I’m a 33 year old entrepreneur, wife and life enthusiast despite living with Generalized Anxiety Disorder for a number of years. As a child I always remember trying to be perfect — generally being anxious to get to school on time, eat on time, go to bed on time and do all my homework on time. I suppose I was a very proper kid! My family never really linked any of it to anxiety — for the most part I lived a normal daily life and just liked things done in certain ways. It didn’t really get in my way. Only in the last 6 to 8 years did I start to feel anxiety creep up in a way that my heart would race, my thoughts would race and I’d feel so nervous for no apparent reason whatsoever. I could count on feeling this way multiple times a day. To the world, I am a normal high achieving individual. I have degrees from prestigious universities, have won many awards, enjoyed vibrant corporate roles and most recently started my own business. So then how do I manage all this despite the fact that deep down inside I feel utterly useless and helpless so often that I feel I cannot be my most productive self?
Here are some coping mechanisms that seem to get me through each day.
“We cannot change anything unless we accept it.”
— Carl Jung
One of the hardest parts of living with anxiety is that it can be challenging to always anticipate it and then accept it. Resisting anxious thoughts or feelings more often than not do the reverse, it exacerbates it and leaves us feeling frustrated, drained and sad. I will commonly look at the world around me and feel why me? Why can’t I enjoy life the way everyone else around me seems to be? The trouble with this reasoning is that we think we know how everyone around us is but the reality is we cannot read their minds either just like we may appear calm to the world around us.
Half the battle is in accepting anxiety as a disorder that can be managed and then learning to cope with it.
Stop asking it to go away. It only puts you through a downward spiral. Don’t allow it to define you by giving it too much importance — anxiety is not your identity. This will give you the clarity you need to manage your life in a way that creates the space you need to deal with anxiety. This includes recognizing triggers and patterns unique to you.
Unfortunately, there is not a one size fits all approach to working with anxiety. There will always be good days and bad days.
Follow a Routine
As cliché as this sounds, the popular saying “An idle mind is a devil’s workshop” rings very true especially to those of us who suffer from anxiety. Having a schedule that is well defined and productive keeps your mind occupied to channel away from anxious thoughts and obsessive thinking. Consistency is so pivotal to forming positive habits and routines — this could mean sleeping at the same time every day, waking up at the same time everyday, going to the gym etc. Find ways to build a routine that is sustainable but also flexible for when you need some “me time”. Sacrifice activities that push you over the top. Listen to your body.
In order to increase your sense of fulfillment build small daily goals that are attainable. Reward yourself for your consistency. I find the biggest factor in making me calm is my sense of accomplishment. For me to feel like that despite my anxiety I can still achieve my dreams and goals. It may not mean I enjoy every minute of my experience or have it go the way I envisioned but at the end of the day it has been completed.
The more you can ignore the mental noise that is anxiety the more you will conquer it. This can only be done by focusing your energies elsewhere NOT on the anxiety itself.
Focus on Building Meaningful Relationships
A deep, meaningful connection with a partner, friend or counsellor is so enriching to our everyday experience with anxiety. Being able to share our thoughts and emotions freely helps alleviate the burden we feel so acutely within us. I find that with anxiety spending a lot of time around larger crowds derives less meaning to me since I cannot engage as closely and be authentic and true to who I am.
When sharing our experiences with those near and dear to us we can sometimes gain better insights and perspectives on our behaviour. My husband has insights on triggers for my anxiety and offers me help when I feel like I am in a dark black hole. When I lived alone for a number of years, I found myself trapped by my anxiety because I wasn’t able to recognize it or have the basic awareness because nobody was around to notice my unusual patterns or fears. It just felt like me. Only when I sought a therapist for some period of time did I receive some help with CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy). Without strong relationships, I do not think I would have gotten better over the years.
Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend.
— Melody Beattie
Like with any adversity we face in life it is easy to dismiss what is good in our lives and overemphasize our anxiety, depression, OCD or whatever it is that makes us feel unfulfilled. The reality is these disorders do not define us but are merely challenges we have to deal with. For me, the positives I’ve found for myself are that my perfection and observation skills are unparalleled because of my anxiety to get it all just right. My home is always in perfect order due to my obsession with physical and mental clarity. Does it drain me of my energy? Absolutely. But it does yield some results for which I am grateful. Over the years as I have had to share a home with a spouse I have learned to let go slowly. Be grateful for every step you take as you heal.
I genuinely hope these thoughts will help someone better cope with anxiety. It is in no way intended as a substitute for professional or medical assistance.