Whatever life has handed you—whether the past has come back to hound you, the present seems too much to bear, or something dreaded in the future looms over you with its black tempestuous clouds— anxiety, for many, is never far behind. And I’m not talking about the going-to-the-dentist, run-of-the-mill caliber anxiety. I’m talking about the anxiety you can’t talk yourself out of, no matter how hard you try. The kind for which no amount of deep breathing will touch. Where your heart thumps so hard against your ribcage, you’re sure you’re having a heart attack. And the only thing racing faster than your heart is your brain. Dizzy. Can scarcely breathe. That kind.
I’m not a medical professional or a psychologist, and I know for some these are needed. I simply want to share some things that have helped me (and what may not help), and if nothing else, let people who struggle with anxiety know they are not alone.
1. Be Nice to Yourself: When I’m in the downward spiral of an anxiety attack, I can be really mean to myself. I don’t know what it is about already feeling crummy that makes me want to beat up on myself, but it does. Here’s where the compare game with everyone who so ‘has it together’ starts or blaming myself for whatever I’m anxious about (if there’s something specific). So, I try to stem further worry by asking myself, what would help you feel better in this moment? In other words, how can I be nice to myself right now? The micro-short-term, such as: A piece of chocolate. Turning off Facebook and counting to ten. A walk to the mailbox and back. Drinking a glass of water. Etc. Don’t mind if I do. This is a way to immediately start the process of derailing the anxiety train. It won’t fix it, but it will slow it down.
2. Find Something Mindless and Relaxing: This may seem odd. But I have found that doing anything that involves to-do lists, cleaning (unless cleaning is relaxing for you *snort*), actual work, bills or expenses, and even creative pursuits such as my writing are near impossible while having an anxiety attack. This may mean you use an adult coloring book and some pens or pencils to focus on something else. I was pretty skeptical and might have cracked a few jokes about adults coloring! But I have to say they have come in handy with my anxiety. It’s also a great thing I can do with my kids if anxiety comes to call when they’re around.
Sometimes this may mean indulging (busy moms will get the indulgence) in curling up with a blanket and a good book. Though I’ve found sometimes the numbing, paralyzing type of anxiety may prevent me from being able to really get into the book. Or perhaps watching a movie—though I recommend something light-hearted. Now is not the time for a Nicholas-Sparks-somebody’s-gonna-die-ending or edge-of-your-seat, nail-biting thriller.
3. Stay Away From News and Social Media: This may go under ‘Being Nice to Yourself’ too. I have never found social media or the news to be my friend when I’m anxious or struggling with my depression, for that matter. Ever. When I’m already feeling at my lowest, do I really need to know who is getting a new book deal? Just got an agent? Or are going on a European vacation?
On the news, do I have to know right now who was murdered last night or what stupid thing our government just did? The answer is always: NO. You are not in the right mindset to be genuinely happy for other people’s good fortunes right now. When you say your congratulations or safe travels, you want to say it with a heart full of love, not with your teeth grit. When you hear of the terrors of the world, you want to feel strong, fortified, ready to pray with power. Take care of yourself first. I promise all that stuff will be waiting for you when you’re ready. And you probably won’t even miss it.
4. Pray, pray, pray: This one’s self-explanatory. Just don’t expect that because you prayed, God will immediately take your anxiety away. More than anything, I think it helps to know God is with you and will see you through. I also read some favorite passages, such as: Psalm 56:3-4, “When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You. In God, whose word I praise, in God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid.” This is where, again, you may want to avoid passages that are filled with the violence of battles and such. Perhaps looking to the Psalms or Jesus’ sermons in the New Testament. I also take great comfort from the promises in Romans 8:35-39.
5. Talk to Someone: Often when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, it’s the last thing you want to do. You sometimes feel drained, embarrassed, and so down that you don’t want to drag someone else into it. I can’t tell you how many times God has prompted the right person to call or text me at the right moment. That person may or may not have been aware of it, but I needed to talk. There’s a sigh of relief after talking to somebody, even if the anxiety was not discussed, simply because it’s a lifeline tossed inside of your bubble of misery. It takes the shutters off your eyes so you can see you’re not alone, even if anxiety tells you that you are.
6. Stay Away From Caffeine: I know. I know. I can hear the cries of dismay. I LOVE my coffee as much as the next gal, but in this situation, you don’t want to give your heart a reason to beat any faster. Faster heart rate= more anxiety. Trust me. A warm drink is comforting, however. Try a decaf tea, hot cocoa (though beware sugar has a similar effect on some people as caffeine), apple cider, etc.
7. Soft Music: I find playing some instrumental, worship music, or Christmas music this time of year can be uplifting to my mood. Choose something that is relaxing and enjoyable for you. Save the dance beats for another time though.
8. Lastly, Essential Oils: Another thing I was super skeptical of. I mean, they’re for nouveau-hippies, right? No, they’re awesome actually. Read up on brain chemistry and how the scents and their application to the skin can help with literally thousands of things. For anxiety and depression, I use Young Living Lavender, Joy, and sometimes a citrus such as Lemon or Citrus Fresh. I’m sure there are others too. Those are just the ones I use.
I hope in any small measure this has been helpful to you, and by it, you can see there are people who know what you’re going through. My prayers are with you. Now go grab that piece of chocolate and a warm drink. You deserve it!
Blessings to you all.