*Disclaimer: This is my personal approach to best dealing with anxiety and my not be the right approach for you. These statements are in no way meant to diagnose or treat any kind of mental illness. If you are in need of serious help, please contact a professional.
I’ve lived with anxiety for a very long time. If you want to read more about my full experience with anxiety, you can read about it here.
Let me summarize it for you: I developed pretty severe anxiety in college. So severe that I skipped classes & exams. I couldn’t bring myself to go to the dining hall some nights. I missed parties and concerts. I passed up an opportunity to work with major companies on two occasions. If you asked me “what are you so anxious about?” I couldn’t give you an answer. Being in any kind of public situation made me feel like the world was caving in around me. I only wanted to be alone.
Nobody could tell I was struggling. I hid it really well. But inside it was eating me up. I just wanted to be normal. I didn’t want to constantly be thinking ahead to every possible situation and consider all of the “what ifs.” Other people seemed so care-free all the time, and that’s how I wanted to live my life.
Fast forward about 9 years, and here I am. I just got married, which is the ultimate all eyes on you situation. Then, I got up and delivered a speech at my best friend’s wedding. Both completely free from anxiety.
If you had told me years ago that I was going to be in either of those situations, I would have told you there’s no way. Stand in front of 100s of people with no escape route or backup plan? No, freaking, way. But here we are.
I still experience anxiety, and I’m always going to. It’s a part of me, and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I used to think I could get rid of my anxiety and move on with my life. Once I realized that you don’t get rid of it, you simply learn how to live with it, everything became easier. Trying to get rid of anxiety is a never-ending hamster wheel of frustration. Learning to live with it and accepting the little victories in your life is the key to moving on.
If someone asked me how they can learn to live with their anxiety, this is the way I would recommend prioritizing their approach…
1. Mindfulness & Meditation: Learning to live in the present moment.
When people hear meditation, they think of a monk on a hill somewhere with his legs crossed, eyes closed, humming. Honestly, that’s what I thought at first too. But meditation is THE best thing you can do to ease your anxious mind.
I decided to give the Headspace App a try, and it was one of the best decisions I’ve made. All it takes is 5 minutes. You sit there and you are guided through a simple relaxation technique, and afterwards, you feel incredible. I have a very hard time sitting still in life, so I thought for sure I would struggle to focus, and some days I do, but you get used to it and learn to love it. At one point I was doing 15 minutes at a time because the relaxation felt so good!
If you have an anxious mind, the single biggest step to living with those thoughts is learning how to live in the present moment. Meditation is simply a method to help you get to a state of mindfulness (living in the present moment). Much like a keto diet is simply a method to help you lose weight. You don’t HAVE to meditate to reach a state of mindfulness, but it’s the most helpful tool.
As an anxious person, I tend to always look ahead and try to control my future. But you have to accept that nobody can control the future. Have faith that everything will take care of itself and focus on now. If you’re stressing about a vacation you have in 2 months because you’re afraid of flying, don’t think about it. Yes, it’s much easier said than done. But why is putting yourself through that stress for 2 months going to help? You’re going on this vacation either way, why choose to make yourself miserable about it? Try to put those thoughts to the side and live your life for this moment. Trust that when the time finally comes, everything will be okay.
We’re not guaranteed to be here tomorrow. Enjoy today.
2. Exercise & Nutrition: live a healthy life.
Right after mindfulness, I place exercise and nutrition. You could consider these things 1A and 1B, honestly. I cannot emphasis enough how important your physical health is to help your mental health.
The mind-body connection is very real. When you experience a panic attack, your mind is convinced that you are in serious danger, and you feel that in your body. In manifests differently in each person, but whether you begin to sweat, shake, have a stomach ache, or faint, we all feel it in our bodies.
Exercising is a way to reverse that.
Exercising releases endorphins, which help you to feel good, relieve stress, and improve your mood. If you’re having a mentally tough day, do some kind of physical activity you enjoy: go for a run, walk the dog, hit the gym… whatever it is, get the blood flowing! For me personally, I find I have my best workouts when I’m not mentally feeling the best. Weird, I know!
Nutrition is also a huuuuge contributor to your mental health. If you eat like crap, you’re going to feel like crap. In recent years, a lot of studies have come out about the mind-gut connection. You know that uneasy feeling you get in your stomach when you’re nervous? There’s a very real connection there, and there is a lot of information coming out about how our brain not only affects our gut, but our gut inversely affects our brain. If you eat nothing but crappy food, it can contribute to “brain fog”. I’m certainly not an expert on the topic so I won’t get too deep into it, but I highly recommend looking it up!
I’m all for flexible dieting, meaning I will happily enjoy any foods in moderation, even if they are “unhealthy.” But I follow the 80/20 rule of eating 80% healthy in my diet. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when my anxiety was at its worst, I was eating nothing but cereal and salty snacks (yay college!).
Eat good, feel good. Simple.
3. Take Action: do what scares you.
This one is the hardest. But that’s why it works.
If you’re afraid to drive on highways, the only way to get over it is to do it. I know, it’s the last thing you want to hear.
But you can start small. Back out of the driveway and drive back up. Call it a day. The next day, try going down the street. Etc. You can build up slowly to whatever it is.
It is very very very difficult to face your fears. But there is nothing more therapeutic than coming face to face with your biggest fear and conquering it.
I was terrified of public speaking, so I forced myself to go to a local “Toastmasters” meeting. If you’re unfamiliar, it’s basically a meeting where people can work on their public speaking skills. A lot of professionals attend these meetings, but it’s surprisingly popular for those who struggle with anxiety of public speaking. I went to a meeting, and I wasn’t forced to suddenly give a speech, but I was asked to stand up at my seat and tell everyone why I was there. It was only 30 seconds or so, but as someone who was terrified of speaking in front of a group, even this small victory felt HUGE.
Even the tiniest of victories can provide a huge boost of confidence. The important thing is that you do what scares you. It sucks, but it’s the only way you’ll ever get over it.
The best part is that the more you do it, the easier it becomes.
4. Support/Help: Have the right support system.
There is no doubt that surrounding yourself with the right people is important, but I place it behind everything else I mentioned.
When I was at the peak of my anxiety, I thought someone else could fix me. I saw a few psychologists thinking that going to talk to someone would make this all go away. But I didn’t take any accountability.
I thought that telling those close to me about my struggles would help. But what ended up happening was that I was coddled, and they supported me when I avoided anxious situations, which only made things worse for myself.
Professional help is amazing. Having support from loved ones is incredibly comforting…
But ultimately, this is something you need to take into your own hands. Nobody understands your anxiety the way you do, and nobody can help you the way that you can.
I don’t want to discuss medication here, because I know how helpful it can be for a lot of cases.
Supplements, however, are a different story. I tried a whole bunch of over-the-counter supplements to try to ease my mind. I thought that CBD oil might cure all of my problems.
Look at these supplements the same way you would any other supplement. If you want to build muscle, would you just drink protein shakes and creatine and not focus on your workouts? If you wanted to lose weight, would you take a fat burner and hope the fat sheds itself?
Supplements can help, but only after we take care of everything else. I’m not opposed to supplements that help ease your mind, but they’re never going to fix things on their own. You have to work for it.
Ultimately, it’s going to take a lot of work. It’s been almost 10 years for me, and I’ve accepted that I’ll continue to have some kind of anxiety for the rest of my life. But in recent years I’ve taken it into my own hands to finally learn to live with it, and the progress has been incredible.
If you’re into fitness, you need to approach your mental health the same way. If you go into the gym every day and half-ass your workouts, you’re not going to see the progress you want. If you don’t make a serious effort to conquer your anxiety, you’ll never see the results you want.
It’s going to be hard. But you can do hard things.
I’m just like you. I have struggled mightily. I’ve hidden those struggles from the world. I’ve felt frustrated and defeated. I’ve cried for a solution.
Anxiety doesn’t define you, but it is a part of you. And that’s okay. It’s a part of me, too. I like to think it makes me stronger.