In a post last week, I share that I suffer from anxiety. It was a hard thing for me to share and I really went back and forth initially about revealing something so personal, but I'm glad I did. There's such a stigma against therapy and mental illness-- I hope that by talking about it, it will lessen some of that stigma and bring to light those who are struggling in the dark. Today I'm continuing that conversation by sharing my 5 tips to cope with anxiety.
1. Know where it comes from
The turning point in my fight with anxiety was going to see Amy at Sync Counseling. At therapy, I learned to identify what made me tick, what my triggers were, and how to overcome it. But the latter didn’t come until much later. I firmly believe that the first step to anxiety is to even just know what makes you anxious because once you can recognize the situation, you can learn to change it.
Application: Who is a local therapist that you can talk to? If you don’t have health insurance, I recommend reaching out to a therapist anyway. I didn’t have health insurance when I went to see therapy but they were able to put me on a sliding scale according to my income. If you’re not ready to see a therapist, that’s okay too. Who is a friend that you can talk to and keep you accountable?
2. Grounding / Being in the Present
A lot of my anxiety came from over worrying about things that didn’t exist. My brain would see the worst case scenario hypothetical and fixate on that as being the reason why I shouldn’t do something. For example, when I was in college, I once cancelled a photoshoot with a model I met on model mayhem because I had anxiety about meeting a new person. I remember thinking once to myself, why am I pursuing photography if it’s a profession that involves interpersonal relationships—something that really gave me deep anxiety? (But I was never one to let fear stop me, that’s just a conscious choice you have to make at the end of the day.)
In therapy I learned a method called “grounding.” It’s easy to let your mind get carried away with excessive worrying. Especially when you have anxiety, letting yourself go down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts can be detrimental. Grounding brings you back to the present with a series of mental exercises like counting your breaths or the physical things around you. Remember--thoughts are thoughts, and can't actually hurt you.
"Remember--thoughts are thoughts, and can't actually hurt you. "
Application: Download this PDF with Grounding exercises and try to do at least one of these once a day.
Bonus: Share with me in the comments if it helped! I'd love for other people to see your success in this!
Being thankful is a huge thing in my family. My parents are both Christians and every time I go home to San Francisco, they always remind me to have a thankful heart. In the bible, all the apostles begin their letters with giving thanks. In this article, 39 habits of happy people, they cite thankfulness as a trait. Staying thankful can remind an anxious heart that so many great things has already been done already.
Oftentimes I get anxious about my career to the point where it brings me to depression or deep feelings of worthlessness. Especially in the beginning when Rosalie was just starting out, I had a lot of anxiety. I was constantly worrying about my work and if it was good enough for the market. But having a thankful heart and remembering what God has done for me and will continue to do keeps my anxieties about the future at bay. Especially when I actually sit back and look at His work, it calms my anxiety because I really see how much He’s grown me. So if you’re feeling anxious, take a deep breathe and be thankful.
Application: Write down 3 things that has been really good for you in the past 3 months that you’re proud of. Put them somewhere you can see every day—fridge, mirror, doorway, etc. There's still more to be done, but never forget what's been done already.
4. Prayer/Meditation/Behavioral Design
I have a few friends who started meditating and they loved it. I personally am a more spiritual person and would prefer to substitute meditation time with prayer time. But the point of this is that when you get anxiety, your mind tends to fill up with worry and get incredibly noisy. It can be incredibly consuming to the point where it’s unbearable. So prayer/meditation just opens up a space where you can empty your mind and reset. You can find Oprah’s breathing exercises here.
If you prefer a more systematic approach to understanding your mental habits, watch these free videos on behavioral design to learn more. Behavioral Design is a system and series of methods that can change human behavior. The process of self awareness and analyzing my behaviors and habits helped me see that I was trapping myself in negative mental cycles. Email me firstname.lastname@example.org and I can send you more resources about this if you're interested!
Application: Set aside 5 minutes every morning to pray/meditate. Create an empty space for yourself, and know that you can always go back to this space throughout the day if you feel anxious.
5. Lean on Friends
I left this one for last because I actually think it’s the most important. We were made to love. I believe this. The hardest thing about having anxiety was going through it by myself. Before 2 years ago, I didn’t even know I had “anxiety.” I just knew my thought patterns were excessively laced in worry and oftentimes it would consume me. But in the moments where it would consume it, I was ashamed to go to my friends for help. I thought they would think less of me. During 2011-2013 where my anxiety was through the roof, I only had 1 friend I can go to to talk my thoughts out with. We both knew he was telling me things over and over again but the fact that he was so patient and accepting of me really helped me through those dark years. Since therapy, I’ve told more friends about my anxiety. And most of them may not understand what it actually is, but the fact that they now know and still love me anyway has made all the difference. Isolation bears no fruit.
Application: Who is a designated friend that you can call when you catch yourself falling into negative thought patterns?
You can never be "cured" of anxiety. But there are ways you can cope and mitigate it.
There are still days where I have anxiety, I can’t help that. My triggers are hardwired into my brain from childhood and it’s a part of me that will take more than just a few years of self awareness to undo. But I’ve built a loving and supportive network around me that will catch me if I fall. Instead of destroying myself with unhealthy mental habits, I want to love myself and help those around me. It's taken me a long time to get to a point where I can say this, but here it is: Anxiety doesn't define me.
I never thought I would be able to “conquer” my anxiety, but with the love and support of those around me, I have. At one point my anxiety would have gotten the best of me, now it just feels like an itch on rainy days. (And I live in LA.)
So if I can do it, you can too.