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If you experience anxiety, you are not alone.
If I’ve learned anything in the last 5 years, it’s that anxiety affects everyone. There hasn’t been a single person I’ve met who hasn’t experienced it to some extent. Of course, people feel it in different ways, but again, you are not alone.
When I was in highschool, I used to have panic attacks every day. They were debilitating. I could feel them coming, and the stress of knowing they were on the cusp just made me more anxious. I would have to leave school, spend days in my room, avoid talking to people. My anxiety took over my life in a very major way. I lost a lot of friends. People in my life didn’t understand why I was acting the way I was, or why I was such a “debbie downer”. I started going to therapy. Then I stopped therapy. Then I started again. Figuring out how to handle my emotions was a real rollercoaster for me.
But now, 5 years later, I rarely ever experience panic attacks. I know exactly what triggers anxious feelings for me, and I know how to calm myself down. I let the people around me know how I’m feeling and how to help me when I need it. I’ve finally gotten a handle on it and I’ve completely changed my life.
3 Steps to Understanding your Anxiety
Whenever I talk to my friends, I give them all the same piece of advice.
It’s just like you’re in science class again with the scientific method (QHTOAD anyone??). I tell them to go about their normal lives, and just watch themselves. Take note of every decision they make, every action they perform, every feeling they experience. I tell them to acknowledge how much they slept, ate, exercised, interacted with others. Truly just observe themselves.
Then, I tell them to question it all. Why did they make the decisions they did? Why did they feel how they felt?
For example: Something I told myself I would start doing this year was go places by myself. I’ve always been someone who feels more comfortable with a companion, and I wanted to learn to love my own company. Loving my own company would force me to be confident in myself, which would thus reduce some of my social anxiety. Win-win-win.
So, I started doing just that. For about a month, every day off that I had, I went somewhere unfamiliar by myself. Normally, my location of choice was a coffee shop in a neighboring town or city. Some days, I even ventured into New York City by myself. There was one day that I had woken up early, got dressed, packed up my computer, and set on my way. I went to a city about 30 minutes from my house, with the directions to a new coffee shop I had found on Yelp. Once I got there and parked my truck, I sat there. In my car. For an hour.
While I was sitting, I was just scrolling through social media, organizing my purse, wasting my time. And finally, I realized it. I asked myself why I drove all this way and found somewhere new only to sit in my car. Then I analyzed. I was sitting there because I was scared. I was anxious, and I nervous to walk in there by myself.
What if there’s nowhere to sit? If I can’t find an outlet and my computer dies, what do I do then? Are people going to try to talk to me?
My mind was racing with the most ludicrous thoughts that felt so massive and so heavy.
Finally, I hopped out of the car, walked over to the cafe, and made myself at home. And you know what happened? Surprise, surprise, I loved it. The cafe had everything I was looking for. My favorite chai latte, semi-private seating, amazing music, outlets everywhere. My paradise. I spent a few hours there just writing and listening to music and observing. It was a perfect afternoon for me.
Once I put myself out there and did what I knew scared me, it became easier. I had a wonderful time in this new location by myself. Most of the time I was there, I was thinking about what I realized that day. That going to new places truly triggers my anxiety, and it will absolutely control me if I let it. Ever since that day, I take mental notes of how I act every time I go somewhere new, especially when I’m by myself.
Oberve. Analyze. Do.
Keeping these 3 steps in my mind every single day has helped me tremendously in understanding my anxiety. I truly feel that I have a handle on it now, and it’s helped me get to know myself. Now I know the things that work for me, and things that don’t, and I can be true to myself in everything I do. It’s provided me with the courage to keep trying new things, and grow as a person without letting anxiety get the best of me.
Let me know if you try this, and if it helps you! I’d LOVE to hear from you guys!