As we grow up, we tend to forget so many things.
We tend to be taught to forget them, rather. We grow up forgetting to enjoy the taste of fresh food. We grow up forgetting to take a moment and look up at the clouds. We grow up and blend into a mesh of social fabric, worrying day in and day out about what other people think instead of taking the time to be amazed by nature.
It’s understandable, of course. Most people on this planet struggle.
They struggle to feed their families, avoid the ravages of war, and survive through famines and killer climates. Here in the United States, we’re mostly privileged with being a developed nation – so most people here have a little less to worry about.
Yet still, we worry.
And we struggle.
We worry about our grades, about finishing school, about getting into college, about paying for college, about finding a job, about paying off our loans, about paying rent, about eating something resembling a diet, about our figure, our friends, our dating life, deadlines and work pressures and an extensive list of other things we deem worth fretting over.
We worry, because every time we look at the news, we’re reminded that things are really bad out there.
And every time we look at Facebook, we’re reminded that we’re not doing as well as we think we should be doing. And every time we’re done worrying about that, we’re worrying about the groceries or work or the future.
When the worrying gets a little too much, it’s time for us to unwind. We need a break, a vacation, some outlet for our frustrations and worries and fears. But for those of us living with anxiety, it’s not quite so easy. Anxiety disorders are mental illnesses that plague about 18 percent of the US adult population, which is quite the statistic.
When dealing with anxiety in any of its forms, you’re dealing with a form of fear and worry that corrodes your soul. It eats away at you, leaves you a nervous wreck, fearful and paranoid and constantly on edge, worried about either worrying too much or worrying about one specific thing with such intensity that you feel like you’re five minutes away from a panic attack or a breakdown.
But in a way, the original advice for most people – to take it easy, to unwind – still applies.
At the heart of every case of anxiety lies the fact that there is this neurotic need to worry. This undying tendency to imagine the worst, and live it, like that imagination has come to life and is the reality.
So to undo that feeling, you need to stop worrying. That isn’t easy, of course, and everyone has their own way of going about it – but it’s the simplest solution to a case of anxiety: let go of the fear.
For some, the best way of doing this is through medication, be it prescribed or in some other form. For others, that only provides some minuscule relief or none at all. Some people swear by talk therapy, and others yet prefer the more long-winded psychoanalysis. And then there are those where therapy and drugs aren’t doing it.
So they turn to holistic treatments like exercise, yoga, clean eating, and acupuncture.
Mindfulness training and meditation. And of course, play. Or rather, fun.
Fun as a form of medicine is a bit hard to quantify, but a better way of looking at it is challenging you to live life in a way that tries to ignore the pressure. You don’t need to quit your job or let go of all responsibilities or completely backpedal on everything you’ve spent years building for yourself.
Instead, be sure to carve a chunk out of your day to focus on things like comedy. Watching or attending standup. Playing board games with friends, without making things competitive. Going out with someone without the feeling that you’re out to impress each other, and instead just mutually pick an activity and focus on it, like joining an art class or trying out ice skating. Go people watching.
It’s not important what you do, so long as it’s something you can do without really thinking too hard about it. Don’t worry. Don’t think. Just do it. Just have your fun. Do whatever you feel you’ve been missing out on, for laughs. It might not undo your anxiety like therapy would (or it might), but it’ll certainly help.
Because as I said, at its heart, anxiety is a disease of stress and worry. And the best way to free yourself from that is to return to a more childlike mentality of play and fun for however long you need to feel a bit better, and a bit more ready to deal with everything around you.
Defining Your Anxiety
Anxiety is a broad term, so much so that its meaning depends on context. It can be used off-handedly to describe the excitement or slight apprehension. But we’re talking about a level of anxiousness that reaches fear and at times even panic.
Anxiety disorders come in all shapes and sizes, so we’ll start with the broadest definition – the general anxiety disorder, which is a condition wherein you may experience excessive fear, worrying and paranoia over everyday events and general occurrences for which there exists no cause to worry. As the name implies, it doesn’t discriminate much with its triggers or issues.
And then there’s the all-too-common social anxiety disorder, also known as SAD. This is hallmarked by an intense fear, worry, and panic of social situations. It’s different from an agoraphobia, which is a fear of public places and large gatherings. A social anxiety disorder is more so a condition wherein people develop irrational worries over what others may think of them, as well as a sense of paranoia that they’re being ridiculed or that they’re not good enough for any friends.
Other forms of anxiety include more specific disorders and any phobia. The best way to describe the disorder is through one word: fear.
Most mental disorders were irrational, abject fear is involved can be placed somewhere on the spectrum of anxiety. And I don’t mean shrieking at the sight of a spider, I mean thinking about spiders and worrying about them at times when you have absolutely no cause to, seeing them where there are none, and more.
While a great medicine for fear is desensitization, that isn’t always the best, safest or easiest approach – and desensitization alone requires quite some time to set things “right”. Positive psychology and forms of therapy that deal with rational thinking to replace and overpower irrational thought are effective – and then, of course, there’s mindfulness and laughter, ways to take your mind off the horrific possibilities of what could be and what might be, and instead focus on what matters most – the moment.
Getting there – to the point where you can overpower that inner instinct to feel fear and panic – isn’t so much difficult as it is a long journey. But in every case, it’s a road worth taking.
Before anything else: yes, anxiety sucks. Oh, it really sucks. And yeah, I get that you want to do anything to get rid of it and get back to your old, anxiety-free self. You probably long for the days when your life wasn’t riddled with fears and worries, a maelstrom of negative thinking and heart problems. And you’re yearning to be in a place in your life where you don’t have to be scared of the next panic attack, anxious of the next meeting, tense at every date and social occasion or just too terrified at times to even move.
But first, you have to accept that no matter what disorder or problem you’re facing, physical or mental, the only way you’re ever going to get better is by learning to love yourself. It’s fine to hate anxiety! But draw a line between you and your symptoms. You’re not your condition. You’re not just a list of symptoms. You’re you, a person, a living breathing human being with the potential and the will to live life and actually enjoy every single sweet precious little second of it.
And you can. Trust me, you can.
It all starts with the right kind of self-love. Too often, when confronted with the facts and definitions around our cases of mental illness, we grow hard on ourselves. We don’t want to be ill, we don’t want to be called or labeled sick, so we mentally punish ourselves and feel ashamed of being “crazy”. We blame our issues for other people’s problems and put unnecessary amounts of pressure on ourselves to get better when that pressure only seems to be weighing us down.
Part of learning how to relax and focus on the moment again also means knowing when to let go of the anger and negativity. Anxiety, depression and dozens of other diagnoses feed on that negativity, and these conditions thrive in the dark thoughts you think as a result of your emotions.
Instead, you have to learn to cut yourself some slack. Accept that you’re doing what you can to get better and that you’ll have to take your time to get to a better place. You’re not racing to physical fitness, or pushing yourself to cram as many facts down your throat as possible for academic excellence. You’re dealing with improving the mind, and that’s a path that’s best taken slowly, steadily, with care and with focus – and enjoyment – in the moment.
Self-compassion is the keyword here. Just as we’re taught to be considerate of others, remember to always be considerate of yourself.
Again – it’s not a race. Everyone progresses through their improvement at their own pace, because we’re all dealing with a highly individual experience of anxiety. You’ll have to find a treatment plan you’re comfortable with – not one that throws you through a dozen different treatments while creating unnecessary stress because you think you’ll get better faster that way. It doesn’t work like that.
Remember also to slow down in life. Often, anxiety is exacerbated by an overly stressful life. While most of us can’t afford to quit school or get another job, try as much as possible to build what free time you have around rejuvenation, relaxation, and rest. That means getting:
- Lots and lots of sleep.
- Nutritious, wholesome meals.
- Time with friends you really care about and like.
- Time to yourself to read, play video games, watch movies, and relax.
- And more.
If yoga, meditation, saunas or massages do the trick for you, then do them. Figure out whatever you need to instill as much stress reduction and “Zen” into your life as possible.
Work Through It
If you can, rethink the way you work. Do you really want to pursue your career path? Or are you just in it for the money, or to fulfill someone else’s expectations? Stress can sometimes be a good thing if it’s in the cause of something you’re passionate about – although too much of it is always bad.
That means if you do passionately love what you do, but nearly kill yourself while doing it, then it’s time to take a step back, relinquish some responsibilities and get to a place in life where you can feel comfortable.
I know it’s cliched advice to go chasing after your dreams, and it can even be dangerous advice, but sometimes you have to recognize when getting out of your line of work is the best – and only – way to beat your mental problems.
Yes, a Normal Life is Possible
Anxiety in all its forms is a highly treatable mental illness. The sole reason so many people are still suffering from it is because treatment isn’t very easy to get, and the advice people need isn’t always obvious.
And of course, anxiety is a disorder that requires some consistency and constancy to get through. That’s where the support of your friends and family can come into handy, to help you make the changes you need to make in life to better adjust to your anxiety.
Don’t beat yourself up for little mistakes. Don’t forget to have some fun. And don’t go on worrying about things that haven’t happened yet. The best way to beat your anxiety is by thinking your way out of it.