How to help yourself when you have anxiety
Anxiety can feel a little bit like a paradox: on the one hand, it can be reassuring to know that many people experience it and you are far from alone. On the other hand, everyone’s personality, background and behaviours are unique; there are no quick-fixes when it comes to how to cope with your own flavour of anxiety.
However, it’s important to remember that small improvements can be made immediately, often at no cost and minimal effort. It can be tough to prioritise yourself sometimes, but (and it’s a cliché for a reason) you can’t take care of others unless you take care of yourself first!
Find exercise you love
If your idea of exercise is jogging to get to the elevator before it closes, do not fear; you don’t have to rush out and make plans to join the work indoor-netball team. If you can, going for a brisk walk can be enough. For bonus points, walk to somewhere you find relaxing; take your lunch to a park or find a spot near your favourite piece of street art – anywhere that lifts your mood. If you are interested in running and don’t have any medical concerns that might prohibit it, this is great at burning up excess adrenaline. Just remember to start things gently to avoid injury and get a good quality pair of shoes.
Create time for relaxation
No, not three hours on the sofa watching reruns of Project Runway. No, not having a nap. You need to make time for fully present relaxation: a warm bath with some relaxing essences, some quiet meditation, getting a professional massage. We understand that when life gets busy, self-care is often the first thing we sacrifice, but it is far more important than the laundry or staying in the office during your lunch break. Life is all about juggling priorities; make sure you are number one.
Before you get too excited, by ‘eat well’ we don’t mean give in to every indulgence (although the occasional jumbo cone of Ben and Jerry’s never hurt anyone – except the lactose intolerant!) We mean take care of your nutritional needs. Money, time and feelings of anxiety can affect how you eat, but if you reduce certain things in your diet, you may also reduce feelings of anxiety. These include salt, caffeine and sugar. A simple step towards this is to eat as many whole, unprocessed foods as possible. Consider keeping a food and mood diary to see if this makes any difference for you.
Explore meditation and mindfulness
Cultivating mindfulness means recalibrating your inner voice so that it doesn’t keep jumping in with judgements and criticisms, but rather observes the present moment and whatever
arises. A recent study by Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center even suggests that ‘mindful people’ feel less pain. The study’s lead author Fadel Zeidan, Ph.D. said, “Mindfulness is related to being aware of the present moment without too much emotional reaction or judgment. We now know that some people are more mindful than others, and those people seemingly feel less pain.”
Meditation, just like physical exercise, is best started gently with just a few minutes a day as you improve your technique. After that you can increase the frequency and duration, setting aside hours each week to practise. Meditation is not about forcing thoughts out of your mind, but accepting and not resisting them. There are many apps and guides to meditation online, such as Headspace or Buddhify; why not give meditation a try and enjoy the increased energy, alertness and calmness that it can bring?
Talk kindly to yourself
Imagine your best friend phoning you in a crisis: they’re crying, they’re panicking and they’re neck-deep in self-loathing; what would you say to them? Probably not that they deserve it, or they’re pathetic for needing help, or that they’ll never be happy, right? So why say it to yourself? Treat your insecurities like they’re another friend that surfaces occasionally, desperate for help, and respond with kindness – otherwise aren’t you just punishing yourself twice?
Talk to a mental health professional
Depending on who you see, there are many treatment options, including counselling, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – just ask the therapist which ‘modality’ they use. Psychiatrists and other doctors can also prescribe medication. Talk to your GP about your options, and visit mentalhealth.org.nz for more information.