I have struggled with both depression and anxiety in my life, and of the two, I would say that anxiety has actually had more of an impact on my daily life. I think of depression as a huge tide that comes crashing over me periodically, like when you’re surfing, and you’re “washing-machined” by an unexpected wave. It picks you up, spins you around and throws you down disoriented on the sand. Anxiety, on the other hand, is like a lot of little waves that just keep coming. The surf never stops, and anxiety doesn’t either. That said, small waves can be managed; if you are standing tall they can’t knock you down. So, here are some ways I manage my anxiety by rising above the waves.
1. The one hour rule. My anxiety is always at its worst first thing in the morning. I wake up consumed by worry, and that makes the day seem impossible. To manage this, I use a trick where I make myself get up and tell myself its only for one hour: sixty minutes to have breakfast and take my medication. After that, I can go back to bed if I have to. This breaks the worry down into a manageable chunk and then I can cope with getting out of bed. Then, breakfast raises my blood sugar levels which improves my mood, and I rarely need to play the going-back-to-bed card.
I use the one hour rule for other things I find overwhelming – for example, I tell myself I only have to go out for an hour and then I can go home if I have to. It’s often the anticipation of something that makes me anxious, and I usually feel better once I’m out of the house and with people. The one hour rule just helps me get over that initial stumbling block. It can also be adjusted to a shorter period of time on a really bad day.
2. Turning my phone off at night. I struggle with sleep, and tend to lie awake ruminating about past mistakes and worrying about what the future holds. Here’s a shocker: it turns out that endlessly scrolling through Instagram and Twitter late at night is in no way helpful for avoiding these thoughts!
Blue light from your phone can suppress production of melatonin (the hormone we need to sleep), and the internet is no place for an anxious brain that is struggling to switch off. This is something I really find difficult, and I have a terrible habit of reaching out for my phone at night if I can’t sleep – even though being online in the middle of the night when you feel at your most vulnerable is a terrible idea. Nothing good is going to come from messaging someone at half one in the morning, trust me! So I have bought an old-fashioned alarm clock to help me beat my phone habit, and I’m going to start leaving my phone downstairs at night time. It’s for my own good. Step. Away. From. The. Phone.
3. Stop comparing myself to others. My inner voice can be cruel and I inevitably come up short when I compare myself to other people. I like the Theodore Roosevelt quote which describes comparison as “the thief of joy”. I couldn’t agree more. Anxiety for me is essentially an endless cycle of negative thoughts fizzing away at the back of my brain. I berate myself for not being good enough for anybody or anything. This can even involve being cross with myself for being anxious in the first place! I see my friends coping brilliantly with full lives, careers and children, and I wonder why I can barely leave the house. This leaves me feeling pathetic and like a failure. It’s a vicious circle and there is no way I can win the battle in my head.
The way I try to manage this is to step outside of myself and turn my focus onto these other people. I try to practise kindness every day. Little things make me feel better, like baking a cake for a friend or making dinner for my family; so it becomes a way of being kind to myself too. I’m never going to measure up to other people in my own head, so I’m better off getting out of that negative headspace by turning my focus outwards.
4. Exercise! I’m really not good at this, despite appearances from the photo accompanying this blog! That bemused face marks the one and only time I’ve completed a 5k run, so I’m not going to miss the opportunity to remind myself it can be done. I rarely feel like I have enough energy to make myself get out there, but I know it’s great for my anxiety when I do. I’ve recently been angrily reminded of this by my body – my neck literally seized up a few weeks ago from all the anxiety that has been stored up there, and I have been going for very painful sessions of acupuncture to try and relax my muscles. The acupuncturist thinks that I store tension and anxiety in my spine, and I need to get moving to try and prevent this tension from building up.
And so I have unrolled my sadly-neglected yoga mat and started stretching every day. I’m also getting out of the house for a short walk on a daily basis. Walking is the most beneficial for me as I can feel the tension seeping out of my body while I pound the footpath. I’m going to try to work back up to my glory days of running, as I also found this brilliant for getting out of my head. Loud music in my ears while watching my feet move is a brilliant form of escapism. I need those exercise endorphins…
Mind you, I did once run into a tree while training for that one famous 5k, as I was so busy watching my feet. So, yeah, don’t do that. Managing your anxiety can help you to rise above the waves, but it can’t stop a tree from bruising your forehead!