“Do not let your difficulties fill you with anxiety, after all it is only in the darkest nights that stars shine more brightly.” ~ Ali Ibn Abi Talib AS
The feeling of anxiety clouds your mind, you can’t think straight, your heart is beating at an abnormal rate, your stomach is churning, there is some sort of uneasiness in your body, you are sweating, and the monkey mind is on the loose.
There are so many different processes, release of cortisol, all happening at the same time in that very moment in your body, that if your body was a rocket it would have taken off and soon crashed and exploded. Jodi Picoult puts it, “Anxiety’s like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you very far.”
There are situations that make you feel anxious – applying for a job, going for an interview, suffering from a chronic illness, tensions in a relationship, family or friends, or the current pandemic that has engulfed everyone in uncertainty and chaos – the only way to rise above the situation is not to focus on the feeling but on finding or resolving the situation you are in.
There are times when being anxious is normal, such as when someone is sick or you have to undergo a test or examination. Even during these times it’s possible to center yourself using the methods we will come to, but before that let’s take a look at some of the main types of anxieties that can disrupt your everyday life.
A look at some common anxiety disorders
“Man is not worried by real problems so much as by his imagined anxieties about real problems” ~ Epictetus
Generalised anxiety disorder
Generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) is by far the most common one, worrying too much about everything, continuous feeling of nervousness and tension without any valid reason. You can’t seem to escape this anxiety, where you can’t concentrate and feel restless.
People who have frequent panic attacks without any particular triggers may have a panic disorder. Panic attacks come with a bunch of physical and mental symptoms such as difficulty in breathing, heart palpitations and sometimes you even feel like you’re dying.
A common one that usually isn’t disruptive is Obsessive-compulsive disorder or OCD. You would have come across someone with this disorder, they probably like things placed in a certain way, or to keep cleaning the house or keep hoarding with the inability to get rid of even useless things. Although sometimes people who have OCD suffer with repetitive thoughts as well which could sometimes be negative and turbulent.
Remember the movie Arachnophobia (fear of spiders)? One of the common phobias with very little weight to support it, most spiders aren’t dangerous and don’t bite. Phobias are uncontrollable fears of an object, place, animal etc. They are anxiety disorders, but can be managed by avoiding the trigger, such as acrophobia (the fear of heights).
I’ve always been anxious about speaking to a crowd or performing on a stage. Social anxiety though goes beyond that, the fear is intense and you start sweating, you can’t talk right and your heart is about to pound its way through your rib cage.
Social phobia or anxiety may make you not want to meet new people or even stop socializing completely. You feel like you’re being judged or noticed and sometimes not even want to go out for a meal.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
The recent years PTSD has been in the spotlight with a lot of veterans suffering from this disorder. PTSD develops after a person experiences extreme trauma, wars, accidents, assault and even natural disasters can be a trigger.
Any situation that is threatening can make one feel anxious for months or years after the event, even without being physically harmed or just by witnessing a traumatic event. While for some people a traumatic event of someone who is close to them is enough to trigger this disorder.
These are the common types of anxieties that we come across. Now let’s move on to how we can deal with them.
Coping with Anxiety
“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” ~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
I have realized that when I’m preoccupied with the symptoms of anxiety, such as the feeling of fear, worry, confusion, I attract even more negative energy. They say your thoughts and words have power, so what you think you attract. If you think or keep telling yourself, “I am not good enough, I won’t be able to do well in this interview,” you are falling into an abyss by comparing yourself with another and with the negative self-talk it’s going to be really tough to crawl out of.
These beliefs of not being ‘good enough’ is usually something one picks up on our journey through life, either during childhood where the environment was filled with anxiety, stress, worry, trauma, and unknowingly, it has become a part of you.
None of us really want to be in this position and the “you are not good enough,” that’s revolving around your head has no truth. Just the fact that you’re alive makes you worthy, you are good enough, you are strong enough, you are unique with your own set of idiosyncrasies and disposition and never ever let the insecurities ruin your life.
Dr. Olivia Remes of the University of Cambridge shares her research on anxiety and provides ways to treat and manage it. She suggests that treatments such as psychotherapy and medication often result in poor outcomes and have high rates of relapses. Remes puts forth the importance of harnessing strength in ourselves in this lovely talk below…
“Whoever has learned to be anxious in the right way has learned the ultimate.” ~ Søren Kierkegaard, The Concept of Anxiety
Analysing your Anxiety & Triggers
Most of the thoughts that play in your head when you’re anxious is an exaggerated version of the situation. When you can analyse the intensity of the situation, the actual risks they present, you then gain the power to understand where your mind is making it worse. You need to take control of what you can really change and it’s imperative that you learn to accept what you cannot.
Based on the kinds of anxieties mentioned above, you would have noticed that each one has different kinds of triggers and some are common as well. When you find out what causes you to get anxious, you can learn to avoid the trigger, this is possible with certain anxieties, but for some there is no other way but to learn to cope with them.
It’s easier when its something such as coffee or a stimulant that is in your control but when it comes to something like dealing with a chronic illness one has to accept the situation and find ways to manage it using some of the methods mentioned below.
Being Mindful not Mindfull
Practicing a mind-body discipline – be it yoga, pranayama, diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, Qiqong, Tai Chi and so on – it can be any practice that resonates with you, helps to calm the anxious mind and bring some clarity in your thoughts. Personally, during this lockdown period I had the opportunity to deepen my practice in yoga and pranayama, and that brought a lot of unhealed emotions to the surface (which can also be an anxiety trigger) and I had no choice but to continue dealing with it.
Pursue a practice of your choice, or if you are already, then deepen it and it will help you see where your mind is getting stuck, and what is causing the anxiety. Here is a beautiful guided meditation that can help keep you grounded.
“I think this is what we all want to hear: that we are not alone in hitting the bottom, and that it is possible to come out of that place courageous, beautiful, and strong.” ~ Anna White
Maintain a Journal for your thoughts
There was a growing phase in my life when writing down thoughts, feelings helped me to gain a better understanding of them. Whenever I felt overwhelmed by a situation I would turn to my paper and pen and just allow my stream of thoughts to flow onto the paper. It was a cathartic experience and it always felt good and light like a burden has been lifted off.
Your diary becomes a safe space to express even your deepest fears and vulnerabilities, there is nobody judging you or providing opinions of how things should be. Writing is a wonderful tool to move forward and letting go of those anxious thoughts, once you let go is when the healing really begins.
Engage in a creative activity
Working with your hands does wonders to your brain. Whenever I feel stressed, anxious, worried about something or someone (it is mostly my mother), I take up a handwork project, knitting or making a mandala, and it eases my mind. I feel a lot calmer and happy to have created something.
Neuroscientists have acknowledged the effects of doing handwork on the mind. It is about creating something – be it art, music, sewing, quilting, drawing, cooking, and so on – you are so absorbed by the activity that you are soaked in the present moment. This in turn takes care of the internal chaos and the monkey mind that triggers anxiety.
There are all kinds of activities that you can explore –
Knitting, crocheting, woodwork, painting, drawing, sewing, woodwork, baking, gardening.
In the mindful part above we covered the importance of exercise, if you can’t do any of the above at least try to take a regular walk, if you haven’t read about the benefits of walking in a forest, you should.
Another simple change one can make is trying aromatherapy. It may sound strange but aromatherapy supposedly activates certain receptors in the brain that can help you relax and ease anxiety. There are essential oils that have known benefits and can help keep anxiety at bay. Take a look at this article on essential oils it will be useful.
One of the most important changes one can make is diet, which is a long-term strategy. While research shows that lemon balm, omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha, green tea and a piece of dark chocolate can help with your anxiety. Personally gardening and growing your own food works miracles for me. Here is a little joke for you about anxiety since laughter is the best medicine!
“How can a person deal with anxiety? You might try what one fellow did. He worried so much that he decided to hire someone to do his worrying for him. He found a man who agreed to be his hired worrier for a salary of $200,000 per year. After the man accepted the job, his first question to his boss was, “Where are you going to get $200,000 per year?” To which the man responded, “That’s your worry.” ~ Max Lucado