Anxiety

How to Cope with Anxiety


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If you have read my blog before then you’ll already know that I’ve struggled with anxiety, sometimes crippling, from about June 2011 but have experienced uncontrollable anxiety all of my life without even realizing it. It wasn’t until I began to really let go of my eating disorder and step out into the world that anxiety came over me like a wave and really stopped me from being able to live a life at all!

It all began around the time I started my very first job after finishing my undergrad in Mathematics and Geophysics. I began to work part-time in an office, which involved me having to take orders from people and work somewhere where there was no one my own age around me. Fortunately, my Dad works in the same office (I didn’t get the job because my dad works there, just FYI 😉 ) so it took the edge off a little bit but I was still nervous about being given orders and following them out incorrectly. To this day I struggle with lack of confidence in myself and it makes being professional quite difficult.

As you would expect, I was very nervous on my first day of work but I didn’t think anything of it because everyone is nervous on their first day of work, right? Well, as days turned to weeks, I realized that my anxiety didn’t really go away and in fact, it began to get even worse. I started off as just feeling anxious on the bus to work and then when I got there it would go away. But the more I thought about the anxiety, the more it escalated and it eventually got to the point where I was constantly anxious and could barely function. I had to get off the bus a few stops early just so I could walk and calm myself down.

I struggled with this in secret until the day I had my first major panic attack. Before leaving the house, I kept telling myself that this anxiety was only going to get worse and because I was telling myself that, it did. It was a struggle to leave the house that day. On the bus I started to feel nauseated and this is when it became really bad. I have a fear of throwing up so any feeling of nausea makes me panic. When I got to work, the office was in a meeting so I attempted to do some work but I just couldn’t. The anxiety was completely crippling me to the point where I could barely move! Dad came out of his meeting and came to say hello as he did everyday but noticed that I wasn’t quite right. I then burst into tears and he told me to go home. He had no idea why I was crying but he knew that something was up.

When I got home, I called my mum who lives up north and cried to her on the phone and she told me that she had experienced anxiety like that for most of her life – I had no idea! Just knowing that I had Mum to support me meant everything.


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That evening I came clean to my dad about what I’d been struggling with. He told me that when he and my Mum were still together (they split up when I was 5), he’d helped Mum through her times of anxiety and he told me that he would support me as well. I am very fortunate to have such amazing and understanding parents and I felt such so relieved to no longer be struggling with this in secret. That definitely helped ease my anxiety somewhat.

Thankfully, I no longer struggle with crippling anxiety on a day-to-day basis. I do experience anxiety but not to the extent that I used to.

If you’ve struggled with anxiety you’ll understand how debilitating it is. It holds you back from being able to live your life to the fullest because you are afraid of bad things happening to you. All you want to do is stay home in your bed where you know that you are safe.

Anxiety generally involves some of the following:

  • tightness in the chest
  • fast heartbeat
  • dizziness
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • diarrhea
  • numbness
  • dry mouth
  • tenseness in the muscles
  • lack of appetite
  • crying for no apparent reason
  • uncontrollable thoughts
  • fast breathing

…to name a few.

For me, I would experience all of the above. The most embarrassing for me was the diarrhea. Thankfully, it wasn’t too bad but I constantly felt like I was going to go in my pants. Not cool.

Here are some tips that have worked for me in decreasing my anxiety levels:

1. Start to breathe slowly and focus on relaxing your muscles.

I notice that when I start to feel a wave of anxiety, my first symptoms are tense shoulders and jaw and I start to breathe really quickly. In order to gain control over your anxiety before it gets worse, it important to focus on the parts of your body that are feeling tense and try to relax them.

One thing that I have learnt is that emotions can be translated to physical feelings in the body. What does sadness feel like? What does happiness feel like? What does anger feel like? These all involve different facial expressions that use different muscles. Anger makes your body feels tense. Happiness involves being more relaxed. If we are able to control what our bodies are doing physically, then we will then learn to control the emotions that come with the physical feelings.

2. Do something to distract yourself.

This is essential in alleviating the anxiety. Whether it be texting a friend, listening to music, watching TV, doing homework, going for a walk – all these things can help. My personal favourite it listening to comedy shows on my iPod. I find that when I am listening or watching funny things when I’m anxious, I start to laugh at bits that really help to calm me down.

3. Call/text a friend.

Like I mentioned before, texting a friend can be very helpful when you’re anxious. Especially talking to someone on the phone because if you’re alone, hearing someone else’s voice can be really soothing. Even just the fact that you’re using some of your anxious energy to keep your hands busy can be helpful.

This one in particular works very well for me. There was one instance recently where I was about to leave to go to an exam but I couldn’t because I was having a major panic attack. My friend called and she was able to talk me through my journey to uni and if it weren’t for her I wouldn’t have made it to my exam that day!

4. Positive self-talk.

You may have noticed that whenever you are suffering from anxiety, positive self-talk usually goes right out the window. What you start to hear is, “I can’t do this!” “Why the hell are you panicking?” “What is wrong with you?” And so on. This really doesn’t help matters and it just makes you feel even more anxious, especially when you don’t know why you’re anxious in the first place.

But when you are able to say to yourself, “It’s going to be OK.” “I can do this.” “It’s OK to feel like this. I’m not going to die.” Then you don’t risk making your anxiety work. Reminding yourself that it IS going to be OK can work wonders. Anxiety will not and cannot kill you.

5. Ground yourself.

When you’re feeling anxious, all you can think about is yourself and what you are feeling at this very moment. By grounding yourself, I mean bringing yourself back down to earth, in a way. Doing things like tapping your feet on the floor, lying down on the floor, stroking an animal/silky fabric and holding on to something around can all help in trying to bring yourself back into reality.

Tapping my feet really helps when I’m suffering a panic. I find it takes away some of that anxious energy and stops me from freezing up.

6. Fresh air & Exercise.

The last thing that I want to do when I’m anxious is leave me house. All I want to do is stay in the safety of my own bed. But actually stepping outside for fresh air and going for a walk can really do wonders.

Walking really does wonders for me when I’m anxious.

This is one you need to be careful with and depends on the stage that you are in your recovery. If you’re not at the stage where you can exercise yet, then use this suggestion when you’ve been given the clear to do so.

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Katy has an honours degree in meteorology and an undergraduate degree in geophysics and mathematics. Katy chose to recover from her eating disorder in May 2010 and has never looked back. Throughout her recovery journey, she has struggled with crippling anxiety, which she has now learned to manage and by writing at Libero, she hopes to help others to manage their anxiety, have fun with recovery and learn to live again.

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2 Comments

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  • That was an awesome post Katy with heaps of helpful hints.

    Different things work for different people to calm them down. Remember this. Don't try something and say it didn't work therefore I can't be helped. Keep trying different things. You will find something. I have done a lot of work with my counsellor to get on top of my anxiety which manifests in me getting very agitated and withdrawing into myself.

    One thing she got me to do was to focus on something. Your brain can not do 2 things at once. So she would get me to look out the window or at a picture and pick 5 things that i could see. from those 5 things i had to choose one and chose 5 words that described it.

    This only takes a few seconds to do, i didnt have to do it out loud but took my mind away from what i was thinking about/ that broken record in your head.

    I have also done a lot of DBT and one of the things they taught us was the buddhist practice of mindfulness. There are lots of different ways to do this and you kind of have to explore what works for you but the 2 I use are my happy place (i have 2 one is on a cliff overlooking waves the other is under a tree by a little river with the sun coming thru in patches. My therapist would talk me through one of these to bring me back down to a level of 3 or 4 where i can think and therefore rationalise with myself. I can now do this for myself.

    An important thing to remember with anxiety is it tends t spring on you. one minute your fine then wham your up around a 9 or a 10 and you can't think you can't do anything (for me all i can do is sit and jiggle my legs). So being able to identify when its starting to rise is important. Start to observe yourself. What was happening before i was at a 9 or 10. What did my body feel like? What thoughts were going through my head? Being aware of these things (being aware is part of mindfulness) helps you to recognise the signs early. And then you can use one of the strategies that Katy suggests.

    Also if you cant go for a walk just going outside for fresh air. lying on the grass and feeling the sun on you or for me even standing in the rain. Feeling some other sensation to whatever is gripping you at the moment.

    That was an awesome post Katy with heaps of helpful hints.

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