New to the world of anxiety? I've lived here my whole life
Let me show you the way. Here are some tips for making it through these anxious times.
It’s the end of the world as we know it.
At least, that’s what it feels like right now, based on my Twitter feed which is mostly a mix of tweets like this:
My kid’s teacher and best friend have COVID!
I just tested positive for COVID and I haven’t even left my house in 2 years!
Everyone I know has COVID! It’s coming for us all!
Where can I get a booster?!
Where can I get a rapid test?!
Where can I book a PCR test?!
The government has abandoned us. We’re all alone!
Schools are going to shut down again! Shit!
Schools are going to stay open! Shit!
Our city/country/world is on fire AHHHHH!
Friends, we are living through some truly scary times.
Some people are saying it’s like we’re back in March 2020. But somehow, the mental toll feels even heavier. Perhaps it’s because we thought we had been through the worst of it, and that our trauma was somehow behind us. The resurfacing of lockdowns and restrictions and failed family gatherings and cancelled social activities has us all in a tailspin. The hunt for vaccines and tests has left us all depleted, panicked, and helpless.
You can practically feel the anxiety hanging through the air, a suffocating fog laced with terror and uncertainty.
For many of you out there, this level of dread surely feels unfamiliar. For those of us who live with chronic anxiety, though, we are quite used to being in this place. In many ways, it’s like I have been preparing for this widespread plague of anxiety my whole life.
I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping my anxious brain in check over the past several years, but these past few weeks have definitely taken my mind to some dark places. It’s no easy feat to stop the spiral of unwanted thoughts when the world itself is spiralling to the point that we’re all collectively nauseated.
If you’re new to the reality of waking up every day with a pit in your stomach, or a racing heartbeat, or an uncomfortable tightness in your chest—welcome! It’s not easy, but there are some things you can do to make it minimally more bearable to live with anxiety.
Here are a few tips and tricks that might help you, that sometimes help me.
(Please note: I am not a doctor, or a therapist—just a human who has gone through most of life being on high-alert for every potential worst-case scenario that may occur.)
This one is fairly obvious—if scrolling through social media or reading the news is making you anxious, just stop doing it. Put your phone down and read a book. Listen to a podcast. Meditate. Disengage from the 24-hour nonstop cycle of doom.
Admittedly, I am terrible at following this simple advice. It’s so hard to look away when there is so much to look at. But the rare time I manage to log-off and focus on something—anything—else, I’m much better off.
Ask yourself if something is a truth or a thought
When you start to ruminate about all the disasters that may befall you, stop and ask yourself: Is this true, or is this just a story I’m telling myself?
Here’s an example of how this might play out:
I’m worried my kids will get Covid. We’re all going to get it and it will be awful and we’re going to be terribly ill and we won’t survive.
I stop my thinking in its tracks and reframe.
These are my anxious thoughts and not actual facts. The truth is, right now, everyone is fine. My kids are fine. I am fine. If we do get sick, we are very likely to still be fine.
Take a walk
I’m a homebody and oftentimes feel that fresh air is overrated. But hot damn, the whole walking/going outside thing really does work for calming an anxious mind. If you’re someone who suffers from depression and/or anxiety (hi!), taking a walk is nowhere near as simple as it purports to be. It can feel like climbing the tallest mountain just to get yourself out the door. But even 10 minutes of walking and leaving your house will help. Try it out. At the very least, you got a bit of exercise, which apparently has other health benefits as well.
Get a therapist
If you’re fortunate enough to have good benefits, or money, or live in a place where therapy is government-funded, and you don’t have a therapist—seriously, what are you doing, go find one. Therapy is life and if you find a good therapist, never let them go.
Find a creative outlet
What’s your creative thing? The thing that gets you out of your head and into your soul. Painting? Pottery? Piano? Something else that coincidentally starts with the letter P? Do more of that. A creative project or practice can be a balm for over-thinkers, allowing you to take that nervous energy and turn it into art. For me, that outlet is writing—which is the point of this whole thing.
Not everyone needs medication to cope with anxiety. But many of us do. Talk to your doctor if you’re struggling. It’s okay to ask for help. We all need help. We’re living through a goddamn pandemic.
I don’t know if any of these suggestions are helpful. In fact, I’m pretty sure they’re mostly not, as we all know these things already. But maybe there’s that one person who needed to read this—who needed to hear they’re not alone in their worrying and fear.
You’re not alone. I’m here. I’ve always been here, right on the edge, scared to look down.
But I haven’t fallen off yet. And neither will you.
Stray Thoughts 💭
This essay by Caitlin Flanagan is one of the best things I have ever read: “The Things I Would Never Do”
Happy New Year! This year was hard. Most years are. Give yourself a pat on the back—you made it.