If you are anything like me, making a phone call might seem like the biggest task you’ve ever had to do. There are moments where we wish we could disappear from the face of earth. How nice would it feel for thin air to take over our place so that we become invisible! That is how I feel multiple times a week.
I am anxious about almost everything. Sometimes the anxiety is under my control so that I can do my tasks with little interference. Other times, I am anxiety itself. It feels like there is no other existence for me other than the debilitating fear. During such situations, I imagine all the worst case scenarios, I feel like my heart is running on high speed far away from my body, I feel worthless and incapable and I cry fearing the dreadful outcome of my situation. In that moment I truly believe that I am going to be humiliated, I am going to fail, I am going to receive the worst possible news, and so many other horrible situations are going to happen to me. How to escape such phantoms of the mind? It’s very easy. I don’t do the task. Is it a blood test my doctor wants me to take? What if I have cancer? I’d rather not take the test. You can already imagine how I function (or fail to function). I avoid tasks because I tell myself that the worst possible outcome is going to dawn on me. In order to protect myself from that outcome, I don’t do the task at all. Added to this my body gives me aches, a racing heart, dizziness, breathlessness, and a number of other physical symptoms. Who wouldn’t like to wrap themselves in a blanket and pretend that they don’t exist during such a situation? I might disappear but that doesn’t mean my deadlines, responsibilities and work disappear. Here is what I do to cope with such an anxious state.
How to deal with anxiety?
There are plenty of resources online on how to cope with anxiety. This ranges from guided meditation to physical exercise to different relaxation techniques. While all of them might not work, few of them are legit. Exercise for example greatly helps in calming you down. There are umpteen numbers of steps and tricks that people talk about. You have to try what works best for you. But these are not the kind of coping mechanisms I am going to talk about. These are long term projects that you have to follow with commitment and dedication to see some progress in your general mood. I am talking about the kind of things one can easily do at the time of a panic attack. At a time where you feel helpless and restless and cannot possibly try to relax by any means possible, what do you do? At that moment when you have a huge task in hand but you cannot think of moving your limbs to do it, what do you do? I am going to try and explain what I do in such moments, and I hope it possibly helps you too.
- Divide the task into tiny pieces. If the pieces are too large, break them down further.
One morning, I woke up with a dreadful fear that I have to write an exam. I slept very late because I studied for my exam the whole night. Yet, my anxious mind felt like I wasn’t well prepared. So I wanted to skip the exam. This was a semester end exam and if I skip it, it technically means that I have failed the course. But I had no space for rational thinking at that time. I felt it was better that I skip the exam and I did. I failed the course.
Three months later, I had to rewrite the exam. It was a dreadful feeling to be writing a re-test. I was sad that I made a terrible decision. Because of this depressed state, I failed to prepare well for the exam. I still remembered the things I studied long ago so I was able to write something on the paper. I passed the course with a good score. This event made me question my anxiety ridden decisions. If I could pass the exam without studying, why did my brain convince me long ago that I was going to fail? I realised that the anxious mind lies to you to escape a situation. And oftentimes, once you escape the task only keeps getting harder. This is why I decided to keep doing things despite the anxious liar in my head. This is what I do. For example, I have to make a phone call. I split the steps like this:
1.Pick up phone 2. Dial the number 3.Take a deep breath 4. Talk 5. End the call
So a simple task as making a phone call seems humongous. I try to motivate myself by telling myself I have finished two steps, only 4 more to go. That way it is like a game and I am focussed only on the task instead of worrying about the results.
2. Write down or imagine two possibilities: The best and The Worst case scenarios.
I read somewhere that people who are anxious only tend to think of the worst possible outcome. But what if the thing you are going to do, is the best decision you have ever made? What about positive outcomes? We fail to think about them.
Recently, I had to get a serious medical test done. It was a test to determine if I have any severe illness. My anxious mind didn’t want to get this test done. It kept telling me that it could be cancer and I was going to die. Rationally I knew that I have to take the test. Emotionally I was a mess. So I did some research and found out what this test is usually done for. There was a spectrum of illnesses that this test could detect. So I graded them based on their severity. Best case scenario: Bacterial Infection, Worst case scenario: Cancer. I am not telling that one should think about only positive things. That is unrealistic. Bad things do happen and it is okay to dwell on them. But do so with the thought that good things might also happen. With this thought of knowing both the best and worst case scenarios, I was more prepared and relaxed to get the test done. I was able to accept that anything might be the case, but I am not in the dark. I know the worst possible case and I also have ideas how to work it out if that ever happens. This helps me in doing the task instead of evading it.
3. Rephrase your sentences.
Most of the things we are supposed to do are tied to hard bound rules. We all know that a healthy breakfast is good for our body. But we still skip it sometimes for several reasons. When we do something that is so against popular wisdom, our mind starts yelling at us. “I shouldn’t have done that. I am irresponsible. I should eat and sleep well!” This kind of should statements sets up an expectation in our head. We set hard bound rules for ourselves and chastise ourselves when we fail to follow them. No wonder we feel anxious when there is so much force within our own mind. A good trick that I follow is that I try to question my should statements. I try to find the rational reason behind them .For example, why should I eat a healthy diet? Because it will help me in keeping my body fit so that I can continue to do the things I love. In that case, I rephrase my sentence into something like this: “I want to eat healthy so that I can have a good life.” Such a statement isn’t an expectation. It doesn’t drive you into guilt when you fail a couple of times. Instead it is a wish. It is a true need you have. Once you know your true intentions and meaning behind doing a certain action it becomes much simpler.
4. Try the Pomodoro technique.
Sometimes nothing works. What happens when you try everything and you are still anxious? Does that make your deadlines vanish? No. Your responsibilities still stay even if you are not in the mood to take them up. In that case there is nothing else to do other than jump into the task. When I am anxious, I won’t be able to give my full attention to the task. If I am studying, I keep checking my phone, keep taking bathroom breaks or eat snacks. I just do everything to procrastinate and keep myself distracted. This leads to poor productivity. I recently discovered the Pomodoro technique and it works surprisingly well for me. This technique consists of dividing your time into short sessions of work followed by a break. A usual cycle looks like this : 30mins work + 5 mins break. The cycle continues and after every four cycles, there is a longer break of 15 mins. The idea is that you give your undivided attention to whatever you are doing for a short span of 30 mins. That doesn’t seem so hard right? This technique is particularly helpful for me because it helps me realise what I have been dreading to do for so long isn’t actually that hard after all. Because once I start doing something, I am able to see it for what it actually is — it isn’t a monumental task that I can never do rather it is a difficult task that I have the skill and time to work on. Also 30 mins isn’t a very long time to stay away from my phone or stop myself from daydreaming, both of which I can do on my break time. It’s a win win!
I have to end by saying that all the above methods work for me. It might not work for you. There is no need to feel anxious if you cannot do any of them. These are just tricks that I use. You might have your own set of methods. The most effective method to help with your anxiety is to healthily deal with your psychological issues through the help of a professional.