Anxiety is a coat of many colours—six colours to be exact, including social, specific phobia, OCD, panic disorder, PTSD, and my own generalized variety. None of them are flattering, and all are crippling.
Anxiety affects so many people—as in, one in four us if the stats are right—yet we hardly talk about it beyond tossing around generic “support mental health” slogans.
For years I’ve struggled to manage my struggle, openly and privately.
If you’re into mantras and downward dogs, then I applaud you. But I just can’t get my head into that space—or my butt into those Lulus—try as I might. And believe me, I’ve tried. Frankly, much of the ‘airy fairy’ rhetoric out there leaves me cold and looking for something that will actually help.
These five strategies are my go-to:
I’m not one of those people who enjoy working out. In fact, I regard those people with the same suspicion reserved for those who don’t drink coffee. More often than not, my body is an afterthought. Then my brain comes along and teaches me the hard way that if I neglect my body I will pay dearly. So if I want to look after my brain, I have to get my body moving. It doesn’t matter how, exactly, but it has to be vigorous enough to burn off the cortisol and get those lazy endorphins dancing. I’ve found that anything gentle or quiet just doesn’t cut it. So with the music dialled up, I sweat like no one’s watching.
Friends are great, but even the loveliest, kindliest friends have a breaking point when it comes to listening to a broken record. I can’t blame them. My anxiety is a depressing soundtrack. I’m not saying you have to put on a happy face all the time. That’s not an authentic way to life. But I’ve also learned that it’s also not fair to air your shit all the time. During a bad patch recently, I dumped on a couple of friends. Then I regretted it.
If you can’t afford a therapist (who can!?), invest in a journal and let loose on that baby. It can be on the back of a receipt or your grocery list. It doesn’t matter. The main thing is, release. And keeping your friends.
We’ve all heard that cliché about putting on your oxygen mask before you put on your child’s. But it’s true. You need to look after number 1 so you can look after 2, 3, 4, and even 5… Even though we know about the importance of self-care, we moms are the worst at doing it. When you have anxiety self-care is even more chicken and egg. Your desire to curl into a ball runs counterpoint to getting outside of your comfort zone. But I’m living proof that if you force yourself to take that class or join that club you will feel better. Sometimes distraction is the best medicine.
Contrary to what we are led to believe, social media is actually pretty antisocial. I’m not entirely sure why but when I’m feeling anxious and vulnerable, social media tends to make matters so much worse. All I see through my skewed lens are these deeply contented, carefree people. Even though I know Facebook and Instagram are veneers through which people put forward only their best face, it still makes me feel like crap. So in times of high anxiety, it’s best to unplug if not completely then at least cut down the intake considerably. Same for news. Even on a good day, it’s hard to stomach the latest Trump tweets. When I’m mentally fragile, it’s unbearable.
This one seems obvious and unavoidable really—as in, don’t do it and you die. But the simplest advice is often the soundest. When you feel anxious, adding another thing (even breathing) to your To Do list just provokes more anxiety. While helping my son learn relaxation techniques, I stumbled upon the Lazy 8. Essentially you flip the number eight on its side, on the inhale trace one circle, pause, then exhale while tracing the length of the other. For kids it makes deep breathing tangible. Of course, you don’t need a visual but I’ve found it helpful at first. Doing a series of 3-5 “lazy eights” with my son at bedtime is the perfect way for both of us to unwind after a full day He has even taken to nudging me to do a lazy eight when I seem anxious or stressed. Our kids truly are our greatest teachers.