Anxiety attacks, by definition, feel like the end of the world.
Knowing you have panic attacks and fits of anxiety that could creep up basically anytime make otherwise simple stuff so much more intimidating. There was a time I used to let my PTSD and Generalized Anxiety diagnoses control my life and limit what I thought I was able to do. But after making some simple changes, I enjoy life again! I run my anxiety; my anxiety doesn’t run me. Here’s how to live with anxiety and still kick some serious ass:
1. Physical exercise is your friend
Regular physical exercise might be the most underrated medication in the world. It’s scientifically proven that 30 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a day is just as effective at boosting your mood as a medication. There are therapists who literally prescribe physical exercise to help with anxiety and depression. (This isn’t even mentioning how exercise also helps you learn faster and remember more, but we’re focusing on stress levels for now.)
Our brains are extremely complicated. But overall, the human body is a very straightforward IF/THEN machine:
IF cold, THEN draw heat away from hands and feet to the heart and brain.
IF hot, THEN make sweat to cool heart and brain.
IF stressed, THEN spike adrenaline levels to engage fight or flight mode.
Unfortunately, most people in the modern world continue to feel stress but don’t run or fight to burn off that adrenaline. Your body doesn’t care that it’s 2017 and you don’t have to sprint away from predators anymore. Your brain can’t tell the difference if your stress is from a saber tooth tiger or from an impending exam. Either way, it’s going to spike your cortisol and adrenaline, shut down your digestive system, and prepare you to run or fight for your life.
Give your body some closure and BURN THAT ADRENALINE OFF instead of letting it chip away at your sleep, your immune system, and overall happiness. You don’t have to train for a marathon! Just get your heart rate up for 30 minutes a day.
2. Be aware of your mood like you’re aware of the time
We often structure our whole schedule around the next meal of the day. Going without food would mean our bodies would run out of fuel and no longer function properly. So why don’t we do the same with our mood and anxiety levels? Schedule time to pause regularly throughout the day to check your own mood and anxiety levels. Getting too anxious, irritated, or confused is just as distracting and harmful as trying to function while starving. If you have no idea what this might actually look like, here’s what I did:
–To start getting in the habit of measuring your mood, try tracking your mood once in the morning and once at night for several weeks on a scale of 1-10 (or 1-5, or with a scale of emoji’s, whatever makes the most sense to you). Write a few sentences explaining why.
–Be aware of the tell-tale symptoms you tend to experience immediately before an anxiety attack starts, and plan exactly what you will do when you start to feel them. Take this planning as seriously as you would a fire escape route or earthquake safety procedure. (Honestly, even just having a plan can help reduce the fear of panic attacks enormously.)
–Schedule time in your day to enjoy some silence and get back to a state of peacefulness. Treat this time commitment as seriously as you would schedule time to eat dinner.
When you’re living with anxiety, being aware of your mood and taking steps to keep yourself happy is non-negotiable.
3. Understand it is okay to be anxious!
Sometimes even when you exercise regularly, schedule time to pause in your work day, and take all the pre-emptive steps you can, anxiety still happens.
You know what? That’s OKAY.
The worst thing you can do in the midst of a panic attack is think to yourself “OH GOD ANOTHER PANIC ATTACK I’M SUCH A FAILURE FOR ACTING LIKE THIS.”
Knowing it’s perfectly fine to react physically to stress. Just roll with it until it passes, and you can help prevent your anxiety from snowballing out of control.
It’s okay to communicate to managers, coaches, and friends that you sometimes react physically to your anxiety and that you may need to dash off for some privacy every once in a while. In fact, it’s better to explain this appropriately ahead of time rather than keep it a secret for fear of shame. You never know what kind of constructive conversations may come of it. It’ll also take some of the pressure off of you should the occasion arise— everyone that matters will already know, there’s no need to explain yourself.
Professionals still aren’t entirely sure why some people have panic attacks, and other’s don’t. In fact, lots of people grow out of anxiety or grow into it after certain traumas (like I did).
Understanding that your physical body is complex and built to help you survive, not humiliate you, is the first step to living your best life with an anxiety diagnosis. You don’t have a blank check to flake out on commitments, you don’t need to use it as an excuse to back down from challenges, but you do need to realistically pace yourself in order to stay healthy and happy. Just like any other routine, soon managing your mood and anxiety symptoms won’t take any extra thought at all.
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Featured Image Courtesy: Flickr via Practical Cures (www.flickr.com/photos/practicalcures)
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About The Author: Faith Yeon writes online content for websites specializing in mental health and social commentary. She sets herself apart with her ability to approach otherwise taboo or intimidating topics with a conversational and relaxed tone. Faith’s favorite TV shows are The Path and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Her motto is: “That which does not kill you gives you anxiety and fun stories to tell at parties.”