Living with constant anxiety and learning how to control it

I am taking a break from writing my interview a scientist series while I wait for more interviews from colleagues.  So I am choosing to write about a topic that I know many of my close friends and acquaintances deal with: living with anxiety.  It’s been too long that mental health has been pushed under the rug and hidden like a dirty secret, so I think more of us should be talking about it considering how common it really is. 

Anxiety can present itself in many forms and can stem from genetics, past trauma, constant comparison, perfectionism, etc. 

First of all, what does anxiety feel like?  

To me, anxiety is physically feeling like your stomach is dropping and your breath gets taken away; it’s like riding a roller coaster.  It’s a moment of panic in an otherwise normal day or a full on panic attack when days are tougher. Imagine yourself stepping into the crosswalk and a car comes out of nowhere barreling towards you and you try to quickly get out of the way with heart racing and jagged breaths… that’s what anxiety feels like. 

How does anxiety feel mentally?

Anxiety affects mental well-being.  For me, anxiety is the absence of a clear mind.  Sometimes it’s like my mind constantly feels muddled and messy, leaving me feeling out of control even in the most mundane of situations.  Have you ever woken up from a nap not knowing what day or time it is? That’s what a messy mind feels like; you don’t know where you are and the past several hours seem like a blur.  

Anxiety is going to work and constantly second guessing yourself and if you did something the correct way.  It’s also being worried that you are constantly being talked about, scrutinized, or looked down upon DESPITE excelling at tasks, projects, and assignments.  

Anxiety is being afraid to do many things for fear that something bad will happen; ie – sickness, death, injuries of yourself and others even in the rarest of instances.  

Having anxiety is knowing deep down many things you worry about will never come true but you still stress about it because your mind and thoughts take over.  

Perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand I believe.   The pressure to be perfect and to not make a mistake. The pressure to figure out everything on your own leads to an anxiety spiral.  

So, I came up with a few things that I normally do in anxious situations that can help you feel more calm and in control: 

How to overcome anxious thoughts:

  1. When you have a persistent thought go through your mind and you instantly think of the worst case scenario, remind yourself that this situation or a similar situation has happened before and that in the end it all worked out fine.  For example, if your spouse isn’t answering their phone you automatically think something bad happened to them.  Think of the past times this has happened and why. They left their phone in the car, at home, at the office or they were in an important meeting, etc.   Or maybe you have a big project coming up at work that you are terrified of failing at. Remind yourself all the times before that you have excelled at various tasks/assignments and what you did to get there.  
  2. Prepare for something bad to happen so that it can be controlled.  What can you do to prepare for your ‘worst case scenario’?  For example, let’s say you are going on a trip overseas and you are nervous about getting sick, having your vacation ruined, etc.   Pack necessary meds in case this happens…. get the immodium, get your vaccines, pack the bug spray, etc. Being prepared puts you in control of the situation.
  3. Remember to breathe.  Inhale by counting to 6 and then exhale by counting to 6, repeat this at least 5 times until you feel yourself calming down.  
  4. What can you see, hear, smell and touch?   While in the midst of an anxiety or panic attack, try to list 5 things you can see, hear, smell and touch.   It’s a great way to get your mind off of the anxious situation by grounding yourself.  
  5. Think about all of the positives that can come out of a certain situation.   Try reversing your thinking process.  Maybe you are scared of starting a new job and you keep telling yourself you’ll hate your boss, co-workers, your projects, etc.   What can go right, though?  Maybe you’ll meet a new best friend, maybe you’ll learn a new skill set that will give you an advantage for your future career.   You’ll also learn resilience, patience, and positivity if you start to reverse your thinking – all assets that will help in many situations going forward. 
  6. Reach out to someone who knows more than you!  For example, if you are working on a new assignment at work and have no idea where to start or how to proceed, contact someone who knows.  Don’t sit in a panic attack because you don’t know where to begin. There is always someone out there that knows more than you that is willing to help. 

I would love to hear from you guys what you do to help your anxious thoughts, please leave me a comment so we can have a discussion about it!

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