Maybe it’s the change of seasons, lack of sleep, or me still trying to fight off a relapse that started 3 years ago but didn’t entirely emerge or resolve, but my anxiety is acting up again.
I don’t like to rely on Ativan (Lorazepam) or Rivotril (Clonazepam) and I really don’t take it unless I have to, which is a testament to the fact that I do know how to calm myself down. It’s not easy to get through the day at work when you’re anxious and your heart and mind are racing, you feel nauseous and time feels like it’s at a standstill.
So what do I do? Distract myself. Do things that I know will distract my mind (or that used to enjoy, that used to make me happy).
Here’s how I distract myself in different situations:
My full time occupation is as a law clerk and the majority of my work day is spent reviewing files and summarizing documents in order to write mediation memos. I need to be able to focus and concentrate but anxiety can be disruptive!
If I feel anxious, I use deep breathing techniques to calm myself down, and techniques I learned from hypnosis sessions (visualization exercises).
My favourites are:
- Counting backwards from 25 and picturing each number being written on a chalkboard and erased before the next one is written, and coordinating deep breathing with the exercise (perhaps I like it because as a kid, I really enjoyed writing on chalkboards?).
- Counting backwards from 25 and picturing myself walking down a set of stairs, one at a time, coordinating each step with my breathing (I picture the staircase to be a beautiful, winding staircase).
You can also repeat a mantra to yourself – you can create your own or find one that suits you. I like “I am bigger than my problems”, because it reminds me that I can take control of the situation.
I also may need to get away from my desk for a few minutes so I may walk to the supply room at the other end of the office as an excuse to leave my desk.
At lunch, I can bring a book and find a place to read, or I can bring my iPad and try to play a word game. The word game that really seems to keep my brain busy is “7 Little Words” – I highly recommend it if you like word jumbles.
Of course, I can always contact those who support me, like my husband and friends who truly understand what it’s like to be anxious. I have one friend in particular that really helps me get through these situations.
In the car:
It’s important to stay focused while driving, so distractions aren’t a good idea but what I can do is breathe, say a mantra and put on fun music that reminds me of something happy, such as a party I enjoyed or a song I enjoy dancing to, and just try to stay calm until I arrive at my destination.
In public/out with friends:
If I am out in public (ex. at a conference, public transportation, restaurant), or out with friends and anxiety strikes, I will use my breathing techniques, mantra, and visualization exercises. If I am with my husband, I will ask him to tell me something funny, or if I am not, I will text him and ask him to. Laughter is wonderful medicine and I am lucky to be with someone who makes me laugh and knows how to cheer me up. There is also the contact a friend option, and even though I don’t want to be that person who’s glued to her cell phone, I will use my phone to message my friend I mentioned earlier because he always knows what to say.
I still have my bouts of social anxiety, and certain situations and places trigger my anxiety, but I am happy that I have managed to go back to certain restaurants, areas of the city, get on an airplane, etc. and face some places I avoided in the past because of my anxiety and experience with agoraphobia. I know I’ve come a long way.
Which reminds me…praise yourself, compliment yourself, and you will feel better!
Experiencing anxiety in the comfort of my own home. I am in a safe place, so what can I do to help myself? I must remember things I enjoy or that take up enough brainpower that my mind is distracted from the anxious thoughts.
Easy distractions include finding something funny to watch on TV and playing word games on my iPad. Those are fast fixes. I used to really enjoy reading and journaling but I am experiencing a reading drought. Reading is a great way to take your mind off things. I highly recommend journaling because it’s the perfect opportunity to get those unwanted thoughts off your mind, and you don’t need to rely on another person. There are times where I want to let my thoughts out, but I really don’t feel like talking, so I scribble down my thoughts on random pieces of paper, in a notebook I keep in my purse, or whatever paper is near me. If I am not near paper, I write the thoughts in the “Notes” app in my phone.
Lately, I have been trying to unwind and de-stress with adult colouring books. At first I didn’t understand why adult colouring books were becoming so popular but once you start colouring you realize how soothing it is. Art therapy is a recognized form of therapy and these adult colouring books are known to have a positive impact. According to an article from Medical Daily:
Considering the inability to focus is often a symptom of anxiety or stress, it only makes sense that adult coloring books would also help with those as well. Dr. Stan Rodski, a neuropsychologist who also happens to be the author of his own line of adult coloring books, says that coloring elicits a relaxing mindset, similar to what you would achieve through meditation. Like mediation, coloring allows us to switch off our brains from other thoughts and focus on the moment. Tasks with predictable results, such as coloring or knitting, can often be calming — Rodski was even able to see the physical effects they had on our bodies by using advanced technology.
If you’re looking for a place to purchase these colouring books, Indigo has quite an extensive collection of them, and there is a colouring book to suit most people’s tastes, even ones based on Harry Potter and Game of Thrones! I prefer nature, animals and mandalas. I love deciding which coloured pencils to use and picturing how the completed image will look.
Out of town/on vacation:
When I am away from home, I always make sure I have a notebook, a book to read and my iPad. Those “outlets” plus what I am able to do with breathing and visualization are what I need to take with me. And a fully loaded iPod of course.
About Melanie Luxenberg
My name is Melanie Luxenberg and I am finally ready to live openly with mental illness. I was first diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder in 2003, which I still experience. At the same time, I was diagnosed with Social Anxiety (which I also still experience), and then briefly experienced Agoraphobia. I have had depression on and off since I was 13 years old. In July 2010 I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder II. Shortly after it was realized that I experienced rapid cycling. I can experience multiple cycles in a week. Despite my diagnosis, I completed a university degree and then a college program. I have always held stable employment, regularly taken my medication and regularly attended my doctor’s appointments. There have been times of hopelessness, but I have always found support from my family, husband and 3 dogs. I am a law clerk, social media/content writer and of course, mental health advocate. My Twitter feed is full of mental health advocacy messages. I hope one day to see the end of stigma towards mental illness, because stigma has to stop!