The observant amongst you will have noticed that I had a few months away from this blog, and all of the social media that accompanies it.
A few fairly major things contributed to that. My sister moved abroad in summer last year – this alone was tough, as she’s my closest friend in the world, but I was incredibly proud of her decision. Unfortunately, shortly after this, our mum fell seriously ill, and I was the only person around to take care of her. My general ill health made this incredibly difficult on both of us, and my mental health suffered a lot during those months.
I considered just sweeping this all under the rug, but I don’t want to live in shame of my anxiety. It’s a bitch of a thing, but I have it, and that’s how it is. So, I figured, I can either worry about how this information will be received, or I can turn it into a useful resource.
I know that many of you reading this will probably relate to the inexplicable feelings of impending doom and tension that come with anxiety. It’s a confusing, embarrassing thing to live with, but we’re living with it nonetheless, and that’s an achievement. We don’t deserve to suffer, though, so I’ve compiled a few of my favourite strategies for coping with my anxiety.
1. Be realistic with your expectations of yourself
When my anxiety is at its worst, I’m embarrassed to admit that I’m one of those people who shies away from any and all contact. The longer I avoid responding to messages and reaching out to people, however, leaves me even more anxious, which makes me even less inclined to get in touch with people, which means… you see where I’m going with this.
While I still struggle with this conundrum regularly, one thing I’ve found helpful is setting manageable deadlines. After many nights sat staring at the notification badge on my phone (and ultimately, silencing it and going to bed) I’ve learned to be kind to myself when it comes to contact.
Try not to take one moment of peace as a chance to bang out a bunch of emails and texts, because the influx of replies could prove very overwhelming. Instead, I like to think about how I’ll answer a message while I’m watching a show or sitting on the metro, and I commit myself to sending the reply once the show’s over, or I’ve reached my destination. It’s a small but manageable goal that lets me stay on top of my various inboxes, and keeps me in touch with the wider world – something that is, ultimately, very important for overcoming anxiety.
The concept of other people giving a rat’s arse about how I’m feeling seems very alien to my anxiety-riddled brain, but it doesn’t make it true. People do care.
2. Reach out, don’t turn in
This relates a lot with my last point, but I wanted to stress it because it’s a vital part of addressing any kind of mental turmoil. The inner conflicts of our minds can often leave us feeling incredibly isolated. Many of us perceive feelings that aren’t truly felt, speculate on things that should be paid no mind, and, generally, get ourselves in a bit of a tizzy over nothing.
This is when communication is most important – oftentimes, just saying my problem out loud helps me to categorise it more clearly, and gives it a coherence that the swirling typhoon in my mind couldn’t possibly do. If you’re unsure of anybody in your life who you could share your anxious thoughts with, try branching out into online forums based around managing anxiety.
While I would generally advise against using social media during an anxious spell (Instagram, in particular, often sends my mind into overdrive) the internet can be a wonderful tool when it comes to connecting with like-minded people, and the same is true for mental health issues. I frequently peruse the anxiety subs on Reddit, but there are many more forums out there. It can also be a great way to make friendships based on mutual understanding and support.
3. Name your anxiety
This is a bit of a goofy idea, and definitely isn’t for everybody, but I’ve found it useful at times. By assigning a name to the nagging voice in my head (mine’s called Reggie, in case you were wondering) I find I’m able to compartmentalise my thoughts far more easily, and can distinguish between rational and anxious thought. The minute I hear myself drumming up anxious thoughts, I just think ‘oh, shut up, Reggie’ and try to focus on something productive.
It isn’t a foolproof method, but can be useful for those occasional dread-inducing thoughts that creep in through the day, and it can help you see your anxiety as an external, negative force, as opposed to anything you’re doing wrong. For the longest time, I wondered why I was like this – it’s only recently that I’ve come to realise that my anxiety is not my fault, but rather, an unfortunate beast that rests on my back and says mean things in my ear. Fuck you, Reggie.
4. When things are extremely tough, try to sing
This suggestion comes courtesy of my wonderful mother, who read online that singing could help ease anxiety. During one of my crying, rocking-back-and-forth-and-cursing-myself moments, she gently pushed me to give it a try. I was sort of sceptical, but also desperate for any kind of distraction, so, together, we sang Old Man River.
The combination of steadier, more regulated breathing and having to remember the lyrics left me feeling far calmer. If you find deep breathing hard to stick to (like myself) I’d urge you to give this a try. You get bonus points if it’s a song that brings back fond memories, or a tune that makes you happy.
5. Make note of your happiest moments, no matter how small
You could keep what many people call a ‘gratitude journal’ (a book filled with lists of things you’re grateful for) make a memo on your phone of things that have made you happy, or do what I do and keep a jar filled with notes, which I read through at the end of each year.
I find it all too easy to let my anxiety override and warp the memories of some of my nicest times, because it’s usually so prevalent within my mind, but this system keeps me balanced and realistic. Sure, at the start of the year, I had a dreadful cold and didn’t leave my room for a week, but I also went for drinks with a friend, had a laugh with my sister and took photos of my cat wearing a little jumper, so was it really that bad?
Another method I use is contained within my bullet journal. I have a yearly tracker with spaces for each day, where I can fill in my mood for that day. It gives me an objective overview in a tangible form that Reggie can’t sully with his negativity.
Thank you for reading! I sincerely hope this has been helpful to some of you – please know that I, along with many of the bloggers you read, do understand. It’s not easy, but we’re all still trucking, and that’s something to be proud of. Wishing you all calm, collected vibes,