Everyone gets anxious sometimes. That’s part of life. But losing control of anxiety can be destructive.
My struggle with anxiety began five years ago at university. It centres around social interactions. I fear judgement and embarrassment when meeting people or in crowded places.
Situations like a busy bus, big parties and waiting in queues can make me nervous and feel uncomfortable. This causes physical reactions - sweating, a nervous stomach, claustrophobia.
Fearing situations that ‘normal’ people cope with, or even enjoy, feels pathetic. This leads to an underlying anxiety and discontent. I can become withdrawn, antisocial, and self-loathing.
Over the last couple of years I’ve started to handle my anxiety better. I’m no longer nervous about some things and I’m able to confront what I still fear. I understand my anxiety and have techniques to calm myself. I’ve regained control.
Here’s how I deal with my anxiety. These things work for me but may not for others.
Accept it. Instead of obsessing over a cure, I try not to judge myself when feeling anxious. There are ways of tackling anxiety over time and a good place to start is not beating myself up. It’s also comforting to remember that other people get anxious too. Everyone has their own quirks and insecurities, so I should accept mine.
Visualise positive outcomes. I dread things like big social gatherings because I imagine everything going badly. If I force myself to visualise the party going well, it calms me. And when the next party rolls around (because I’m such a social butterfly) I can tell myself, “You’ve done this before, you’ll be fine.”
Counting breaths. I count 1 on an inhale and 2 on an exhale and focus on my chest rising and falling. Up to a count of 10 and then repeat. I can do this anywhere, anytime. It allows me to momentarily block out my surroundings to slow the anxious thoughts racing around my head.
Take five minutes. It’s OK to leave an uncomfortable situation. If I’m in a restaurant and feel those physical symptoms of anxiety bubbling up, I simply go outside or to the bathroom. A bit of space is often all I need to relax.
Consider the cosmos. Thinking about the vastness of space and our mind-boggling insignificance has a calming effect on me. It doesn’t matter if I feel anxious - we’re all just moderately evolved apes flying through space on a big rock. DON’T PANIC!
Peaceful lifestyle. Having a lifestyle that minimises stress can reduce anxiety. I try to give myself time to relax, appreciate simple pleasures, spend less money, own less stuff. These things make me a calmer person.
Doing something I love. The best way to reduce my underlying anxiety is improving self-esteem. By doing things I love and living true to my values, I grow more confident. Anxiety hates confidence. It’s like those Gaviscon firemen, putting out the fires of anxiety within you.