How to address your anxiety and 9 useful tools that will help
I recently shared an Instagram post talking about how I’ve struggled with anxiety and it got more likes and comments than anything I have posted in my life. After sharing this, close friends and even strangers told me they have struggled too. Do you know what’s ironic? I sat on that post for two weeks because I was anxious about what people would think if I posted it. The whole saga made me realise opening up about mental health and sharing the tools that have helped me, in the hope of helping you is worth writing about.
So, why and maybe more importantly, who the hell am I to write this blog anyway? Over the past five years, I developed some anxiety I had honestly never experienced before. I couldn’t comprehend what anxiety was before this. I didn’t understand the lump in your throat or that constant nauseous feeling eating a hole in your stomach. I didn’t understand the restless nights, how it feels crippling and makes mundane tasks feel overwhelming.
When it was really bad, I became scared to go to the gym – a place I usually feel at home, confident and happy. I wasn’t scared of people watching me exercise or not knowing what I was doing, ya know, the usual reasons why people get scared to enter a gym.
I was anxious over people watching me walk down the stairs. There were times I would sit in my car and then drive home. I became someone I didn’t recognize. That’s the ridiculous shit anxiety can do to you.
The worst part is when you’re going through this, you know it’s stupid. You know that logically, no one gives a fuck how you walk down the stairs but it’s almost as if there is a barrier in front of all the logical reasoning telling you differently. It absolutely sucks.
I manage this better now because I didn’t want to stay an anxious mess. I didn’t want to have this pop up throughout my life and feel trapped. I wanted to understand mental health more and I wanted to have tools to deal with it. I read everything I could, sought professional help and changed things about my life. But this post isn’t about me, it’s about relaying the things that helped me, to help you.
1. Seek professional help.
It seems obvious, doesn’t it? But people don’t do it enough. If you were incredibly sick, you’d go to a doctor. If your toilet broke, you’d hire a plumber. If you’re feeling mentally ill, see a counsellor or a psychologist and talk about it.
I know it feels hard and overwhelming and I know that your head probably spins in circles thinking you’re weak or that you shouldn’t need the help. I get it, I honestly do, but please realise that it is okay to need help. It is okay to let people in and be vulnerable. It is okay to ask for support. If we’re completely honest with ourselves, it’s pretty fucking brave to sit in a room and admit there are issues and unpack what’s making you feel anxious or down.
Professionals have a different way of handling mental health. They are employed to do this. They have studied it for years. It is their job to care only about you for the time you’re with them and give you space to speak in a judgement free zone. I promise this is the longest point. I feel so strongly about this I’m using a lot of italics.
I see a psychologist regularly and I have spoken with counsellors on multiple occasions through rough times. My psychologist saves me so much sadness, anxiety and restless nights. She helps me understand the deeper issues that I need to work on. It was undoubtedly hard to unpack these but I am a better, more self-aware and emotionally adjusted person for it. Sometimes it gets worse before it gets (much, much) better, but in this case, the grass really is greener once you work through your shit. It feels good talking to someone with an objective opinion, who isn’t part of your regular life who can provide you with great tools to manage your emotions.
I saw three different psychologists and counsellors before I found someone I clicked with, so keep trying even if you don’t have a connection with the first person you speak to. Imagine if we did that to friends or future partners – met one person we didn’t like then gave up on ever trying again!
I’ve listed some resources for seeking professional help at the end of the post.
2. Speak to friends and family
Unfortunately, we can’t be out here ringing our therapist whenever we’re having a bad day, so open up to your friends and family. Normalise anxiety. Talk about it and get out of your head a little. You know that feeling when you tell someone something and they‘re all like ‘Oh my god me too Susan, I LOVE mashed potato!’ And then you bond over the thing you both really like? If you open up about the anxiety and the shit feelings – someone, somewhere will have experienced them too. Then you’ll both laugh and bond and you’ll be all like ‘wow maybe I’m not alone’ and that is enough to make you have a good day. That’s what happened when I shared the Instagram post and it made me feel all mushy inside.
But seriously, please remember, for the most part, people are lovely and caring. Remember you have people around who love and support you and telling them how you feel will help. They can remind you of things that make you happy, calm you down and you can talk and get out of your head. If you feel like you don’t have these people, you have my name and I’m always up for a chat so slide right into my DMs (not in a creepy way, we’re talking about mental health here JEEZ).
3. Figure out the cause
Are you fulfilled at work? Are your relationships good? Do you take care of yourself? Do you have a cute puppy? They solve everything really. Is there a reason you’re feeling anxious?
Perhaps finding the root cause of the anxiety is the first step to get you on the way to feeling better. Mine was more a life thing that happened to me (situational anxiety) (big words) and feeling like there were things I wanted to do and hadn’t yet. Now that I’ve worked on changing this, the anxiety pops up far less.
If something is causing anxiety that you want to change, think about what it would look like to do this If you did, would you feel less anxious six or twelve months down the track? Even though you might go through a shitstorm first, would you be happier once you overcome the shitstorm? Would your life be better if you left the job you hate, even though the process of finding and learning a new one would be difficult? Would your life really be that bad without your shitty relationship, or would it look better once you overcome the heartbreak? Would learning how to be okay on your own really be that bad? Are you feeling overwhelmed with how many things you have on and not sure where to cut things out? Is doing everything alone helping or hindering you? Ask yourself these questions. Write them down. Sometimes seeing everything visually and getting them all of your head can help.
If you can’t pinpoint what is causing it and you think everything is good in your life, that’s okay too. Maybe your anxiety needs to be addressed differently, but I believe asking yourself these things can’t hurt.
4. Find something that consumes your mind
Find something that makes you feel happy and accomplished and gets you out of your head!
Few things do this for me. Olympic Lifting and being in the gym is something that makes me forget about everything else and stops my head from spinning. I love it and force myself to do it even when I’m tired, grumpy or anxious. Find something that makes you feel this way. Something that consumes your brain and brings you joy.
It could be swimming, running, photography, cycling, drawing, painting, rescuing kittens etc. Keep looking, you’ll find it I promise.
5. Get some meditation apps
“Mediating is not for me Helena”, “I hate it, can’t sit still Helena”, “Yuck I am not a Buddhist Helena”.
I thought this too. If anyone knows me you know that my brain is constantly ticking and I hardly ever shut up and being bored is the WORST THING I COULD BE, I need constant stimulation!!!!!!!
And then I started meditating and now I am a Zen Goddess. Not really, BUT I now use mediation apps to help me sleep. I use them before bed every night. The only mediating I have ever been able to stick to is the night meditations and that’s often when anxiety feels the worst, am I right? I’ve listed three of my favourites apps below because three is my favourite number:
Smiling Mind – This one is my go-to and costs zero dollars! You can choose from meditations ranging from 6-20 minutes. I like the Starry Night or Sensing programs which are about eight minutes long, just short enough for you to not get bored.
Headspace – This has all sorts of meditation programs to start you off ranging from 5-20 minutes. You have to start paying for it after a free trial month, but hey what’s the price of feeling nice?
CALM – This is a popular app too and it offers new meditations daily so you can find one that works for you.
6. Do some exercise
Now, I know this sounds generic as hell but I’m not suggesting this for the usual reasons people do, simply for endorphins. I believe exercise helps because you’re concentrating on the feeling of your body and your limbs. You’re probably in a bit of discomfort and it’s coming from your muscles instead of your overthinking brain for once.
Often anxiety can come with a lot of excess energy and exercise is a great way to expel it, especially if you’re struggling to sleep. I like to exercise because when I’m not well it’s the one or two hours that I’m not thinking about something shit. It feels like an accomplishment. It’s something I do only for myself, which is important. The endorphins come later and they do play a part in making you feel better, but the people telling you “like oh my god Patricia, totally just like go for a run or like do a Zumba class, it’ll like totally cure your depression” do not make you feel enthused to choose exercise as a way to feel better, do they?
Please reconsider exercise (that you actually like doing) for the above reasons instead of the #endorphinkick and maybe that’ll make you want to do it more. I actually did a blog on finding exercise you like a while ago which you can find here for future reading. No one is watching you walk down the stairs at the gym, don’t worry.
7. Read or listen to a book about mental health
Learning about things always helps me understand them and myself better and it eases my anxiety.
Reading in general also helps me and when that anxiety comes up, I reach for a self help style book. I love reading about different ways to approach things and learning new ways to think about a situation. Sometimes it’s just good to read a different opinion things or feel that someone else has anxiety so I feel less alone in the world.
Before you scoff at self help books, please realise you are currently reading a self help type blog and you’ve gotten down to point seven, so it can’t be that bad right?! If you need some suggestions, check out my (pretty impressive and totally awesome) blog, a comprehensive list of awesome books thats will change your life.
8. Write things down
If you have a million things buzzing around in your head distracting you or stopping you from sleeping, keep a notebook with you and/or next to your bed. Write it down and get the thoughts out of your head. When I can’t sleep I always find this helps. I tell myself I can look at it the next day and the endless lists of things I’m thinking about or need to do will still be there. Seeing them on paper can also help you see the thoughts may not be as big of a deal as your brain perceives them to be.
Whenever you feel overwhelmed, scared or anxious, it’s pretty common to stop breathing properly. Who knew right?! Sometimes I’ll be thinking and then gasp because I realise I have been holding my breath. When this happens, take five deep breaths to slow your heart rate and nervous system down a bit. I like the box methods. Take four seconds to inhale, four second hold in your belly, four second exhale and four second hold after the exhale. T
This will keep you centred and bring your focus back to the present, rather than anxiously thinking about the future. Yes, I am now a yoga, kale eating, hippy teacher if you were wondering. Not really, but this does help, I promise. Just remember five deep breaths to help you think rationally again. Everything will be okay.
Mental health has so many layers and it’s unique to every person. What helps me, might do sweet FA to help you. Try something until you find what works for you. At the very least, please try and talk to people about it, mashed potatoes remember? You’re not weird for feeling these things, you’re human. I hope this helps you or someone you know. Please share this for the sake of someone else, you never know who might be struggling. If you want to chat, you know where I am. If you have any tools I’ve missed, please let me know.
- Listen to this Ted Talk by Brene Brown on Vulnerability.
- Read some articles on the Psychology Today website, there are heaps!
- Watch some Queer Eye on Netflix. I don’t think I’ve ever watched a show that is so uplifting, warm and makes you love humans! It makes you want to love yourself more and they address a lot of mental health issues. If you don’t want to leave the house because your heads a mess, you may as well watch something positive at home!
- Listen to this amazing Ted Talk about how there is no shame in addressing ill mental health.
- Read some books from my blog, a comprehensive list of awesome books thats will change your life.
- Seriously just shower yourself with dogs.
Most of the below are relevant for Aussies, but if you have a quick Google I’m sure you’ll find similar options in your country.
GP’s/Doctors: Find yourself a good doctor and discuss a mental health plan. In Australia, you can get 10 psychology appointments for a discounted rate when you go through your GP and make a plan. If you’re somewhere else, have a Google of what options are available in your country.
Employee Assistance Programs (EAP): Most employers have a service called an EAP where you can contact a counsellor for free, anonymously, without your employer knowing and see them in person or do phone counselling sessions. It should be in your EBA or somewhere on your companies HR website. When I used this service recently, I had a standing phone call with a counsellor at 8pm on a Monday night and no-one from work even knew. I thought the phone calls wouldn’t work that well for me, but I actually loved them and it helped me so much. Phone sessions are an especially good stepping stone if you or someone you know feel hesitant to speak to someone in person.
Online counselling and free resources:
Lifeline – 24/7 Phone Counselling, the number is 13 11 14.
eHeadspace – Online and phone support for 12-24 aged youth, and their family and friends.
Beyond Blue – Beyond Blue offers information and advice on mental health, specialising in depression and anxiety.
Most universities offer low cost counselling and therapy sessions with provisional therapists (students who have just graduated). These are much cheaper but no less helpful! The below two are for universities in Canberra but if you give it a quick Google, you can find one in your area.
University of Canberra Psychology Clinic: 02 6201 5843
ANU Psychology Clinic: 02 6125 8498
Yours in love and vulnerability,