Taking care of yourself and your anxiety

I know world mental health day was a few days ago, but here’s a post about anxiety as the stress is real right now. After having and (mostly) overcoming anxiety, I have accumulated a few tips in the short term and long term things you can do to take care of yourself.

1) Laugh at yourself:

You know that scene in Harry Potter where they shout ‘riddikulus’ at a boggart and their fear turns into something funny? I found channelling your inner wizard at your anxiety can actually have a similar effect. Anxiety can make you think some rather ‘out there’ thoughts, so next time, laugh at how ridiculous the thought seems. The first few times it may feel fake, as the feelings feel so real, but after a few times talking and laughing yourself down from a thought, they do eventually shrink. Plus, smiling tricks your brain into releasing endorphins that naturally calm you down.

2) Avoid Dr. Google:

The first time I had a panic attack, I ended up googling my symptoms and convinced myself I was having a heart attack, an ambulance was called, and apparently I was not the first person this had happened to. Panic attacks share symptoms with some quite serious health conditions, and the fear of thinking something’s wrong with you fuels a further panic attack. In future, if you feel the need to google ‘my head feels foggy’ or ‘I feel I can’t breathe’ put the word ‘anxiety’ at the end of your search, it will tell you that the symptoms you are having are due to your anxiety and once you know that, you can calm back down.

3) Do the scary thing:

When you have anxiety, you may not even realise but you begin avoiding certain things, if you’re out always planning escape routes and ways out. It’s completely natural to want to do this, but it’s also the worst thing you can do in the long term. Once you begin avoiding certain things that induce anxiety, it makes it harder and harder to ever do them and allows the fear to manifest and take hold.

The more you confront your triggers, as hard and horrible is it may be, the less hold anxiety can have over your life. When I first developed anxiety, I’d have a panic attack pretty much everytime I took the tube, which I needed to to get to work, so I made myself get on every day no matter how horrible I felt and after about two weeks, I could leave my impending doom complex on the platform. Another thing that really helped me was I wrote a list of ten things that really terrified me, to the point where even thinking of doing gave me palpitations, and I did them. Soon, I realised that I could do anything and be okay, and new things didn’t scare me so much.

4) Talk it out:

Anxiety can keep you trapped in your own mind, where thoughts grow bigger and bigger and bigger until you feel like you’re drowning. Letting those thoughts out, and sounding them out, and having a friend talk you down can be invaluable. Eventually, you can learn how to do this for yourself. Say the scary thoughts out loud and then challenge them; stop the negativity cycle in its tracks with reason.

5) Fight, not flight:

When having an anxiety attack, it’s because your body has gone into flight mode, even when there is no real danger. The other option is to go into fight mode; get pumped, say ‘bring it on’, challenge your anxiety to do its worst. This fight mode releases different chemicals in your body and calms you down. I used to pretend I was at the battle of Helms Deep in Lord of the Rings to get into fight mode (sad I know).

6) Have a mantra:

Repeating a phrase over and over such as “I am safe, I am calm, I am happy” eventually tricks your brain into thinking it is, it also pushes all other anxious thoughts out of the mind and gives you the focus to calm down.

7) Cute things and fluufs:

Save five videos that you find hilarious, cute, or emotional on your phone, and whenever you feel anxious, watch them to distract you. Eventually, your body will associate watching these videos with feeling calm, and so calm down immediately once you’ve watched them.

8) Turn ‘what ifs’ into ‘so whats’?

Anxiety is full of questions, full of ‘what ifs’ about the future and the unknown. Turn these questions on their head and say ‘so what?’. Think through the worst case scenario and come up with a solution, or just tell yourself ‘I could get through that’. For instance, if thinking ‘what if I hand this application in and don’t get it? I may be a failure’ turn it around and say ‘So what? It doesn’t make me a failure, it makes me human, I have loads of other good things going on.’ The fear of something not working out is never worth the chance of something being amazing. The risk is worth the reward.

9) Know how you see the world is not how the world sees you:

Anxiety can make you think that the world is against you, or that thing you said one time is going to ruin your friendship forever, and how you perceive yourself becomes a world of negatives. Know that though it feels so real, your brain is lying to you and everyone still knows how amazing you are. You’re still your brilliant self; talk to yourself as you would a friend, and don’t let your brain get away with chatting sh*t.

10) Cuddle:

Cuddling, an animal or a fellow human, for 20 seconds releases dopamine that can calm you down.

11) Defeat is okay:

Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re coming out of it, then you’ll have a relapse and suddenly everything is awful again. It’s not. Overcoming anxiety is a process, and takes time and persistence. Struggle for (and celebrate) progress, not perfection.

12) Know that you WILL get through this:

This is a period of your life that you will look back on and say ‘I did the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do, and I’m here’. In fact, there is a silver lining; anxiety can make you fearless, once you’ve overcome anxiety and the fears it brings, you know you can take on and do anything. If something does scare you, you know you can handle it. Job interview? Bring it on. Got a date? No sweat. Bear attack in the woods? Okay, then you’ll want to go into flight mode for sure. But honestly, if you push through anxiety and do the things that terrify you the most, no matter how horrible it seems, it can teach you to be braver than you thought possible and live the carefree, fearless and amazing life you deserve.

A dear friend wrote me a letter just before I began university, and knowing how scared I was enclosed these words (which helped me through some of the worst moments of my life) that I think apply to everyone going through the struggle of anxiety: “‘Life shrinks and expands according to one’s courage”’ — Nim. So be brave, because your life is meant to be f*cking enormous.”

By Ruth Lyons