First, let me say that I am still very much in the process of figuring my anxiety out and finding the best tools to manage it. I’ve discovered some things, but I’m still working on the deeper issues and that will continue to take some time.
That being said, I think it’s important to share some of the things I’ve found to be helpful.
The Anxiety Toolkit by Alice Boynes is pretty cool, and doing the thought exercises is an interesting exercise. Ultimately it didn’t feel like it spoke to my experience enough, but I got some ideas for topics from it that I’ve discussed with my therapist, and we’ve had some enlightening conversations as a result.
Don’t Panic by Reid Wilson was invaluable; it felt more accessible to me than The Anxiety Toolkit, and it definitely helped me start looking at my anxiety in a different way; I’m learning to make room for it and to make peace with it instead of fighting it, and that has actually really helped to reduce the feeling altogether. It also does a great job of discussing the neuroscience and the physiology of anxiety and panic attacks, so that you can understand that a) your brain is literally hijacking your body, and b) you can train your brain NOT to do that.
Not directly anxiety related but supremely helpful have been ALL of Brene Brown’s books, particularly Daring Greatly and Rising Strong. She has absolutely changed my self-perception, which is where some of my anxiety comes from. She speaks a lot to vulnerability, and that being emotionally strong is not being stoic but instead allowing yourself to feel all emotions and to learn how to process them. Without her work, I would be miles behind where I am now and my relationship would definitely not be as strong as it is. Someday I want to see her speak, but for now I content myself with her Ted Talk.
Headspace is my meditation app of choice.
Andy, the founder, does a great job of really explaining the proper technique and giving you the space to practice it. I’m working my way through the foundation sets and haven’t done any of the themed meditations (relationships, etc), but I love what I’ve done so far.
I also tried Stop, Breathe, Think for a while. I liked it, especially the way you input your physical and mental state and emotions. The app then recommends a few different meditations for you to try.
I like this, but ultimately I find Andy’s voice(Headspace) more soothing than Jamie’s(Stop). Seems like a small thing, but it makes a big difference.
I’m also in love with Symple. This app allows you to track a nearly infinite catalogue of symptoms(physical or mental sensations) and factors(triggers, habits, etc), and you rate how you feel throughout the day on a 5 point scale.
It’s amazing. I keep track of factors, which for me are both things that I know trigger my anxiety (like traveling) and things I do to prevent it (meditation and yoga). The app also tracks symptoms themselves (headaches, nausea, etc), and it’s amazing to see how these things correspond.
Preventative and Managing Strategies
Yoga is awesome. I find that doing a 30 minute series of postures 3-4 times per week is enough to really help lessen the symptoms of anxiety. This is the hardest thing for me; I’ve tried a bunch of different times during the day and none of them have been easy to build into my day. Morning yoga doesn’t work for me because I’d have to get up at like 5 am, and doing that means bed at 8:30pm, and THAT means pretty much no time with the dude. I try to do it right after I get home from work, but I find it hard to get back up once I’ve put my ass down on the couch. I’m going to try laying out my yoga clothes somewhere visible so that I have a visual reminder. I’ve also found some of these poses to be really helpful.
As I mentioned above, I also meditate. I usually do a session during my lunch break at work, because I find that it helps me let go of whatever happened in the morning and approach my afternoon classes with a fresh start. It’s also a nice way to make sure I’m deliberately carving out some time for myself at work.
Therapy has been the biggest lifesaver. My therapist is awesome, and I feel so lucky to have found her and to get to talk to her every week. We don’t always talk about my anxiety itself, but we do spend a lot of time talking about things that contribute to it, trigger it, or help manage it. Speaking with someone who can understand how debilitating it can be and how awful the physical symptoms are has been a game changer. I felt so alone and like I had to do it all myself. Going to therapy has made me more willing to be vulnerable, more compassionate, and it’s strengthened my empathy. And it’s taught me that I don’t have to apologize for things I can’t control (though I still tend to do that often because, you know, Midwesterners).
If you’re thinking about therapy, I would start with Psychology Today.
Everything is Awful and I’m Not Okay has been and continues to be a great reminder that small things – like eating – are important and have a huge effect on your mood.
The dude, the dog, and my sister. Seriously. These three have absolutely 100% changed my life in such a positive way. The dog gives me lots of cuddles and kisses (read: slobbering on my face), and so does the dude (but actual kisses and not slobber). Most importantly, he just lets me be if I need that and he encourages me and tells me he’s proud of me. And my sister is always there, every time I need her. I don’t think I’ve ever texted her and not gotten a response within a few minutes. Her unfailing support and compassion are one of the absolutely best things about living in this world. Basically, the two of them do this for me on a regular basis:
In looking at this list, it strikes me that I have so many tools to help myself, and this list doesn’t even take into account all of the amazing, supportive people it my life. I’m still a little anxious so it’s hard to fully experience the gratitude that I know is there, but I feel pretty lucky.