Living with Anxiety: 5 Ways to Cope

 Seems like every time I turn on the news, the world gets more crazy. Recently it's the government shut down, unsettling not just to Americans but financial markets the world over and the furloughed workers... no paychecks but bills constantly piling up. Sounds stressful.

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It isn't just them either. Perhaps I have a job but find an abnormal growth on my neck or a typhoon is bearing down on close relatives. How do we live with this level of chaos? It's hard not to let anxiety creep in, take over and steer life. Anxiety is caused by big events but also the little ones too. I have to get to work on time, my car won't start, I forgot my computer cord at home... sound familiar?

What do we do? Do we allow ourselves to get sucked into the vortex of chaos, stress out and be overwhelmed by anxiety? It's an option, for sure but the price is pretty high, especially on our bodies: increased heart problems, stroke, thyroid and adrenal troubles, challenges sleeping, alcohol/drug addiction, obesity. Truthfully, it's hard not to get affected. After all, life's often crazy and chaotic. It's easy to get sucked into it despite our best efforts.

I used to think, "when this is over (fill in the blank), everything will settle down and I can get on with my regularly scheduled life." That was my false belief for years. Until one day it suddenly dawned on me that what I was experiencing was life! Things are going along and then invariably, slam! Something happens - the water boiler explodes, a daughter gets stranded at the airport, the dog breaks his leg, Aunt Helen gets rushed to the hospital. Sound familiar? Of course because we all experience it every day; Life. Somehow the exciting events- the raise, the anniversary celebration, the new car,  never seem to undermine us, only the unexpected ones. So how do we take the upswings, the excitements, as well as the downturns in stride? Here are some ideas to help make life's unexpected ups and downs more accepting:

  1. Perpective /Gratitude - Some people say perspective helps. Perhaps another way to think about this is being grateful for what we have in life. "I have a warm bed. I live in a safe community, I have a solid job. I have a supportive spouse. I have a reliable car. I am healthy." When we focus on what we have in our lives, what is good, we can attract more of that to us. We can also feel lucky as so many people struggle to feed their families, to have a roof overhead. So when unexpected things do happen, we feel more of a cushion. It seems small compared to all the good we are experiencing.
  2. Breathing - Sometimes when I get really nervous or anxious, I stop breathing. The first time I noticed this was when I was in a crew regatta in high school. My boat was sitting under a bridge on the Stotesbury River in Philadelphia. It was the final heat and our coxswain was trying to get us in position, always a challenge with 8 oars. I was so scared I simply ceased breathing, the worse thing to do while exercising! Suddenly I realized, "I'm not breathing!!!" I then had to consciously think about it, "inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale." before I knew it the gun went off and we were rowing our guts out toward the finish line. Breathing is a great way to help the body relax. Anxiety causes us to create adrenalin and puts us on hyper alert: fight or flight. But most of the time we are not about to be attacked by a lion. Maybe we are stuck in traffic or have a term paper to complete in 10 hours. Breathing can help the body relax and help us to  step out of the freneticism caused by anxiety. It can clear the mind too to think more rationally so as not to just react to the current situation.  
  3. Positive Thinking & Affirmations - Many people wake up feeling anxious or dread. Every Monday for the last month or so, that's been me. As if the week is daunting and I think, "Gulp, here I go, into unknown territory. So much to do..." How do I manage those feelings? I talk to myself as Lousie Hay would say, "in kind and loving ways." I use affirmations to help manage my mind talk. I have a great CD of hers entitled "101 Power Thoughts." It's a little intense because she literally powers through this massive list of affirmations. A few years ago when I had a long commute, I would listen to it in the morning and it made a huge difference for my day. One that really stuck with me from those drives was when she says, "my thoughts are my best friends." And my mind responded, "really, since when?" Then I realized, why not? Why should our thoughts be our worst critics? Can't they be our best friends instead? Now when I find myself feeling afraid, feeling dread, I try to channel my inner cheerleader and remind myself that "only good lies before me" that "everything I do brings me joy" and it really helps.
  4. Meditation - Of course I also meditate which is my biggest savior. I started meditating in 1997 when a teacher/friend of mine said. "you need to meditate every morning." To which I replied, "I don't have time." She looked at me and said, "Make time." I am grateful to Lily Diamond for that because it has changed my experience of living. Sometimes I describe what meditation does for me as creating space around me so that I don't take the craziness of the world so seriously. Most of the time that works but I am human and sometimes life just seems to push me over the edge and I fall right into the chaos. Many Spiritual teachers talk about not getting sucked into the chaos of the world - the politics, the environmental degradation, the pain and suffering, our own personal challenges. And I think sometimes this can be misunderstood and interpreted as that they don't care, not true. I care deeply about the world so much so that the poverty, clear cuts, and violence I read about have often left me in a heap of tears. I have been physically affected by global tragedies but this response isn't helpful to me or the world. To "live in the world but not of it" allows me to operate from a place of compassion without physically taking on the pain. This is why I love meditation.    
  5. Exercise - Anxiety is felt in our minds and in our bodies. One of the best ways to manage it is to do physical exercise, particularly aerobic exercise. Not only does it help to clear the mind, it makes us feel physically better from the release of endorphins. Sometimes when I am really stressed, I go for a run and when I'm done, I feel like a different person!  

We all get to experience this world and we get to decide how that is. Are we going to allow the chaos to unseat us and fill our bodies and minds with anxiety? Or are we going to utilize tools to help us manage our lives and ultimately feel more in control? Of course the choice is up to us.