Last week, I shared a recent struggle I had with anxiety. Today I’m going to talk about the 4 tools that I used to deal with it. But first, I wanted describe how anxiety works in order to help explain why these tools were effective for me.
Anxiety for me is like stepping into a pool. On the shallow end, my head is above water. The anxiety is manageable and I can step out at any time. But the further I get into it, the harder it is to fight. And once I’m in the deep end of the pool, I’m spending a ton of energy just to tread water and run the risk of drowning in it.
What pushes me deeper into the pool is fixating on things that worry me. Sometimes I’m choosing to do it. Other times it’s an undercurrent that drags me into the deep end. That’s why the tools I use to help manage my anxiety are designed to break this cycle of negativity and lift my mind out of the pool of anxiety.
The first tool I use to manage my anxiety is exercise. I’ve discussed this before, but our bodies responds physically to anxiety. It has the tendency to activate the “fight or flight” system and pumps adrenaline into our bodies. This adrenaline has to get out of our systems and the faster it does, the faster our bodies get out of the elevated state.
Exercise burns the adrenaline while simultaneously producing natural endorphins that makes us feel pleasure which helps to combat the negativity. When I exercise, I also stop thinking about what I was worrying about and focus on my work out which serves as a temporary distraction.
When I’m in the shallow end of the pool, exercise helps a lot. Often times it completely breaks the cycle. However if I’m in the deep end, I’ve noticed that the relief is often temporary.
The next tool I used is my support network.
During my 5 months of unemployment, I reached out to my friends. I called them, asked them for prayer, and gave them regular updates on how my search was going. They checked up on me too and this helped me feel like I wasn’t alone and that they cared. They also served as my barometer by challenging lies that I expressed such as feeling worthless or useless.
Another source in my support network were my parents which I actually think is rare to get from Asian American parents in this context. Whenever I had dinner with them, they were really supportive. They didn’t pressure me, criticize me, or even berate me for being unemployed. All they did was ask me how the search was going, encouraged me to keep applying, and believed in me.
After I got my job, I took them out to dinner and thanked them for being so supportive. Had they pushed or nagged me during that time, they would’ve just added to the anxiety I was already feeling and would’ve made the situation a lot worse. The fact that I received empathy and could even temporarily distract myself while I was with them was a huge source of encouragement for me.
The third tool I used to manage my anxiety was gratitude. Being unemployed was rough, but I kept continually reminding myself that there were many things to be thankful for: my health, a roof over my head, my family, my friends, food, video games, the internet, netflix, a new church community that I’m getting plugged into, the fact my pet cactus isn’t completely dead (although that’s debatable).
What this did was lift my mind out of the pool of anxiety that I was constantly getting pulled into. My gratitude injected positivity and helped me be grounded whenever I felt like I was getting dragged by a powerful undercurrent towards the deep end.
The final tool I used to to help manage my anxiety was prayer. This started with reading a chapter in the book of John everyday. Then I would meditate on some of the overarching themes that I felt like applied to me in that moment. Finally, I would pray to God about anything and everything.
Reading the bible helped ground me. It gave me a long-term perspective by reminding me that my life isn’t just physical but spiritual. It also lifted me up with timeless truths that I gleaned from the parables that I read. Meditating on these truths broke the cycles of negativity that I would get caught up in. Meditation also created separation from my anxiety which allowed me to observe, acknowledge, and recognize it without getting overwhelmed.
Prayer gave me the space to fully express myself to God rather than bottling it all up. It gave me the freedom to vent all my frustrations and share my deepest fears. It also served to remind me that there were things that were simply out of my control, which was humbling. It forced me to give up trying to control the situation and admit that it was out of my hands. It was in God’s hands. Reminding myself of this truth over and over was a constant battle. But everytime it gave me relief.
What are your “go to” tools to deal with anxiety?
What about them works? How does it help “lift” you out of the pool of anxiety?