My anxiety has been at an all-time high this year, and I attribute that to having a lot more on my plate – juggling school and work – and, of course, the current state of the world. I’ve also been going through some growing pains; spiritual growing pains and growing pains in my sobriety, relationships, identity. My anxiety occasionally rears its ugly head – sometimes for no reason and other times around stressful situations. I realized my social anxiety has also been really bad due to all these months in quarantine and isolation. After 6 months of seeing basically nobody but family and people in my close circle, going into any social situation feels a bit like stimulation overload.
Whenever I feel anxiety’s getting the best of me, I try to stay present and turn to meditation, prayer and acceptance, gratitude – but sometimes, I’m hit with a wave of anxiety and all I can do is shut it down, get into bed and write it out. I know I’m not the only person dealing with anxiety and these feelings during quarantine, so I wanted to be open about it here as a way to overcome it instead of hiding it in therapy.
Last month, I talked to therapist, author and mother Kristen Howerton, LMFT about all things anxiety on The Blonde Files Podcast. (Definitely listen to it here if you haven’t already!) We covered everything from social anxiety to unexplained anxiety to circumstantial anxiety and how to deal with it all; why some people are more predisposed to anxiety than others; how to show up for yourself despite being anxious; dealing with anxiety in quarantine; and tools and techniques to help pull you out of a panic state. Our conversation still resonates with me, so I thought I’d share a few highlights on the blog!
Since the beginning of quarantine, I think we’ve been at reduced capacity – whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual – but we’re feeling like we have to be at full capacity (aka our best selves). I’ve been feeling burnout and unproductive as I’ve been WFH and taking online classes, and I notice myself trying to overcompensate for that. To that I say: give yourself some grace! We all do things that distract us from our stress, like watching TV, scrolling through social media, etc. – but start looking at and identifying the things that will decrease your stress. Those things may act as coping mechanisms but the key is to adopt helpful coping mechanisms that will move us forward that will help us process our feelings versus distracting us from them. For me, this looks like journaling, TM meditation, spending time with family, going for walk, breathwork and cooking. If you’re WFH or taking online classes like me, set boundaries by ending your workday at a certain time. This helps me separate my work life from my personal life when they’re both sharing the same space.
Dealing with social anxiety and anxiety when it comes to people and situations we can’t avoid is trickier, but to lower anxiety, you can:
-First, identify what’s causing the anxiety; if it’s a reaction that’s on your part, from a behavior on their part or a mixture of both. Then, look at it from a systemic viewpoint. Ask yourself, “What is it that they do that causes me anxiety and how can I behave differently in that situation?”
-Set boundaries. We can’t control others (or situations), but we can tell people what our boundaries are.
-Try cognitive behavioral therapy. It’s especially helpful in managing social anxiety because it makes us look at thinking patterns that create our social anxieties. Cognitive behavioral techniques help us identify irrational thinking patterns like catastrophizing, mindreading and overgeneralization and develop better ways of thinking. (If therapy isn’t available to you, researching all the different cognitive distortions is a great place to start!)
-This is more of a trick, but ask people about themselves! When I find myself in social situations (like an award show that’s totally not my world) and I feel stuck and don’t know what to say, I’ll start asking people about themselves. People usually love to talk about themselves anyway – and it’s an easy way to get into a conversation!
Anxiety doesn’t have to be a huge barrier to maintaining healthy relationships. It’s usually an internal struggle – and holding it in can lead to physical symptoms or more anxiety. Communicating, letting yourself be vulnerable and avoiding irritability is key. Anxiety is always an ebb and flow and emotion we can’t control, but we can learn to see it, cope with it and minimize it. One way to do this is to personify anxiety by saying, “I see you and acknowledge you,” and practicing mindfulness.
Sometimes we experience anxiety where we can’t figure out the root cause. When it comes to dealing with this kind of anxiety, make sure you’re giving yourself enough space every single day to feel our feelings and think our thoughts. This is especially important because, in today’s society, there are so many distractions that keep us from sitting with our thoughts and feelings. Finding yourself in that state of ambiguous anxiety is usually a warning call that we’re not giving ourselves enough time to process our thoughts and feelings. You can give yourself space and time with meditation or other mindfulness practices. Whatever works for you!
Anxiety stems from fear, which are both normal human emotions we experience in our daily lives, but it’s important that you don’t get stuck in those feelings. Focus on the day-to-day rather than all the unknowns by getting fresh air, limiting screen time and doing things that are life-affirming and reminds you that life is beautiful!
When feelings of anxiety start to surface, how do you like to stay present? I’d love to hear your anxiety management tips.