Updated: Sep 10, 2020
I have struggled with anxiety most of my life. I am an empath. That means I am wired to feel other people’s feelings, often to the exclusion of my own. The noise of other people’s feelings is overwhelming at times. I often catch myself adjusting my words and actions when responding to a person. I try to communicate in the way that will best care for and make them happy. That is an exhausting way to live.
When you live this way, you become “tossed about by every wave”, and you lose your connection with yourself. You need to be grounded in who you are. Otherwise, you cannot help another person, and you will burn yourself out fast. None of us were ever meant to take responsibility for another person’s emotions. You must take care of yourself first. This may sound selfish, but it’s not.
Much anxiety occurs from focusing on the past, the future, or things we can’t control. I’m not going to tell you it’s easy to stop thinking about these things, because it’s not. But if we focus on the present, we can eliminate a lot of anxiety. That is why mindfulness is so important. Today has enough troubles of it’s own. We cannot change the past, and we cannot predict the future. All we can do is have faith that God will work things together for good. The alternative is to stay anxious all the time. So, what can those of us with anxiety do to help ourselves?
Eat, Drink, and Sleep Enough
First things first. I know this is basic, but it’s important. Regular meals give you energy and keep your blood sugar level. Keep healthy snacks around so you don’t get “hangry”. Second, most of us don’t drink near enough water. Dehydration will make you feel lousy and exacerbate anxiety and chronic pain issues. Last, get enough sleep. When your sleep is disrupted, your tolerance for everything else is lowered. Sleep is the most important thing you can do to help yourself. If you have insomnia, talk to a health care provider.
Mindfulness, Breathing, and Meditation
Mindfulness means being present in the moment. Stop regretting the past and worrying about the future. Simple, right? No, but it is one of the best skills you can learn if you struggle with anxiety. When you feel your thoughts starting to wander into rumination or fear of the future, stop. Remind yourself that the upsetting event is not happening right now and may never happen. That has been one of the most helpful things I have learned in guided meditation.
When you are in the middle of an anxiety attack, it can difficult to practice mindfulness. So breathe. The quickest way to calm down is with 4-4-6 breathing. Breathe in for a count of 4. Hold for a count of 4. Exhale for a count of 6. Keep this up until you calm down. This technique is simple enough to remember and very effective.
Meditation is a long, focused mindfulness session. You focus on the present and sit with your feelings. It is helpful if you are dealing with strong feelings like grief or anger. Meditation helps you learn to sit with these feelings so that you can process them. You don’t have to be spiritual to meditate, and you can meditate if you are spiritual. In fact, I like to use meditation as a time to practice listening prayer. You’d be surprised the things you hear when you sit quietly for a few minutes. My favorite meditation app is Insight Timer. They have many different types of guided meditations, or you can use the timer. If you need something more basic to start (I did), Calm is very beginner friendly.
Creativity, Nature, and Exercise
Make time each day to exchange productivity for creativity. There is no such thing as a non-creative person. We all have unique creative gifts. Some of us choose not to express them as much, or at all. There are so many different mediums to choose from. You can create art and music in SO many different ways! And let’s not forget about gardening and landscaping! Creativity increases our ability to handle stress and problem solve. Brené Brown said, “The only unique contribution that we will ever make in this world will be born of our creativity.” You never know…you may come up with the world’s next great invention!
Nature nourishes my soul. We can’t travel right now, but the beach and mountains have such healing power. Parks are starting to reopen, so they are a good avenue right now. My favorite park in Greensboro is The Bog Garden. I have taken many of my best pictures there. I lose track of time whenever I go. But if all else fails, get outside in your yard or go for a walk in your neighborhood.
That brings me to my next coping skill. Exercise. Walking is wonderful, because you can do it anywhere and it doesn’t cost anything. You just need a good pair of shoes. I am also a big fan of yoga. See my post on finding a safe yoga class. We all know that exercise increases serotonin, which helps with mood. Plus, if you walk outside you get vitamin D too! The important thing is to get moving and do something you enjoy.
Limit Social Media and News
Social media can be draining in the best of times. In our current world situation, it is almost unbearable. So many people fighting and arguing about things they can’t change and can’t control. The news is even worse. We have access to instant fear and anger 24 hours a day, and we wonder why we are anxious and can’t sleep.
In the past few weeks my anxiety levels have been through the roof. I realized that I was spending too much time on social media in an attempt to feel more connected. But instead, it has made me feel more alone. I heard a simple, but powerful message last week. The speaker said if news and social media are increasing your anxiety, stop scrolling. But I…but…but…huh… Oh. He’s right.
You may have to give up trying to convince everyone to embrace your favorite theory, cause, or grievance. But ask yourself if your peace is worth letting a few things go. I finally decided that my peace is THE most important thing right now. We can be informed without feeding our fear and anger all day. It doesn’t mean you have to delete all your accounts. It does mean that you need to put down the phone or tablet and shut down the computer once in a while. We weren’t created to live in constant overwhelm.
I hope that these tips help. Anxiety is awful. I know that firsthand. We can eliminate a lot of it by staying focused on the present. We can do our best to stay safe and sane and not stress about what we can’t control. The world is currently out of control. But I believe that we do have better days ahead. It may take us a while to get there, but we are promised that all things will eventually work together for good. We just have to give up our need to know the details. That is so hard if you struggle with anxiety, but it will set you free. I want to be free.