6 Practical Ways For Managing Anxiety & Combating Its Effects
What’s your best way to constructively deal with anxiety?— Simone Giertz (@SimoneGiertz) November 11, 2018
Anxiety and depression are brutal mental and emotional challenges we humans face, and eventually, a heavy dose of this would unexpectedly affect me.
In the fall of 2013, I was hit by a metaphorical truck of emotion and mental issues as the result of many life changes including the decision to shut down my marketing business of seven years (while considering going back home to Arizona). I was facing a nervous breakdown.
It felt like a death. I unexpectedly was hit with a wave of issues including anxiety, panic attacks, intrusive thoughts, paranoia, extreme waves of emotions, and overwhelming fear. And, with these were a volume of past experiences, both positive and negative, that quickly flowed through me but yet to be resolved or accepted (like leaving Arizona, the death of my grandfathers, etc...).
With near-death experiences the saying goes, our life flashes before our eyes. And this seemed quite descriptive of what happened to me. It was as if all the emotions and experiences I endured since moving to Atlanta in 2005 came over me. Noodlehead Marketing was my cocoon, and now I was breaking out.
But, because I held in too many thoughts and emotions (bottled up) during and after our challenging move to Atlanta, Georgia from Arizona, they came over me like an erupting volcano. My wife handled it well at first, but it soon became overwhelming, and we had to change our response plan as we and our community confusingly struggled to reconcile what was happening and how we should respond.
For three months, it was scarily bad, to the point we considered seeking serious medical help. Something seemed incredibly wrong with me, and it was daunting to discover and overcome these challenges. I leaned into ways to resolve this practically without resorting to medication (which can be an appropriate step). And slowly, with the grace of God and the love and support of my community, I emerged from the traumatic experience into something much better and more beautiful. It was a death to self and a rebirth.
As I reflected on this journey, there were several distinct actions and systems we set up to successfully get through this season, and manage the anxiety and other mental health issues. Below, I share what was most helpful and effective during this highly confusing season of life.
1. Surround Yourself With Community And A Handful Of Close Non-Judgmental Friends
If you've seen the movie Liar Liar, you may have a glimpse into how part of this unfolded for me. It was as if I was mentally vomiting my thoughts and emotions. Ideas and thoughts I pondered, considered, intended, and had done over the prior years, were flowing out of me. I couldn't stop and was compelled to share whatever it was with the person I was talking with. At first, this was mostly my wife.
As you can imagine, this was becoming highly problematic for our marriage and we had to shift gears. We identified three people, my pastor, a longtime friend, and a friend who had gone through similar mental challenges in his own life.
Having three people I could share the craziest of thoughts, and the most bizarre ideas provided an outlet for me to get it out, while not harming anyone in the process. My interactions with these three friends included late-night calls, confusing text messages, and in-person confessions. Their compassion and grace through this season were critical for me successfully getting through it. Having people that will not think your crazy (when they probably should) listen and guide us makes a huge difference.
In addition to this strong close group, my church community, and family were contributors to expressing the acceptance and grace of God on me during the time I deserved it the least. This contrast had a deep impact on my understanding and acceptance of unconditional love.
If you're struggling with anxiety or depression, establish a group of people you can call, anytime to share anything. Feeling accepted regardless of how these sessions play out is a huge factor in deciding who to choose. When I interacted with people during this season, it was easy and clear to know if the person got it or not.
If you're not struggling, I encourage you to plant and grow close friends and community. When life takes a turn for the worst, it's lonely and challenging not to have this support around us when we need it most.
2. Practice Waiting It Out: Don't Feed The Anxiety / Paranoia / Fear / Speculation / Intrusive Thoughts Monster
"The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown." - HP Lovecraft
While I experienced elements of these emotions, states, and feelings, it never happened quite to the degree I faced during the three months after choosing to end Noodlehead Marketing during the Sabbath Year. It felt like a metaphorical semi-truck hit me out of nowhere, and my inclination was to hold on and perpetuate the spiraling experiences. But, by feeding the monster, I was only making it harder to stop and move forward.
Let's take anxiety for example. It only gets worse when we feed it. This fear of the unknown and loss of control takes us down bizarre paths. And we go right along with it. By going along for the ride, we're not only mentally reeling, but we're also getting a chemical hit which makes it more challenging to overcome. Who doesn't like a hit of adrenaline?
The best way to stop anxiety is to prevent it from starting. When we feel that moment, wait it out. Count to 100. Allow the emotion to come and go, and don't go for the ride. It's like an online troll. Don't take the bait. Stop. Wait. Let the emotion and feelings fade before responding. It's a lot easier said than done, but after practicing and failing too many time to count, I gained a handle on it. And, you will too.
As I write this, I have a double ear infection. While I’m taking antibiotics to deal with the infection, it won’t restore my hearing (which feels like I’m perpetually in a tunnel). The nurse helped me understand my hearing may take days or weeks to return to normal. While it’s unpleasant, knowing the end positive result takes time, provides me the hope that waiting it out will work. It's still uncomfortable, but the experience fosters the growth of my resilience. In our culture now, learning this value through waiting is vital. And this waiting applies to other issues, not just anxiety.
After a moment, a day, or week of anxiety, it is followed by a depression of similar length. A roller coaster of up and down where I feel too much, and then nothing at all. When we're anxious and can't shake it, it's frustrating how it lingers without our choice (seemingly). But knowing these patterns and my lack of control over the situation helps me recognize the pattern and wait it out as I normalize to a healthy state.
On the depression side, it's helpful to have strong habits and disciplines to move us through these moments when we feel nothing or resist doing anything.
3. Grab A Hold Of Truth: Prayer & A Simple Daily But Profound Read Helps
In those three months of chaos, I felt like a rag doll tossed about by a storm. I had no control, even over my own mind and even some of the most basic duties. It’s in the midst of this turmoil, it was the most meaningful truth (Jesus, the source of life) that grounded and saved me through this season.
Without this truth and hope, I see how great acts of destruction (towards others and self) happen. Thankfully the love and truth poured into me as a young child to that season prepared me for what I didn’t see coming.
On my own, I dove into the daily words of Oswald Chambers through My Utmost For His Highest. This daily devotion was powerful and critical during these difficult months providing brief but dense words of truth to my soul. They met me where I was when it mattered. This particular devotion day speaks about anxiety.
While truth matters, at some point we must connect with the source of all truth and love through the power of prayer which aligns and connects us with God directly. Pray for peace and comfort when we're waiting out the anxiety or panic.
The relief that comes our way when nothing else does the trick, is simply found through prayer. Pray, not simply for our circumstances to change but focus on prayer for endurance, growth, and what we need to live life through the challenges we find ourselves facing.
A Narrative To Navigate The Journey
Through the Noodlehead Marketing journey, there was a story given to me that helped traverse the distractions and traps of life. It’s been published as a short story online for others to read, get inspired, and embrace the most meaningful of truths. You’ll quickly recognize how the end of the story correlates to the experiences I’ve shared in this blog. I expect this parable, the Island Story, to provide you insight and inspiration as you face your challenges.
4. Learn To Ground Yourself With Writing & Journaling
“If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.” - George Orwell
The biggest challenge with anxiety is how vague and elusive it is. It makes us feel worse than reality would reasonably warrant. What better way to tame it than to capture and box in the thoughts, fears, and unknowns? While truth poured into us from outside sources is important, we also need to battle what’s real and true for ourselves.
Words empower us, which is why writing is a powerful deterrent and antidote to anxiety. What am I feeling? Why am I feeling it? What's the best case scenario? The worst? In either situation, what actions can I take to overcome it? By writing down these things, we make the unknown known. We capture the vague. And, in many cases, learn to let go, to release what we're holding onto.
With words, the big scary monsters becomes a challenge we can reasonablly overcome ourselves or with help, and worst case scenarios are highly unlikely outcomes. Go get that pen or keyboard, and start writing away.
5. Physiological Ways To Minimize & Manage Anxiety
While I suspect there are numerous ways to prevent and minimize anxiety with diet and exercise, there are two antidotes I’ve personally discovered and used when combatting anxiety. Minimize caffeine and start running.
While I’m unsure if caffeine causes anxiety, I’ve found it certainly unnecessarily amplifies it. When it’s that type of day or week, I’ll stop drinking soda and tea to shrink anxiety’s effect on me.
When my anxiety was really bad, running was a helpful outlet for me. It gave me something to do while providing course correcting health benefits. By running outside, it also provides the opportunity to witness the incredible beauty of the outdoors.
My understanding in the area is limited, but I suspect searching the web for diet and exercise specifics to help navigate anxiety will turn up a slew of good ideas.
6. Learn To Leverage Anxiety For Your Benefit
"I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,
My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.
Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become." - Paul, the Apostle
What if anxiety was not something that tore us down, but was instead a tool we leveraged for good? That might sound bizarre, but as the Apostle Paul, it’s what I’ve discovered as possible in my life.
As I've worked through stuff in my self, my past, and important relationships, the anxiety has diminished to a manageable and somewhat normal level. Interesting enough, I’ve now found myself in a place to where it can act as a positive catalyst for my personal humility, growth, and success. I call it, catfish living. Ongoing challenges and accountability keep us healthy, even when there is short-term discomfort or pain.
When anxiety comes my way, it’s simply a trigger. When that trigger happens, how do we want to respond? We get to choose. And after rejecting the default spiraling into a negative state, the trigger is now a call to my purpose, embracing the life of Jesus. The trigger is a reminder to pray, to ask for His love and to break down my resistance to His will in my life. It's a reminder of how broken and depraved I am.
There are other ways we can leverage anxiety for good. It can trigger our level of bravery as we face our fears head-on after being tired of acting helplessly.
And, while anxiety is often a fear of the unknown, there is the opposite, excitement. We can actually learn to be excited about what may happen (the unknown) when we don’t assume it will always be negative. Be excited for what could happen and minimize the fearful aspect until it’s truly reasonable to do so.
As far away as it may feel, there is a point we learn to master our anxiety and point it in a positive direction (when it itself is not positive). The first step is a willingness to explore it.
After my three month season of struggle, there was another similar month a couple years later (both triggered by bubbling up past events). But, since then my anxiety and depression have yet to last longer than a day or week. And when it does, I’m better equipped to prevent, minimize, and respond when it hits.
And there is hope for you. These tenets, as listed below made a difference for me as I expect they will for you.
- Cultivate close friends and community.
- Master waiting it out and not feeding the anxiety trolls.
- Anchor into truth, including the most meaningful aspects.
- Get grounded through writing and journaling. Make the unknown known.
- Making it easier to handle anxiety with exercise & a lack of caffeine.
- See and leverage anxiety for the greater good. Embrace the gift.
At the moment, you may be tempted to fall into despair, out of fear it won't get better. But, don't give up. Get help, find support, and do your part. In the end, you'll find a way to overcome, manage, and leverage anxiety for the better of you and others you care about.