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It is important to note that everyone will have an experience with anxiety at some point in their life. Whether you have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder or you only experience anxiety in certain situations, everyone needs a way to cope. The techniques listed below are a small number of methods I personally use to control my anxiety, rather than it control me. Keep in mind these techniques are not a magical solution that will somehow instantly resolve your anxiety. By continuously practicing coping techniques over time you'll see a gradual decrease in anxiety levels. Not all techniques are suited to each person. In order to figure out which ones work for you, it's important to try as many as possible and not become discouraged if certain ones do not help you. Everyone will have a coping method that works for them and in some cases even multiple.
A pretty generic and common coping mechanism is deep breathing. Personally, deep breathing helped immensely lower my anxiety. In all honesty, everyone—anxious or not—should practice deep breathing. Breathing exercises help focus and clear the mind, which is something people with anxiety or experiencing anxiety are not naturally capable of. Often, I would combine deep breathing with distracting thoughts. I remember therapists or doctors would tell me that while I’m deep breathing I should try not to think about anything, but as you may know, that’s virtually impossible for anyone, let alone someone struggling with anxiety. Instead of trying to think about nothing I would instead think about something that I was grateful for in my life. An example of a grateful thought would be, “I’m so thankful for my family and friends.” The grateful thoughts can be as simple as, “I love the color of my room,” or "my bed is so comfortable.” By forcing yourself to come up with positive thoughts, it creates a distractor from the worry and negative thoughts that often consume it.
Meditation is very beneficial for anyone who is willing to put in the time and practice. There are many apps that can help with your meditation practice. I used an app called "Calm." There are at least one hundred different styles of meditation for different settings and goals. I loved the sleep meditations because my anxious thoughts would often keep me from sleeping. There are also meditations for self-love, gratitude, acceptance and also body scans. Meditation is not for everyone, and again, the results are not instantaneous. With practice and focus you can potentially calm your anxious mind and lower your anxiety level entirely.
By exercising regularly, not only do you become healthier but so does your mind. When you exercise, natural endorphins are released into the brain. These endorphins elevate your mood and in result lower your depression and anxiety. I found it particularly tough to start exercising and stay consistent. Although it took a lot of self-perseverance, it was well worth the hard work. The benefits I felt, mentally and physically, paid off in the long-run. When you begin exercising it's almost addictive. When you start and stick to it, it becomes addicting and the benefits make it worthwhile.
When I visited my therapist he gave me many ways to deal with the intrusive thoughts that I was experiencing. There are so many different things you can practice in order to cope with scary and crippling thoughts. One of the best things my therapist told me to do was accept the thoughts. (More on this in another article). He told me when an intrusive thought pops into my head that I need to notice it's there and say, "Okay there it is," and then think about something positive to distract the mind. Also, another mental exercise I found really helpful was pretending you and your thoughts were in a game of dodgeball. I play sports so it was helpful to envision in my mind the intrusive dodgeballs coming at me. Instead of dodgeballs hitting me and "knocking me out" I'd instead have to dodge them, therefore they could not bother me. The analogy is that when I dodge the dodgeball I am dodging the intrusive thoughts. As time went on and I practiced this more and more, I was able to anticipate these intrusive thoughts. When they occurred it was less of a shock and more of a "Hey, I knew it was coming." As your anticipation increases, you become less afraid and more accepting of these thoughts. The more you accept them the less of a negative effect they will have on you.
As hard as it is to get up and be productive when your battling anxiety... or any type of mental illness, it is so important that you do. I remember my aunt, who had gone through severe anxiety as well, said something that I still think back to when I'm feeling anxious; "I'm not going to let this obstacle keep me from doing the things that I want to accomplish in life." In order to conquer your anxiety, you must not let it conquer you. As terrifying as it was to go to school every morning, I told myself that I will not let this be detrimental to my education. By setting this goal, it increases your motivation to overcome your anxiety. It's important to set a realistic goal and not be too hard on yourself either. If I beat myself up over every bad mark I got on a test while I was going through my rough period I would have completely lost all faith. If I got a bad mark I told myself that it was alright and it just means I have to study harder for the next one. In order to be able to study harder, I have to get my anxiety under control. For me, my main goal was to get good enough grades to be accepted into the university I planned to go to. Other examples of goals would be passing a course or staying on a sports team. Set a goal for yourself that is reasonable and that you know if you work hard enough it will be achievable.
I hate referring to medication as a "last resort" because it makes it sound like some bad thing that you should never use. For a long time, I believed that this was the truth about medication. I was petrified that medication changes your personality and I believed only crazy people used medication. I couldn't tell you how many times I told myself that I would never go on medication. Now after being on a small dose of Zoloft for about a year and a half, I can assure you that it was a crucial step in my recovery. Some people only need a small dose of medication and some need a large dose. Some people use medication for their entire life. Medication is so unique to each person and often it takes some time to find the right one for you. For someone struggling with the decision to go on medication or not, I can answer your worries that you may be having... You will not become a different person or change your personality. It will not "fry" or "melt" your brain. It will not make you an automatically happy and high on life person. All medication did for me was allow me the ability to work mentally on my anxiety. It lowered my anxiety the slightest bit, just to the point where I was capable to practice my meditation or mental exercises. It is important to know that medication will not be the one solution to your anxiety. In order to control your anxiety, you must be willing to do your own work along with the aid of medication. Medication is also not for everyone. Sometimes people have negative side effects to medication and experience no benefits. This is why it is crucial that you talk to your doctor or therapist to figure out what the best decision is for you.
There are many other factors and methods to conquering your anxiety. The ones I've listed are not all there is and they may not be successful for everyone. But the most important thing to take away from this and what I truly believe what is necessary to heal, is hard work and time. There is no quick fix to solving your anxiety for the long term. You must be dedicated to putting in work and know that it takes time. Just because you do a deep breathing exercise one day does not mean that your anxiety is going to be magically cured. You may not even feel any less anxious by doing deep breathing once. But by practicing every day you will begin to see a slight improvement and in the long term, it can be shockingly beneficial.