If you're one of the estimated 30% of Americans who suffers from anxiety, you know that the accompanied and often uncontrollable fear that goes hand-in-hand with anxiety is what seems to be steering your ship away from shore. And sometimes, it just feels best to hide below deck or try to outrun the fear. But if your body is the ship and your symptoms are the waves, you may know deep down that riding out the storm is the only possible option.
I am here to tell you that to face the fear is to find your lighthouse.
Anxiety is often described as the "fear of fear itself." You may worry, "I'm okay this time, but am I going to feel like this again tomorrow?" "What if my next panic attack is while I'm in class?" "Is the next one going to be even worse?"
These are all questions generated by fear, rather than the initial thought that may be causing the anxiety. And even if you cannot place the initial anxiety-provoking thought, focusing on the fear itself may offer some relief.
Address the storm ahead. As those first sneaking symptoms of anxiety begin to creep into your body, stop and process each and every one. "Okay, I'm starting to get that feeling in my stomach." Turn your attention to it and sit with this thought for a moment, rather than pushing it down deeper. If there's a possibility of someone hiding under the bed, how much better does it feel when you finally get up the courage to flick on the light and check? Sleep only returns when you have addressed the fear head-on, to see that nothing is really there. "I have this feeling in my stomach again, but it will go away...it always does. It's probably a 4 out of 10, and I've survived a 10 out of 10 before."
Learn to tread water. Let's look at the worst-case-scenario: You have a panic attack in public, or someone you're with realizes that you're struggling. Onlookers see you...and then they go about their day. Think of the last time you saw someone crying in public. Can't remember when it was, who they were, or the face they were making while sucking up air? Me either. We are all humans! By immediately going to your own worst-case-scenario, you beat "fear" there. Fear wants to tell you that having a visible panic attack will be the worst thing that could ever happen. Take a minute to tell fear that you know this is not the case.
Find your lifeline. Dealing with symptoms of anxiety often requires a strong inner dialogue, and it may not be the type you are used to. If your inner dialogue typically consists of, "Okay, here we go again...why do I have to feel like this today? Why can't I just be "normal?" Why did I wake up anxious, anyway? I went to bed last night feeling fantastic!" then you are letting the enemy take over. (That enemy? It's fear! In case you were wondering.) Develop a mantra and tell yourself the truth. The truth sounds something like this: "I'm anxious right now, but I might not be later. I'm about to get up, get dressed, and go to work, because I'm capable. This feeling is bad, but it does not define me, and it will not last forever."
Address the anxiety dead-on whenever you can. Be your own lighthouse. You know better than anyone the scope, symptoms, and solutions to your anxiety. Access them, examine them, and keep them close rather than bobbing in the distance. Own your fear, and then dive in.
I promise you'll know how to stay afloat.