When my mental health got in the way of my life, I knew I needed to regain control.
Disclaimer: I am not, nor do I claim to be, a medical professional. All advice given comes from personal experience and should not be taken in place of professional help.
My battle with anxiety was one I believed I had control over. I knew a majority of my triggers, I had a healthy coping mechanism, and I was confident I could handle whatever life threw at me. It took having an anxiety attack in my University’s bathroom for me to realize that was total bullshit.
Things weren’t getting better. My anxiety was evolving and my coping mechanism wasn’t evolving with it.
I used to be able to calm my nerves by turning my mind off. I’d throw my phone on airplane mode, take a hot shower, snuggle up in my All Might long sleeve, and watch my comfort show until my headspace cleared. This was my go to when I needed to come down from an anxiety attack, but it wasn't as if I could do this outside my room.
Where my coping mechanism had restrictions, I learned the hard way my anxiety did not.
I’d panic during lectures, while I was driving on the highway, in the middle of zoom meetings—you name it. I couldn’t just shut down, I was forced to sit there and endure it. By the time I made it home my mind was a mess.
I started ignoring job opportunities, declined hanging out with friends, and almost jeopardized my chance at graduate school, all because I was terrified to have an attack somewhere I didn’t feel safe.
Little by little my anxiety was trying to take over my life. But since there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen, I had to figure out how to fight back.
Here’s what I learned.
There’s power in doubling.
Doubling is a technique that involves another person holding you accountable in real time. When I’d start a new project or knew I had a long paper to do, I’d often FaceTime my friend and we’d have a “study session”. There was no talking, no music, just both of us on mute while I studied and she rewatched Naruto. I didn’t need her to constantly check up on me to make sure I was doing my work, because her presence alone was helping me get through my task. This was a technique I used for school, but I quickly realized how much it helped my anxiety.
When I knew I would be put in a situation that would make me anxious, like having to ask my professor for an assignment extension after class, I’d ask my friend to wait by the door or just take a slower time packing up. I didn’t need them to hold my hand, but knowing they were still in the room with me was like a portable security blanket.
Doubling doesn’t work all the time, mainly because you can’t rely on someone else to always be there to help.
My goal wasn’t to double forever. If I wanted to take back control I needed to learn how to stay strong when I was alone, which brought me to my next lesson.
I needed to play the waiting game.
People are naturally averse to change, even if we acknowledge that it’s good for us. The same can be said for the unknown. I knew my anxiety would spike with topics involving either of those two and that was my biggest concern. With my aspirations rooted in the arts, my entire career was based on change and the unknown. I couldn’t afford to let my anxiety stand in the way of my dreams so I decided to play the waiting game.
I’d put myself in situations where I knew my anxiety would spike and tell myself to wait the attack out. I never did this with my serious triggers, nor do I plan to, however I did do this with the ones I was trying to get over. I began small. I started with paying the delivery person at the door, and when that failed I back tracked and got myself comfortable ordering food through the phone. My heart rate would spike, and I’d force myself to breathe and fight through it until the call was over. Then I did it during class.
And with my advisor.
And my internship.
This didn’t completely stop the attacks, but they decreased tenfold. Everytime I fought through my attack I was normalizing my body’s reaction to anxiety. I’d still feel the adrenaline in my veins, I just wasn’t letting myself lose control because of it.
The more familiar I was to my emotions, the easier it became to remain confident.
If things became more than I could handle I trusted myself to walk away ahead of time.
Let it be known that anxiety attacks aren’t easy to deal with, regardless of how small or big they are. I specify this because although the waiting game has helped me, it is not for everyone.
Therapy’s hard to come by, but might be a life saver.
Not everyone has access to good therapists, or even therapy in general, but if you have the chance to talk to a professional I highly recommend you do it!
Speaking to someone who knows the ins and outs of mental health can help give you a stronger insight on the things you’re feeling. From helping you figure out your triggers, to giving you a range of coping exercises to help manage your mental health as a whole, this experience isn’t something to miss out on.
Talking things out with friends works well, but conversations can be one sided if they don’t understand what you’re going through. Even then, there’s only so much advice they can give. The internet is a pool of mechanisms and ideas, but not all of them may necessarily help you. Speaking to a professional can help make a process that took me years of trial and error, work better for your individual healing.
Therapy is a method of healing, and if it doesn’t work for you it’s not the end of the world.
Your healing begins with the mind, but most importantly it begins with your will.
As long as you’re determined to fight, you will always find a way to become a stronger version of yourself.
With will power and bravery,