Mental Health Beyond 101: Anxiety Hacks
This article is part of a series on going deeper into mental health and wellness.
I am a born worrier. I’m told other people don’t live lives of extensive planning and pre-preparing for everything that could possibly happen. I wonder what that’s like. While I believe my disorder affords me some functional and even useful skills, it also tends to drag me down.
Given that I’ve been anxious my entire life, I’ve discovered a few useful tricks for dealing with the immediacy of worry.
1. Go Local, Go Physical
Anxiety is often a disease of “not now.” My mind can be anywhere and anywhen else–the future, the past, that one embarrassing thing I said that time, etc. The fastest hack I know for giving anxiety a rest is to come to the present moment. I use this little mantra by Thich Nhat Hanh:
I have arrived, I am home.
In the here, in the now.
I am solid, I am free.
In the ultimate, I dwell.
I sit, close my eyes, and put my mind into my body. I ground into the here and now. I notice every part of myself–everything from my racing mind and churning stomach to my relatively unaffected toes. My toes hardly ever feel anxious. Take it from Pema Chodron:
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.”
A mindful body practice like yoga or other exercise can help here, too.
2. Re-Home Reactions
Often, my anxiety is tied to specific situations wherein I am afraid of what other people might think of me. One of the most useful things I’ve ever learned is best crystallized in The Four Agreements:
Don’t Take Anything Personally
Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.
By putting the reactions of others where they belong–inside the others–I can release some of my worry. I spend a LOT of time reminding myself that I am here and others are there, and what I do and feel has little bearing on what others do and feel. We are our own best support system–I can count on myself every time, while others have their own paths to walk.
A good friend of mine calls this “the mirror.” We don’t see each other particularly well–what we see is simply a mirror, and what we react to is only ourselves. When I work hard to see the other person rather than my own distorted reflection, anxiety eases.
Much anxiety comes on the heels of realizing how happy I am. What a mess, right? I find diving into joy to be one of the more difficult tasks of life. As soon as I notice how peaceful and good things are, I can think of about a bazillion ways my peaceful goodness can be taken away.
Thankfully, Our Lady of Vulnerability Brene Brown has a solution for this:
Whenever anxiety is blocking joy, lean into gratitude. Anxiety is so often an artificial belief that if I just *work hard enough* I can stop anything bad from happening. Like she says in the video, I’m trying to “dress rehearse tragedy.” Anxiety feels like I’m doing something to protect against the bad stuff. Truthfully, nothing can save me from the bad stuff. Gratitude can help me notice the good stuff more.
4. Reaching Out
Anxiety is a very inward experience. What feels like a storm inside my head is generally observable as “quiet” on the outside. I tend to get very small and isolated as anxiety rages in me. Allowing others to know I’m feeling anxious is a difficult, vulnerable practice. A necessary practice.
I swear I read a quote in a Buddhist text (probably Thich Nhat Hanh) that said something like “fear dies in the light.” I can’t find a source for it, so we’ll just assume it’s a useful concept if not one that’s official anywhere. I find truth in that if I reach out for comfort when I need it, anxiety will diminish. Sometimes that reaching out is verbal, sometimes physical. Sometimes I don’t want to talk about my anxieties, I only want to be reminded that I have arrived, and I am whole, and interacting with someone else can help me remember that.
So, you know, if you get a text from me asking you to coffee it’s safe to assume I am in “reaching out” mode.
Any hack that works is worth doing. Repeat as needed.