Worry, fear, anxiety–a choking sense of doom comes out of nowhere and a dark cloud descends on my mind. Anxiety is the icy fingers of dread resting on my shoulder. It is manifested in the way I snap at my loved ones for no apparent reason. It is embodied by the swirling cycle of “what if’s” fueling my insomnia. Anxiety is the physical symptoms of gastrointestinal discomfort, sweating, fatigue, and muscle tension. It is a constant thief of joy and destroyer of peace. However, it doesn’t have to be. There is hope. There are many anxiety coping strategies that you can learn.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is defined as “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill . . .” (Merriam-Webster). Of course, we all feel anxiety from time to time for many reasons. It is very normal, ESPECIALLY for moms. According to NIMH (that National Institute of Mental Health), “anxiety disorders involve more than temporary worry or fear . . . the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time [and] symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work, and relationships.”
Anxiety disorders can take different forms: Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Panic Disorder, Specific Phobias, Social Anxiety Disorder, Agoraphobia, and Postpartum Anxiety (PPA–Postpartum Depression’s lesser-known twin). The symptoms vary widely depending on the person and type of disorder, thus the treatments and coping strategies will vary as well.
Symptoms of Anxiety
There are many symptoms of anxiety, and they aren’t always what you expect. Everyone has experienced fear, doubt, worry, and anxiety at one time or another. Moms–new moms especially–worry about their children, whether or not they are “good” moms, etc. Fear is a normal and healthy emotion when your fears are legitimate and manageable. For example, you worry about something bad happening to your child so you take reasonable and necessary precautions like baby-proofing your house, having a good car seat properly installed, and using a baby monitor.
However, if you are experiencing abnormal or pervasive worry and fear (specific or general) that interferes with your daily life, health, and well-being, you may be experiencing something more serious. Symptoms of anxiety can include a feeling of dread, pervasive worrying, intrusive thoughts, compulsions, irritability, fatigue, restlessness, rumination (obsessive thought cycles), sweating, rapid heartbeat, hyperventilating, trouble sleeping, and gastrointestinal issues, among others.
As long as I can remember I have been a “worrier.” At various times in my life, my anxiety has prevented me from doing things I wanted to, developed into depression, and caused MANY sleepless nights. Anxiety is overwhelming and debilitating, below is a list of ways to cope with and manage anxiety. Remember, no one anxiety treatment or coping strategy is right for everybody. Find what works for you!
I am NOT a medical or mental health professional. I always recommend consulting with and undergoing treatment by a professional. None of the coping strategies I share should be used in place of professional medical or mental health care. None of these suggestions are meant to be a cure-all, some may work for you and some may not. These coping strategies are based on my own experiences, the experiences of friends and loved ones, the advice of mental health professionals, and my own research.
5 Coping Strategies for Dealing with Anxiety
1. Seek Professional Help
First and foremost, if you are suffering from anxiety seek the care of a medical or mental health professional. ONLY trained professionals can properly diagnose and treat anxiety disorders. The recommended treatment may include medication and will most likely include counseling or therapeutic exercises.
Medication may or may not be right for each individual, but personally, I highly recommend counseling for anyone experiencing chronic anxiety. Anxiety, along with other mental health issues, often carries a certain stigma and can be difficult to talk about with family and friends. Although well-meaning, family and friends may not offer the best advice because they are not properly trained and they may simply not understand what you are going through. Counseling, however, is a judgment-free zone where you can express your concerns to someone who can help you feel a little less crazy and give you real and practical coping strategies for your anxiety.
2. Meditate on Scripture
As a Christian, I have often felt guilt over my doubts, fears, and insecurities. After all, if I am confident in my salvation in Christ, what do I have to fear? If I truly trust that God has a plan and He is in control, why should I be anxious? Well, depending on how you consider it, the words “fear not” or their equivalent (“do not be afraid”) appear as many as 365 times in the Bible. Coincidence? I think not. God recognizes that doubt, worry, fear, and anxiety are part of human nature.
Besides the passages that expressly tell God’s people to “fear not,” there are many other verses that remind us of God’s mercy and love. These scriptures exhort us to courage and promise our ultimate deliverance. I have found meditating on these passages–and memorizing them to be the most beneficial practice when it comes to coping with anxiety. After all, if God is for us, who can be against us?
I believe so strongly in this particular anxiety coping strategy, that I have compiled 52 weekly verses regarding fear and anxiety. If you would like a weekly Scripture for Anxiety Postcard emailed to you, subscribe here.
3. Engage Your Whole Self
There are many psychosomatic, physical manifestations of anxiety, so it makes sense to engage the whole body. Some obvious things are to make sure that you are eating a healthy diet, staying hydrated, getting enough sleep (if you can), and exercise.
Exercise is so important! I don’t really enjoy exercise much for its own sake. Nevertheless, I do recognize its importance as a strategy for coping with stress and anxiety. When you exercise your body releases endorphins, the “feel good” chemicals, in your brain. Exercise can improve your mood and help you sleep better as well. Find some type of physical activity–hiking, walking, swimming, running, team sports–that you enjoy, and then do it regularly.
When it comes to diet and anxiety, I find that I feel best when I eat a healthy, well-balanced diet. Some people swear by eliminating certain foods like gluten or sugar. Personally, the only dietary restriction I impose on myself to help with anxiety is caffeine. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE me some coffee. I’m pretty sure that there is more coffee than actual blood in my veins. However, at certain points in my life, I have reduced my caffeine consumption in order to decrease my anxiety.
There are many other physical and mental activities you can engage in to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. These may include mindfulness techniques, deep breathing exercises, stretching, and other activities to reduce muscle tension. You can also get a manicure, pedicure or massage! The point is to find a variety of coping strategies that work with different aspects of your physical and mental being to help you manage your anxiety.
4. Recognize Your Triggers
This is a tricky one. I am not advocating for avoidance. This is tough to say without feeling hypocritical because I OFTEN struggle to follow my own advice. Avoidance is when you stay away from certain situations or triggers to prevent feelings of anxiety. Avoidance is not a healthy anxiety coping strategy. It is often detrimental and may cause you to miss out on social functions, career opportunities, travel, relationships, and a host of other things. If we spend all our time avoiding situations that make us fearful, we are allowing anxiety to rob us of our joy.
That being said, there are some things that it may be wise to avoid, at least until you are in control of your anxiety. For example, if reading horrible news stories puts you into a panic of impending doom and endless “what if’s,” perhaps you should avoid it. Or, at least scroll past the worst stories until you are in a better place emotionally. If you have a certain friend who always provokes negative thoughts and increases your anxiety, perhaps it is time to reconsider that relationship.
You should not and will not always be able to avoid people situations that provoke anxiety. When you know that you will be faced with an event, situation, or person that makes you anxious, have a plan of action. For example, if you struggle with anxiety at large social functions, attend the gathering with a supportive friend or family member. If you are anxious when traveling, schedule a massage before your next trip. It is important to know yourself–what triggers your anxiety and what calms you.
5. Be the Calm
There are many soothing routines you can set up in your day-to-day life in order to help manage your anxiety. Many of these routines are simply what most people term “self-care.” Maybe you best unwind when you have time for a hot bubble bath. Perhaps you thrive on morning quiet time for reading scripture. Or, possibly you like to relax with a cup of herbal tea. Find what works for you and do it regularly.
Creating a generally calming environment is also important, and can be as simple as using an essential oil diffuser. I’m all about the lavender! For some people, they feel calmer when their home is organized and clean. There is a lot of psychology behind how people respond to different colors. Some colors evoke feelings of serenity, peace, and calm, possibly use some of those colors to decorate your home.
Don’t Give Up
As I said before none of these coping strategies are guaranteed. Every single one of these approaches requires time and consistency to be effective. It can be very discouraging and terrifying when you are in the throes of fear and anxiety. But know this, there is hope. There is light at the end of the tunnel. Your anxiety may never be totally “cured.” More than likely it will wax and wane throughout your life, but it will not always feel as intense. Keep praying, keep trusting, keep fighting. Keep practicing the anxiety coping strategies that work for you.