“Anxiety can make you feel so overwhelmed that you have trouble doing simple things. Breathe. Take things one step at a time. You’ve got this.” ~ Karen Salmansohn
Anxiety is crippling, debilitating, and the most annoying emotion ever.
It takes away our ability to approach any situation with clarity, subjects us to a host of gravely uncomfortable physical sensations, and leaves us mentally and physically drained.
Even if we are able to manage it, the mere experience of it is unpleasant and disturbing.
The first time I came to know that there is something called anxiety (in actual experience and not just through books) was when I had dropped out of my masters.
I had always been an anxious child, but I never realized it until all hell broke loose when I had to take the decision of dropping out.
It gave me sleepless nights, catastrophic thoughts, put me through crying spells, and made me completely unreceptive to any help that had come my way.
The saving grace was that despite being in that state, I was able to take a tough decision that proved to be the right one for me. I just wish it had come without any extra baggage; it only made space for more triggers.
Those who go through anxiety understand more than anyone else that dealing with it is like sitting with the Pandora’s Box wide open.
We don’t know what we’re going to be anxious about next or when and how our anxiety will show up. At times, even when we know what’s making us anxious, we still don’t know what to do about it—except wait for it to pass. By then, we’d be already too exhausted and tired.
“Anxiety isn’t weakness. Living with anxiety, turning up and doing stuff with anxiety takes a strength most will never know.” ~ Anonymous
Even when we’re not actively thinking about something, our subconscious mind is always preoccupied with some what-if scenario and we’re just waiting for another roller coaster of anxiety to strike.
No matter how much we try, we can’t just “snap out of it” or look at things rationally in that moment. The more we try to escape, push it away, or distract ourselves, the more it bounces back—with harder force.
When struggling with anxiety, one of the most important yet difficult things we need to do is to open up and make room for it. Just like we’re not supposed to question, judge, or try to snap out of pleasant emotional states, we need to stop fighting this unpleasant state as well.
We need to be able to:
1. Sit with it. Slow down, drop everything that we’re doing for a few minutes, and let our thoughts run freely.
2. Allow it to come up—by dropping the struggle to make ourselves better right in that anxious moment. The more we try to run toward a quick fix, the worse it gets. Often, in a bid to make it go away, we resist so much that we end up engaging in actions that might give us short-term relief but cause a lot of damage later. We just need to slow down, sit, and be.
3. Acknowledge that we are feeling anxious. We can simply tell ourselves “I am feeling anxious and I just need to let it pass.”
4. Ground ourselves in that moment—by breathing into our anxiety and discomfort. There are various ways in which we can ground ourselves. We can focus on our breathing or focus on what’s around us to remind ourselves that while our mind may be grappling with scenarios that haven’t happened yet, we are pretty much in the present.
5. Validate ourselves. We need to tell ourselves that it’s okay to be anxious.
6. Engage in something constructive that helps us to stabilize. Once we make little room for anxiety, then we can move to any action that can help us to stabilize without causing any extra harm. We can reach out to a friend, listen to music, write, walk it off, or paint to come back into the present.
When the moment of distress has passed, it’s important for us to review what triggered our anxiety alarm in the first place.
We need to build awareness and understanding of what we’re struggling to cope with then find effective ways of dealing with that trigger.
Mere knowledge of the triggers without the requisite mindset shift is not enough.
Learning to deal with our anxiety is like going to the gym; we need to keep building up our awareness and coping muscles to take on different kinds of challenges. We keep working on it till we begin to understand that anxiety is just our mind’s way of asking for help when it starts to feel distressed and helpless about some things.
It’s not trying to incapacitate us. It’s trying to let us call attention to something that needs more care and understanding.
But before we come to any solution or conclusion about a situation, we need to make room for that distress. Instead of running away from our own uncomfortable emotions, we need to be able to let them come and go in their own time because the problem is not that we feel uncomfortable, but that we spend the majority of our time and energy trying to run away from that discomfort.
The one thing someone struggling with anxiety needs is validation. They need to hear, “Hey, I understand you’re anxious. You are struggling with something right now and it’s okay. Just breathe and allow it to pass. It’s okay. I’m here. I know you’re scared and worried. Whatever it is, we’ll handle it together.”
Most times when we’re feeling anxious, we need to be able to give that validation to our own self. We need to tell ourselves, “I am anxious, scared, and worried, and it’s okay. I’ll let it pass. I just need to take one step at a time.”
“Anxiety can feel as huge as the big, blue sea. But remember that the sea is made up of smaller waves.” ~ Kelly Jo Holly