Fighting Anxiety with Imagination

Anxiety, for me, comes from second-guessing everything. Everything. When people tell me everything will be okay, I can’t help wondering if they’re saying it just to quiet me down, or to cover up that they don’t believe that themselves.

In July 2017, I got into a vicious cycle of overanalyzing the news. Even when I walked along my favorite trail, or got ice cream with friends, I couldn’t get off that anxiety track. I went to bed crying because I couldn’t get the worst-case scenario out of my head. Many Friday nights, I told my parents I was coming home for the weekend because I couldn’t stand to be alone in my head a moment longer.

I took steps to quell my anxiety: I spent little to no time on social media, went for walks, and read my favorite books out loud to regulate my breathing. I listened to meditation music, and drank a crap-ton of chamomile tea.

But none of that worked, because I wanted to know what was going on in the world, however much I wanted to remain ignorant. My thoughts would go me everywhere I went. As long as I still thought thoughts, I would remain haunted.

And then, one day, as I turned home from a walk, I thought, very, very briefly, about suicide.

Now, I know that thoughts are only thoughts. But it’s hard to push thoughts down when they have the potential to become real. As long as the negative is a possibility, I have little rest.

That being said…

The same way I never know where my next jolt of fear will come from, I also don’t know where my next joy will come from. I don’t pretend to be an expert on anxiety, but I know it well enough to say that the small moments of happiness and relief always count for something. So, what helps me?

1) Hug a stuffed animal: Describe how it feels to hold the stuffed animal. Is it soft? Warm? Perhaps there’s a tiny soul inside that plush telling me that my thoughts cannot hurt me if I don’t let them.

2) Talk to someone: Had I kept silent about my anxiety, I wouldn’t have half the help I have today. I talk to my best friend every day so she can check up on me, and I can check up on her. Talking it out to someone who will actually listen works wonders.

3) Plan a project: I love to sew, so sometimes, I’ll put on a fun movie, and work as long as I need to. I’ve spent many an evening sewing bead and sequin designs onto old costumes.

4) Pinterest: It is a treasure trove (or a rabbit hole) of ideas, whatever you search. There are recipes and stories and lists from people who have dealt with and conquered anxiety. Remember, the Internet is full of just as much loving and caring people as it is with trolls — perhaps more.

5) Gently stretch your body: Sometimes I get chest pain, and a nice relief is to gently stretch my arms back or do a whole hour of yoga. I also think of it as opening myself up to the universe. If I kindly and happily receive whatever positive energy is floating about the cosmos, then I feel less alone.

6) Get dolled up: Curling your hair, or using your face as a canvas, is a nice way to forget your troubles. The more glitter and color, the better.

7) Watch a favorite movie or TV show: Disney and Faerie Tale Theatre episodes always put me in a good mood.

8) Sing or dance like no one is watching: Put on your favorite dancing music and just go to town with the silliness. Jump around and pretend that there’s a great big audience cheering you on!

9) ASMR: Some people may find it creepy or weird, but audio and visual triggers can work wonders easing your mind as well as your body.

10) Ignore your triggers: Rather than feeding the worry-bug, ground yourself with a deep breath, or focus on something with one of the five senses. If you find something nice to think about, you’ll gravitate toward that instead of what’s worrying you.

11) Express gratitude: Okay, you don’t have to make an extensive list or a rousing speech. You just have to keep the best things in your life close to you, knowing that you’ll experience even more to be grateful for tomorrow.

12) Take a day for yourself: Something as simple as spending a day in your pajamas, making a huge pot of herbal tea, or a grand yummy breakfast, is like a great metaphorical hug to yourself.

13) Personify the anxiety: Transform everything that makes you anxious into a monster — the ugliest and scariest you can imagine. If you can look your anxiety in the face, and accept that it’s with you in the moment, there’s no way it can affect you. You might even imagine the monster getting so scared under your badass super-stare that it shrinks into a conquerable little speck.

I know it’s daunting looking at the plethora of tips the Internet has to offer. Sometimes, what worked for me one day does not always work the next, and it’s an uphill battle that you get tired of fighting.

If nothing else, remember this: nothing is forever. The rain will only fall so long before you’ll see a sunny sky or, better yet, a rainbow. If you panic, your body will do everything it can to bring you back to earth. After all, human beings have adapted to a changing world over centuries, and we’re made of the same stuff as stars and comets. And so, you were made to endure. You were made to shine just like the stars that shine over your very head.