I live with anxiety. I don't deal with it to the same extent as others, but when are our problems ever the same as others'? Anxiety has popped up pretty frequently in my life, making me stumble or react not quite how I’d like to in everything from school to relationships to work.
Here’s the bad news: there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Here’s the great news: we have more mental health resources and support than ever before. There are several support services through the phone and online, mental health apps such as Headspace, rehabilitation organizations, and people who speak out publicly to educate others. Take advantage of that, get ready to kick ass, and find the right combination of solutions that works for you. When they stop working for you, find the next one. Feel the satisfaction of solving the puzzle. Count each milestone, not each incident.
One of the hardest things about anxiety is how isolating it is. The thoughts in your head are loud, and it’s hard not to give them attention and credibility, even if they don’t deserve it. So I say: don’t ignore those thoughts, but make sure they’re on the right (positive, constructive) wavelengths. One trick that works for me is stepping back and taking thirty seconds. When something happens that is out of my control, and I feel my mind and heart start to race, I just take 30 seconds or even 5 minutes to calm down. It doesn’t mean I’m not feeling the pressure—I just make sure that it’s me reacting, not my anxiety.
Whatever you do, do not rely on some vague idea of normalcy to measure your progress. Fluidity is the key—for the less whimsical, let’s call it relativity. As I mentioned, anxiety is isolating because you spend so much time focused inward. But all that "me time", when spun positively and constructively, is incredibly valuable and helpful in actualizing your potential. All those times you wished you could just think and care less, admiring people who seem to breeze by, unfazed by anything—try to remember that there is strength in how you operate, too.
Rather than labeling yourself overly sensitive, recognize that you are empathetic and have social intelligence. The only, and I mean only, difference between those two perspectives is insecurity. It takes a lot of hard work and persistence, but you can help yourself feel more secure. Sometimes it’s as simple as putting in the prep work. It’s like studying for a test! Before a big meeting, brush your teeth, formulate your points and practice speaking. I was surprised at how much of self-care is made up of the basics. If you eat right and get enough sleep, the problems can feel much less overwhelming. Once you have the flow of the basics down, you have some security in the face of curveballs. And curveballs will always come your way.
What we’re discussing here is the foundation work. Therapy, medication, and higher forms of help should definitely be discussed with a professional. The biggest take away here is that it’s great that you care so much about everything—just be sure that it’s to a healthy extent and about the right things. Learn and better yourself with the information you’re pulling from others, and work on not letting it paralyze or scare you. Anxiety may interfere with your life, but it doesn’t have to define it. Be patient and kind to yourself. You’re where it starts, and if you don’t value yourself, it won’t matter how many others do. There will be days where you’re somehow just plugged in and have so much clarity. There will also be days when no matter how hard you try to plug back in, you just can’t seem to do it. But if you wait, maybe let a day pass, and try again, you’ll get there.
This article was originally published on December 2, 2016 and has been updated.