Since May is mental health awareness month I wanted to share a little about my struggle with anxiety. How I learned it's okay to not be okay, set boundaries, and establish coping skills.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States, and only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. I am one of those 40 million adults.
I was 16 years old when I had my first panic attack and I learned that it would not be my last. I was a teen mom trying to finish high school, work full-time, and take care of my son. More than what you average sixteen year old should've been worrying about but I made it through.
I've had panic attacks that made me feel like I was going to die. I know first hand how anxiety can make you feel fatigued, unable to concentrate, restless, and irritable. Over the year I have learned that stress is my anxiety trigger which is weird because I do my best thinking in stressful situations.
They say people with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders. I guess I am one of those people but I know I am not alone. While I am not a mental health professional, I wanted to share some things that have helped me with my anxiety. Maybe they can help someone else who is dealing with anxiety.
1. Therapy: There is nothing wrong with therapy and don't let anyone make you feel like it's a bad thing. Seeking help is the first step to getting better. There is such a stigma behind seeking therapy (especially in the African American community). The thought of sharing your feelings with a stranger might make you feel a little uncomfortable but you can't look at it that way. The therapist is there to help you talk through whatever is that causing you anxiety, not to judge you.
2. Keeping your feelings inside is not a good idea: Holding in your emotions is never a good idea. It can make your anxiety worse. Don't hold it in, talk about it. Release your concerns, thoughts, and worries. If you can't talk about it, write about it. Get you a notebook or journal and carve some time out of your day to write about how you are feeling. Journaling can help you gain control of your emotions and work through those anxious feelings you may have.
3. Get enough sleep: You need to be well-rested. Try to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night. Make a routine of going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning. Research has shown that having a repetitive routine helps calm and reduce anxiety. So take control of your day and your life. Start your day off right.
4. Don't sweat the small stuff: There are some things that are beyond your control. Learn to accept it. Stressing over stuff will not affect the outcome. Practice mindfulness. It teaches you how to be present "in the moment" and how to respond to stress.
5. Think positive: A person with anxiety is always thinking "what if". You have to change your way of thinking. Don't let your mind torture you; every day is filled with uncertainty.
Avoidance intensifies anxiety when you try not to think about the thing that is causing anxiety. Put your fears in perspective by confronting them, ask questions. Focus on the positive. Even if it's small.
6. Take your medication: Some people have a fear or phobia about consuming medications. You read the labels and the side effects seem worse than how you currently feel. This can be scary. Let someone close to you know that you are taking medication and what the side effects are so they can watch for any changes in your behavior. Be sure to follow-up with your doctor as well.
7. Take care of your body: Making lifestyle changes can help with anxiety. Changing your eating habits and exercising can help the brain cope better with stress, reduce fatigue, and improve concentration. Cut down on sweets and alcohol. Never use alcohol as a way to self-medicate.
8. Delegate, organize, and prioritize: You can't do it all and you shouldn't have to. Delegate tasks to other people. Create a to-do list and focus on the small tasks first.
9. Pray: Oftentimes we are so stressed and worried that we forget who is really in control, God. Never be too consumed that you don't make time for God. There are situations that God put us in so that He can get the glory. It doesn't always feel good but nothing is out of His control. Prayer changes things and lightens the worry.
Know that you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from anxiety and struggle to live a healthy life. To the ones that are suffering in silence, seek help. With the proper help from therapy, medication, and support from people who care about you, you can defeat anxiety. Take care of yourself. Your mental health is important. No one can take better care of you than yourself.