I’m calling this a personal guide because anxiety manifests differently in all of us. There is no one answer, no one solution and I am nowhere near the end of my journey, nowhere near ready to look back and say “here, this is how I did it.” I’m beginning to think I might never be, that this is not a cold or a phase, that in battling anxiety and panic attacks, I shouldn’t focus on the unattainable goal of getting well, but on managing anxiety.
And because these insights are rare and far in between, it’s good to talk about them when they come.
Part One: Preparation
1. Listen to yourself
For me, no strategy always works. There are days, especially for small errands, where planning makes it so much harder than it has to be and I rely on finding a strong moment where I surprise myself and just leave the house in whatever I was wearing, however I look, just to get it done and not freak myself out about it unnecessarily. On other days, and especially when it’s something longer, an appointment, work etc. planning has its advantages. Do what feels right in the moment. And when you have a day where you feel fragile and frayed, don’t force things that you could do the next day just as easily.
2. Try to get enough sleep
This sounds obvious and also not all that helpful. If you are like me, anxiety and sleep don’t really go together. I can lie in bed until 5 in the morning and feel almost electrically charged. But it’s still important. For me, that means, for example, not to schedule high anxiety situations too early in the morning. If I have a dentist appointment at 8, I will stand in front of my door half an hour’s bad sleep and I capitulate. If it’s scheduled for 11 or 12, I do fall asleep eventually, and at least have a couple of hours. This fortifies me for the high anxiety situation.
3. Make sure you have your own coping aids at hand
For me, that basically means make sure phone/mp3 player and kindle are charged and that I have functioning headphones. But it can be other things… 🙂
4. Choose clothes carefully
Go high on comfort. Wear something that you can move in without fidgeting, something that doesn’t ride up or droop down, something that doesn’t make you want to hide your problem areas, something that doesn’t constrict movement or breathing and something you won’t sweat in. The best clothes for leaving the house are clothes you can forget you are wearing. One less thing to worry about. For me that also means flats, but if heels give you confidence, then heels are better for you.
Also, make sure to bring things that make you feel safe and protected. For me that is a wide, broad shawl I can wrap around myself. It just gives me an extra layer of protection. Sunshades can be good too, hats if you’re a hat-wearer :).
Part 2: The Dreaded Outside
The crucial thing for me is having music to listen to. Not only do the headphones build a kind of sound barrier to the noise outside, having good music to listen to can make you feel like you’re not really part of what’s going on, you’re in your own world and it’s easier to blend out the rest.
I choose music that makes me happy, that makes me feel open to the world because it has to be a nice world when there are people who make and love such music in it. There is a place for angry music, to let those feelings out but for me that is for home or really, really bad days.
Walk with the rhythm of the music, let it buoy you up, allow it to make you happy. And, if that’s not too weird, turn it really loud when you are in high pressure places like public transportation and see the people as a movie montage or music video that is happening all around you. Makes them less scary.
Now, I’m a feminist and I get a little prickly when people tell women to smile – especially greasy guys on the underground. However, smile anyway. Not only does it help to improve your outlook, it also makes people less likely to look at you strangely or do any of the things that get under your skin. Smiling can be a shield, it can turn their bad moods around and away from you.
Plus, give to get, you know? You don’t know what kind of days or issues the people around you have. Maybe they are just as uncomfortable being outside as you are, and a smile makes everything less threatening.
3. Find nice things
Music helps in this for some reason, as though when you see the world around you as a music video, you see things that suit the theme and you see them in a different way. Like two almost scary looking punk guys with spiked dog collars and black clothes walked past me today and then they suddenly interlaced their fingers, held hands as they kept walking. That just made me happy. So whatever it is, babies, dogs, people who like each other, find them and concentrate on those things.
4. Harness the lightning
Or something like that ;). Let the weather around you buoy you up. The earth, the sun, our atmosphere has so much spare energy that’s right there. Soak up the sun or if, like me, sunshine isn’t your thing, breathe in the wind, even the rain. On my way back home it was pouring outside and I got wet all the way down to my underwear – but it was nice. I tried to look at the rain and the rumbling thunder as something that I draw from, something that could fortify me and it did, it felt good.