I have generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) and I’ve been managing my condition for three years now. I hate everything about it, of course, but I have finally reached a place where I am happy and anxiety is an annoyance I have to deal directly with up to three times a week (during a good week).
I have several methods for managing anxiety so I decided to make a masterpost about what makes me feel better, what works and what doesn’t work for me. Maybe it will help someone, somewhere.
Note: I am not a doctor or a trained therapist. If you take my advice, please also seek medical help. I am currently taking medication for my anxiety, so it may be that some of this works better for me because my medication is taking the edge off.
Why are you anxious?
- Start monitoring the times and contexts in which you feel the most anxious: for me it’s when I haven’t properly slept, when I haven’t eaten at least every three hours, when I forgot to take my medication, when I have too much caffeine, when I travel.
- Once you know in what contexts you are more likely to feel volatile, you can start coming up with practical ways to counter them or remedy them: take snacks to class/work, sleep a healthy amount, exercise at least three times a week. You’re smarter than your mental illness.
- If you have physical symptoms that come with your worrying, don’t give in to them. Your chest hurts but it will pass, your head is heavy but it will pass, it feels like you can’t breathe but you can and it will pass.
On avoiding situations that make you anxious
I get it, anxiety is scary and it makes you fear everything. It’s really difficult to overcome that feeling in your gut that something is going to go wrong or that you’re going to die or something as equally scary is going to happen to you if you go and do that thing. I understand because I’ve been there.
But I am told, again and again, by therapist after therapist, that avoidance makes anxiety worse. There’s a lot of research on this. I personally don’t want to miss out on experiences because of this illness, so I’ve started doing things that scare me or worry me more often: I’ve been travelling by train at least once a month, I have been going out with bigger groups of people, I started a Masters degree (I was terrified), etc.
You don’t have to do everything at once: starting small is key, I think. If you can’t handle it, it’s okay – try next time. But always keep in mind that there should have a next time, however long it takes. You can have anxiety and live a full life.
As I’ve said before, I am taking medication for my anxiety. I feel that it is unmanageable without it, but you might feel otherwise. If you feel that you need medication, do not be afraid to seek it out – it could save your life. If you’re worried about how psych medication gives you ‘fake feelings,’ remember that anxiety also gives you fake feelings – that’s why it’s an illness, your brain isn’t reacting to the outside world like it should. Being in constant fight or flight mode is not normal.
Another note on this stuff: it’s useless if you haven’t got at least some grip on your mental illness. I know that the media reports that meditation can be as good as medication for depression but I’ve never found that to be true. Trying to cure my depression with meditation while I felt like the worst person on earth was horrifying – of course I failed (which is 100% fine! If you fail, you just have to find another coping method).
Now that these disclaimers are out of the way, here are a few things that help me when I am feeling anxious.
- Yoga (mostly vinyasa) – I’ve been practising yoga for two years now and it’s pretty amazing. This is my favourite yoga YouTube channel.
- Meditation – I meditate on an off, to be honest. But loads of people have told me that meditation has been hugely helpful in controlling thoughts and coming down from a panic attack. I usually use the app Calm (I don’t have a subscription).
- Snacks – This can be a difficult one because anxious people can be over-eaters. I usually buy loads and loads of fruit which means I am kind of healthy about it. I recommend it.
- Do something with your hands – Take up a craft, paint something on a canvas, learn how to knit, buy an adult colouring book. These are all things I have done and recommend.
- Self-help and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – CBT is pretty much a catch-all for anxiety disorders: it’s good for OCD, for GAD, for social anxiety, etc, etc. Reading self-help books that have directions on how to make anxiety less of an issue in my life has helped me immensely. I love The Highly Sensitive Person and this database of self-help workbooks has been super helpful in teaching myself CBT so far.
- Self-help workbooks
- Tagged #Anxiety on this blog
- Kati Morton’s videos on mental illness, in particular this one that has 5 Easy Tips to Beat Anxiety and this that explains what cognitive behavioural therapy actually is – she has LOADS more, I recommend scrolling through her channel.
- Suicide hotline UK / Suicide hotline USA
Disclaimer: I will be adding information to this post as I find more useful resources / have more useful advice.