Confession – I can’t remember a time when I lived without anxiety. It’s my constant companion, my heaviest cross to bear.
Anxiety is a nightmare because you can’t escape it; it’s a problem that exists within your own mind. No matter how far you go, it’s always with you.
For me, anxiety is almost like a virus. While 90% of the time I feel fine, occasionally my anxiety flares up, and my confidence and happiness plummet as a result.
Why I'm writing this post
I wanted to write this post because I want to help those suffering from anxiety or depression feel less alone.
I also want to help open the cultural dialogue about anxiety and depression. Our society still stigmatizes mental illness, which is unacceptable. We should extend compassion to those suffering from mental illness, not contempt.
Without further ado (or ahem, soapbox preaching), here are some tried-and-true ways to fight anxiety.
1. Call close friends who will understand how you’re feeling.
Nothing pulls me out of a dark place like the voice of an understanding friend. Anxiety can make you feel so alone; It’s important to remember that you’re loved, and that others can relate to you.
In my experience, calling friends who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression doesn’t help. I’ve found that people who don’t experience anxiety can offer little advice or sympathy. Which isn’t their fault – it’s just not in their wheelhouse of experiences.
2. Avoid alcohol.
Alcohol affects everyone differently. But due to my anxiety, I’m super sensitive to alcohol.
It’s worst when I drink for multiple days, like at a festival or in Southeast Asia. By day four of drinking I wake up panicking, barely able to breathe. (And then I feel guilty because everyone else is having a blast and I just want to get the hell out of Dodge.)
So if you’re feeling low, avoid booze for a while – it will do nothing but exacerbate your mental health problems.
3. If you’re traveling, remind yourself you can go home.
The point of travel is to have fun and enjoy yourself. So if you’re not having fun, go home. Home is only a plane ticket away, and leaving early is nothing to be ashamed of.
Exercise clears away my anxiety faster than almost anything. Sunshine and nature are also helpful, and nothing beats all three together. And as Lena Dunham said, “It ain’t about the ass, it’s about the brain.”
Meditation strengthens the mind the way exercise strengthens the body. It helps nip negative thoughts in the bud before they take root and fill your head with worry.
I started meditating while on a yoga retreat in India, and as a result have never felt happier or more confident. I couldn't recommend meditation more highly.
That being said, meditation is hard, especially at the beginning. I found it both physically and mentally difficult. But despite how challenging meditation can be at first, it’s well-worth the struggle.
6. Treat yourself.
A few years ago, I spent a month traveling with a group of Australian and English guys in Southeast Asia. We had a blast, but by the time we split up I was feeling exhausted and depressed from all of the drinking and partying.
So I decided to ditch the hostel life for a few nights and checked myself into a swanky hotel. It was glorious. I took baths, ordered room service and called friends back home. By the end of the stay, I felt refreshed and significantly happier.
So if you’re feeling down, treat yourself. Sometimes all you need is a bubble bath and a room of your own.
7. Avoid solo travel.
Solo travel can be the best thing in the world: liberating, revelatory, and exhilarating. But if I travel alone for longer than a month, anxiety often sets in.
I’ve learned that I prefer solo travel in small doses – after a while it’s too isolating, and can affect my mental health.
8. Remind yourself everything will be fine.
For me, two things are scariest about anxiety.
One, you have to continue living despite how shitty you feel. You can’t just curl up in a ball and skip work. You still have to talk to people and work eight hours and commute and generally function.
Two, you have to do the work yourself. Yes, you can (and should) reach out to close friends and family for support. But this is your hole, and only you can pull yourself out of it.
Sometimes, it just feels so hard to carry on. But no matter how awful you feel, try to be kind to yourself. Remember that everything will be okay.
9. Practice gratitude.
Gratitude is a reality check. It forces you to ask, “Wait why am I so worried and afraid when I have x, y, and z to be grateful for?”
So practice gratitude every day. It can be as simple as a gratitude jar or prayer or saying aloud three things you're grateful for. As Liz Gilbert says, “Happiness is the consequence of personal effort.”
10. Remember who you really are.
Normally, I'm super a super outgoing and enthusiastic person. I am overflowing with opinions, facts and observations, possibly to a fault. But anxiety turns me into a different person. I can’t think of what to say, and make vapid observations I wouldn't otherwise.
The most heartbreaking part of anxiety is that you start to you lose your identity. Sometimes when I feel anxious, I’ll think, “People usually think I’m confident and interesting. How could that be true?”
It helps to remind myself of who normally I am, and that this anxious version of myself is just temporary.
11. Remember that it’s not your fault for having anxiety.
I’ve wondered a lot about why anxiety happens in certain people and not others. Is it hereditary? Is it neurological? Does it usually occur in creative or intelligent people, a side effect of being sensitive to the outside world? Does it happen to people who were bullied as kids, a result of deep-seated insecurities from childhood?
I’m not sure there’s a conclusive answer to why anxiety happens in some people and not in others. But in any case, anxiety is not your fault, and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Ask yourself – would you feel ashamed if you had a physical disease? Society tells us that physical maladies are not our fault, while mental ailments signify a weakness in character.
It helps me to think of anxiety in a scientific way – my brain just wired differently than other people's. I am simply more fragile neurologically, and that’s okay.
12. See a doctor and consider medication.
If you’ve tried everything and still feel anxious or depressed, consider seeing a doctor. Therapy and medication may help.
Do you suffer from anxiety or depression? How do you cope with them?
Disclaimer: All the advice given in the post is taken from anecdotal experience. This blog is NOT a substitute for any advice given to you by a medical professional.