How I handle anxiety while being present in the moment
NB! A long blog post. But it's from the bottom of my heart, and I would really want you to read the whole thing.
More and more often, I hear the word «anxiety» being used. The Norwegian statistics showed that every third person will experience some sort of depression and/or anxiety during their lifetime. That’s truly a lot of people, being every third person out of five million people in this country. And the statistics isn’t that different in other countries either, as far as I have read.
Hello darkness my old friend
I am unfortunately one of every third person. And I have been battling with anxiety over half of my life. That being said, I have this «love and hate» relationship with my anxiety. Because on the plus side, it has provided me with an insight that allows me to understand people and the world around me on a much deeper level than I would have done otherwise. Nevertheless, having panic attacks and being stressed and anxious is an extremely overwhelming and painful feeling when it occurs. And it’s a feeling I profoundly hate, because it makes it really hard to function on a normal level. And my body tend to shut down, giving me a troubled stomach, head aches, painful joints, nausea, and makes me oh, so tired.
Still, I manage to survive it with what I feel is a good quality of life. But how?
«Mindfulness is a practice to give you the courage and energy to go back and embrace your body and your feelings and emotions, even if they’re unpleasant. Even if it seems they may destroy you, go back and embrace them and help them to transform.» Thich Nhat Hahn - ‘How to Relax’
How people experience anxiety is as different as we are many. We have a list of symptoms that show us how anxiety shows itself to us, but how we handle it and experience it is entirely another story. Anxiety occurs for so many reasons. It could be stress, trauma, depressions, fear, etc. There’s just so many reasons.
I want to tell you how I handle it. I do not wish to provide you with answers that I do not have, because I’m hardly an expert on psychological health. The only knowledge I have is many years of experiencing these issues. That’s why I want to give you a short insight to my world with a hope that you can gain some inspiration to find a way that works for you. I use mindfulness because it doesn’t have a recipe. It’s all about just being. And you being you. And you being you, is all it takes to get started on the mindfulness. This gives me the opportunity to do it my own way without feeling the pressure of following other people and their pace (and that alone is a subject for another blog post).
«Practicing walking meditation, councious breathing, and eating meals in mindfulness, you cultivate the energy of mindfulness and you’re able to reign peacefully over your territory.» Thich Nhat Hahn - ‘How to Relax’
First of all, you can’t try hard to be present, and you can’t work hard to be mindful. Because that’s just quite the opposite of what being mindful is. But you have to teach yourself the skills of putting the world on pause. And find somewhere or something that gives you peace. Only then you can find your way to mindfulness. How you do it is entirely up to you. If it means that you do yoga, lie silent on the floor, go for a walk or a run, is all the same. You have to do something that works for you, and you alone. I can be just as peaceful at a crowded café as I can be lying in a flower field on a warm summers day. Where I choose my mindfulness is based upon the needs I have in that specific moment.
If you dont succeed the first time, or the third time or the tenth time - do not be alarmed. Don’t work on being mindful and stopping your thoughts; work on finding your own peace. In fact, stopping your thoughts are impossible. They will always be there. You have to accept it’s presence. And most importantly: work on your breath. This is a lifetime commitment.
Breathing: the source of all life.
The breath is so important that if we stopped doing it, we would stop living in only a few moments. But most of us doesn’t pay attention to our breath. We just go on doing our stuff, taking our breath for granted when it’s in fact a source of our solely existence. So how about you start paying attention to how you breathe? Is it irregular and short? Is it really shallow? Or do you take your time to breathe deep down in your stomach? Do you exhale through your nose or through your mouth?
What happens when we breathe?
As my doctor friend told me: breathing calmly has an effect because it’s the opposite of breathing fast and shallow - which is very common when one has a panic attack. When you breathe too fast, you get rid of too much CO2. And because CO2 in a water solution is acidic, this will cause the blood pH to increase. This is not dangerous. The worst thing that can happen is that you start to faint, and then your breathing will stabilise again. But it can cause symptoms that seem frightening and increases the breathing more heavily. So breathing calmly has a calming effect because you avoid the physiological effect of breathing to heavily. Also, when having anxiety, you tend to breathe shallow, which can cause a sense of being suffocated. Breathing deeply and calm will therefore counteract this. But this effect is more psychological than physiological.
“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”
When I feel anxious, I stop everything. I clear my schedule and cancel appointments (as far as I can). If my body tells me that this is something I need to do (and often it does), then I make room for myself and my own existence. If I need to rest, I will rest. Without any excuse. It’s a small gesture that can spare me for a lot of unnecessary stress, and I’m very stricht on this. And stress has made me sick before. And I would (now) rather be somewhat selfish than a sick people pleaser.
In my book, being busy all the time is NOT a sign of being successful. Being present and being available for myself and my close ones is a gift that should not be looked upon lightly. I need to stop, feel, sense and let myself be in order to truly live. That doesn’t mean that having much to do is wrong. But if you can’t handle the level of obligations as the next person does, than you shouldn’t. We are different people, and some people handle stress and obligations better than others. It’s NOTHING wrong with handling less.
When I start breathing, I close my eyes and make sure I’m sitting or lying comfortably. I inhale and exhale through my nose, deep down in my stomach. After doing yoga for a few years, I learned to make every breath last for five seconds each. Inhale for five seconds through my nose, and exhale for five seconds through my nose. But I do it with force, and when I exhale I push my breath up in my palate until I make a deep exhaling sound. I do this until I feel my body start to loosen up and the stress starts to loosen it’s grip on my body.
I have also stopped battling my anxiety. This one is crucial:
I have accepted it as a part of who I am. So I instead of battling and working against it, I’ve started to listen to it. I do this because I don’t want my life to be a constant battle. While I keep battle everything, trying to make my life free of suffering, I can’t be present. Because I will always get disappointed when I dont succeed. The anxiety will return, and If I don’t accept that I will get disappointed time after time.
Asking my own anxiety for guidance
How do you listen to your anxiety? Well, I ask myself these questions to sort out my feelings:
What does my anxiety tell me right now?
What do I need to know?
Why has it paid me a visit at this moment?
What does my body need me to do right now?
Is there some part of my life that need special attention?
Has there been a sudden change in my life recently that’s affected me?
Am I doing something with my life that’s not in alignment of what I need?
Is there something I can do that makes me feel better?
I have discovered a certain pattern in my own anxiety. It occurs when I have a lot on my plate, a full schedule, when there’s alcohol involved and I haven’t gotten my fair share of rest. It always comes down to a lack of rest. So that’s why I’ve started to NOT say yes to everything. And surely not make too many appointments to far ahead, since I cannot predict how I will feel so far ahead in the future.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow's load with today's strength- carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn't empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
The word «anxiety» is being used as something so very negative and taboo. I can agree that it’s a very awful feeling, and anyone who’s been experiencing deep anxiety in their life would be provoked if I ever tried to trivialize it. But I do feel that one can life a good life, even with these rough periods. But you need to get to know yourself to do that.
I used several years to get to know myself well enough to know what I need to be OK with my life. For me, it comes down to these factors:
- I have to stop comparing my life to other people (the most difficult one. Especially in the age of social media), and accept that some things require a different approach for me. So what if I can’t party as often as my friends? So what if I stay away from alcohol for a period of time? If having alcohol in my system makes me feel worse at times, then we’ll have to get together at other arenas. No one would benefit from my presence if I felt bad being there. Great friends will understand this. If they dont, well, fuck them! (I really mean it)
- I have to set boundaries and find ways that works for me. Even if it doesn’t benefit other people.
- I am the most important person in my life.
- «NO» can be the most positive and freeing word there is.
- Saying «Fuck this» comes with a lot of freedom.
- I need to be completely honest with people. Having anxiety is NOTHING to be ashamed of. It’s a part of me just as important as my ability to walk and talk. With that comes a great amount of freedom as well. And if I and others starts to talk about it, it will be easier for others to accept their own feelings.
- I am who I am. Neither me nor others can do something about that.
- I don’t read magazines anymore. Because they make me want to consume things I don’t need. The constant need of wanting things makes me stressed. And If, for example a blog makes me feel that what I already have is not good enough, I won’t read it anymore. It’s as simple as that.
If I live by these rules, these factors and this way of thinking, I will give myself the space, the air and the time I need to be mindful and breathe. I give my self the present of being with myself on every level. And I will dampen the symptoms of anxiety, which also will trigger my depression. It’s all connected. You simply cannot look at anxiety isolated. You have to work with your whole life in order to get yourself together.
Am I able to follow these rules a hundred prosent at the time? No. But I will say I’m up to about fifty prosent at this point. And for me, that’s pretty good. I also dont chase the feeling of being happy. I chase contentment and peace. I dont do things to look good on the outside. I do things for myself and the people I care about. That’s where the true quality of my life lies. If I can feel that what I have and what I am is good enough, I can express gratitude for it and feel good about myself.
All of this occurs from the basic focus on my breath and being present. Because with good breathing, you gain more control.
“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”