4 Coping Mechanisms for Anxiety
I was on my way to a counselling session on the train, and knew that it was going to be an issue. I felt the internal storm starting to roll in before I even got to the train station, and there was nothing that I could do to stop it. It always starts as an uneasiness in the pit of my stomach (like butterflies, but the bad version) and then slowly but surely develops. It’s worse when the train is packed, if I’m doing something outside of my comfort zone, or if I’m running late. This particular time, two of those factors were at play.
I sat in my seat, throat thickening by the second and trying my best to focus on the words filling my ears via Pandora, but eventually, the service in the train became to weak and there was nothing but my internal monologue to fill my head and the familiar yet terrible feelings and symptoms descended upon me. If I could have escaped the train I would have, but I was BARELY on time for my appointment and didn’t want to run the risk of being late, so I powered through. I sat surrounded by people with my chin resting on my hand, ready to vomit straight down my sleeve for most of the hour-long train ride into the city.
As soon as the train pulled into the 34th street station, I hustled. Out of the subway car, up the stairs, down the concourse, up more stairs and out into the “fresh” New York City air. But by the time I reached the top step, I was already feeling better. Significantly. Why? What was that?
That was my anxiety monster, masquerading as nausea.
Before I had anxiety, I thought that it looked like nail biting, hyperventilating, crying and isolation. I didn’t realize that I was actually exhibiting many symptoms myself until I relayed the story above to my counsellor. Chest pain, feeling overwhelmed, heart palpitations, low energy, nausea, angry outbursts, nervousness, tiredness - honestly, I just thought these were all symptoms of being a mom of four. Apparently not.
There isn’t a “cure all” when it comes to anxiety; even with medication. However there are a few things that I’ve found that work for me:
How many of us, when we have a problem, try our best to ignore it in hopes that it will just disappear? Honestly, this is my M.O. because I’m non-confrontational, a people pleaser and just want everything and everyone to be GOOD (and remain good) all the time. However, when our emotions are ignored, do they just go away? No. Oftentimes when I feel my anxiety cropping up, I will think things things like, “This is so stupid”, “I can’t believe this is happening again” or “ugh, get over it”. This is not only negative, but unhelpful. This reaction - although normal - wasn’t helping the situation.
The advice that I’ve been given is to treat my inner self and my thoughts as I would a child. Would I tell a child that their feelings were “so stupid” or to “get over it” if they were upset? Of course not, so I shouldn’t treat myself like that either. The best thing to do is to acknowledge, affirm and assure. Acknowledge the way that you are feeling (stressed, anxious, nauseous, overwhelmed, fearful). Affirm that the feeling is real (no matter the circumstance, if these feelings are manifested within you, they’re real and no one can say otherwise). Assure yourself that it’s going to pass, as it always does (because there’s an end to every episode). When I approach my anxiety in this way, my symptoms tend to pass sooner than if I were to just try to ignore them altogether.
I try my best to prepare myself by bringing a book if I’m going to be on the train by myself, or by singing songs or playing a game with the kids if they’re with me (“Animal, vegetable or person” is our all time favorite). However there are many times when an episode will hit me without any warning and with no reasonable explanation (this was actually the case the entire time Seth and I were in Italy this summer). In these cases, I will do my best to engage my mind and try to problem solve. What else is going on in my life that needs a solution? For example, how can I rearrange the boys room so that it’s a space to play AND to sleep. How can I rearrange my day to be more efficient? What are my current priorities and how can I make sure that they’re tended to? List making is usually a good distraction, and I can do them on my phone. I can make a grocery list, a to-do list, a list of books that I want to read, gift lists for christmas or birthdays for specific people. If you suffer from anxiety like I do, copy the second half of this paragraph and paste it into your notes on your phone so that these questions are ready for you when you need them.
Did your mom ever give you ginger ale when you were sick as a kid? There’s a reason. She may or may not have known exactly why it helped, but ginger is known to reduce nausea and settle an upset stomach. My favorite ways to get it in my system are to buy candied ginger or ginger candies, drink ginger tea or ginger kombucha (GT’s does a gingerade and a gingerberry), however ginger ale will do the trick too. I try to keep some kind of ginger remedy in my bag at all times (usually one of the candy variety. Gin-Gins are my fave).
Prayer and meditation.
Honestly, I almost didn’t even include this one on this list. Yes, prayer and my belief in a higher power is a huge portion of my life and yes, prayer is something that I practice in circumstances where I’m feeling restless or anxious. However, I don’t want to paint an inaccurate picture. What I mean is that I don’t consider God to be like a genie in a bottle (cue Xtina), who comes and grants my every wish. Nor do I want to portray myself as always turning to God in times of need, struggle or sadness - I don’t. I wish I did (because I believe that’s what’s best for me) but full disclosure: I do not. Sometimes I pray and things get better, but oftentimes nothing seems to change. But what I’m learning is to not only trust God for the end result, but to trust Him in the process. Trust that He knows better than I do, and that a quick fix (although that would be nice) wouldn’t necessarily draw me closer to him.
I don’t want to come to God as if He were a gumball machine; pop a prayer in the slot and immediately receive a colorful and delicious treat that makes my life better and easier. Because what happens in that situation? I immediately walk away from the gumball machine because I have what I need; I have no need for the gumball machine anymore because I have the gumball. But God desires relationship with me. He wants me to come to him for all of my needs, and remain with him as I wait. He knows best, and I think that’s why he doesn’t always give us the things that we want immediately. He wants me to experience the comfort of my creator and the safety and rest that is found within His sovereignty. That only comes from abiding in Him