How I Manage My Anxiety
Advice from a psychology major
This week, I wanted to do things a little differently and tap into the realm of mental health. At Taboo Topic, we talk a lot about the state of the world and the people living in it; and although this is interesting and the discourse on it is enriching, I have come to realize that ingesting too much of the internet (and especially people’s opinions) can be overwhelming. Often this comes in the form of anxiety, and as I know from personal experience, anxiety can be hard to shake.
We spoke last week about not making assumptions, and it got me thinking about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)—a technique used by psychologists to help treat anxiety, depression, and many other things by confronting the automatic assumptions we make, and replacing them with more realistic thoughts. It is an excellent tool for combatting the cognitions that may be leading to your anxiety, and you may find it brings you a measure of peace. It sure has for me! My goal with this article is to address some of the most helpful things I have found for managing my anxiety. These things may not work for you, but I am glad that I came across them, and if I can help someone else, that was my goal in studying psychology in the first place! So, without further ado, here are the things I have found to be genuinely and lastingly helpful in finding relief.
The easiest and most doable task I have found is to eat a high-protein breakfast. I am someone who loves to eat something light in the mornings, like oatmeal, as I am generally not very hungry when I awake. But I came across a video by Jordan Peterson once in which he mentioned that a great many of his clients saw a significant decrease in their anxiety when they started the day with a big, protein-rich meal. I had never heard this before, but decided to try it, and I immediately noticed that I felt much more internal calm when I began my days by swapping my oatmeal for eggs (or anything else like that). I would highly recommend this easy adjustment if you don’t do it already! Try it and see what happens. (On this note, I would also recommend not drinking coffee on an empty stomach!)
This next point is kind of counterintuitive, since I learned the previous tip from social media—but I would advise taking an occasional sabbatical from social media! I won’t belabor this too much, as I feel it is common knowledge; but I do personally find that I can get too wrapped up in constantly scrolling and ingesting information, and I have a much calmer mind when I can stay away for a week or two and recalibrate to a slower pace of thinking.
And now, for the pièce de résistance: CBT. I have had breathing difficulties the majority of my life, mostly brought on by asthma, but some seemingly coming out of nowhere. I had been to a few different specialists, and nobody could tell me what was happening until recently, when I saw a pulmonologist who suspected that a lot of it was coming from anxiety. He prescribed an inhaled steroid to manage my mild asthma, and a book—The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns. The book is very thick, but is essentially a step-by-step guide to CBT, written by a renowned psychiatrist. I began reading it and doing the exercises shortly afterward, and have seen a lot of benefits from it! Very quickly my mind and body was much more calm; and I have noticed that since I have taken a break from it for a while, I have become quite a bit more anxious again and my breathing difficulties have returned. As the pulmonologist told me—I have a B.S. in Psychology, so I’m going to need to start performing some CBT on myself!
CBT works by writing down an issue you are bothered by, and then investigating the automatic thoughts you have about it. For example, say I was upset because “my husband asked me what side dish we will be having with our dinner.” Some of my automatic thoughts might be:
He thinks that since I’m the wife, I should already have dinner planned
He is insinuating that I should be getting the sides together by now
You can see how these would be upsetting, and how they seem quite rational in the moment. However, the next step of CBT is identifying the distortions in your automatic thoughts—and it is important to write all of down. The book includes a list and description of common cognitive distortions, but the one that is most easy to point out from my above assumptions is that I am “mind reading”—assuming what my husband was thinking. I cannot know what was going through his head, because he has not told me (and I have not asked).
Once you have identified the distortions in your thinking, the next job is to replace these automatic thoughts with more realistic takeaways. For example, an easy reframe of my thoughts might be:
Perhaps he was simply wondering if I had something in mind for the sides, and didn’t mean anything more by it
You can see how this gives him the benefit of the doubt; and even if it is not true, I can have more peace internally than if I were to continue believing the original thoughts. Our automatic thoughts can seem so reliable to us, because they come from what we have gathered from the world and learned to operate by. But when we see them on paper and are able to form more realistic evaluations of a situation, it can really help to temper a strong reaction and bring more ease to communication—and to your mind and heart. This is the most powerful tool I have found for dealing with anxiety to this point, and I would highly recommend giving it a try if you think you could stand to benefit from it!
Mental health can be a taboo topic of its own, as people have so many varying ideas of its importance and how it should be handled. From my perspective, as someone who has struggled with several facets of it and who has an education in psychology, I know the struggle is real, and I hope to be able to help those who may be seeking for answers just as I am. I hope these tips are helpful to you, and that you begin to find peace within yourself and with others!