It’s completely normal to feel nervous before a big event or a life change. You get a little sweaty, your muscles tense up, and you’re on alert. Anxiety disorders, medically speaking, are a little different. Anxiety disorders can range from a Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), characterized by a relentless and excessive worry about everyday life, to a more severe Panic Disorder, accompanied by heart palpitations, trembling, or dizziness.
Whether or not you fall within the spectrum of anxiety disorders, anxious and stressful feelings affect all of us in some capacity. While there are a lot of really beneficial ways to reduce stress and anxiety long-term (eating a balanced diet, reducing alcohol and caffeine intakes, exercising regularly, etc), when an anxiety attack or overwhelming thought starts to take hold, there are some small, meaningful things you can do to regain a sense of control and clarity.
1. Take A Walk
Stand up, go outside, get moving, and be mindful. There’s so much science behind the idea that exercising has a direct and positive affect on your mental health, but simply put, walking or doing anything active will force you to focus on exerting your energy physically instead of mentally, distracting you for a moment of the anxious thoughts that are running around in your mind relentlessly. Allowing your focus to shift elsewhere is an extremely effective way to work through those thoughts, I’ve found. While I’m taking in the scenery and boosting my endorphins during a walk or a hike, my mind isn’t immediately concerned with what’s been bothering me. When I come back to those thoughts later on, I’m usually in a much better mood (again, endorphins) and in a clearer head space in order to tackle them.
If yoga has taught me anything, it’s how to breathe. While I’m pretty sure the human body was purposefully designed to do this on auto-pilot, there’s a lot of benefit in practicing mindful breathing, especially during moments of extreme anxiety or stress. Start by just noticing your breath. How long are your inhales and exhales? Focus on lengthening them. Count to five on an inhale, five on an exhale. Inhale deeply and hold it for several seconds, then release it slowly, holding it for several seconds again, then repeat. Whatever counting method you want to try or make up on your own will work just fine, honestly. The purpose here is to pay attention to your breath for several minutes, bring your heart rate down, and feel in control.
3. Fact-Check Yourself
The problem with anxiety is that often times it stems from a fear of what might be. It’s a tendency to fixate on worst-case scenarios, thinking that you can solve the problem before it even exists in order to be more prepared or to feel safer. The fact is, that’s cray. I can tell you for a fact that a good majority of the problems I obsess over are ones that fall into one of two categories. Either one, they’re legitimate problems that I can’t do anything about or, two, they’re imagined problems I’ve made up. Things like, “my dog is going to run away when I’m not home”, “my boyfriend doesn’t love me anymore”, “my boss thinks I’m not working hard enough”, “that person doesn’t like me because I said something stupid”, and the list goes on and on and on… The problem with both of these categories is that they’re not worth the mental energy I spend on them.
Whatever your own categories look like, I bet they’re not worth the energy, either. Next time you’re panicking about something, ask yourself first if it’s a legitimate problem or one you made up. If it’s legitimate, can you do anything about it? If yes, great, do that thing. If no, then don’t stress about it. It’s that simple. It sounds really counter-intuitive to just not think about a glaring issue, however, the point here is that if you’re fixated on that issue so much to the point that you can’t focus on anything else, you’re not doing yourself or the people around you any favors. I promise, whatever it is won’t be a problem forever, and you sacrificing your own happiness for the sake of it isn’t going to make it any better.
4. Call In Reinforcements
If you’re like me, you probably have a really hard time remembering the point above. I’m talking goldfish-level memory. Yea, it’s bad. Thankfully, I have an amazing circle of family and friends who I wholeheartedly trust and seek out when I’m anxious or panicked or stressed (often all of the above). For example, I’ve been going through a legal matter regarding a property I own, and it’s been a really lengthy and exhausting process. My pride has been shattered, my patience has been more than tested, and my nerves have been shot with anxiety. I’ve cried more times in the last 2 months than I have in the last year. I don’t know what I’d do without my support system reminding me daily that it’ll all work out in the end, and that some problems can’t be solved today.
If you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, call someone. Call your mom, your dad, a friend, your sister, your brother, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, your teacher, your co-worker, your neighbor - someone. Talk to someone, let it out and let it go. Let them listen, and let them help.
When all else fails, laugh. Pull up a funny video on YouTube or watch an episode of your favorite sitcom, anything that will make you laugh organically even when you’re tense. Science, once again, shows that there are tons of short and long-term benefits to a good laugh, especially in times of stress. Thank god for the ability to binge-watch The Office, right?