Day to Day Self Care When Living With Anxiety

By Olivea Herrera

If I say this to this person, will they like me anymore? This person is acting differently than usual, is something wrong? If I fail this test, I can’t graduate, and I will let everyone in my life down. These are some of the thoughts a person with anxiety can have.

Generally, anxiety is a persistent fear and worry about everyday situations. Some people can live with anxiety their entire lives, while other people can be overcome with anxiety because of the situation they’re in. Examples of situational anxiety include postpartum mothers experiencing anxiety or stress because of fluctuating hormones, people going through a divorce, or individuals in the process of moving houses; in which all of these things add stress and make the anxiety worse. Chronic anxiety is usually a consistent worry/fear regarding any everyday circumstances and can last a lifetime.

Anxious girl

While situational and chronic anxiety may be different in terms of how long the anxiety lasts, they still have many of the same symptoms and the tips provided can help a person with either of these types of anxiety. These intense feelings of worry tend to bring on thoughts that the individual can not handle being like this or that these feelings are going to last forever. With my own anxiety, I have had thoughts such as these. That I hit my ceiling of growth when it comes to anxiety. That I can’t handle feeling like this for the rest of my life. That it will never get better. To move past these negative thoughts and deal with overwhelming moments of anxiety, I have developed day-by-day habits/advice to better improve my, as well as anyone else's, mental well-being. What makes a person happy, relaxed, or calm varies, but these tactics have worked for me, and I believe that they could help other people who struggle with anxiety.

Exercise

I have not always been fond of exercise. I usually did it in front of groups of people, whether it was at the gym or during P.E. in high school. However, over the past few years, I realized that it was not the exercise I didn’t like, but the aspect of doing it in front of other observers. I felt self-conscious about what I looked like while exercising and, therefore, did not exercise as hard as I would have liked. My self-consciousness increased my anxiety when working out in front of other people. That is when I started to go on more walks around my neighborhood, which could last anywhere from an hour to fifteen minutes, depending on the day. While the exercise was a nice factor of the walk, the bigger reason I started walking more was so I could have a singular focus in mind. Whenever I go on walks, I always have a podcast I enjoy playing in my earbuds. Not only does the podcast make me happier, but it makes my mind focus on that and walking rather than thoughts I may have been overthinking at the time. Medically, exercise releases feel-good endorphins (natural brain chemicals to improve well-being) in the brain, helping not just to distract you, but to ease the symptoms of anxiety as well. 

It may sound cheesy and overused, but being outside in the sunlight does increase mental health for any individual. We are living in such a tech-centric world that it can feel like a reprieve to just be out in nature enjoying the warmth of the sun and the breeze through your hair. According to my doctor, everybody needs at least 15 minutes of sunlight a day if the weather is in the right condition. To get even further into nature, a hike can work just as well as, if not better than a quick walk around the neighborhood. Whatever form of exercise fits that person will do, but the point is that exercise can get you out of your head and focus your energy on a singular thing rather than anxiousness.

Woman running on track at sunset.

Indulging in Your Interests

There are many other habits to get into that can avert your attention from negative thinking into feelings of positivity, and one of those is indulging in your interests. Most people have hobbies or activities outside of work, school, or everyday responsibilities that give them joy. Sometimes, it can feel as if it is a luxury to spend time doing those things because of other responsibilities that seem more important, but it is crucial to remember to prioritize mental health along with those other tasks. Life is full of chores that people don’t want to do, but it can seem even harder if you don’t make time for the things that make you happy. I am an expressive and artistic person, so I feel the happiest when creating or watching other people’s creations. This interest in the arts manifests in activities such as photography, painting, and watching cinema. Paying attention to the lighting and formation of a shot for photography or getting immersed in another world when watching a movie focuses me on enjoying myself in the moment rather than the previous overwhelming feeling of anxiousness. Indulging in your interests can ground you, deescalate unwanted emotions from getting worse, and connect you with yourself. 

People who may not be interested in any hobbies also have options. Sometimes, the best option you have is to let your body rest. It can bring a feeling of relief to lie down and not have to worry about doing anything other than giving yourself a break. To enhance this experience, treating yourself to your favorite dinner, dessert, or snack while watching the new show you’re binging is a perfectly nice way to unwind from a stressful day, whether that be emotionally or physically. Overall, doing things that you enjoy is another way to get your mind off of overthinking or worrying and onto something that gives you a break mentally. Feeling these happy and joyous emotions is beneficial for brain health through a hormone called dopamine. With increased dopamine comes a boost in mood and a better feeling overall, and it can even provide some rational perspective on irrational thinking.

Meditation

Originating in India, meditation is a practice where an individual uses mindfulness and focuses on a thought or activity to promote a state of calm. Some may choose to focus on deep breathing, while others may listen to relaxing mantras. Either way, mediation can keep us grounded and bring perspective to the way we go about life. The way people practice meditation is up to them, but meditation apps are a useful resource. These apps help guide the individual on how to meditate and the different ways that they can use this meditation. Some of the features of meditation apps can include deep breathing segments, yoga, or positive affirmations. Getting into a routine of meditation can relieve symptoms of anxiety, such as a high heart rate or shortness of breath, by counteracting it physically as well as psychologically. This is a way to work through anxiety both internally and externally.

Meditation with Lovely Cat

Challenging Irrational Thoughts

Though it can be a good option to divert your brain's attention when it comes to anxiety, sometimes it is not enough and these thoughts will still be on the mind when the distractions are over. This is when it’s time to work internally. Rather than avoiding these negative feelings, it may be even more advantageous to confront these emotions head-on. One way to do that has come from my therapist's advice to me when I was seeking a reprieve from all-consuming thoughts. Therapy provides a safe space for people to feel heard and work out their issues. However, it is completely up to each individual if they are comfortable going or would rather work on their growth and development on their own. Nevertheless, this advice is an exercise that not only works in the moment but can be used down the line for future feelings from now until forever. This exercise is called challenging irrational thoughts.

Anxiety can start out as one state of mind, but the more time that is spent sitting in this anxiousness can progress into irrational thoughts. Irrational thoughts are patterns of thinking that are illogical and can distort reality because of it. Challenge these thoughts by asking questions like: What is the best outcome of this situation I am nervous about? What is the worst thing that can happen? What is realistically going to happen? Asking questions like these adds perspective to the anxious thoughts at hand. These questions can make the person realize that the thoughts they are having may be a little dramatic and their reality is not as bad as they thought. 

She writes poems.

Something that I have noticed in trying this exercise is that it gives me an outlook on every possible outcome, and from there, I can be prepared for any type of surprise that may come my way. A component of my anxiety is that I do not have control over the future or certain situations in my life. I want to have the reassurance that everything will be ok, but that option is not always available. By doing this exercise, I know that even if I cannot control the outcome of any problem I have, I can at least prepare myself for multiple possible outcomes. Feeling prepared gives me a sense of security and, therefore, lessens the anxiety that I had prior. This exercise may not always work, but implementing it over time allows the opportunity for growth to happen from within by challenging an unhealthy mentality.

True anxiety is not something to cure or overcome, but rather, it is something that can be coped with and lessened with time. Symptoms that can come with anxiety, such as a fast beating heart, shaking, headaches, and constant worry, will be more heightened at times, but nothing will change if you don’t take action to convert a negative mindset into one that is healthy. The little steps that I mentioned, like exercise, indulging in interests, and challenging irrational thinking, are just a few resources in a slew that can eventually make overwhelming anxiety feel tolerable. I have experienced less shaking and a more stable heart pace from exercise as well as from taking time to explore my hobbies. Challenging irrational thinking has made me more grounded in reality, slowly lowering any heightened worry that I may have had. Again, every person is different, and each of them requires various techniques in order to make adapting and coping work for them, but it is better to try than not take any proactive measures at all. While a person may feel powerless with anxiety, we have the resources and strength within ourselves to be in control of our emotions rather than the other way around.

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