Do you ever feel like you can’t escape from anxiety? Like you’re at war with your mind and are captive to your thoughts?
Often when dealing with mental health we look for a simple solution. Maybe a small piece of advice, a quote, one changed habit, or a revelation we hope will get us out of “the funk.” However, true relief will only come when taking a multifaceted approach.
Understand that coping looks different for everybody.
When I started my journey, I was just 13 years old. My family and I decided on the route of medications and therapy. Combining the two would set the framework for years to come.
What I discovered from personal experience was that medications merely placed a bandage on the wounds. I was only prolonging the inevitable confrontation with my past, becoming increasingly numb to my childhood rather than facing it head-on. The therapy sessions proved to do more harm than good as well. I would fixate on my past until I defined myself by the very thing I was trying to heal from.
If elements of trauma are replayed again and again, the accompanying stress hormones engrave those memories ever more deeply in the mind. Ordinary, day to day events become less and less compelling. Not being able to deeply take in what is going on around them makes it impossible to feel fully alive. Not being fully alive in the present keeps them more firmly imprisoned in the past.“The Body Keeps the Score” by Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D.
It’s taken years of trial and error to recognize the ineffectiveness of these two techniques in my life.
You will not experience an overnight fix.
The process is long and continuously changing, so be patient and gracious with yourself, but more importantly, listen to your body.
As of last year, I had still not found a regiment that proved to be effective. When considering different treatment options in coping with your anxiety you must understand that it is not going to be a one size fits all. What works for me may not work for you and vise versa.
What I have found to be most effective in coping with anxiety involves several methods working simultaneously. My daily routine typically starts with a cup of coffee, giving my mind and body time to wake up. Some mornings I may open with scripture, others I may read from a book. It just depends on how my mind is feeling. From there I try to get at least one bottle of water in and some breakfast. A light meal, maybe a piece of toast, fruit, or a few scrambled eggs.
Once I’ve fed my body and soul with the good, I can then begin my day by expressing a few things that I am grateful for. I may start by completing a workout at the gym, getting my blood flowing and releasing endorphins. Or perhaps I begin my writing and creative content. I really listen to my body in making these decisions. Every day looks a little different depending on my current needs.
There are a few things however that never change and that have offered the best relief;
- Music – The best therapy I have ever found has been in the form of music.
- A good night’s rest – Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. Some studies show a direct link between sleeping and mental health. So take this one seriously!
- Pouring into others – I get no greater fulfillment in life than when I’m helping others. But, I have also realized that to pour into others I must first pour into myself.
A more recent addition has been hot yoga. I always thought the concept of yoga was a bit laid back for me, however, that was exactly what I needed. Getting my mind in touch with my body, focusing on my movements, balance, strength, and breathing. I feel present in the moment and at peace with myself.
Now that you know what I do to battle my anxiety, here are some simple questions to ask yourself to better identify what your mind and body may be needing.
First, ask how you’re feeling. Not what you feel, but how you feel.
Take inventory of your body’s basic housekeeping.
How’s your breathing as you read this? Shallow and quick or deep and even?
Is your mind feeling restless?
Are you eating foods that make you feel good?
Are you drinking your daily intake of water?
Getting enough sleep?
You must first answer these questions. Then, once you’ve listed your answers, see about making simple changes to better your responses. Start small and then build up. We are so quick to find total solutions. I’ve been there, but we must not underestimate the power of minor changes and their effectiveness.
Reflect and Adapt
Once you’ve had this internal conversation, ask what it is that’s causing most of your anxiety? What is the theme? Is it stemming from intrusive thoughts, uncertainty, past mistakes, etc? You must confront these things head-on.
If it’s intrusive thoughts ask yourself, how much validity does it have? Maybe you think you’re a bad person, untrustworthy, etc. Ask why you feel this way. Is there anything to back up the claims? If not, choose to let the thoughts go. Imagine letting them continue without you.
If your anxiety is rooted in uncertainty you must first accept that there are only two things you can control in life, your attitude and your effort. Everything else is up to the powers that be. I know how frustrating this is, but you must come to terms with that. Do not let the uncertainty of tomorrow prevent you from living your today.
If past mistakes are at the center of your anxiety you must first confront them. I know it’s scary and I know it’s not what you want to hear but to fully heal from past mistakes you must first take ownership. Once you’ve done that, you can then begin the process of forgiving. Know that we all make mistakes and that you are human. It is okay to have errors in judgment, that’s where the growth takes place. Know that those mistakes can propel you forward if you allow them to. Only you can choose.
When we begin to realize how much power we have over our thoughts, we can better combat ourselves in controlling the dialog. Discipline your thoughts and experiment with an array of techniques in coping. Don’t limit yourself to just one.
To anyone trying to find their way right now, feeling like they can’t escape the mental marathon, know that it does get better with time. You will learn what works and what doesn’t. Again, be patient and surround yourself with people who will lift you. Whatever you do, don’t let your anxiety rob you of your greatest potential. You do have something to offer, your passions weren’t placed by accident, and there is hope on the other side. Just remain patient and trust in the process.