How to Attack Anxiety (or any feeling that's hard, really)
The magic answers to curing your anxiety, complete with top ten best coping mechanisms and strategies won’t be found in this post. Despite Buzzfeed style listicle posts scattered about the internet that promise a tidy curation of solutions meant to change your world overnight, facing feelings takes more work than an *oil diffuser and swapping your cool coloured light bulb for a more energy efficient soft & warm light.
Don't get me wrong. There are so many great tools that can help calm/slow/shift/fool your anxiety. I might even talk about some of them as they seem relevant with clients who come to see me about anxious hard times. What I don't do though, is dish out a to-do list like it's a recipe for inner-storm-calming along with the instructions to check off the boxes and come back in one week.
I'm happy to share the gif below to breathe along with when your breath starts being the boss of you, or discussing the ways the Calm app is helpful, or talking about how a body scan helps you (or doesn't help at all!) when you can't feel your feet beneath you any longer.
Actually? I really love the strategies that you've already adopted to help you survive that next moment of panic. I am on board with the tools you're trying out - including ones I might even pull out of a hat and suggest - to minimize the flood of tingles and dizziness. Whatever helps you cope in a moment (or day) of anxiety, I'm happy to know about and support you in. You're doing really great at doing the things you know how to do - and I'm proud of you for that!
So what is this best way/one way that I subscribe to?
Shed light on that sucker.
Shine a spotlight on that anxiety and talk about it.
Talk about what it does to you. What it does for you. How it feels within you. What it looks like, how it behaves, what colour it is, whether or not it has a message, and even every little attribute you can label it with - from colour, to texture, to the way it might smell if it were outside of you.
Bust it out from behind the wall where it grows and gathers strength in darkness, becoming familiar with it in a new way - putting distance between that feeling and your experience directly inside of it. Value that this anxiety (and all of your emotions, really) is a message from a stuffed down part of you. Your feelings - all of them - whether accurate or truthful are part of you and come from somewhere for some reason.
Did I make that sound easy? It isn't. At least not in the speedy format we've grown to love in a generation of microwaves, instant pots, and Amazon Prime. But it is doable.
This is where therapy comes in. Talking to and through the feelings, and poking holes in the wall that hides those feelings in the dark, damp places that they thrive and torment you from, helps shift the power those feelings have over you. Sometimes, talking about it is still REALLY HARD when the wall is locked down tight, and so finding other ways in to process and heal can be helpful. Perhaps this is why expressive arts therapy makes so much sense to me: processing without words when it's still too hard to find the right ones can be a helpful way in.
If you're fed up with your anxiety, and want more than just worksheets and a mantra, maybe you're ready to talk about it with a therapist, and make sense of it together. (If you're in Toronto, feel free to reach out to me here)
*these things are lovely, though and you should have them in your life if they bring you joy!
[note: this post was inspired by a road trip conversation with friend, and psychotherapist Susan Tarshis. We raced to write the post. She beat me to it. You may probably want to read her post here, too]
- Jenn Seeley