So many people continue to experience anxiety that I have summarized a few of my oft-repeated responses on dealing with it. Many of them also apply to managing negative moods in general.
When in doubt, get professional treatment. Here’s one place to look Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator for resources in the U.S. Here are some basic tips for managing anxiety:
- Recognize that a certain level of anxiety is good. Examples— worrying about the weather makes us put on a coat or carry an umbrella, worrying about safe driving makes us wear seat belts and look out for erratic drivers. Worrying about grades makes us study harder. The goal is not to be permanently anxiety-free, but to have appropriate levels of worry about things we can address.
- Don’t believe everything you think. When we say “I should have…” we mentally create a parallel universe where we made a different decision. Makes for fun science fiction/fantasy movies, but not a happy day. Everything that happens, stays happened. Instead, we can learn from our mistakes and say “next time, I’ll check the weather forecast and carry an umbrella,” not “I should have taken my umbrella.” Or we can even say “I’m always going to carry the umbrella because I hate getting wet.” It can often be not what we think, but how we think it. Shoulda/woulda/coulda thinking is the original “beat yourself up” form of thinking. Stop right now. Don’t say to yourself “I shouldn’t think that way any more.” Just learn to let it go & re-do the thought.
- Rent your thoughts, or even borrow them. Don’t own them. This is another aspect of not believing everything you think. It’s possible to experience your own internal monologue as dispassionately as you would listen to a podcast or read from a page. How? Mindfulness practice can help. Here’s a lecture from a Buddhist teacher on mindfulness:
- Learn to relax. There are many relaxation techniques available by looking online. Practice some kind of relaxation technique daily or as needed. It will go better some days, less so some other days. If you listened to the lecture linked above, you will have learned that mindfulness is not a relaxation technique, although many find it to be relaxing. I have a previous post that includes guided imagery/relaxation, which is one of the most widely known and practiced relaxation methods. Weird that we have to learn and practice relaxing, but that’s our world now.
- Work on living in the now. Mindfulness practice can help with this also. Anxiety/worry is about the future. There are so many ramifications to this that I could write an entire essay about it, but many have been there before me. The DBT formula for this is, “One thing, in the moment, nonjudgmentally” and don’t judge your judgments.
- Practice self compassion. What would you tell a dear friend going through this? Say it to yourself. There’s also a lot of stuff about this online.
- Spend time with nature. There are people who suggest that “nature deficit disorder” should be a mental health category. There’s research on how spending time in nature benefits us. If you’re in a nature-deprived urban environment, look for any examples you can find, including the sky, or grass growing through cracks.
- Get professional treatment. Online advice (including this) is not a substitute for effective assessment and treatment for anxiety disorders and other mental health problems. You may want to become active in advocacy for mental health treatment parity with other health problems as it is often hard to find treatment, unfortunately.
Each of the points raised above is an entire topic, but this is intended, as the title suggests, as a basic starting point. There’s a whole library of books on anxiety treatment/management. Feel welcome to continue the search. It’s definitely possible to feel better.
photos by the author copyright 2021