Be gentle with you anxiety.
You can fight it, struggle with it, deny it… but it won’t go away.
Some anxiety and stress you can’t avoid. Maybe it’s something you deal with every day, or maybe it’s coming from a specific short-lived event – but whatever the cause, it feels terrible.
Your stomach’s tied up in knots, you can’t get enough air, and you eating is all over the place. You panic, tighten up, and feel like you need to squash this thing now.
But that makes it worse.
How do you gently deal with this and not let it take over your life?
I’m writing about this because it happens to me, and even more, it happens to my partner.
It might be work stress. Some sort of conflict with a friend. Or even just juggling blog posts, emails, and clients. Big or small, theses stresses and anxieties deeply impact y mental and emotional health and my body.
Anything that makes you feel specifically anxious or stressed, and you can’t let it go – that’s what we’re talking about today.
For me, my cortisol (the stress hormone) goes through the roof. I can’t eat. I lose 2kg in 5 days. It’s hard to focus. My heart feels like it’s living in my throat and I’m simultaneously exhausted and ready to fight a ninja-dinosaur with a laser on its head.
It’s incredibly difficult to just ‘be’.
Luckily, I’ve dealt with all this before, or I’d think I was on a one-way trip to crazytown (I used to think that and it made it all 10x worse). But, I’ve been through this, I know the drill, and I’m going to share with you my tried and true techniques for making it through periods of unusually intense stress.
No, they won’t take away the pain, fix your problems, or make you feel like a million dollars.
Time will do that. These are just ideas to help you use this transition time in a healing, healthy way.
But before we begin, please, please remember that whatever it is that has hurt you, worried you, or stressed you, you will be ok.
Whatever you are feeling, that is ok too. You aren’t weak, broken, or failed. It won’t be like this forever and you will get through it.
But it might be difficult to remember in the moment.
Now, what do you do for some relief?
1. Walking: the let go + draw in technique
Walking is an excellent way to deal with stress and anxiety. It works on both the mind and the body if you do it in a calm and focused way. My favorite technique uses a running track, but you can walk anywhere you want to.
What I do is cut my walk in half: the outward bound section, and the inward bounds section. On a track this means I walk half my laps in one direction, and then change directions for the other half.
So if I’m going to do 8 laps, I do 4 clockwise laps, then 4 anti-clockwise laps.
For the first half of the walk, I give myself permission to worry, stress, and dwell on what’s bothering me. All the feelings, emotions, and events that upset me and stress me. Essentially, the things I don’t want anymore. Then, I turn around and spend the rest of the walk ONLY thinking about what is good in my life, what I want to bring into it, what positive goals I have and how to reach them.
This leaves me feeling like I have listened to my negative feelings and given them some time, but also not allowed them to dominate my whole self or future. Walking while feeling the negativity adds movement and purpose to my thoughts, and makes it easier to let them come through. During extreme bouts of acute stress, I’ve occasionally done this between 3-5km a day, sometimes more than once a day as needed.
2. Veg out. Seriously.
Mainline your favorite sitcom, wrap yourself in a blanket with a hot water bottle and just relax for a second. No, you shouldn’t constantly escape the pain and worry, you do have to deal with it, but a little escapism is fantastic. If you can find something to laugh at, even better.
A note here on emotional eating. Most people see it as such a bad thing. And I agree, if it is out of control, all the time, or means you’re not dealing with your emotions. However, used strategically and in a way that helps you cope, food used emotionally can be really healing.
3. Journalling – let it out and then look back on it
If you’re like me, when you’re in this kind of stress response, you can’t let it go.
You constantly worry the topic, thinking of things you want to say, wish you’d said, and so on. Sometimes crazy things, things that undermine your self-esteem, or are totally irrational.
These thoughts are ok. They are fine. You aren’t these thoughts… but they do need a place to go that’s not public. So, journal them. Get it all out, no matter how weird.
And save the journal. Next time you feel something similar, look back on it and see that you got through THAT, you can get through this as well. It’s actually pretty awesome to read back on something you thought was the end of the world at the time, but now is just a tiny bump in your road.
4. Support from those around you
While you shouldn’t let your crazy out all over the place, you should definitely tell those close to you what’s going on. And let them see your emotions.
This is something I have really struggled with over the years. I am an emotional person, and growing up sometimes I’d get sad for a few days at a time. If it went on too long, or was a bit too intense my mum or dad would tell me it was affecting the rest of the family and could I please stop. They were right, and only trying to help, but I hid my emotions because I didn’t want to hurt anyone else.
So now as an adult, I still struggle to express strong emotions to friends and family.
But I was asked one day if I’d want MY friends to feel like that.
Of course not.
Would I judge my friends for being sad? Of course not.
This person (ok, my therapist) told me that it was actually disrespectful not to trust those close to me with my emotions and that they probably want to help. So, I think we can all start to work a little more from this place and trust each other with our feelings.
Letting people know I’m going through a hard time, and then seeing and feeling their support of me has been simply amazing. Let people in!
5. Accept your emotions, as bad as they might feel.
Whatever you feel, that’s ok.
If you feel crappy for weeks on end, that’s ok. Fighting the negative emotions just adds to the anxiety, stress, and discomfort.
Don’t try to solve or fix your feelings. Respect them for what they are and what they are trying to tell you.
I struggle with this mightily. I’m a ‘fixer’, but one of the best things I’m learning to do is let go of fixing these kinds of feelings. I try now to just let them be there and think about what they’re saying.
For example, after a breakup you feel a lot of fear. Sickening amounts of fear that you’re am alone, will always be alone.
It’s total crap, but that’s what your brain does.
So, gently show it two things: 1) I hang out with friends and loved ones to show you’re clearly not alone, and 2) hang out alone to show it’s not the end of the world.
Don’t try to fight the feeling, or beat it down. Listen to it.
Nature’s big healer, along with time, is rest.
Although sleeping might be difficult in times of high stress, it’s so helpful.
It’s pretty personal though. I know some people have really bad dreams when stressed, or have a lot of trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep. I’m lucky in that stress makes me sleep more. If you’re not so lucky, you can try some different sleep techniques, or just find something that does work for you.
I am a huge fan of Jason Stephenson’s guided sleep meditations on YouTube.
7. Planning for the future
Tonight, this weekend, or bigger goals to work towards.
It’s uplifting and life affirming. Making plans, whether to hang out with a friend later, what to write a blog post about next week, or what vacation I might want to take next year, shows me there is life outside of my worry.
There is more to me and my world that this event that has temporarily taken over.
So call up a friend for tonight, hop on meetup.com to find a group get-together this weekend, start planning that trip to Rome with a new board on Pinterest and get inspired by your life.
You’ll be just fine
That’s what I do to get through really tough emotional times.
Yes, it’s messy and painful, but you can come out of it with a positive outlook and some lessons learned. As always, if things do seem like they are too much, ask someone for help. Therapy is amazing if you want to go there.
And so is chocolate cake. And so is a binge session of ‘The Big Bang Theory’. If you want some more ideas on generally being more mindful, you can check out 7 more ideas for that here 🙂
I wish you all safe journeys through your struggles and that you come through them with knowledge and grace.
And here’s the list, pin it to come back to later: