For the last year of my life I've battled on and off with generalized anxiety (in particular depersonalization disorder) and I want to share with you some of my methods for choosing* to feel relief, even when things feel disorienting. Growing up can be hard. We're all a work in progress.
**Disclaimer: I am a designer, NOT a doctor. Though, I can recite some pretty sick rhymes from Dr. Dre. I'm an expert in drawing skulls and stuff. I'm just here to share what's working for me. And what's given me hope. It's all been said before. **
Anxiety is normal. Everyone will experience it from time to time. It's ok to feel scared, alone and helpless. It is not ok to let it persist. Get help now; if not for yourself, do it for the people around you.
You WILL get better. Be patient with yourself. Though all your anxiety could dissipate in a day, it's more likely that this will take a season of your life. You just need practice. And that's perfectly ok. You'll stumble here and there. You will learn patience and bravery in the process. You will learn to fight adversity.
1) ACCEPTANCE- Accept anxiety for what it is: Normal.
It is our natural reaction to blame our anxiety on something other than thoughts. Example: "There is a tumor in my brain" OR "I'm possessed!". While you should get checked out by a mental health professional, it's best to accept your anxiety at face value AND take the necessary steps to retraining your brain. Learn about neuroplasticity. You can heal.
2) DIET- Give up caffeine and nicotine. There are medical reasons for why these chemicals exacerbate anxiety and I've found when I don't drink coffee or smoke cigarettes I'm able to stay level-headed (yes I do smoke on the golf course from time to time. Sorry Mom!).
I've also read that hangovers can cause anxiety. So I'd also recommend drinking moderately. Lord knows alcohol can calm me down after a day of binge-thinking about the terrible ways I can meet my demise. But NEARLY ALL my panic attacks have happened the day after I've had a few drinks. Alcohol is your friend at first, and later your enemy.
3) THERAPY- I highly recommend therapy. It isn't for "those people". Therapy is for everyone. For a while I was burdening my close friends and family with all my "problems". You don't want to be "that guy". I was that guy. I still am sometimes.
There are many different types. I suggest trying a couple to find what works for you. Don't feel let down if one method of therapy or therapist doesn't work for you.
I do something called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). The "cognitive" side of CBT allows you to address the thoughts that cause anxiety. When you address those fears you can root out the problem.
The "Behavioral" side is almost like homework. It takes practice. It's sort of fun to tackle your anxiety as a project. My therapist is Glenn Stevenson. He's a badass. It took me a while to find him.
If you can't afford a therapist, there is group therapy. Look in to it.
4) EXERCISE- You need to get moving. There are many benefits to exercise. Spending idle time at your desk or on your couch will feel safe for a while but will enable you to stay introverted; and you will continue to ruminate. Don't wait until you feel ready. GO DO IT. Get away from the computer.
5) PRAYER | MEDITATION- Admittedly, I sort of suck at this. My brain is always moving. I can barely sit still.
Intentional time alone (or alone with God for people of faith) is a good thing. Get outside, focus on your breath. Recognize the moment as it is. It can work for both religious and non-religious people. Being outside is a great way to feel connected to the world around you.
6) SLEEP- Learn to rest a normal amount of time. Too much sleep will keep you lethargic. Not enough will keep you on edge.
7) COMMUNITY- This might seem contradictory to being "that guy", but if you have persistent anxious thoughts and fears you need to let someone know. Your friends and family want to help you, even if they don't know how. They can keep you on track. Anxiety (and depression) are isolating. A sense of togetherness and connectivity will be the type of comradery that you need.
8) LOVE- OK, bare with me here. It's a cliché I know, but we all need love. We need to give love. Make time to help others. Your life isn't just about you. We need to receive love. No man is an island. Learn to love yourself too.
Shout out to my wife who has loved me very well during this experience. I'm forever grateful. #bae
9) HAVE A PLAN- Learn to find what calms you down. For some it's a five minute break for meditation. Sometimes writing can be calming. But your plan should be healthy, not something superstitious (knocking on wood) or self-harming (drinking, smoking, punching stray cats).
Figure out what will bring you relief for both short term and long term. I recommend using a therapist or mental health professional to help you devise this plan.
10) REFRAME YOUR THOUGHTS- Sometimes it helps for me to acknowledge that I am a self-entitled grown-up baby know-it-all who makes every problem about myself. That's hyperbole but it's mostly true. The world does not revolve around me. I get to participate in it but my problems barely skim the surface of the type of horrific events that are occurring worldwide. I need to keep it in perspective.
If none of this works for you there is still so much hope. You have a lot of time to figure this out.
Some of you might say "But you're a Christian! How come you don't just say 'believe in the Bible and Jesus will heal you'?!" While faith has certainly helped me, the bible does not give detailed instructions about how to fight off 'the shakes' while your vision blurs when you're just trying to get some cantaloupe for your fruit salad at the grocery store.
Honestly, I could write a book about this. But I'd rather draw dinosaurs and octopi instead. Let me know your thoughts!
written by Joshua Ariza