. I’ll call it the background anxiety. If you’ve ever felt anxiety about feeling anxious, know this is normal. It’s very important to differentiate between your “background anxiety” and your actual anxiety. Once you acknowledge the background anxiety, you have officially started the healing process. When you do this, you disarm the power anxiety has over you.
How do you identify your background anxiety? I did this with meditation. Meditation will teach you to categorize and identify different thoughts and sensations. When you lessen your background anxiety, you take away the power it has over you. This is a huge victory.
2. Be Curious.
If you would have told me to “be curious” about my anxiety while I was at my worst, I might have punched you in the face. But “being curious” about anxiety will separate yourself from this “sensation” or “problem.” It puts you in a calmer state and lets you approach anxiety from a feeling of “let’s tackle this” vs. “what is happening to me?” The former will make you tense up and put you in a state of panic.
When we approach anxiety from a place of curiosity (“let’s figure this out”) you can transition to a place of control (“let’s tackle this”). Approaching anxiety from a place of “what’s happening to me?” will make you feel that background noise we discussed before. It encourages feelings of helplessness and fear. So be curious about your anxiety. What is happening to you was biologically programmed in you, but it doesn’t have to control you. Take its power away by being curious about it and don’t fear it.
3. Make Yourself A Priority And Let Go Of Toxic Relationships.
If you’re feeling anxiety that seems crippling, you need to make yourself a priority. There’s nothing selfish about taking care of yourself when things feel difficult. We all have obligations, but at this moment, you are your number one priority. Take time for yourself to figure out what tools you can use to tackle your anxiety. Different people use different tools to conquer anxiety. This is your time to figure out what your tools will be.
This is the moment to let go of any toxic relationships that bring you down. How do you know it’s toxic? It’s simple. If the person makes you feel worse about yourself when you are around them, it’s toxic. This can be coworkers, friends, family members, or even acquaintances. Do this with zero guilt or remorse. When you are struggling with anxiety, it’s very important to surround yourself with supportive people. When you get rid of toxic relationships, you have more time and energy to take care of yourself. Take a detox from people and places that slow down your healing process.
4. Exercise Is A Must.
I’ve never been a very sporty person. I never enjoyed physical activity until anxiety made me enjoy it. Studies show that exercise releases brain chemicals that lessen anxiety and depression. Exercise is a powerful tool you should use if you’re an anxious person. I can confidently say that if you are anxious and don’t exercise, you will have a much harder time recovering. Make exercise a priority, even if it’s just for 15 minutes a day. The more you sweat, the better. Hate exercise? Take a dance class, hike, or go for a long walk. Find something you enjoy doing that makes you sweat and gets the heart pumping. This is crucial.
5. Cut Out Alcohol And Caffeine.
It took me a long time to realize the horrible effects caffeine and alcohol had on my mental health. If you’re an anxious person, you should stop drinking caffeine. It’s a natural stimulant that gives you the same jittery feeling you get after going through a frightening event and stimulates your “fight or flight” response. This isn’t a place you want to be if you are already prone to suffering from anxiety.
I’ve gone through law school and motherhood without drinking coffee. Although I know I need the energy caffeine gives me, I prefer to feel calm. When your body is already riled up, caffeine will only worsen it. It’s just not worth it. Commit yourself to 30 days without caffeine and see if you notice a difference. Need energy? Try ginger gummies or exercise. Matcha tea has caffeine, but it also has chemical compounds that help you relax. When you really need that extra kick, Matcha tea is the way to go.
Similarly, alcohol has a lasting effect on your anxiety levels. Alcohol has been shown to change levels of serotonin in the brain. This isn’t good news for people already dealing with anxiety. To make matters worse, alcohol-induced anxiety can stay with you for a while even after its “fun” effects wear off. Hours or even a day after you drank alcohol, your anxiety levels will increase. If you are going through a difficult time with your anxiety, stay away from alcohol.
I hope these methods help you with any anxiety you could be feeling at the moment. There will be a day you will enjoy alcohol again or coffee. Dealing with anxiety means adapting to how we are feeling, one day at a time.