Learning to coach yourself through your own anxiety is an invaluable tool for mental health. When you know what’s causing the problem it’s easier to treat, so start by identifying your triggers.
My anxiety is usually triggered by 3 things.
- The current situation I’m in has similar elements to a traumatic or painful memory from my past
- I am in fear of being judged or rejected by someone
- I expect perfection from myself and the exhausting demands of trying to achieve that perfection are overwhelming me.
Once you identify your personal triggers, you can start coaching yourself through the anxiety and even be able to avoid panic attacks altogether.
You’ve found yourself in a situation that reminds you of a previous traumatic event.
This is a similar situation, but there is not a threat this time.
First, be specific about what is stressing you; second, point out the irrationalities of your fears; third, offer yourself words of compassion; always end with deep breathing.
I remember spending the night at a guy’s house in college. I had to excuse myself to the bathroom because I started having a panic attack that he was going to rape me.
He’d done nothing sketchy. There were no red flags. He’d been a perfect gentleman in every way, not pushy at all, immediately respectful of my wishes. But, I was sexually abused in my youth.
There I was in his bathroom hyperventilating, crying, heart racing, full-on panic. This was the actual conversation I had with myself in the mirror:
“C’mon Kat, how are you going to fix this? Can’t breathe, can’t breathe, What if he rapes me? I have to stop crying- it’s making my face splotchy. Okay. Here we go.“
“Katherine, he cannot rape you if you want to have sex with him. That’s literally the antonym of rape, the complete opposite.”
“You want to have sex with him. It’s impossible for him to rape you. This is an irrational fear. This is your anxiety talking. Calm down. You can do this. It’s going to be okay. You’re safe. You’re safe.”
I took a few deep breaths, washed my face with cold water, went back, and was totally fine.
It turned out we didn’t have sex that night, but I slept more soundly than I ever had sharing a bed. No lying awake for hours, repeatedly jerking awake in panic, or nightmares.
After my little talk with myself that night, my anxiety with new partners was (and is) much more manageable and panic-attack free.
Don’t be discouraged if this type of self-talk doesn’t immediately work to calm you. It takes practice and self-trust which takes time to build.
You’re in fear of being judged or rejected
Number two is trickier to conquer. Learning not to care about others opinions is easier said than done. But identifying the fear can at least help you minimize it.
I like to remind myself there are 8 billion people in the world. When one person makes you feel like you’re not enough, probability says millions of people would disagree with them.
Some people hate others for being happy and spreading love. It sounds crazy, but it’s true. If someone’s complaint is that I’m too happy or loving, I certainly don’t want to change for them. Unhappy, bitter people? Not worth your time.
Practice authenticity, being the authentic you, and the right people will find you.
If you were the most like-able person in the world, there would still be that one guy who hates you just to be different. So, stop worrying and go find the ones that like you. I promise they’re out there.
Your expectation for perfection is overwhelming you.
This type of panic is where mantras, meditation, and self-compassion are most helpful.
If two steps is all you can take today that’s okay. Give yourself a break and try again tomorrow. You’re going to get there.
Moving at a snail’s pace is still moving forward!
Step back and take time to love yourself. And remember nobody is perfect, everybody has bad days. When you’re kind to yourself you can go so much further than when you’re yelling.
Self-kindness isn’t about shirking responsibility, or blaming others, it’s about giving yourself a break. If you were perfect there would be nothing left to change or discover. Nothing left to accomplish. Life would be boring.
Let that sink in.
Below, I’ve made a list of self-care activities that can be used to reduce over-all stress in your life. If your situation allows it, you can also use these activities for immediate treatment.
- Breathing exercises
- A cup of tea
- Call a dear friend
- Get a massage
- Take a hot bubble bath
- Go for a walk
- Sing in the Car
- Watch a comedy
- Hangout with someone who makes you feel safe
- Play with pet/kid
The best part of everything on this list is there are many other health benefits besides reducing stress. They can also boost your immune system and function as effective mood therapy.
Though this list may help, as with any mental illness, intense anxiety should be treated by a professional therapist. These are meant to be supplementary tips. There’s no shame in getting the help you need.
I’d love to hear about your personal methods for coping with anxiety in the comments.
- Identify anxiety/fear, point out irrationalities of fear, offer yourself compassion.
- Fuck haters, love yourself