Anxiety is basically this mean old jerk living in your head that makes it its business to make your life a living hell. Anxiety makes you fear for your life, question yourself, and makes you feel defeated—every single day.
I began to experience symptoms of anxiety in my teens, but it was never bad enough to talk about or mention. Postpartum, however, I practically lived in fear non-stop. My mind was a gruesome, dark place filled with some of the most debilitating thoughts. It was a relief to finally be diagnosed and to have a better understanding of what was going on in my head. Since I’m high-functioning, I can still manage to get things done and complete tasks as needed, but I physically shudder at the horrible thoughts my anxiety brings into my mind. Because sharing specifics about my anxious thoughts can be triggering for others (and should probably stay between me and my therapist), I’m not going to elaborate on what my anxiety has caused me to feel, but rather, I will discuss the things that have allowed me to tackle it to the best of my abilities.
Here are three ways I calm myself down when I feel my anxious thoughts take over:
- 4-7-8 Breathing
When my doctor talked to me about this, I took it lightly. When I felt a rush of panic come onto me, however, I gave it a try, and I was floored by how much better I felt.
4-7-8 breathing involves breathing in for 4 counts, holding for 7 counts, and breathing out for 8. It was also an opportunity for me to learn how to breathe over again. I always took shallow, hurried breaths that came from the top of my chest, but these time points taught me to breathe deeply from my stomach. There are times when thoughts uncontrollably rush and bombard my head, my chest heaves, and I feel like I'm running out of air. At this point, I physically stop everything I am doing and run through a few cycles of 4-7-8. I literally feel my awful thoughts melt away and my body reacts to that peace by calming down.
2. Grounding Exercise
Like the 4-7-8 breathing technique, grounding is another great way to shake yourself out of the din of unhealthy thoughts. Take a few deep breaths and then, out loud, say:
5 things you can see
4 things you can feel
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste
While I say these, I actually follow my own instructions. I purposefully look for 5 things I can see around me, 4 things I can feel, and so on. By going through these steps, I am forced to be super mindful and in the moment. When I was new to these techniques, I would forget these steps. For my own convenience (and health!), I searched on Google Images for a pretty graphic of these steps and saved it in my phone’s “Favorites” album. This made things so much easier for me, especially when in those moments when my mind is suddenly overloaded.
3. Keeping Myself Busy-ish
Having a schedule that is moderately busy helps my anxiety stay in check because it keeps my mind conditioned with different types of thoughts. Of course, over-scheduling can cause stress and more anxiety, but having plenty of things to do and little time to just sit idly by has helped me tremendously. If it seems my week is relatively calm and collected, I will go out of my way to schedule more things in, whether it’s a workout class or a coffee date with a friend. This ensures that I don’t have too much downtime. When I have commitments, I am on my feet and forced to engage with life.
I've always been apprehensive about posting publicly about my struggles with anxiety, but I truly believe that there is strength in knowing that you're not alone. I'm in graduate school to become a Licensed Professional Counselor because I'm extremely passionate about normalizing mental health care. Sometimes, techniques like the ones above might not be enough to manage your anxiety, and it's so totally okay to get more help. Definitely talk to your doctor before you create a plan to manage your anxiety and know that there is no shame at all in any of this. I see people get visibly uncomfortable when they find out that I regularly see my therapist. I cannot wait till the day that it's normal and common for people to have a therapist, the same way they have a hair guy or nail lady.
So much love to you, as always. If you're dealing with the demon that is anxiety, I wish you the best in finding your own special groove in managing it.
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