Disclaimer: I am not a registered practitioner and thus the following content should be used for general information purposes only. The content is not meant to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult a medical professional if you feel you may be struggling to cope with anxiety or any other mental or physical health condition.
I have struggled with anxiety since high school. For the most part, it is something I have been able to manage pretty well with a combination of physical activity, talk therapy, and self-care. For a time I was on medication, but haven’t taken anything since 2006, but that is very much a personal choice.
There were times in my mid- to late-20s that I did my best to just ignore it…all of the time. Even when it popped into my life, I pushed it down, forcing it away from myself and instead focusing all of my attention on something else, anything else. As long as it kept me busy, I could keep it at bay. Sure I’d lose my temper with others (and myself) every once in a while, and my patience was often fried, but my anxiety wasn’t an issue, right?
And then I moved into my own place for the first time in 2012. Before that I had always lived with roommates or partners, so I was ultimately never alone. But now I was, and it was the best thing to happen to me, but also one of the most challenging.
Living on my own meant there wasn’t someone else there to distract me or keep me busy. There wasn’t someone else’s dishes to do. There wasn’t someone around to make plans with. And after spending the better part of my adult life with someone else there to (unbeknownst to them) help me keep my anxiety at bay, it was a huge adjustment.
I still remember my first night in that apartment. My friends had just helped me move all of my stuff and had offered to stay and help me unpack. But they had helped enough, and I wanted a bit of time to just adjust to my new home. I sat on the floor, surrounded by boxes and the noises of downtown and I cried. Ohhhh did I ever cry.
I cried because I was afraid of being alone, of what that would ultimately mean. How would I cope?
Admittedly, I made attempts to keep myself busy for the first few months. Inevitably there came a night where I wanted to go out (did not feel like I was in the “right” headspace to be at home alone) and no one was available to do anything. So I sat at home, feeling slightly abandoned (my gosh, people have other things going on!?) and wondering what I was going to do with my evening.
I could physically feel the anxiety building, and it was something I hadn’t felt to that degree in what seemed like a very long time.
While all of this was happening, I was also starting to strength train for the first time and was trying out guided meditation. Talk about impeccable timing. When I found out I was going to be moving and living on my own, I immediately went into my comfortable “researcher mode” where I started reading tips to living on your own for the first time.
A lot of the reading I did boiled down to one thing: you’re going to get lonely and instead of avoiding it, embrace it.
So, as time went on, I started to embrace the lonely…and rather than have the anxiety build to the point of bursting, it slowly started to dim. I kept up with my physical exercise, I practiced guided meditation at least 3-4x / week, I eventually got a talk therapist, and I practiced my self-care diligently.
It is still there though, and every once in a while it likes to come back to the surface and check-in…make sure I’m still aware it’s there. There are times when I can sort of coast through it, managing to get through the days until I can take the adequate time needed to get myself better.
But then there are unfortunately times where that just doesn’t happen and I am left in a bit of a mess, not able to function or cope with the day-to-day and wondering if I’ve lost my mind. Surely I am stronger than this?
Inevitably, it does pass…eventually. But for a few days, I am left with the uncomfortable feeling of wondering what others think, but that is ultimately part of the anxiety of course.
Thankfully, over time, I have discovered a few key strategies that help me to bring myself back to my authentic self and in talking with others who struggle with anxiety, some of them are more common than others. But we each find our own path, and it usually involves a lot of trial and error.
3 tactics I use to cope with anxiety
Do these work all of the time? No. Some will work more times than others or at different times. The key is that I have a few different strategies to lean on. I’m not putting all of my eggs into one basket so to speak.
Writing in a coffee shop
For me, I notice that this needs to happen at least once a week in order to keep things going smoothly in my world. When I can feel my anxiety building, I will make a point of making this happen a little more often. I am a little more on the introvert side, so going to a coffee shop alone is ideal for me. I put on my headphones and write or read. For some reason, being surrounded by the energy of a coffee shop calms me down. I feel like I’m out and about, but still on my own.
Sitting with it
If you’re just starting out in terms of looking for strategies to help you cope, this might be one to hold off on trying. It’s by far one of the more challenging strategies, because oftentimes, I just want to distract myself from these uncomfortable feelings. But therapy and lots of introspection have taught me that sometimes, you just gotta sit with those feelings.
There are times when I will allow myself to feel anger, hurt, sadness…all of those feelings that I typically try to avoid. The longer I avoid them, the stronger they make their presence known. There are times when I’ve gone so far as to ask a friend to check-in with me in an hour or so, just to ensure I haven’t let myself go too far down the spiral.
It can be easy to get caught up in the uncomfortable feelings and emotions, but it’s a good practice to try, because acknowledging them will ultimately help us process and move on.
Walking and/or exercise
My coach has asked me to take a minimum of 10,000 steps / day, even as the weather gets colder. Walking or just moving around can be one of the greatest things we do for ourselves. It allows us the time and space to think, to let our thoughts drift, to move.
As a writer, I spend a lot of time in front of my computer, but walking is something I have been incorporating more into my routine. I will look at what my day looks like and figure out where I can fit in even more walks. Going to meet a friend somewhere? If it’s within a certain distance, walk instead of bus/drive. Itching to listen to that new podcast/album? Download it, plug in those headphones, and listen while you walk.
Try, monitor how you feel before/during/after, adjust if needed. Not working? Try something else. And never, ever be afraid or ashamed to ask for help <3
Do you feel like you could use someone to talk too? Check to see if your local community has a call-in support centre, like the Distress Centres in Ontario.