Many disorders fall under the umbrella term of “Anxiety Disorder.” From panic attacks to OCD to generalized anxiety disorder–and everything in between–anxiety affects a lot of the population. It’s tempting to hide from our feelings or ignore the dread of impending disaster, but avoidance is one of the worst things you can do to treat your anxiety issues.
Here’s what you can do.
So simple, right? I used to think this was a bunch of bunk until I started experiencing panic attacks my first year at college. I had to get up and leave lecture halls because I was no longer breathing. A mentally-induced, asthma-like attack.
Most of us breathe through our chests, probably at least partially because we’re so focused on sucking in our stomachs (Just me? Heh). Taking deep breaths through your stomach has been shown to effectively treat the physical symptoms of a panic attack, even while your mind is still racing, giving your brain a chance to slow down.
Don’t hyperventilate though. Slow, deep breaths are what you should be aiming for.
2. Think Things Through
As someone with OCD, the “obsessive” part is oh so frustrating. I touched on this in the Mind Over Mind post, but it is worth reiterating here. Anxiety lends itself to all sorts of unwelcomed, intrusive thoughts. It’s tempting to try to ignore these thoughts, because they’re scary, bizarre, or generally uncomfortable.
That’s why the last thing you want to do is exactly what you need to do to get through those thoughts: acknowledge them. Admit to yourself that you are having these thoughts, that they suck and they frighten/annoy/frustrate you, then file them away. Talk to yourself.
3. Go Say “Hi”
It’s easy for most of society to brush off someone with social anxiety. “Just go out and meet someone!” they say. “The party will be great, why aren’t you coming?”
Everything in your body is telling you to stay home, stay quiet, and don’t push your social boundaries too far.
Of course, what you need to do is the exact opposite.
Force yourself out of the house and into a social situation. You don’t have to start big with a club outing or singing the national anthem at a baseball game (same level of anxiety in both those situations, right?).
Go play board games with some friends. Grab a drink with one friend at a quiet bar or coffeeshop, and get yourself used to being in public. Work yourself up to a comfortable place, then step back out of the new comfort zone.
4. Keep Going
Anxiety is paralyzing. It makes you stop everything you are doing and pay attention to it. That’s absurd! Anxiety does not deserve so much of your attention during the day! Take back your time!
When thoughts pop into your head unexpectedly, think things through, as mentioned above, but keep going. Thinking things through or acknowledging your thoughts should not be a huge production, but something that works into the rest of your day.
Resist the temptation to give into the anxiety, as you have unwittingly trained yourself to do over the years while developing coping mechanisms. Keep washing your car, watching your child’s soccer match, typing up a work email…while you are acknowledging your thoughts.
Don’t think that’s possible? The brain is so amazing, you probably don’t realize how many conversations you have going on in your head at once. You can do it. And I mean that in the least cliche way possible.
5. Expose Yourself
At the beginning of this post I mentioned that avoidance is the worst thing you can do to improve your anxiety problem. The previous four points have all touched on the same presiding theme: exposure.
Expose yourself to the very things that frighten you. It’s the same reason we force children to do things that they are too shy or wary to do–the exposure familiarizes the fear and helps you to rationalize it. Why, that’s not a boogeyman in my closet at all! It’s my bulky winter coat. That’s not so scary after all.
Should you jump into a vat of bees if you have a fear of them? Well I can tell you I could not be paid to do that.
Start small. Tiny steps add up to big accomplishments.