I originally hesitated to post this series around the holidays because it’s a bit of a downer, but I know the holidays are a bit of a struggle for some people, so I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others to realize they aren’t alone in dealing with anxiety and that seeking help is a good thing!
Click here to see other posts about anxiety.
Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor or a therapist. If you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, or just life in general, please speak with your doctor, therapist or a friend. Heck, if you need to email me (cowgirlruns[at]gmail[dot]com) and I will make a call for you if you need that. I know how difficult that first call can be to make and I promise I always respond to my emails!
I find it interesting that as I sit here writing about how I cope day-to-day with my anxiety that I’m experiencing a day that I’d classify as more anxious than normal. Even more interesting? This used to be my normal. Sometimes it helps for me to remind myself that although this is an abnormal day, it isn’t my normal and it will pass.
(I really dislike that I’m using terms like “normal” and “abnormal” because I don’t ever want to imply that I’m not normal. I am. I’m a functioning human. I’m normal. My non-medicated self just isn’t as awesome as my medicated self. If anyone has better terminology than “normal” please give me a suggestion!)
I’ve heard reports of people feeling numb or spaced out when taking medication for anxiety and depression and I’m thankful I don’t have those side effects. I’m most definitely able to feel feelings, I’m just on more of an even keel than I was previously. Before I found help, a normal day for me would look something like this:
Fun, right?! Ha!
Now it looks something like this:
I can’t be certain, but I’m willing to bet it’s someone similar to how a day looks for the majority of people.
(Looking at these silly graphs again, I realize they look similar-ish but the shading on the second one [and happier colours] are trying [poorly] to show that there’s more of a transitional area instead of the slamming into one emotion to the next) (And I just really like playing in Canva).
How To Cope
Here are some ways I’ve learned to cope with the inevitable (and unfortunate) days where I’m feeling anxious for no apparent reason.
This might sound goofy, but self talk really does help. Have a friend who isn’t replying to your text message like right away?! And then you think it’s you and you friend hates you and doesn’t want to talk to you so she’s totally ignoring you? Wait, maybe that’s just me…..
In any case, I find self talk to be very helpful in these situations, especially the questions from Byron Katie. I’m not always calm enough to go through them, but when I am, I find them very helpful.
Spoiler: chances are no one is trying to ignore you. And if they are, they’re dumb for not realizing how awesome of a person you are. The end.
I’m not advocating ignoring a situation that’s causing anxiety, but sometimes the best thing for me to do is to distract myself until I’m in a position to think rationally. Checking my phone ever 15 seconds isn’t going to cause that text to arrive quicker and neither is fretting over the problem.
Pretty much the worst thing you can ever tell an anxious person to do is to relax because it immediately invalidates our feelings of worry. A better bet is to find a distraction. A lot of times I find going for a walk to be helpful, or I’ll try to tackle something on my “to do” list. While completing a task can feel daunting in the middle of a bout of anxiety, I find the sense of accomplishment to be helpful.
Find a Sounding Board
I’m very blessed in I have two of the most wonderfully patient and loving friends in the world. I don’t think they bat an eye any more when I send them a panicked email about a situation asking for their advice. Sometimes I feel like I’m still learning how to handle my reactions in certain situations.
While anxiety can manifest differently in everyone, I’d usually freak out and fly off the handle when I was anxious which would make me appear to be rude, unkind and generally, a not fun person to be around. Thankfully I’m now able to step back, but when I’m really not sure how to handle a situation and I can feel myself starting to spiral, I’ll shoot them an email and sometimes I’ll get a “Totally normal” reply and others I’ll get a “DUDE WTF” reply. Either way, I’m super thankful to have friends who will tell it to me straight!
Learn HOW to Relax
Now, this is something I’m still working on, but learning to turn myself “off” when I’m having a moment is helpful – when I’m able to do it. I find it most effective when I know I need to sleep and my brain is racing a million miles a minute. Similar to finding a distraction, I find laying still and focusing on breathing in and out while counting my breaths can help me to quiet my mind enough to relax so I can sleep.
I think this could be considered in with distractions, but I’m putting it separately because this is my blog and I can 🙂
My house was never cleaner than when I was studying for exams, and I find when I can pause long enough to think about cleaning, I always feel better after. I find cleaning can be meditative and having a clean home is always relaxing. It’s nice when everything is shiny and in its place 🙂
While generalized anxiety disorder, or GAD, anxiety can be triggered by certain situations, or it can just hang around like some nasty B.O. Over the past little while I’ve found certain things will cause my anxiety to pop up, while other days it just decides to make an appearance for no good reason.
Lack of Sleep
I joke with my friends that I’m a grandma and need to be in bed by 10, but I seriously do need to get a sufficient amount of sleep. My most recent lack of sleep induced melt down was during my trip to Lima that didn’t happen. I was running on probably 6 hours of sleep for the whole weekend, I was sick and had no idea if I was going to make it to my destination on time.
Cue tears. In the airport. That I couldn’t stop. Whoops.
Yeah, me and sleep are best buds.
Lack of Exercise
Since I’ve now been sick for nearly 3 weeks not being able to run has taken its toll on me. Running is normally where I sort out my thoughts (I may or may not rant with hand motions while running) and I’m always calmer after a run, so not being able to get my run on has been really frustrating and I can feel that I’m more anxious because of it.
Last winter I did a lot of yoga and yoga also helped. Hot yoga is an added bonus because no one can tell if you’re crying or sweating 🙂
This is kind of weird, since I am most certainly a Type A personality kind of gal, but I’m also an introvert. So, I like to know when things are going to happen and what to expect, but I also need downtime in order to recharge. Two or three evenings in a row with plans? Melt down. No time to myself for an extended period of time? Melt down.
To summarize: I like to know what my plans are and what to expect, but I don’t like having too many plans. Yup, I can sometimes be a huge pain in the ass.
Knowing what my triggers are, I work to try to minimize them in my life. This can sometimes means I’m not that super fun spontaneous person to be around, but I’m far more fun to be around when I’m not anxious, so it all balances out. I’m also better able to handle a situation where I’d normally be quite triggered. A recent situation comes to mind.
Two weeks ago (I think, I’ve been losing track of weeks lately, I think it has to do with being old) my MasterCard was stolen and had two purchases I did not make on it. In the past I’d have spiraled out of control and in the situation I’d somehow end up homeless and alone (most spiraling situations wind up with me homeless and alone), but instead I called MasterCard, dealt with it, got a new card ordered shrugged it off and carried on with my life.
Angela – 1. Anxiety – 0.
Tell me: What coping mechanisms work for you? Have you noticed if you have any triggers?
I also know I get really cranky if I don’t eat, but that’s not anxiety related, it’s just because I really like food and I really dislike being hungry 😛