If you need immediate help, please contact your local hospital. Additionally, for less threatening situations, a professional therapist is highly recommended. If you feel like you might be a danger to yourself, please call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their website to chat with a lifeline.
In light of the amazing and horrifying events of 2020, conversations about mental health abound. And good; they should be. Conversation helps destigmatize the topic, which we so desperately need to do.
Advice on how to improve your mental health is rampant. I've been digging for a while, and the experts tend to agree that doing these five major (although easy) things will help each of us balance our headspace.
1. Be in the Moment
Anxiety is no joke. There is nothing enjoyable about getting so far down the rabbit hole that your heart races, your body temp soars, and the shakes start. Worst of all, it's simply exhausting. Mentally. Spiritually. Emotionally. Physically. Your everything is more tired than you've ever known.
Experts will tell us that anxiety is based in the anticipation of fear. We struggle with the fear of losing (or gaining in some cases). We're worried about what's next. What could happen? Will it be what we want to happen? Because anxiety is based in anticipation, we become anxious about things that haven't even happened yet.
After learning the practice of being in the moment, when I find myself in situations where I can't stop freaking out about what's next, I take a breath and force my brain to stop. Yes, it takes practice in self-awareness, but we all have the power to do choose what occupies our headspace. When I feel the physical symptoms of anxiety start, I take a moment to honor the chaos and the feelings, and then I take that deep breath. As I slowly exhale, I look around my physical space.
Am I in trouble? Is there an immediate threat? Do I have a real problem in this moment? Almost always, the answer to those questions is "no." And once present, I realize that I'm fine and that I'm in control of my paranoia and my rambunctious mind. And because I'm now in control of my present, I can choose to be rid of those anxious thoughts.
2. Learn that Peace Lives in Strange Places
For those who suffer from anxiety, you know all about the curse of overthinking. It is just. so. loud.
When I lived out in the country, nothing took me out of the noise in my head. No matter how loud the cicadas got, they weren't louder than my thoughts.
That's what's great about downtown for me. There's always noise, but it's somehow quieter here. Sounds odd, but you don't know how loud bugs can be until they've got your place surrounded by the thousands.
In downtown Memphis, we've got the usual city noises: radios, bike nights, revelers, dump trucks, buskers. And we've added fun sound bursts like the trolley toots on Main Street or the chirps of Bird scooters.
What's interesting, though, is that while all of these things operate at their own frequency, if you're just sitting around, all the separate notes become a low hum. Quite unlike cicadas, I go numb to it as it passes through me.
Sure, one of those toots or chirps can bring you back, but there's something about that city hum that's soothing to the chaos of overthinking. It replaces the noise in my head with the noise of life around me. It's the first thing I've found to ever do that.
And when that happens, there is peace. Sometimes, you have to find your quiet in unexpected places. Make sure you pay attention to the places that bring your anxiety levels down. Study what it is about them that helps so that you can recreate that effect no matter where you are.
3. Drop Your Ego
When you're feeling like the whole world is coming down on you and your head's spinning out of control, it can be impossible to think about anything else. If you're like me, distracting yourself can feel nearly impossible most of the time.
If centering yourself in the present or finding peace in the surrounding noise doesn't work for you and you still need a way to shift your focus, try focusing on someone else.
There are so many ways to get involved in this town (and I'm sure in yours, too). Look around your area for ways to get involved in something greater than yourself. Read to children in a public library, volunteer in homeless shelters and soup kitchens, go walk dogs for your local humane society. You'd be amazed at how focusing on an immediate problem can remind you that the ones in your head aren't as bad as they feel.
4. Get Physical
Go for a walk. Head to the gym. Push the couch out of the way and stream your favorite yoga practice. Get out into the sunshine and ride a bike.
Research shows that getting the blood pumping can alter your mood and improve your mental health. You don't have to go all out to reap the benefits. You just need to get out of bed, off the couch, out of your head, and go do something physical.
In doing so, you'll get all the good brain juices flowing, and you'll feel better emotionally and mentally, as well as physically. Find something you enjoy doing and do it often.
5. Get Still
There's something to be said for being still, and I've learned the value of that finally. I used to struggle with being alone in the quiet of my own space. Until I was nearly 37, I'd lived with someone else in my place all my life. To come back every night to an apartment so quiet I can hear my neighbor's disposal running through massive concrete walls was debilitating.
So one of the hardest things I've learned to do through therapy is just to sit in my emotions and allow them the opportunity to exist, process, and leave my body. I started by telling Alexa to play good music or turning the TV on to have voices in my physical world. Eventually, I got to a place where I went home after work and just existed.
Distracting yourself and getting physical can be helpful when you're overthinking and driving yourself over a cliff a la' Thelma and Louise. But when you're struggling with emotional anxiety, distraction is likely the wrong answer.
Because when you distract yourself from your emotions, you deny yourself your rightful emotional response to a situation and thereby deny yourself the right to process it and get past it. You'll start carrying it around, and it could potentially become physical pain in some fashion.
Now you've got two problems, and popping Advil ain't gonna help.
When I find myself needing to process an emotion (requiring stillness) but having a head so noisy I can't sit in the quiet without losing my mind, I go for a walk. I move my body to quiet my mind, but I don't engage in the world around me so that my heart can have the space it needs to heal.
Finding Your Balance
There are loads of suggestions out there to help you find the things that help you process and release. Mindfulness, gratefulness, journaling, positive self-talk, affirmations, cooking a great meal, and taking a nap are among some of the most often proposed.
Ultimately, you're looking for the thing that brings you peace at the moment. And you want that peace to stick around after you've found it. Watch out that you're not just offering yourself a place to avoid the problem. Talk to people who'll truly support you without hijacking your story or thriving off your pain. Talk to a professional and get suggestions from him or her that are specific to your concerns.
Whatever you do, find your center and find your peace. Growth is hard. Get out of your head and out of your own way. And don't make it harder on yourself by working on the wrong problem.
Love and light in your journey!
What's your favorite tip for conquering anxiety?
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