I've always been a perfectionist, since I was little, and as an adult that's manifested in pretty serious anxiety spirals. I'll start thinking about something I did wrong (or something I could do wrong) and I'll get stuck on it. I'll loop and loop and loop and loop until the feelings build into a full-blown anxiety attack, which usually looks like me sobbing until I can't breath.
Yeah, it sucks. A lot. But over the past year or so, I've had a lot fewer of those anxiety attacks. That's partly because I made a really big life change this year. After five and a half years of traveling the world and moving to a new country every three to nine months, my boyfriend and I signed a year-long lease in San Francisco. We plan on being here for a while and I'm sure that the sense of stability and safety that gives me is a major reason I've had a reduction in anxiety attacks.
I've also changed some habits that I realized were making things worse. When I was traveling, I got out of the practice of making art with my hands. Sure, I'm creative all day with my writing, but there's something different about actually creating something physical. I've come to realize that if I have a sewing or embroidery project to think about, that part of my brain that finds problems and latches onto them focuses instead of creative problem solving. Which fabric will I use? How should I do those stitches? What's the color story? Those questions fill the space where What if I'm making the wrong choice? How could I have been so careless? and What does that mean? usually hang out. I've also been better about speaking my anxieties out loud, which is a tactic suggested by Dr. Jennifer Gentile, PsyD., a psychologist who treats patients via telehealth app, LiveHealth Online.
"Keeping your worries to yourself can make anxiety worse," Dr .Gentile tells Bustle. "This can result in isolation, the feeling that no one understands and can reduce your ability to take perspective. Oftentimes a simple conversation with another person can help you feel like you are not alone. It can help you gain perspective that others have experienced this and you may learn other ways to handle the situation you may be worrying about. Talking with someone can also help you to get out your thoughts in an organized way, which may result in you thinking differently about your worries."
So that's what works for me. But everyone has their own anxiety triggers. Here are seven people talking about the habits they realized were making their anxiety worse.
"I kept getting stomach aches and I couldn't figure out why... I decided to do a food journal to see if there was something in my diet causing my GI issues. I quickly discovered that my diet was filled with processed food and items that were high in sugar content, despite the fact that they were not actually sweet. I was buying things that said 'vegan' or 'gluten-free' or some other buzzword without actually reading the ingredients/label. I quickly began to cut out all the processed food and switched to a diet similar to the Whole30, before that was a thing. I not only noticed that my stomach pain was gone but that my anxiety levels had decreased. I began to notice if I ate certain foods, mainly things high in sugar/dessert, my anxiety would increase. This was also the case if I took weeks off from the gym. When I start to neglect my self-care, my anxiety levels severely increase."
"I get scared of everything and have gotten to the point where I can't even leave the house for months. Some days it's hard to look people in the eye and I have to practice by going to gas stations or grocery shopping. Otherwise it gets harder every day and I'll have more physical symptoms that make it harder like shaking, vomiting, and headaches. I also avoid things like opening mail because it makes me anxious and that creates financial issues when bills or information about appointments goes unread for over a year. I also get anxious when driving, so sometimes it takes all my energy to get to a place so I only stay for a few minutes for fear of the energy it will take to get home. It got to the point last winter where I couldn't hold a job... It was very shameful for me.
It's been a pretty intense fight to get to a point where I'm comfortable again. It's still an on going problem but I'm managing it better now. I've had a lot of amazing people. help me take care of myself and help me be patient with myself."
"I’m an introvert so I’m drawn to periods of time alone, but I began to notice that if I spend too much time alone, it’ll trigger anxiety and depression. When I’m in that state, I’m even more reluctant to be around people, so it snowballs. It keeps me trapped in my own thoughts, with nowhere for that energy to go. Being around others when I’m experiencing anxiety isn’t necessarily easy, but I’ve learned it provides the opportunity to safely transfer some of that energy and most importantly, receive support and at the very least, gives me the sense that I'm not alone, even if it’s amongst strangers in a coffee shop. Now, I’m hyperaware of when I’ve reached maximum introvert time and when I need to go and be around others. This goes for community as well. Having a support system and being a part of community is the most important tool for anyone with anxiety.
Alcohol and sugar are two others. I’m not talking about the occasional glass of wine or treat, but if I overdo it with the amount I know I can handle, my blood sugar gets wonky and instantly affects my mental health. I tested this out through elimination after noticing heart palpitations and panicky feelings, and noticed that without these frenemies, my anxiety doesn’t come to visit on a weekly basis anymore (i.e., after party weekends)."
"Overworking and forgetting about self-care has been a ‘normal’ pattern from an early age. It was time to success and be efficient. Going two days without enough sleep and overworking myself, my heart starts to race and anxieties arise. Lack of self-care, becomes a downward spiral, needing caffeine to stay awake to produce, speeding up my heart rate and my anxiety."
"Realizing I was getting attached too much to something. An idea, an outcome, a direction; something that could've happened, but didn't. The last one is the major one that would set off these spirals, which were anxiety-based and I couldn't do anything but obsess about them. Eventually, I realized I just had to let those spirals run, and learned to not get attached to those.
So, basically, non-attachment helps me mostly to work through anxiety, but it is definitely a card cultivation in itself. And it also let me know about my self awareness habits. Being connected to the idea or thing made me lose the anxiety about this 'invisible' past or future thing that I wanted to happen, and since it was invisible, it couldn't be really 'solved' in any way because I was making it up. That is where the just 'letting it be' until it dissipates habit came up for me."
"Any anxious feelings I have usually stem from work and a fear of failure. What makes it worse for me is defining myself by my 'successfulness,' which is total [BS] but I find that anxiety thrives on self-doubt."
"I’ve found my anxiety live in the mind space of who I’m supposed to be, rather than who I am. Which is tricky because we all have goals we want to achieve right? We all have wants and desires. I’ve found my anxiety spikes when I attach too heavily to the future. Like — I’m cool now and I want to learn, see, invest in these things — but also, I’m super cool now."
If you're struggling with anxiety, it can be hard to work your way out of it on your own, although certainly not impossible. If you feel like you can't do it alone, consider setting up an appointment with a therapist. They'll be able to help you identify your triggers and create new habits that will help keep those negative thoughts down.