By Priya Shah
My relationship with anxiety is like a dance. It’s always going back and forth. One minute I’m okay and the next, I’m not.
For a long time, I tried to make anxiety go away through deep breathing and positive affirmations. And while these are real treatment methods, the idea of *getting rid* of anxiety wasn’t the best approach. Anxiety is like that annoying fly that won’t go away. I just had to learn to dance around it.
Before I continue, I’d like to clarify that even though I manage my anxiety through mental practices (and not medication), everybody is different and what works for me may not work for you. Talking to your doctor or therapist will help you build a plan for tackling your anxiety that suits your unique needs.
Here are a few things I’ve done over the years and still do to manage my anxiety.
writing a gratitude list
Yes. I stop, drop, and be grateful. I have a specific gratitude journal I keep on hand and I try to write a list of at least five things I’m grateful for daily (I try to do it first thing in the morning). This exercise is especially helpful when my anxiety is high and my brain goes into panic mode. I’ll take anywhere from a few minutes to an hour to write as many things I can think of that make me feel gratitude.
After doing this, my mindset starts to shift and the panic-voices in my head start to quiet. The list helps me snap back to the present moment and, in general, helps me have a much higher appreciation for life.
talking through my feelings
I’ve talked to a professional therapist on-and-off, and I’ve also talked to close friends. Both have been helpful. A professional therapist helped me to understand the difference between emotional safety and physical safety. While my anxiety always leads me to believe that I’m in physical danger (a lie), what I was really feeling is an emotional danger (which can feel like physical danger — sometimes the mind doesn't know the difference).
I also have amazing friends that I can text or call for a chat and are always there to listen. However, if you do decide to talk to friends, make sure you and your friends are both on the right page and are open to discussing sensitive topics like your mental health. You might not know what they’re going through themselves, and it’s important to check in with the people you love before unloading!
leaning into my anxiety
Wait… what? Stay with me — after I read, Dare: The New Way to End Anxiety and Stop Panic Attacks by Barry McDonagh, I started to look at my anxiety differently. Instead of running from it, Barry encourages readers to run towards anxiety and demand more of it. He talks about leaning into anxiety throughout the book and sitting with the feeling.
Because of this book, I’ve actually started talking to my anxiety. Whenever a pressing thought comes up, I talk back. “So what?” I let the feeling stay and eventually, it moves along on its own. Accepting my anxiety as I’m experiencing it helps me process my anxious feelings. It can take anywhere from a few days to a few hours, but the feeling will always leave. Pretty cool, huh?
I’m not always down for an intense bootcamp, but whether it’s through yoga or a short walk to get some fresh air, moving my body helps (even if it’s just for 10 minutes). Physical movement helps me get out of my anxious thoughts and brings me into the present moment. While exercise is great for physical benefits, I love the mental benefits that come with it.
taking a time out
Sometimes, I just need to step away, take a day off, disconnect from social media, and chill. Whether it’s a DIY-spa day or spending time with friends, taking a break from anxiety is necessary every once in a while. I try to work through my emotions as much as I can but there are days when that approach just gets too exhausting. Now, yes, the anxiety will follow me sometimes, but it’s more enjoyable at the movies. This doesn’t mean I’m avoiding my emotions or numbing them—I’m just indulging in something fun. This could be shopping, brunch with the girls (if I’m up for social time), or getting a pedicure. If I don’t feel like going out, I’ll stay in and watch a movie or read a book.
Over the years, I’ve gone from trying to make anxiety go away to learning to live (and dance) with it. Anxiety will come and go, but I no longer let it take control of my life. I see it as a passing emotion, kind of like the clouds in the sky.
How do you take control of your anxiety? Share with us in the comments.
Priya Shah is a Chicago-based freelance copywriter and serial blogger armed with a journalism degree and a strong background in providing clients with value, creativity, and a killer voice. She’s also a world-traveler, has lived abroad, and loves exploring other cultures.