5 Ways To Reduce Anxiety Right Now

 

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.

2. Breathe

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.

5. Laugh

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?

You don’t have to control your thoughts. You just have to stop letting them control you.
— Dan Millman

Asking For Help Is A Strength, Not A Weakness

 

I'm here to announce that I have a problem. And I'm not talking about my split ends, chewed fingernails, or my obsession with cheap bottles of wine. I'm talking about a real issue I've been dealing with probably forever that I've only just recently realized was actually holding me back, and probably causing me more stress than necessary (though, when you're in a constant state of mild anxiety-induced stress who even notices, right?).

I'm talking about asking for help. I am the worst at asking for help and the queen of proclaiming "I got this". I wear that phrase like a badge of honor, holding myself upright by it and planting my flag in its safe and familiar soil. In all honesty, that phrase has gotten me through the really tough days, the days I want to quit trying. The days that I’m too overwhelmed, too scared, too tired and beaten down. "I got this" is my mantra that keeps me going.

It's also one of my biggest weaknesses.

Carpet in the bedroom to rip up? I can do that. Large client at work need managing? I'm your girl. Mountain to climb on the other side of the country? I don't need you, I can do this by myself. That's me; independent, strong-willed, type-A, and drowning. Drowning because I, up until very recently, have had a really hard time letting go of control (ahem, still struggling). Until very recently, I haven’t been able to admit to myself that I was letting the ideas of how others might perceive me get in the way of my growth. And up until very recently, I haven’t felt vulnerable enough to share them.
 

Asking for help, in my mind, equates to:

  1. I’m being a burden to them

  2. They think this is a stupid question

  3. I’m too weak to do this on my own

  4. They trusted me with this and now I’m failing them

  5. They won’t trust me in the future if I can’t figure this out

  6. They’re already stressed/overwhelmed, I can’t add to it

  7. They’ll think I can’t do my job right

  8. I’ve already asked this question, if I ask again it’ll be annoying

  9. I want to be seen as a leader and leaders do things on their own

  10. I should be able to figure it out


All. Lies.

I’ve realized that the problem with these thoughts, beyond the fact that they’re downright toxic to my mental health, is that by me being too scared to ask for help when it’s necessary because I fear any of the things listed above, I'm doing more harm than good for all parties involved. I’m living in my comfort zone, the space in which notoriously nothing grows. I’m not getting new perspectives or ideas, nor am I being very productive with my time and resources. Do I want my hand held every step of the way? No. But I understand now that there are moments that I do need assistance, guidance, direction, moral support, emotional support, etc. because, let’s face it, I’ve not lived enough life yet to do all of it alone, at least not well.

I’m learning to be at peace with that.

We don’t accomplish anything in this world alone … and whatever happens is the result of the whole tapestry of one’s life and all the weavings of individual threads from one to another that creates something.
— –Sandra Day O’Connor

I’ve always told myself that I’m brave, strong, capable, and able to do anything I set my mind to. To be clear, I still absolutely believe those things. But I’ve forgotten, so selfishly, that I have a lot of people to thank for helping me remember these things on the bad days, and many more people to thank for helping to guide me through the really tough problems, whether they knew they were helping or not. I know with absolute certainty that these people are on my side and ready to draw their swords at a moment’s notice, and I, them. What a beautiful feeling of security.

It's taken quite a bit of self-reflection, several professional performance reviews, and a few fall-flat-on-my-face moments lately to make me see this problem more clearly than ever before. But as you can guess, as with any problem that needs solved, I got this (now with a little help).

When Was The Last Time You Asked For Help?

Creating Healthy Boundaries

 

I grew up understanding two crucial things; one, you will never please everyone, and two, you're responsible for yourself. Despite these lessons, social expectations and my own mental deception during adolescence and early adulthood started pushing me into a much different (and much more self-destructive) belief system. I started to believe I was nothing without my friends or family, that I could never say "no" to a social event, that I would miss something important or worth-while if I wasn't a part of everything, my relationships would wilt, I would disappoint someone, someone would stop loving me. I've never felt more alone during that time, and I've never felt more misunderstood by myself. 

It's taken a lot of self-reflection, time, and patience with myself to learn how to actively practice creating and keeping healthy boundaries in my relationships. And note, I said "practice", not "master". I never expect to be finished growing and learning myself and my boundaries. But since I've become more conscious of my needs and feelings, I've become a lot better at controlling my emotions when things get overwhelming, and keeping healthy relationships.

So, where to begin?
 

Become Self-Aware

First thing's first, you need to be able to tune into your feelings and become self-aware. You can't begin to create boundaries if you can't identify what it feels like to have them violated. Usually feelings of discomfort, anxiousness, resentment, and guilt are red flags. Follow those feelings, ask yourself what about the interaction made you feel that way. Where did it cross the line? Do you feel taken advantage of or not appreciated? Take notice, and identify patterns. Noticing patterns in behavior of yourself and others will help you take the next steps more confidently, because you'll have a clearer starting place. 
 

Know Yourself

Not only need to be able to recognize your feelings, ideas, and beliefs by tuning in and listening to yourself more, but you also need to understand them. Dedicate yourself to learning them and really get to know who you are as an individual. The more you learn to love and respect yourself you'll notice that it becomes easier to allow only people around you that follow suit, and to dismiss the ones who don't. 
 

Be Direct

This has been the hardest part for me when setting boundaries for myself. I hate confrontation, and I hate upsetting people, so being extremely direct goes against every fiber of my being. At least it used to. As with any skill, I had to practice feeling comfortable operating outside of my norm, and accept myself there. Since we all have varying ways in which we communicate or like to be communicated with, I've found being direct the most efficient way to bridge all gaps. Whether someone communicates similarly to me or not, being direct, clear, and honest eradicates all uncertainty. It not only makes conversations a lot simpler, but it also makes setting boundaries a lot easier. Don't be rude, just speak your truth.
 

Separate Yourself

There will come a day where you realize that not all of your relationships are healthy. I have always adhered to the belief that it's best to cut those people out entirely in a "rip the Band-Aid" like fashion. However, I've had to come to terms with the fact that that's not always possible, nor is it always the best solution, especially if the person does, in fact, bring some sort of value to my life. It is fair, though, to separate yourself enough to maintain a healthy relationship with that person again. Here's the thing, not everyone needs or deserves 100% of you (emotionally, psychologically, physically, intellectually), nor should you be giving that much of yourself to everyone. That's a recipe for burn-out and for heartbreak. Instead, create room for yourself and that other person to express yourself on a personal level without entangling emotional and psychological messes (save that for the real homies). Maybe that looks like workplace friendships, acquaintances you know through others, or just simply people you get along with on a surface level. Sometimes a little distance is vital to creating harmony within the relationships that would otherwise combust. 
 

Take Charge Of Your Choices

By taking charge of your choices, you're taking charge of your life. Simply put, this is the practice of saying "no". Say no to the things that are draining, to the tasks you don't have time for, and to the people who don't respect you. You don't owe anyone anything more than you are willing to give, and you retain the right to change your mind or your direction at any time. Taking charge of your choices is the outward activity of exercising and implementing your boundaries.
 

Make Self-Care A Priority

I know, I know. "Self-care" is such a buzz-word right now. But I 100% agree with the hype, it's so so so important. Self-care not only reinforces your boundaries and reminds you why you set them in the first place, but it gives you the necessary time you need to decompress, de-stress, and re-evaluate so you can come back to the table a better, more well-rested person. Plain and simple, it makes you a better human to other humans when you've taken time for yourself. For me, my favorite self-care activity is cancelling plans. I know that sounds kinda strange, but if I'm feeling really stressed, burnt out, overwhelmed, etc., there's nothing more freeing or more empowering than saying "you know what, as much as I'd love to hang out tonight, I really am not feeling 100% and I need a night to myself. I hope you can understand. Let's reschedule for next week?" While it depends very much on the event in question, most friends will absolutely understand (because remember, you've already weeded out the ones who wouldn't!), because they, too, are free-thinking individuals who need time to themselves. Self-care takes many forms, but no matter your preferred method or style, it's important to recognize your limits and take the necessary steps to preserve your sanity. 


I'm still learning a lot about my own boundaries, but while the lines might change form to allow for life changes or new responsibilities, there are a few thoughts that still hold very true to me:

  • Being a doormat is not synonymous with being a good person.

  • Accepting poor treatment of yourself because it's comfortable and conflict-free should not be confused with love, joy, or happiness.

  • Real relationships cannot be sustained without healthy boundaries, and respect for them.

  • Saying no to things that don't honor your self-worth is okay.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on this subject in the comments below!