As someone who has lived with the effects of anxiety for a few years, I have realized the most helpful way for me to deal with it is by giving it an identity outside of myself. The effects that this mental illness has on me is not a defect me as a person but is the result of the illness which I often have referred to as “The Liar”. I know that there can be biological factors which can contribute to the onset of anxiety such as imbalances with brain chemistry. But for many people who experience anxiety, including myself it is heavily influenced by our experiences such as stresses or traumas we have been through or continue to go through. When I acknowledged that anxiety stems from my mind’s response to factors outside myself it has made it easier to work towards lessening its effect on my life as I don’t feel like I am fighting myself.
For me, the symptoms have shown up over time, changing as I learn to cope and combat the various ways it has impacted me. An example is the insomnia I used to experience, which I dealt with by finding techniques like sleeping with a hot water bottle and using lavender oil to help me settle. Other ways it has affected me have included muscle tension issues, racing heart rate, hyperventilating, issues with appetite and numerous others. But as I have learned to recognize and take a step back mentally from being fearful the easier it has been just to take action to support myself through those symptoms or just hold on and wait for them to dissipate. These changing symptoms and the horrible doubt and fear inducing question of “what if…?” is why I refer to anxiety as The Liar.
I joke with myself that one day I will have figured out all the tricks that The Liar tries to use to unsettle me, and then it won’t have any room to bother me anymore. In reality, I don’t know if this is possible, but the idea of it is a comfort when I have had a particularly frustrating time dealing with the uneasiness or other uncomfortable symptoms that the anxiety can set off. Regardless of whether I reach that point of freedom or not doesn’t matter so much as long I hold onto the confidence that progress is possible.
Muscle tension – Starting with your feet, tense and hold the muscle group for ten seconds and then inhale and exhale a deep breath as you release the tension. Then move to the next muscle group on your calves and then thighs, stomach, hands, arms, shoulders, face. With each muscle group, counting to ten and making sure you inhale and exhale deeply as you release the tension. During the exercise, it is also helpful to focus on controlled, smooth breathing at the pace that seems natural for you but with a deeper breath as you release the tension in each area is extremely helpful.
Mindfulness – Pick a small object and hold it in your hands. Notice how it feels, the textures, weight and shape. Now notice how it looks, its colour and angles. Now whether it has a smell, and what that is like. Now give it a shake, what sound does it produce? This exercise helps give your brain something to focus on and interpret outside of yourself.
Worry – If your mind is busy with worry and stress, it can be helpful to visualize a way to process that and take a step back from those thoughts. An example is visualizing yourself in a relaxing environment, such as by a running stream where you can imagine it looks however you would like. Then as a way to release the worrying or stressful thoughts, you visualise each point of worry as a leaf or flower that you can drop into the river and watch it float away. You can do this exercise as long as you like until you have let go of any and all worrying or stressful thoughts. If the same thought comes up again, don’t get angry or involved in the fact that it has come up again, just take another breathe and release it down the imaginary stream again.
If you have difficulty with visualisations, another option for letting go of worries, especially before sleep, is to have a journal that you keep specifically as a worry journal. Take this book into another room away from your sleeping space and write down anything and everything that is worrying you and then leaving the book in the other room, go back to bed. The idea is that you are letting go of these thoughts by putting them on paper and by leaving it in another room you are helping your brain to disconnect from them.