Maybe it’s a once in while flare up, or an everyday burden, or maybe you’ve never experienced it at all. Whichever camp you fall into, I’ve compiled a few tips on how to overcome it in your day-to-day life. I hope this helps, and more importantly, I hope you know you are not alone.
First and foremost: how do you know you’re having symptoms of anxiety or experiencing an anxiety attack (because quite frankly it can feel like you’re having a heart attack)? Well, I’m not a doctor, so I am not about to diagnose you — PLEASE see a doctor if you’re truly concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing — but from my own experience, I can tell you what the symptoms I experience are like.
- Heart racing or palpitation/flutters
- Shallow breathing or feeling like you’re not taking in enough oxygen
- Hyperventilation (often caused by the shallow breathing as you can be taking in too much air at a time due to overcompensating)
- Tingling or numbness of fingers
- Dizziness (a symptom of the hyperventilation — it’s a vicious cycle)
- Achy joints or muscles or tension
- Unable to concentrate on the task in front of you
- Racing thoughts
- Feeling restless or fidgety, like you can’t just sit still
- Panicked feeling — it’s that fight or flight response kicking in
- Moodiness or low energy
- Unsettled or wary
Like I said, these are just some physical, mental and emotional responses I’ve felt before in past bouts of anxiety. Everyone is different and therefore, the way anxiety manifests itself in any one person will be too. Know your signs — and if you happen to take note of them, know your triggers too!
Write it out.
Personally, I’m not very good at keeping a journal consistently throughout my everyday life, but perhaps you are. Take the time to write out how you’re feeling. If you’re unsure where to start, maybe try asking yourself these questions:
What’s going on around me right now (in class, on my phone, at home, at work, etc.)?
Where am I right now? Am I in any immediate danger?
What are the top 3 emotions that I’m feeling right now?
Is there someplace I can go to excuse myself from my current environment (take a walk around the office courtyard, go outside with the dog for 5–10 minutes, cook/follow a new recipe, etc.)?
Is there someone that I can go to (or call) and share my experience with right now?
Draw, paint, create!
Maybe you’re not the wordy-type, but you enjoy creating things by hand like drawing or painting something that inspires you, or tending to your garden. Great — go do that. Distract yourself from the thoughts that might be racing through your mind right now, and do something hands on to release that adrenaline.
Talk about it.
As a social worker and therapist, I am a huge proponent for talking over situations and processing out loud. I’m not saying you have to go and talk to a professional. Could it help? Well, yeah. But maybe you’re not quite ready to take that step. What about a friend? A family member? A trusted mentor? I may be assuming here, but I think it’s safe to say that you going to talk to someone you trust is a good idea. And if you trust them, then I trust that they would be more than willing to talk about what’s going on with you and provide that much needed support.
Okay…so drawing didn’t amount to much more than a stick figure holding something that looks like either a really sad cactus or a not-so-pretty cat, and you wouldn’t exactly say you’re good with words. What about getting up and going out for a brisk walk or jog around the neighborhood? Exercise — like doing something you love — is also a great endorphin-releaser. And the fresh air will definitely help you out too. So go, take a deep breath and tell yourself, “it’s all going to be okay and I will get through this.”
Get some rest.
Admit it. You’re not getting your full 8 hours of sleep like you should, and you just yelled at your roommate for leaving breadcrumbs on the counter top. Sheesh. We get it. You’re tired. Anxiety can also be spurred on from lack of sleep, my friend. Our bodies are like machinery, needing nourishment as fuel and sleep in order to replenish and recharge our batteries. Go to bed and let the day behind you, go.
Be patient with yourself.
Basically you’re like, “Um, none of these things worked for me. Obviously I’m just going to be this way forever, so what’s the point?” and it’s only been two days. This last bit is probably the most important key to dealing with anxiety or even an attack: be patient with yourself, friend. Anxiety can be managed, but it’s not likely to just go away — even if you did just paint a portrait that would rival da Vinci’s Mona Lisa. It will take time, and that’s okay. Just know that you’re not weird for experiencing what you’re experiencing, or even for not feeling better after a few days of self-care.
You’re completely normal and you’re going to be OK.
Having anxiety isn’t easy, but it is manageable, dear friends.
Take some time to take care of yourself today, whether or not you’re experiencing anxious thoughts or feelings. I find that when I take the time in the present to address how I’m doing and feeling, it often helps me prepare better ways to manage when future stress and anxiety threatens to get in my way.