Since learning that I have an anxiety disorder, managing it and learning to recognize its symptoms has become an important part of my life.
I take medication daily, which I feel is the right choice for me at this time. That may change in the future but it also may not, and I’m OK with that. For now, I find it gives me the breathing space I need to manage my anxiety without being overtaken by it.
Aside from that, I’ve slowly developed techniques and practices to help me cope with anxiety and depression. Some have come with professional help; others I’ve discovered on my own.
Physical exercise – For me, taking good care of my physical health is central to everything else. I beat myself out so I can sleep better. I exercise so that I feel better about myself (yes, that includes my physical appearance but it’s not the sole, or most important, factor). I play sports because they are fun and I can socialize with friends and other like-minded people. Exercise is also an excellent distraction. Whatever I have going on in my life, whatever stress or cloud I’m under, it provides short periods of time in my day when I’m not thinking about anything other than what my body is doing at that specific moment.
Being in nature – Studies show that even looking at green space outside of an office window can have a significant positive impact on mood. Being outside is always a mood enhancer for me, and you will frequently find me on the East Coast Trail with my dogs. The fresh air calms my mind, the chance to chat with a friend provides a sense of connection to others, and hiking with my dogs amuses me. Their joy at being outside, running free, becomes my joy. When I’m in the woods or near the ocean, I’m instantly calmer.
I’m lucky that I live in a city that has easy access to hiking trails and beautiful, wild coastlines that are just minutes away from my house by car. Get outside: fresh air will cure what ails ya! (Still not convinced? Read this.)
Questioning negative thoughts –Cognitive behavioural therapy is an important tool for anyone who suffers from anxiety, and it’s one that I learned from a counsellor. There are several facets to it but the ones that help me the most are challenging negative thoughts and looking at the evidence for what’s probable versus what’s possible.
For people with anxiety disorders, worst-case scenario thinking is common. It doesn’t take much for me to jump quickly from a disagreement with a friend to believing that I have no friends, for example, and my brain often tells me that I’m a burden to others. Is it possible? Sure. But does the evidence show that either of these beliefs are probable? I simply have to look at the actions of my friends and family to recognize that no, they are not probable.
Good nutrition – In order to feel well, I have to eat well. I definitely indulge sometimes and my sweet tooth occasionally gets out of hand but I also put a lot of effort into fueling my body with healthy and nutritious food that supports the active lifestyle that I love.
Looking for joy – Call this whatever you want: taking pleasure in the little things, practicing gratitude, counting your blessings, etc. For me, actively looking for joy often means that I find it, even if it’s just for a brief moment in my day.
Anxiety isn’t a pleasant feeling, and being consumed by it is downright damaging. And although I still struggle, often on a daily basis, I’m learning how to live a more mindful, authentic and grounded life in which I look forward to what it will bring me next.
What helps you manage anxiety or mental illness? What strategies do you use to get through your day? Tell me in the comments below.