Let me start off by saying there is no ‘right’ way to cope. What works for me might not work for you. Or maybe it will. It’s all trial and error until you find what does work. And don’t be disheartened if it takes you a while to find it. It’s taken me the best part of five years to put all these into practice, and even now I do still have trouble with it all.
Battling your own mind every day is tough. The good news is you’re much tougher than your anxiety.
Yes, even you.
It’s not a magic cure or a quick fix, because, if I’m being completely honest, I don’t ever believe my anxiety will go away. It’s been there my whole life. No matter how many times I face the same fear and do the thing I’m afraid to do, I still feel a flutter of panic. Even on the 100th attempt. And I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing.
I’m not becoming fearless, I’m just becoming stronger.
I’m learning how to cope.
And here’s how.
THE 10 MINUTE RULE
In every anxiety-inducing situation where I don’t think I’m going to be able to handle it (which is every situation really), I break down the hour into six ten minute intervals. I focus only on those ten minutes. Ten minutes can feel like a lifetime when you suffer from anxiety, but it honestly still surprises me now just how quickly those ten minutes pass by. When those first ten minutes are up and I’m still there, I prove to myself that I can do it.
If I really feel the situation is completely overwhelming and I’m feeling a panic attack coming on, I’ll leave after the first ten minutes are up. But I have to see out those first ten minutes because, when I do, it’s a reminder to me at a later date that I was brave for ten minutes. I survived ten minutes. It may not seem like much, but it beats the hell out of never trying, right?
It doesn’t even have to be ten minutes. Break it down into a number that better suits you. It might be five minutes. It might even be fifteen. The most important thing is that you’re trying.
TALKING ABOUT IT
This might seem like such cliche advice – and it is – but it’s also true.
I used to be embarrassed to tell people about my anxiety. I felt as though they would treat me differently because who in their right mind cries at the thought of answering the phone! Or acknowledging a driver who has stopped to let you cross the road (which is something that gave me major anxiety). They didn’t know why it upset me so much, why I was so afraid, why I couldn’t do it. When people aren’t aware of what’s going on, it’s much harder for them to help you.
Ever since I started becoming more honest and open with people about it, the easier it’s become. Most of my friends make sure I’m comfortable with something first and they look out for me in situations that trigger my anxiety, especially when we go for food, or to the cinema, or even on nights out. I’ve been honest with my classmates about my anxiety this time around because there are certain situations in college that set it off, like math class and the upcoming group presentation we have to do.
Who says you have to suffer in silence? You’re not a burden. You may think you’re being too much hassle for someone, and maybe you are (spoiler: you’re not the only one, everyone can be, we’re only human), but you’re worth it to the people who love and care for you.
In those moments when all your worries and fears and doubts are the loudest voices in your head and you can feel the panic attack building up inside you, it’s important to keep yourself grounded and pull yourself back into the present moment.
My boyfriend was the one who introduced this tactic to me. What he will do is ask me to focus on any object, any silly, insignificant object, like a pencil, and then ask me to describe what I see and can feel. He does this as a way to help calm the racing thoughts in my head so that I can think and speak more coherently and rationally.
Another one he does with me is to name:
- 5 things I can see
- 4 things I can feel
- 3 things I can hear
- 2 things I can smell
- 1 thing I can taste
Both of these grounding techniques really get me thinking and are a great way of helping me focus on something else other than the anxiety long enough for the panic inside of me to decrease to more tolerable levels. These are techniques that I do whenever I feel too anxious, even when my boyfriend isn’t around and when I’m on my own.
The first time I did this, I felt silly. How is me telling myself I’m brave and strong going to help me? It’s not going to magically cure my anxiety. So what good is it?
Let me ask you this: what is putting yourself down going to do? Is it going to make you want to be brave and face your fears? Or is it more likely to make the anxiety you feel stronger? Your anxiety is a negative voice in your head that feeds on your doubts, insecurities, and fears. Why add your own negative voice to the mix?
While I don’t always believe it when I tell myself that I’m brave and strong and courageous, I still tell myself that I am. The more negative things you say to yourself, the more negative you’ll feel. So I decided to change that and started to tell myself more positive affirmations. It’s all about changing your perspective on things as well. I tell myself I’m brave because fighting my own mind each and every single day is brave. I don’t have to bungee jump to be brave. Brave is subjective.
STEPPING OUT OF MY COMFORT ZONE
This is the most important and challenging of them all.
I know I’m never going to get better if I don’t at least try and do the things that scare me. I’m not saying you need to go out there and do the thing that terrifies you most of all right away, but I am saying that if you build up to it, then you’ll discover that you’re able to endure so much more than you thought, and, more importantly, that you’re so much stronger than you give yourself credit for.
I started off small and worked my way up. For example, one fear that I’m currently facing is eating alone in public. It’s a fear I want to face for when I got to university next September. If I do go to uni away from home then I’m not going to know anyone or be familiar with the area, which is already causing me anxiety and I’m not even there yet! So I started off by getting a cake from a coffee shop while I waited for my boyfriend to meet me. Then the next time, when I had a whole afternoon to myself, I bought a cone of chips from the chippy and ate them on a walk along the prom. Each time I was alone. Next time, I want to eat something a bit bigger in a cafe/restaurant, although I’m thinking a fast food place (so healthy, I know) to start off with because at least then I won’t be waiting a while for the food. It still scares me, like completely petrifies me, but not as much as it would have if I hadn’t already taken baby steps to overcome this fear.
It might take you several attempts to overcome one of these steps – I know that I didn’t do them all on the first try – but keep at it. You’re so much better and stronger and courageous than you will ever know.
One I haven’t mentioned is medication. Despite the antidepressants I’ve been prescribed, which are for chronic pain relief rather than mental health, I’m not currently medicated for my anxiety. I never have been. It’s not something that I have ever been medicated for. However, I’m a strong advocate for medication. If it helps you then it helps you. There’s no shame whatsoever in that. You wouldn’t stigmatise someone with a heart condition for taking medication that’s keeping them alive, so let’s not stigmatise someone for taking medication for their brain. The brain is an organ as well and it can – and does – cause problems. As I’m not and have never been medicated, I didn’t feel as though it was appropriate for me to comment on it, but I also didn’t want to finish this post without having mentioned it as I would never want someone to think that the only coping mechanisms to try are ones that don’t involve medication.
Do you think you’ll try any of these? Have you got your own way of coping that isn’t mentioned here? I’d love to know as I’m always looking for new ways to control my anxiety.