When I was little, I thought I was awesome. I had the most confidence of anyone I’ve ever seen. I would go up to other little girls and ask if they wanted to be friends and go play, because of course the answer would be yes and yes. Why wouldn’t it be? Of course I would win a tennis tournament after just having learned to play the sport, why wouldn’t I? Of course I would be a marine biologist or paleontologist, or maybe both. I was that awesome. I was on top of the world at all times.
When I hit double digits—and middle school—I started to get bullied. Making fun of my name, being called a lesbian, and losing my group of friends took its toll. My confidence faltered. I was never the same.
When I got to high school I made up for my insecurities and lack of confidence by being overly loud. I had a lot of friends freshman year, but they dropped down to just a few good friends by my senior year. I was overweight and extremely insecure about who I was.
When I entered college, I had a great time. I found the love of my life, which helped my self-esteem. I was able to choose my friends, classes, and lifestyle, and my confidence grew. For some reason, though, as I reached the end of college and was contemplating graduate school, I started suffering with anxiety. When I would get bouts of anxiety it felt like extreme nervousness; I would even get body trembles sometimes. I was so frustrated that it was something beyond my control. By the time I was finished with graduate school and out into the real world, anxiety was something I dealt with several times a week.
When I started working, I didn’t know who I was or who I wanted to be, and I also had a hard time finding a career. I took jobs just so that I could be making some money, and for some reason I always got into work environments that were unhealthy. Gossip, immaturity, or adults acting like high school girls were the name of the game. I am still not sure that this doesn’t exist in all work places in some shape or form. My anxiety fed on the drama like a professional eater at a hot dog eating contest. It grew. And grew. And grew. It was debilitating.
One summer, something just clicked in my brain. I lost almost 30 pounds, ate healthy, and finally landed a career I was passionate about. I felt on top of the world. Soon after my husband and I became pregnant. I also finally stopped taking people’s bullshit. I was happy, direct, and confident for the first time in years. I had tried many strategies in my life to address my anxiety, and some were more successful than others. It took until the sunset of my 20’s to figure myself out and reclaim my life.
These are the best methods I found for coping with anxiety:
1. Find a creative outlet.
My thoughtful husband bought me an art easel for my birthday one year, and I started painting again. I loved smearing, sometimes aggressively, colorful paints across the canvas. I would put on soothing music and sail away. You do not have to be an intensely creative person, but creating allows you to channel emotions outward. This release activates a different part of the brain, creating a different pattern than your day to day routine. Try your hand at cooking, take an art class at your local community center, creating a garden with colorful perennials, or even pick up an adult coloring book and some colored pencils.
When my anxiety would peak and I wasn’t able to function at work, I would put on a meditation music channel and take five minutes to close my eyes and breathe deeply. Long breath in, long breath out. I imagined breathing in pure white light, and exhaling the dark energy out of my body. I am not new-agey by any means, but this simple exercise was enough to calm me down and allow me to continue with my day.
3. Create a list of your accomplishments.
I would often get worked up about my failures thus far in my life, and spiral downward with negative thoughts. Writing things down not only refocused my train of thought, but allowed me to see clearly that I was doing great and am very blessed. I always realized that I was doing way better than I thought I was.
To this day, nothing helps me more than exercising. Pre-baby I would go running and do toning workouts, feeling every muscle burn. Post-baby I am still in recovery mode and go walking almost every day. If I miss a day of exercise I feel it mentally and physically; the exhaustion and anxiety begin to cloud my day. Eating well, drinking water, and not drinking a lot are also key elements to feeling amazing.
5. Recognize your limitations.
Now more than ever, I am able to realize that I cannot be everything to everyone. My mom always told me to do my best, and that was all I could do. I repeat this mantra to myself often. Society calls us to do more than is humanly possible in any given day. I used to feel a tremendous strain trying to juggle a career, marriage, family, friendship, motherhood, blog, all while maintaining a physically and mentally fit body. In the end, something gives. We are human beings, not human doers. Sometimes we need to just “be.”
6. Get help.
I didn’t end up needing to seek professional help. The universe had other things in mind for me. But I was a few days away from booking myself with a shrink. Sometimes the chemicals in the brain are just something that cannot be addressed solely by external coping strategies. Sometimes a professional and counseling is the helping hand to pull you up and put you back on the road. And that is okay. It is not a sign of weakness. No one is defined by depression or anxiety. There is no shame in getting help to get yourself back on your feet to take that first step.
I found my road. I have never felt better. There is a path for all of us, we have to but find it to start walking.