I am no stranger to anxiety. I spent years learning about this mental health issue during my undergraduate Psychology course. And I have personally suffered from bouts of anxiety, on and off, since I was in high school. It is not extreme, but it is enough to cause mental breakdowns every now and again.
I first learnt about it during the second year of college during a counselling session. Putting a label on it made everything much easier to understand. After years I had finally figured out that the constant nail-biting, rapid heartbeat, sweating, and the hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach – all these had a name! It was during that time that I got into the practice of yoga and meditation. It helped. A lot! Thanks to my practices, for over a decade, I had almost forgotten what anxiety looked like. I stopped having breakdowns. I stopped biting my nails. I almost stopped having that hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach. Almost.
But about two years ago, all of this started again. I don’t know the exact reason, but there was a lot more pressure at work, I had stopped my regular meditation and yoga practice, and I had even moved out of my parents’ house and was having to look after a house all by myself. But the only difference this time – I was aware of what was happening. In the past two years I’ve developed little tricks, if you will, to help me cope with anxiety attacks if I get them and to generally help lessen the feeling of anxiety I tend to get every now and again.
I am by no means a healthcare professional or a psychologist or counsellor. But I wanted to share my mechanisms with you in hopes that it might help some of you.
So my tricks are divided into two parts – long term solutions and immediate hacks. Sharing the long term solutions first because these just generally help lower anxiety and keep attacks at bay.
Knowing my triggers
Well this is an ongoing process, but I’ve become more adept at understanding what things, people, and situations can trigger my anxiety. I started this by tracking my symptoms and thinking back to what caused them in the first place. It’s been quite helpful overall as I can now find a way around situations that cause me anxiety in a way that they are less stressful. For instance, I tend to take on a lot of work without realising how much time it will take for me to finish it. And when I’m not able to finish it on time, I get really anxious, cranky and irritable and will have breakdowns on several occasions. So I’ve asked a friend to help with this by helping me plan and schedule my work better. And it’s been a lifesaver.
Working out regularly
Yoga is such a boon! It just calms me right down. I try and practice 5-6 times a week at the least. On days that I’m not able to get my asana practice in, I try and workout in some other fashion like going for a walk or following a 30-minute workout video. Regular workouts help keep my overall mood in check. And that constant dopamine release each morning is more than beneficial for my mental health.
Knowing it’s all going to be okay
This sounds very corny, but it’s very very true. Having this sense of “it’s all going to work out” at the back of my head helps more than anything to cope with anxiety. And I developed this habit when I first started practicing yoga and meditation. One of the core concepts during the practice was the power of our thoughts and how they shape our lives. That stuck with me and I try and follow this thought process in every sphere of life.
Now for my immediate hacks – these are solutions for when the anxiety has struck and I’m having actual physical symptoms that make functioning difficult:
The first thing I do when I notice the onset of symptoms like rapid pulserate, sweating, and lightheadedness, is to close my eyes and start diaphragmatic breathing. Anything that stresses out the nervous system (like anxiety) first affects your heartbeat and breathing. If the body thinks that it is being attacked by a stressor it tries and increases the pace at which the heart pumps blood and the pace at which you breathe to get more oxygen rapidly to your most important organs. It’s a fight or flight response.
So deep breathing is a way of telling the nervous system that there’s nothing to be stressed about. Ujjayi pranayama or belly breathing is one of the best ways to do this in my opinion. If you want to know how Ujjayi is done, then let me know in the comments and I will be happy to share.
Getting away from social media and all digital divices
I’ve noticed that when I’m feeling anxious, going on social media or being in front of a screen constantly, triggers that even more. So when I am getting triggered, I log off for a while as I focus on my breathing. And that helps a lot.
Speaking to someone
Often time, deep breathing alone is beneficial in reducing anxiety and panic. But sometimes when I don’t get immediate relief or I feel something building up inside my chest, I will call my mom or my best friend and speak to them. Speaking to someone who understands is one of the best ways of releasing mental tension. It could be anyone, as long as they’re empathetic and don’t brush your concerns away.
None of these methods are medically approved. They are just what works for me. If you think these could help you out, you could give them a try. None of these are harmful or life threatening in any way. But if you suffer from anxiety or you feel like you do, please see a psychologist or counsellor. It will be supremely helpful.
I’ll be sharing more stuff about self care and taking care of your own mental health in the posts to come. Stay tuned for that and take care of yourselves <3.