Anxiety sucks. Here’s how to fight it.

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anxiety sucks

I have anxiety. Who doesn’t, today?

My particular brand is called panic disorder with agoraphobia. It’s something I’ve wanted to write about for a long time, and as I’ve traveled and embarked on new adventures in life, the blog felt like a natural place to explore this aspect of my life.

Anxiety isn’t always pretty. Many people don’t want to talk about it. It can feel like an admission of guilt, an admission of weakness, an unintentional cry for attention.

But anxiety is none of these things. It doesn’t make you weak, it isn’t attention-seeking, and it certainly shouldn’t make you feel guilty.

I used to be unable to go to movie theatres, or to walk down the street, or to drive across town without panicking. I would plan certain routes, safe paths that I felt compelled to take. This still happens to me, to one degree or another, and the shifting face of anxiety seems to find new ways to pop up in my life.

Once I conquer one setting where anxiety creeps in, another one shows its ugly face.

Is this just the way our brains are meant to work? Are some people just pre-programmed to be a little extra jittery, sensitive, and cautious?

Maybe. A little anxiety can help you, and there’s nothing wrong with being a little extra jittery, sensitive, or cautious. For some people, anxiety makes us who we are. It molds our empathy and makes us caring, communicative people. Often very bright and open-minded people have more than the usual share of anxiety.

But if anxiety starts to impede your enjoyment of your every day life, or stop you from reaching your goals, or heck–when it freezes you from getting out the door? When you find yourself avoiding places or people just to prevent anxiety?

That’s when you’ve got to take action. You need an…

…Anxiety action plan!

Whether you’re moving homes, switching jobs, traveling to a new place, or just dealing with every day stress, don’t forget the basics. This little toolkit helps me a lot. There’s another version of it where I discuss anxiety abroad and practical breathing tips, but this list works to break down the cycle of thinking that gets to the root of anxiety.

The cycle of thinking usually goes something like this:

Anxiety cycle of doom
The anxiety cycle of doom!

The fear of the fear itself, the anticipatory anxiety, is often the worst part. Next your brain may or may not throw a full-blown panic attack your way. In an attempt to escape the fear, you feel the urge to run or to otherwise avoid the situation, turning to distracting things. Once you’ve escaped, or caved in to the knee-jerk reaction to the panic, you feel self-criticism and self-doubt about your choices to combat that fear.

The next time you feel that jolt of terrible fear, the edge of catastrophe masking out all conscious thought, and the tiny molehill turning rapidly into a mountain, take these tips into consideration.

1. Accept your anxiety.

It’s a part of you. Accept what you’re feeling, and don’t feel bad about it! You could be worried about something that happened at work, or a stressful phone call you’re dreading, or simply striking up a conversation with someone new. Whether your anxiety is reflecting back on what has already happened, or dwelling on what could happen, accept the anxiety as what it is. In the words of the novel Dune, let the fear wash over you and through you–and only you will remain.

2. Slow down and put your anxiety into a sentence.

Take a deep breath and say your anxiety out loud, or write it down. For example, “I’m afraid that if I wait in line at the grocery store, I’ll have a panic attack and have to escape. Everyone will look at me funny.”

For me, this was, “I’m going to climb the cupola of St. Peter’s Cathedral and have a gut-freezing panic attack and be unable to turn around, or I will make a fool out of myself and hyperventilate in the middle of this huge open dome.”

Sweet, nerve-wrenching victory!
Sweet, nerve-wrenching victory!

3. Ask yourself: What’s the worst that could happen?

You might end up booking a flight back home from your solo trip abroad.

Or, you might not!

What is truly the worst thing that could happen? And is that thing the end of the world?

Most often it isn’t, and that is the first step in breaking down the cycle of negative thinking that leads to anxiety and panic.

4. Replace the “worst” with the “best”.

When have you managed panic and anxiety in the past? When have you struggled, but still made it through with your task? When have you asked for help, and it wasn’t as terrifying as you’d thought?

Remind yourself of these little encouraging victories. It can be hard to do when you’re anxious, but remember that you are strong enough to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones!

Believe me: Ten years ago I couldn’t drive a couple of towns over from my hometown. Now I can drive across empty, barren stretches of highway for hours with little trouble. Sure, I still struggle once in a while, but it is the act of re-conditioning your brain with positive experiences and encouraging anxiety-busting feats that will get you back into the ring, just like I did.

Arizona open road
The open road in Arizona.

5. Be kind to yourself. Remember, the more you resist anxiety, the stronger that feeling becomes.

Remember your small victories. Don’t ever consider asking for help to be a failure. There are some things that seem difficult to people with different forms of anxiety, and we can feel isolated, like we’re the only ones suffering from a particular anxious malady. But that’s not true–remember that you are strong. You can let yourself feel anxiety. You can let yourself make escape routes. You can keep pushing the boundaries of your comfort zone until you are comfortable doing many things.

If you’re looking for further information or help about anxiety, send us a confidential email or let us know your thoughts in the comments below!

More information can be found at the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

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Anxiety Sucks

Escape the Room Texas: A Real-Life Video Game
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