How to Cope with Anxiety
I have been candid in the past about the challenges I have faced with depression and post-partum depression (If you missed that, you can read more here). BUT, I have yet to write about my struggles with anxiety. This is primarily because I didn’t begin to experience anxiety until the beginning of the first lockdown in March of 2020. Through out the past two years however, both my anxiety and depression became debilitating on numerous occasions.
Thankfully, I had access to weekly therapy sessions on video chat with my psychologist for due to our coverage with Alberta Blue Cross. Because of these sessions, I was able to develop a number of healthy habits and strategies to help mitigate a lot of my symptoms and I learned how to cope with anxiety.
Before sharing, I just want to note that (even though I have a Psychology degree) I am not a licensed psychologist. Please consult your mental health care practitioner for treatment. If you or someone you love is in danger of self harm please call 911 or your nearest distress line. In Edmonton, you can also call 780-482-4357. With that said, keep reading for some tips and tools that I utilize on a regular (if not, daily!) basis to keep my anxiety at bay.
Moving my body on a daily basis is critical for me and has become a non-negotiable part of my routine. Sometimes it is a tough workout like speed swimming, a long distance run, boxing or spin class. Other times, it might be more leisurely- skiing, a family bike ride or playing tennis with a friend. Regardless of whether it is an aerobic or anaerobic exercise, the benefits are the same. When you move your body for prolonged periods of time, your body releases chemicals called endorphins. These endorphins interact with the receptors in your brain that trigger a positive feeling in the body, clear your mind and promote a sense of calm. If the words “exercise” and “fitness” make you shudder, not to worry. You don’t need to spend hours on the treadmill to feel the benefits of endorphins. Start slow with five or ten minutes a day. Find a friend or buddy to join you, and make it a social event as well.
2. Fresh Air
I learnt pretty early on in the first lockdown that when I was feeling trapped and claustrophobic, getting outside was incredibly healing. Whenever I would feel my anxiety mounting I would stop what I was doing and just go stand outside for a few minutes, take some deep breaths and focus on nature- yes, even in minus 30 degree weather! Fresh air also proved to be very helpful for my kids, in fact it became the highlight of our pandemic days! Since all the playgrounds were closed, I would bundle up the kids, load up the dog, and we would spend a few hours at the dog park walking, building forts and doing nature scavenger hunts. What a game changer. The more fresh air you get, the more oxygen you breathe. This increases the amount of serotonin (the happy hormone) you inhale, consequently lowering anxiety. Whether you walk the dog, go for a leisurely bike ride or push your kids on the swings, it all makes a difference to cope with anxiety.
3. Gratitude Journaling
I’ll be the first to admit, I was very cynical about this one. Initially, journaling sounded kind of hokey and an exercise that would take up a lot of time- something that I don’t have in my daily life, Once I finally came ’round to the idea however, I realized the benefits immediately! By setting aside just five minutes a day to write down what I a grateful for and what I appreciate in my life, my perspective instantly shifts. Instead of thinking about everything on my to -do list (which often leads to stress and anxiety) , I focus on the positive, and it allows me to reset and appreciate what is most important. Even if you just make a short list in the “notes” section of your phone I guarantee your outlook will change.
4. Take a Social Media Break
It’s a bit ironic, as being on my phone is quite literally my job as a blogger and content creator, but sometimes you just need to put the phone down! As amazing and positive a community as our River City Sisters one can be, unfortunately part of the ‘job’ is dealing with haters and criticism. When you put your life “out there” for others to share in, most are incredibly supportive, but all it take is one nasty comment, and it erases every single good one. Beyond that, there is self-comparison with other creators, feelings of inadequacy, a need to “keep up” with the social media trends and the constant pressure to be “on”. It’s part of the job, and I get that, but I’m still human and as a person who already struggles with my mental health, if I don’t distances myself from time to time, the consequences can be huge. That’s why it’s so important to consume and engage social media with boundaries. I allot myself a certain amount of “work” time on social media per day and after that, I intentionally leave my phone in a different room or turn it off. If you find yourself feeling stressed or anxious when you open up your social media apps, consider limiting your time online. try going down to an hour a day. If that doesn’t help, take a full day off, or even a week. Heck, delete the app for a while if you need to. Trust me, the DM’s can wait!
5. Do Something for Yourself
This might seem obvious, but when was the last time you did something for yourself just for the JOY of it? I spend most of my days doing things “I’m supposed” to do- errands, chores, taking care of my kids, checking in on friends/family, meetings, emails.. the list goes on. Whether it’s for work, my family, or volunteering, I truly spend most of my days doing things for other people. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but, in our fast paced society we often forget to do things ONLY for ourselves. We wear our selflessness like a badge of honor, but ultimately we burn out. It took me a looong time to realize it, and an even longer time to actually start doing it but, It is actually OK to take a break from the merry- go-round of daily tasks to fill my own cup. Maybe you go for a massage, see a movie solo, buy that pair of shoes that have been in your online shopping cart for weeks, or get a babysitter and finally read a few chapters of that novel collecting dust on your nightstand. Whatever it is, DO IT. And do it without one ounce of regret or fear of judgment. When we feel joy, our bodies release dopamine and serotonin, two types of neurotransmitters in the brain. Both of these are often found to be at very low levels for individuals diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Thus, by sparking Joy, we increase these levels and chip away at that anxiety.
I hope you found these strategies helpful. These, combined with my online therapy have helped me manage my anxiety and live my best life. I am so grateful to Alberta Blue Cross for the support and coverage I have. Once more, I will highlight I am not a mental health expert or licensed psychologist, just a work- in-progress, with a desire to share my experiences and story in hopes it helps others. If you are struggling with your mental health, consult your mental health care practitioner for treatment. If you or someone you love is in danger of self harm please call 911 or your nearest distress line. In Edmonton, you can also call 780-482-4357.
Thank you to my friends at Alberta Blue Cross for sponsoring this post. As always, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.