I’ve been reading a series of blogs and articles on how to deal with day-to-day anxiety, and despite them heavily being marketed as helpful, I am thrilled to say that every single one of them is recycled and utter garbage. Nearly fell asleep reading half of them; which technically may have helped a merely anxious episode, so I’ll give them that.
“Have compassion for yourself” or “Eat well and keep a daily journal, and check out our top essential oils for anxiety” must have been some of the most laughable portions in these blogs, as most anxious people would deem them as Pinterest quotes you’d find on your mother’s kitchen wall.
In other words, there was little to no actual value in what I was reading. And the goal wasn’t even to review these (s)think pieces but to seek actual remedies and useful information that would help me deal with this tricky disorder. And naturally, this has spiraled me to think about the online sources people go to when they’re struggling; or lack thereof.
Perhaps we can change that today, or at the very least we can attempt to do so. To put it quite shortly, welcome to an introductory piece on what anxiety actually is, how it evolves throughout your life and how to treat it.
When I was very young, I had feared coming home from school knowing I had to share a poor test score with my parents. It was like bad butterflies, moths if you will, had been scattered all throughout my chest as I climbed the last set of stairs to my building. “1,2,3, go”, I would mumble to myself as I close my eyes and open my house door, not knowing what would happen. I mumble the same three numbers to this very day, but for fears and butterflies much worse than my D- in math class. Sometimes, it even feels as if I need assistance with simply breathing.
But back then, when I’ve done these things so effortlessly, small doses of anxiety had helped me shift that D- into a B; climb that tree I was desperately afraid of, and hide cats and dogs I would regularly bring to my grandma’s backyard, despite harshly being told not to ever do so.
Anxiety is a sharp protector; but when that protention boat overflows, I’m afraid there are zero crewmembers to tell the tale after the storm. When anxiety stops being helpful, your life starts turning into somewhat of a living hell. Constant worry, stress, paranoia, and the inability to calm down or breathe: all symptoms of an overflowing boat. If the abovementioned feelings have lasted for well over six months, you may want to consider getting clinical or professional help.
And I know exactly how you feel; drained of hope, joy, and peace. And you must be wondering: “How the hell are these people so damn happy?” Because everyone else’s life seems much more peaceful to an anxious person. You’d think conscious mortality would give you a damn good reason to be anxious all the time. But nonetheless, these guys have managed to pull it off.
And so can you, truly. Anxiety is a vast spectrum, and clinically, there are six main types of anxiety you can be treated for. Let’s understand the evil we are fighting against:
The Big Six
Despite my extremely vivid, or even creative fantasy fears and scenarios, I often undermine how powerful the human brain is. One night I was overthinking a very irrational and negative scenario in my head; and as my led lights were blinking and music barely managing to keep up with my thoughts, it has finally occurred to me.
I was looking for proof to further validate my fear.
And I’ll say that again: My brain was automatically looking for reasons to validate my thoughts because they were extremely irrational and non-factual. Because that’s what the braid does, it actualizes the world in and around you. And when the brain has been damaged due to inner and outer traumatic experiences, it develops dangerously anxious thought patterns that result in conditions written on doctor’s notes and prescription pills.
Generalized Anxiety. A crippling and diverse bastard before anything. This type of anxiety creates excessive worrying about anything and everything that may be seen as remotely dangerous, or not dangerous at all. A never-ending feeling of hopelessness that doesn’t seem to have an antidote. For all we know, waking up with anxiety for no apparent reason or concern is a part of the Big One.
Phobias. I’ll get into these a bot later on as well, as they are a whole new branch of the topic at hand; but when occasional chills and fears become a day-to-day burden that prevents and interferes with your normal functionalities, I’m afraid we’re looking at an actual phobia, and not fear. Its intensity is so strong that even the least dangerous phobias drive people to manic states of fear and mind. Not to mention the severe cases and lengths people go to to avoid encountering the bare face of their phobias.
Social Anxiety. I’ve had my ups and downs with this one. I found myself much more talkative on paper than with people, but I digress. Social gatherings and such situations bring the utmost discomfort and anxiety to the folks who suffer from the Big Three. Irrational fears of being humiliated, embarrassed, or even just being stared at while talking or doing the most mundane things may cause an anxiety attack.
These individuals hardly ever have the freedom to be who they are or say what they want in crowds, as they are under extreme distress at all times. And the more they try to avoid being social, the more this fear turns into a phobia.
Panic Disorder. On the more serious side of the spectrum, we have people who deal with panic disorders; and they consist of two major features:
- Recurrent and unexpected panic attacks;
- Spending one or even more months excessively worrying about the whereabouts of the next “unavoidable” panic attack;
But trust me, these things are much worse than they seem. It’s when an inner anxious thought moves over to your physical body, causing extreme physical consequences and pains such as a pounding heart, excessive nausea, trembling, sweating, chills, feelings of choking or being unable to breathe, dizziness, chest pains, and the list goes on.
On the other side of this shitfest, we have the emotional hardships people go through when under the claws of a panic attack: an indescribable, Clockwork Orange feeling of going insane, eerie detachment from reality, loss of functionality or detachment from one’s body, fear of losing control and doing something impulsively scary, and last but not least, the very common but deadly fear of dying. It’s a state of such delirium, that no fact, compassionate hand, or quote from mom’s kitchen wall can help. A real-life mind-twisting thriller, if you will.
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OSD). I know most of you probably see folks who suffer from OCD as plate cleaning, hand washing, and light switching 17 times before they go to work, or else their family dies type of freaks. But the disorder is much more diverse than what mainstream media has to lead you to believe by watching that one good Nick Cage movie.
Obsessive thought patterns or even superstition-based routines and movements are also classified as OSD. This leads us to believe that even obsessively or, anxiously, if you will, being afraid of a situation or phenomenon can also fall right underneath the OCD spectrum, entirely interfering with your everyday functionalities.
Fears VS Phobias
One time I was chatting with my very good friend from high school about her fear of heights and flying. And as the sun was going down, I could sense her anxiety levels were going up. She was supposed to visit her boyfriend in Belgium in about a week, but the flight, that was taking place late at night, really had her debate whether or not to go.
“I haven’t seen him since my birthday, and you know how much I miss him godammit”, she said to me that night. “But I don’t know if I’m ready to board that plane.”
My friend never had a bad experience on a plane. Not bad turbulence, not a crash…Nothing. You could even argue that it was all in her head. She would always avoid pictures of planes and airports. Never took the elevator, nor wanted to go on a floor higher than the 5th, and she most certainly didn’t enjoy the fact the love of her life was just a two-hour flight away.
“He can come here after his big work project”, she said with relief. But that doesn’t fix this rather unpleasant problem, does it?
You see, my friend doesn’t have a fear of heights or flights, she has a phobia. Her ditching and going to the bathroom to take deep breaths when we were watching Lost should have been a reason good enough to seek professional help; but nonetheless, she continues to avoid modern society’s unavoidable. When a fear manages to crawl under every crack of your mind and body, it is no longer a fear but a phobia.
So, let me boil this down even further:
- Fear is an emotionally driven response to a real or imagined nearby threat.
- Anxiety is an emotionally driven response to a possible and not necessarily real future threat.
- Phobias are emotionally-driven responses to consistent and intense negative connotations and feelings to a situation, object, or phenomenon.
When fear kicks in, much like when a small child sees a big street dog for the first time, our “fight or flight” mode kicks in; and before you know if, the kid has run back to his mom even if the dog opposed no actual threat to his wellbeing. But when a person or an adult let’s say has a phobia of dogs, only the “fight” mode gets activated, resulting in constant worry as we are fundamentally fighting against our own mind, and furthermore against our own selves. Which can only result in an unavoidable inner rot, for a lack of a batter term.
Utter garbage blogs aside, what helps?
It is rather difficult to pinpoint a phobia and offer a prescription-like remedy, as everyone is individual to their own phobias, but generally speaking, here is what could potentially be of great help: I will never forget that one stupid episode of Friends where Chandler was afraid of commitment in relationships, and Joey told him to face his fears with this sentence: “For example, if you have a fear of bugs…Get a bug!?”
But not that direct, here’s what really helped me: Create a pyramid-type list of what your phobia consists of, with the bug (face of the fear) being on top. Once you have a gradual plan of getting to the top, you can slowly start to practice. Let’s go back to the damn bug again: Facing the fear of insects: A gradual guide:
Step 1: Look at pictures of bugs online;
Step 2: Look at videos of bugs online;
Step 3: Watch a bug walk across the ground;
Step 4: Get closer to it while it goes about its bug business;
Step 5: Try gently touching it; but remember to be gentle;
Step 6: Pick up the bug and allow it to walk on your hand, gently;
Keep in mind that this process can last however long you need it to. Remember that you are helping yourself, that bugs have no actual mean intentions towards you; they are just living their lives, just like you.
When most fears are dissected, no matter how large, the fear itself is often not even related to what directly causes you such spooks, but an underlying, silent, and often PTSD-like issue that’s pulling the strings. And the same goes for anxiety!
Home Remedies and Somewhat Magic Potions
This is the portion I was searching for in the abovementioned blogs. I wanted new, original ideas; I wanted to know how to deal with anxiety without medication and in my own space and comfort.
I wanted them to inspire me to create new ideas on how to help myself or those around me. And although I can’t stress how important it is to seek help when you need it, a portion of recovery lies in you being your own helping hand; the only person you should always be able to rely on. So, here are some genuine things I do to calm myself down and breathe when I feel like the world is crushing me down.
Save your damn money; you should know that. But my God is it a good idea to invest in your own bedroom. My favorite colors are green and light purple; I love fairy lights and everything that has anything to do with enchanted forests, so I make sure my room looks, smells, and feels exactly how I want it to.
I have tons of plants, both colored and regular fairy lights, candles, crystals, fake tiny tangerine trees, and everything that makes me feel comfortable. At night, when it’s the hardest, I know I’m safe in my little forest, as it was carefully made just for me. All in all, invest in your room and make sure it’s damn clean too.
The 5 Things Game
I was showering the other night and out of nowhere, I had this awful feeling of panic. I tried to breathe but the steamy shower air wasn’t helping at all. As I looked around me to try and calm down, I just kind of started naming things.
“Okay, what are the 5 things I can see? Showerhead, hair shampoo, window, soap, and…Ummm…and that fake plant. Okay, good. What are the 5 things I can touch? Shower curtains, shower door, the water, the soap, and my hair. 5 things I can smell? Shampoo, so much damn shampoo.”
And the list goes on.
When you find yourself gasping for inner peace and air, try the 5 things game. Look around you and name the most mundane of things to calm yourself down. It will distract you from the irrational anxiety-inducing fear and help your brain focus on something else.
Music For Anxiety
Music is proven to be a serious serotonin booster, and can even calm certain anxiety levels and episodes. But just listening to what is calm or sad won’t automatically switch your emotional and rational wellbeing. When we deal with anxiety, the constant state of worry makes us feel unsafe, at all times even. And this unsafety later turns into unfamiliarity, which turns into doubt and ultimately makes you not have any kind of trust in yourself and the world around you.
A Sound is a powerful tool that can help our brain tremendously:
“When listening to natural sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an outward-directed focus of attention; when listening to artificial sounds, the brain connectivity reflected an inward-directed focus of attention, similar to states observed in anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, and depression.”
When I feel very detached from the world and myself, and when I feel that rotting feeling of dread from the inside, I turn to sounds. And not just any sounds of music; but the ones that feel like actual home to me. I played a lot of video games in my lifetime, so soundtracks to the vast majority of them help bring me back to safety. They remind me of who I was before my struggles. And in the name of that, I’ve compiled a list of playlists that may help inspire you to find something similar when you’re down and struggling.
And don’t worry if you don’t have Deezer or Spotify, all of these playlists are 100% free.
- Ambiental Enchanted forest sounds: great for meditation, harmless daydreaming, and the occasional midday nap; I personally love using this one in the evening.
- Healing Meditation Music: probably the best one for breathing and meditating. If you ever need a calming touch on the mind, this playlist has got your back.
- Stress & Worry Reliever: I love this one when I lack the inspiration to keep going and stay positive. It has a wonderful way of filling your lungs with so much hope, especially if you let every note sink into your being.
- The Sleep and Study Duo: Great for sleeping and studying, but I find it even greater when I find myself overthinking a certain topic. I just like to play this, close my eyes and allow my imagination to take me to any place the music wants it to.
- A Natural Mind Cleanse: I love this one. It’s like forest music, ready to clear your mind and bring your soul back to nature and peace, as that’s the natural state of your body.
- A productive Anxiety Fighter: Perhaps the strongest playlist sound-wise, this one carefully fights the urge to procrastinate and does not let your anxiety win. Sometimes, we truly need that little push to actually get up and pick up where we left off.
I genuinely hope these find you well, as they’ve been of great help to me.
Is Anxiety A Disability?
There’s sadly a lot of shame associated with mental illness. Many people struggle in silence. Others, don’t even know it’s anxiety that’s causing their troubles. And from what we’ve seen in the first portion of this blog, it can shape, grow and shift throughout our life; especially if not treated in time or even professionally. Before anyone can show you it’s not important whether you have a “disorder” or not, you have to show yourself first.
I would highly recommend you to record a short and sweet monologue on your phone, that you would then play every morning and evening. And it has to be your own voice you would listen to. It should go something along the lines of:
“Just in case no one told you today, you are so strong. You’ve gone through so much shit, this should be a piece of cake. I think you are underestimating yourself. What makes you think whatever you fear will beat you? Only your thoughts. And who controls those? Exactly. Please be kind to yourself today. Get that blueberry muffin you love. And walk those streets with the utmost grace and bravery. And just in case no one told you today, I love you, unconditionally.”
And I’ll leave you with that. Creating your own kind of words of encouragement and love, only for yourself to hear is the purest self-love message you could give to yourself every time you wake and just before you do. And lastly, try and remember this: Just because you keep thinking about it, doesn’t make it any more real. A positive outcome is just as possible as a negative one, so why spend a lifetime just focusing on the ladder?