Mental Health

Living Comfortably with Anxiety: A Simple Guide

If you’ve ever been in a job interview, you know that you can’t escape the “what is your greatest weakness?” question. Usually, people will take a positive answer and spin it so it seems like a weakness. But in reality, everyone knows they’re just subtly saying one of the qualities that they know the employer wants to hear.

“I’m such an organized person really. I’m actually too organized if you can believe it, Janet. It’s a weakness in itself really, because I need everything to be organized, like, all the time.”

My default answer is that I’m addicted to stress and perpetually dissatisfied.  Needless to say, I’m currently unemployed.

Living with anxiety

I’ve struggled with my mental health for the past 6 years. My mind is almost always filled with some form of anxious thought. Anxiety in itself is a normal, rather healthy emotion that all human beings will encounter at some point in their life. But when frequently experienced in excessive amounts, it can begin to affect a person’s well-being. Anxiety can start to interfere with moments of happiness at any given point because it’s always just there, waiting.

Anxious thoughts can manifest in all different forms. They can be subtle – that small voice of doubt and insecurity in the back of your mind that questions absolutely everything you do. Why are they looking at me? Are they talking about me? They are definitely talking about me.

They can be loud and paralyzing, to the point where you are so overwhelmed and can’t bring yourself to do anything. What am I doing with my life? Am I ever going to be successful? Why do I feel like this?

And sometimes they can be downright stupid. Is my left boob bigger than my right boob? Google said I’m going to die.

You are not your thoughts

The problem with these anxious thoughts is not the thoughts themselves, but instead our tendency to attach them to our feelings.  The thoughts influence your feelings and it’s hard to dissociate the two. It gets to a certain point where you think you are just a perpetually anxious person; that it’s a newfound and unwanted personality trait and that’s just who you are and you can’t change that.  But it’s important to understand that your thoughts are not your feelings and you are not your thoughts.

Although it takes a while to change this mindset and break this habit, there are a couple of tactics to help make it easier.

Noting

I first learned about noting through the Headspace meditation app. It’s a technique used to release the hold that our thoughts have over our emotions. This technique is simple: you have a thought, acknowledge that thought, and then let it go. It might not be that easy at first, but it is that simple. Instead of getting entrenched in that thought and letting it affect how you’re feeling, let the thought enter your mind, acknowledge its existence, and let it drift away. It usually helps to have some form of visual imagery in your mind to help the process. Some people attach their thoughts to a leaf and let the leaf drift away down a river. Others like to put their thoughts in a cloud and allow the cloud to float away into the air until out of sight.

Meditation

Meditating can be a very freeing, yet very frustrating thing. When I first started meditating, it felt more like a chore than anything. I was constantly getting frustrated with myself because I didn’t think I was doing it right and I wasn’t seeing any immediate results. But there’s no right way to meditate; it takes time and a consistent practice to start seeing any benefits. And when that happens, it can be a very rewarding thing. Meditation gives your mind space to just be.

Exercise

If I went out and exercised every time I had an anxious thought, you bet your ass I’d be the fittest  person on this planet. Whenever I get overwhelmingly anxious, instead of succumbing to my desire to stay in bed and allow myself to spiral deeper into the depths of those unwanted thoughts, I’ll go out and exercise. My exercise of choice is usually SoulCycle. This is probably because the music is so loud I can’t hear myself think. But it doesn’t always have to a be a super intense $35 workout (rip my wallet). Even just changing your surroundings and going for a walk or light jog can help ease your thoughts and provide a welcome, healthy distraction.

There are a lot of different ways to make your relationship with anxiety more comfortable and more manageable, and these are just a few. Practicing self-care and being patient and nonjudgmental can go a long way, and eventually, you’ll be using the answer I’m overcoming my anxiety as your biggest strength instead of your biggest weakness.  

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