Anxiety is my new best friend.
Every few days, I’m greeted by the familiar feeling of my heart racing. Sweat rolling down my back. And my throat constricting, threatening to cut off my air supply hits me.
The world spins around me and I lose focus of where I am, what I’m doing, and it seems like the blackout will never end. But it does. And then it comes back again, a few days later.
This is what an anxiety attack feels like for me.
Ever since I lost my husband to a road accident, I’ve been enveloped by these frequent anxiety attacks. In the beginning, when the wounds of his accident were very tender on my heart, I did everything I could to fight these attacks.
I threw myself into a new job with the rigour of a possessed person. I started writing again to fill the void and express my grief. And I took up multiple passion projects like working for an NGO on weekends. What little time I had left in the evenings, I filled with a formal training in dance. All of this meant that I was constantly running away from confronting my emotions. And my anxiety kept growing.
My body was exhausted, yet it did not get the rest it needed. My mind was burnt out, yet it did not stop thinking, even when I tried to sleep. I spent each night tossing and turning in bed, wishing for sleep to come, yet it kept evading me.
But I couldn’t escape forever and pretend like my life was magically okay, just because I was being so productive every day.
Then one day, while at work, my brain just went blank. I could see the words on my laptop screen, but I couldn’t make sense of them. I could hear my colleagues talking to me, but it seemed like their voices were coming from far away. A sudden wave of dizziness hit me, and I almost collapsed.
This episode made me realise that I couldn’t run away from my anxiety, or from the reality of my husband’s death. And this was the day I finally became friends with my anxiety, and all my insecurities as well.
I can’t say that I’ve conquered all, or that I never feel breathless, or insecure anymore. Sometimes I still indulge in overthinking about the future. But what has changed is the fact that now I’m in control of my emotions, instead of my emotions controlling me.
And what I’ve learned is it’s not impossible to overcome feelings of anxiousness. It takes a little bit of introspection, and small lifestyle changes. But if you’re willing to work through it, you will get there.
4 ways to make anxiety your best friend
1. Establish a night routine
The worst time of the day for me is when I come back home after work and my dance training, to the emptiness of my room. It has been almost ten months since my husband had his accident and I started sleeping alone again. But it still hasn’t gotten even a little bit easier.
Most nights I lay awake in bed, wishing that he was here to wrap his arms around me, and put me to sleep.
In the absence of my nightly chats or movie sessions with him, I’ve now established a routine for myself.
Since I’m working on my writing career, each night, I write a few sentences on any topic that comes to mind. It need not be a fully fledged article, but even a few sentences makes me feel lighter, because I’ve released my emotions into the Universe.
I then pick up my favourite book, curl up under my comforter and put on the fairy lights I’ve strung in my room. I put on my headphones and my favourite playlist, losing myself amidst the pages of the book and the music. Some nights, I treat myself and watch a movie or a show on Netflix, but I turn it off when I know it’s time to sleep.
Falling asleep is the most difficult thing for me to do. But even if I’m not sleepy at all, I set my alarm for the next day and put away my book or laptop. I pick up my journal called ‘One Line A Day’ and write a few lines about my day, and how I’m feeling at the moment. After this, I don’t touch my phone at all.
Before, I would lay awake for hours, trying to battle the rising grief in my heart. But slowly, my body and mind started getting used to this routine, and I started falling asleep.
Sometimes the thoughts in our head get entangled, and it becomes difficult to make sense of them. Back in the 90s, just like we would disentangle a mixed tape with a pencil, you have to untangle the thoughts in your head, which have the potential to drive you crazy.
For me, the most effective way of doing this is by journaling. It’s not an elaborate process and it doesn’t take too long. Each night, before I go to bed, I pick up my journal and write a few lines in it. It’s a five year journal, and I bought it because I want to go back and read the entries as time passes by. I want to see how far I’ve come and the progress I’ve made in getting my life together, in moving on, and in not giving up.
Writing in a book, a journal, or even a journaling app on your phone is an effective way to put your mind at ease, and find some peace and quiet.
3. Less social media
This is the most common piece of advice that everyone hears on a daily basis. Yet we are all guilty of spending way too much time staring at our phone screens. Scrolling through Instagram, Twitter and Facebook unnecessarily. Unknowingly, we compare our miserable lives with the seemingly perfect lives of our friends, not knowing the truth behind the perfect photos.
Each time that I saw a picture of a happily married couple, or a couple blessed with a new born child, or of them setting up a new home together, I would want to hurl my phone at the nearest wall I could spot. I’d feel jealousy creeping up in my heart. Because that perfect life had been snatched away from me.
Instead of looking at the new life I had built for myself from scratch, I was busy feeling envious of my happily married friends.
Maybe I didn’t even want the same things anymore. Maybe I wanted my own career before tagging along with a man this time. And maybe I wanted the world to know me for what I had achieved, and for the difference I was making in the world, instead of just being called someone’s wife.
But the constant pressure of social media had blinded me. The conscious decision to unfollow certain people who weren’t good for my life, and to stop checking social media every five minutes has given me the chance to connect with people who actually matter. And helped me make time for more important things in my life, like my family.
4. Take a few moments to just breathe
This is perhaps the most effective technique for calming myself down.
There are days where the voices in my head get so loud that I cannot hear anything over them. On other days, there is a deafening silence which threatens to eat me up alive.
I’ve come to realise that the solution to both these extremes is to just sit down and breathe for a couple of minutes, until I feel the anxiety leaving my body.
I roll out my yoga mat in my room, or in my dance studio. And I sit cross legged on it, or I lie down. I close my eyes, and just breathe. I am not someone who can meditate for even 20 minutes, because my mind wanders to a million places. But closing my eyes and breathing for a couple of minutes gives me the chance to clear my head. To concentrate on feeling each sensation passing through my body and the world around me.
I let go of everything. Every negative emotion. Every picture of my husband’s face floating around in my head.
Anxiety is our generation’s struggle, and everyone has experienced it in one way or another. There are a hundred guides out there which may help, but nothing will actually get better unless you really want it too.
Medication, therapy, and self help books are a part of the healing process. But the process has to begin from within you. And the first step is to make anxiety your best friend, and make peace with it!