Nowadays I hear more and more people opening up about their anxiety. I am happy to see that this topic is now openly discussed and recognized. I remember being really ashamed for constantly feeling anxious, because I couldn’t explain what was happening to me. Also I had never heard anybody speaking about similar feelings, so it felt like I was being dramatic and I was making it all up. Therefore, I felt completely alone with my fear and thought there was nothing that could be done to obliterate this ice cold fear. I thought it will simply be there to dominate the rest of my life. Yes- this sounds like a nightmare, but it is for many other people their ugly daily truth.
A jump back in time…
I was watching a film with my roommates in Paris. It was just an ordinary evening, nothing special had happened that day other than going to work. The film of choice was an animated movie about a bunch of cheery zoo animals going on a worldly adventure, so nothing really peculiar about that either. We were just hanging on the couch enjoying the show… when all of a sudden out of nowhere a very heavy and dark blanket descended upon me. It quickly wrapped itself around me like a serpent, strangling all the air out of me.
It felt like a dark part of myself awakened from within me. This dark, unsolicited friend started whispering horrible thoughts to me, that struck me like an ice cold bolt and left me with a deep realization… we will all die. From that moment on this realization has joined me in all the days that came to pass. With every activity I did, during every film I watched, with every lunch date I had with friends. Everywhere I went it was there by my side making my skin crawl, my heart race like a jet engine and my mind going places where there is no hope.
I am not writing this here to gain sympathy for me personally in any way. I am writing this for everyone who feels alone in their fear and thinks that their unsolicited friend might never leave. So those of you, I would like to share what I do to deal with my fears and what my anxiety actually brought me.
Be fierce, face your fears
Analyzing what causes your anxiety attacks might actually make you understand why you got them in the first place. I understand that this is actually the most difficult thing you will have to do, because most of the time your fear is completely irrational. However, it is caused by something, or some happening that has nested in your subconsciousness. It takes a great deal of courage to face your fears. But it will help you making the irrational tangible and insignificant, because you are not your fears!
My anxiety, for example, is caused by the idea that I can’t give any added value to my life or that of anybody else, as I have no real talents to share with the world. And therefore I am afraid that I won’t accomplish anything in my life. – completely irrational of course!
Drop the oyster attitude
There is no need to be ashamed for your anxiety or feel burdened to share them with others. You are not your fear. Don’t become an oyster. There are so many people out there experiencing the same. By opening up you will see that you are not alone and you might even meet people that will be there for you. Also, knowing there are other people out there feeling the same is often already a relief.
Like I said, I have felt ashamed of my anxiety, because I felt misunderstood and alone. I even felt like a burden to the people close to me, because I couldn’t be my cheery old self anymore. I tried the oyster for a while, but it brought me nothing. The moment I opened up, I found there were some lovely persons I could talk to.
High on happy hormones
We all know exercise is good for you, both physically as mentally. I can honestly say that it has really helped me getting in better shape mentally. By moving your body, you produce several hormones that help you feel more mentally stable. Those happy hormones are truly your best friend when you are enduring an anxious period.
In spring and summer I cycled to work five days a week for about an hour a day. I could really notice the difference, as I felt more stable generally. During winter I have been hibernating like a hamster, not exercising at all… and guess what? Well, hello there old friend… So, I started working out again since a couple of weeks and I feel better already!
Fresh air and sunbeams
Spending time outside can really help you feeling more at ease. Go for a walk in the park or a sturdy hike in the forest and sniff up that fresh air! As you are moving your body, like mentioned above, you are making your own stash of happy hormones (yay!) Also, as nowadays we are not spending that much time outside, the sun doesn’t get to stroke our skin as much as it should be. Having the sun touch our face once and a while, your skin will produce some much appreciated vitamine D, which is proven to improve your mood.
I can deliberately say that during (and after) my holidays in summer as well as in winter, my anxiety attacks decrease significantly – or even disappear completely. This has everything to do with the amount of time I spend moving about outside.
Food against fear
What better way to eat yourself happy?! A healthy dieet can really help you to feel mentally better. There are even several foods that can help reduce anxiety! Some of them are Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs and dark chocolate (uhhh… gimme that!).
On the contrary, there are also foods that can increase anxiety… For me alcohol is the culprit. Whenever I consume alcohol I can bet my boots, the next day I just want roll myself in a blanket like a sushi roll feeling terribly anxious. Sometimes even for two days in a row. Not sure that it’s worth the peg…
Cut back on negative news
During the first years after my anxiety attacks started, I just couldn’t bear to watch any news. Often the news you see on television or read in newspapers isn’t very positive and I took all of it incredibly personal. It was all just too much to take in and I felt desperate, because I couldn’t do anything to help. Therefore, I decided to stop watching the news all together. I also cut back on social media. Seeing everybody around me being the best version of themselves made me feel like I couldn’t keep up in my life. When you’re suffering from anxiety your brain can’t handle all those different stimulants, so cutting them out of your life for a while is really ok!
What my anxiety actually taught me…
For 6 years already, me and my anxiety are in an intricate relationship. As an experience expert I can happily say that our relationship is slowly growing dimmer and it’s no longer dominating my everyday life anymore. And even though I wish for nobody to ever have to endure this, my anxiety did bring me certain things as well:
- I learned to open up and better express my feelings to people around me and to myself.
- I can tell the difference between irrational thoughts and genuine feelings.
- It taught me to be kinder to myself and take the time I need to deal with things.
- I learned that I find it important to use my talents and add value to my activities both personal as in my professional life.
- And more importantly, I now have loving people around me that understand what I am going through and are always there for a hug.