That feeling of doom, despair, and hopelessness. The thoughts that torment us and leave us feeling uncertain even about aspects of our lives that should be certain. The swirl of emotions and fear that seem to be consuming every piece of joy we ever had. The physical discomfort, the stomach ache, headache, fatigue, and nausea we experience as our physical body responds to our mental anguish….
There are so many different ways that we experience anxiety, so it often manifests in different ways for each individual. But the one thing that is common to anyone experiencing anxiety: it is uncomfortable. In fact, it is so uncomfortable, that most of us have tried everything in our power to make it stop, but we soon learn that sometimes it is not so easy.
There comes a point when seeing a medical professional may be absolutely necessary. When you have exhausted all efforts, with no relief, please seek help. But if you are new to the experience of anxiety, or simply curious about some possible ways to manage it, here are some ways that might calm an overactive and anxious mind:
- ACKNOWLEDGE THE ANXIETY ITSELF, DO NOT IGNORE IT. Now is not the time to pretend that your thoughts or feelings are not real, and now is also not the time to allow the opinion of others (regarding your experience of anxiety) to dominate your experience. Sometimes, the simple acknowledgement of this emotion is enough to begin to sort out the cause. If you find that you are becoming consumed by the uncontrollable aspects of your life, or feeling like everything is always falling apart, this may be your experience with anxiety. We all feel anxious is some ways, which is part of life and not always negative. However, when we feel anxious more often than not, we can do ourselves a disservice to ignore it or think that it is just normal to always feel this pressure. So, acknowledge this experience and work to understand its source and the details surrounding it.
- DETERMINE WHAT IS IN YOUR CONTROL, AND WHAT IS NOT. Grab a sheet of paper, or use an electronic device and begin actually writing down what your conflict is, if you can locate it. Once you know what may be causing the stress, write it down in only one sentence (this is important to avoid confusion or added anxiety), then draw a line symbolizing two columns, and start writing what is in your control about the situation and what is not within your control. This visual activity is beneficial in two major ways: 1) you are actively influencing your thoughts to perceive your challenge in another way; and 2) you will be able to see your problem in a different way, and may uncover some possible solutions. When we experience anxiety, we are consumed by the experience and often unable to see our way free. If you can separate what is in your control vs. what is not in your control, this can be very useful to locate some peace.
- AVOID ISOLATION. When we experience anxious moments, isolation is a common response. Of course, there are times when we need some solitude to gather our thoughts and emotions, but we have to be careful about this. If it seems that you are feeling anxious more often than you used to, take a deep look at your environment and response to the anxiety experience. I bet you will find that you are often isolating yourself, believing that this is the answer to feeling better. Switch it up, try connecting with trusted friends and family when you are feeling anxious, or just get out of the house and get some fresh air. You do not even have to share everything on your mind with others, but their presence may be a source of comfort, providing the anxiety a channel to pass by.
- ASSESS PHYSICAL HEALTH, SUCH AS THE NEED FOR FOOD, SLEEP, ETC. Are you tired? Did you eat today? What about drinking enough water? Do you need to have some testing done to check your vitamin and mineral levels? See, our bodies are very sensitive, and quickly respond to what we put into (or do not put into) our bodies. For example, I confess that getting enough water into my body is a daily challenge for me, and some days even more than others. Water itself has a huge impact on our well-being, our body and emotions, and our overall physiological health. I am guaranteed to experience anxiety and headaches when I might be dehydrated. So, take a personal and even a medically professional assessment and determine the state of your physical health and diet, and you may begin seeing improvements on your anxiety and stress levels.
- PRACTICE MEDITATION AND/OR PRAYER. We have to practice getting away from our busy lives, and centering with our spirit. I am not talking about religion here, unless that is your choice. Whether you pray, meditate, fast, or practice the Sabbath, just be sure that you are taking some time to refresh your mind and soul. Select at least one day a week and intentionally decompress. Turn off all of your electronic devices if you can, put work and any worries aside, and just be present with the moment. Read a positive and encouraging book, take a walk, listen to calming music, or just simply sit in a silent room with your eyes closed, practicing some deep breathing (without falling asleep, if possible). You will be amazed at how much lighter and focused you will feel if you habitually take some time away from your busy life to just be in the moment. Meditation and/or prayer is very different from isolation too, as time to ourselves is required but too much alone time can lead to and contribute to other personal challenges, so remember to be balanced.
- TALK ABOUT IT. If you have family or friends that you trust to be non-judgmental and will offer an authentic listening ear, lean on them when you feel some anxiety. Sometimes talking through our anxious experiences can help us to channel energy that we would normally direct at our thoughts, instead into positive reflection and action. Be careful about this though, as feedback we receive from others can make our anxiety worse if they are not positive. Select your trusted person and ask for their permission to be your “check-in” person when you are feeling anxiety. This will provide the boundaries that you might need with them, and also gives them a heads-up to expect communication with you, and to even direct you to professional help if necessary.
Anxiety is real and affects all of us at one time or another in our lives. You may be experiencing a difficult season in your life that has added to your anxiety level, which is all part of our mind’s way of coping with our stress. Loss of loved ones, job/career changes, raising children, relationships, our health, etc., can all contribute to seasons where our worry might be magnified into anxiety. Sometimes we have to stay the course, be patient and know that the current season of our life will pass, but other times we have to complete some self-reflection, or seek help to locate the source of our anxiety.
Whatever strategy is successful for you is just fine, but do not ignore anxiety, and do not be afraid to speak up and get help either.