How to Navigate your Way Through Life When you Have Anxiety
Anxiety doesn’t care if you’re Joan from down the road or one of the world’s most famous men, it can strike anyone – here are some tips for owning it.
People often mistake me for famous popstar and R&B singer Zayn Malik. It’s understandable; we’re basically the same person. We were born the same year, we’re loved by millions. We’ve publically feuded with boyband The Wanted. Oh and also we’ve both got anxiety.
Zayn pulled out of a headline slot at Capital FM’s Summertime Ball last weekend. He tweeted an explanation; he was going through the worst anxiety of his career and wouldn’t be able to perform. And therein lies the truth about anxiety; it doesn’t give a shit if you’re Joan from number 12 or one of the world’s most famous men. It’s like a little parasite that happens to find some of our brains to be warmer and more welcoming homes than others.
Anxiety is a worry that worries and worries away at you until all else seems unimportant. It’s the persistent and unshakeable feeling that something isn’t right. It’s a nauseating and undefinable feeling. Sometimes the feeling attaches itself to something tangible. What if I screw up at work? What if I’m already screwing up? What if someone I love gets hurt? What if there’s a bomb inside a person like in that episode of Grey’s Anatomy and I have to keep my finger on it or else the hospital will explode? What if I lose everything I have?
Sometimes it dresses itself up as legitimate concern. “I’m just looking out for you,” Anxiety says, taking a big bite out of your sense of control, your sense of peace, your chance of ever feeling carefree or happy, “I’m keeping you safe. I’m making sure you don’t forget how scary the world is.” Like this it wears a hole right through you. So how do you stay in one piece? How do you keep your life yours when anxiety keeps reaching for it?
Know What You Are Dealing With
Anxiety isn’t always blind panic, hyperventilating and freaking the fuck out. It’s only sometimes like that. The rest of the time it can manifest as a full body heaviness, an inability to concentrate or feeling as though you’re separated from the world around you by a thick glass wall. It can be a wordless discomfort or a feeling of total not-quite-rightness. It’s basically a shape shifting demon. But except not that bad. Shit. No. It’s fine.
You Are Not On Your Own
Please don’t forget that for every person who feels like they’re losing their battle with anxiety, there’s somebody out there who’s managed to wrestle with it and win. Like if anxiety was a crocodile that was trying to eat you but you managed to snap a rubber band over its mouth and now it’s basically just a long embarrassing frog that can’t hurt you. This is a stupid analogy but you love it and agree with me. Here’s another one.
If anxiety was a membership club it would be full. There would be a waiting list to the waiting list. You’d arrive at the door and be greeted by a small anxious woman. Maybe her name would be Beryl. She’d say “Hi welcome to the anxiety club. My name is Beryl and I’m deeply uncomfortable. Let me show you around.” It would be a terrible place to be, don’t get me wrong. We’d all be like ‘why did we come here?’. But my point is you’re never suffering alone.
“If anxiety was a crocodile that was trying to eat you but you managed to snap a rubber band over its mouth and now it’s basically just a long embarrassing frog that can’t hurt you”
Keep Good Company
I’m not saying you should only spend time with people who’ll grab you the minute you start looking a little stressed out, swaddle you in a bubblewrap papoose and hold you tightly to their chest until the anxiety passes. It’s unrealistic. I checked Craigslist already and it’s not even a thing. No, what you need are people you who aren’t going to exacerbate an anxious episode, who know what you need and who can be trusted to behave gently with you until you’re feeling better.
Don't Let Yourself Get Away with being a Dickhead about It Either
You have to build yourself up. You have to congratulate yourself for your successes, however small they might be. You got through it and you’re still here. That’s enough. Keep saying nice things to yourself until they start to stick. At least that’s what I tell my close personal friend Zayn Malik who I know and am friends with.
Try New Things: Explore ALL the Self-Help Options
There are so many things you can try. There’s medication, which is way less scary than it sounds. CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) is a talking therapy that essentially helps us to unlearn negative and self-defeating behaviours. Exercise can help. Also meditation, yoga, uncluttering your life, downloading an app which plays soothing dolphin sounds, sticking to a routine, playing a video game now and then, taking an hour at the end of each day to relax and to take stock of what’s happened to today and what you’d like to happen tomorrow. Even investing in a colouring book can help. Some things aren’t going to work at all. Colouring might make you want to stab yourself with a pencil, and that’s fine. Just try.
Be Prepared for the Storm
Living a functional life whilst you have anxiety requires you have to be prepared. You have to know where the exits are. In other words, you have to know what you’re going to do to help quell the anxiety that could very possibly arise at any moment. So have a playlist ready, a list of breathing techniques or meditations. Perhaps there’s a particular YouTube video that makes you laugh. Maybe it involves a hedgehog with socks on. It doesn’t have to but if it does please send that to me because it sounds charming and if I don’t see it I will die.
Defy Anxiety Every Day
Listen – anxiety’s greatest power is in convincing you that it’s enough to stop you from doing the shit you want to do. You want to a better job? Anxiety’s ready to hit you with a hundred reasons why that can’t happen. You want to take a trip on your own? Anxiety’s already shaking its head and thinking about hiding your passport behind the microwave. You defy that anxiety by chipping away at what it presumes to know about you. Do the thing. Take tiny steps until you can take small steps.
Take small steps until you can take slightly bigger ones, until eventually you can walk with grace and certainty. Your life is up ahead, just go in that general direction at whatever pace works for you and you’ll get there. You’ve got this. Even when it’s hard, you’ve got this. Even when your bones are humming with anxiety, know that it’s not forever. Keep trying. You’ve really, truly got this.
Beth McColl/Dazed Digital