Over the past couple months I became increasingly anxious. I didn’t notice it at first, because for two weeks I was sick with strep throat. Those wonderful days, I paid much more attention to my body and mind than I do normally. After finally seeing a doctor for antibiotics, I began taking stock of myself. I could finally swallow without having to gargle salt, but I noticed that I still wasn’t recovering mentally. It’s scary to think that a simple sickness could cause lasting damage to the mind, but the reality is that what affects the body will always affect the mind. Exercise is possibly the best cure for depression, and allowing the body to wither is a surefire method of weakening the mind as well as the body.
Anxiety is weird. I know how to talk to people. I can read people pretty well, and these days I’m much better at interpreting subtext and body language than I was as a teenager. Despite the skills I’ve gained over the past couple years, I suddenly feel a knot in my gut whenever I must interact with people. I find myself spitting out whatever comes to mind. This afternoon I asked the same question twice in a row; this shit doesn’t happen to me! I’ve always been comfortable with silence, but now I find myself filled with a strange panic every time I try to communicate.
On a happier note, here’s how I’ve dealt with my anxiety:
I mentally take a step back, sucking in as much air as my lungs will hold and letting it out slow. I tell myself, “it’s OK to be silent. Shut your mouth, watch, and listen. Everyone else here is too worried about their own shit to care about how retarded you are.”
I actively remind myself to see things from others’ perspectives. I try to imagine how everything I know about that person’s life might be influencing him, and I connect that to the cues I’m seeing to get as full a picture of that person’s mind as possible. I try to find out about people as much as possible, because it will help me understand them. Everybody loves to talk either about themselves or about something their favorite thing, like cars or music.
Maybe you don’t feel anxious in social environments. Maybe you’re a social butterfly. Regardless, nearly everyone experiences a wide range of emotional ups and downs, and everybody can benefit from increasing emotional intelligence. I found this excellent chart a couple weeks ago that helps illustrate the subtle differences in our everyday emotions.
Can you recognize each of the feelings on this chart? Just knowing how to describe how you’re feeling, to yourself and others, can be a big help in beginning to feel better.
Some people take pharmaceutical drugs to relieve anxiety, but this is merely treating the symptoms of your problem. Anxiety medication alters the chemistry of your brain, which does help with symptoms, but taking the easy way out by altering natural brain chemistry deprives you of the solution to the underlying causes of your mental funk.
A better option than drugs is meditation. For those that aren’t familiar, meditation is essentially a formalized methodology of “taking deep breaths”. It’s much more complex than that, and you can read countless articles about it all over the Web. The short version: focus only on your breathing. When your mind strays, refocus your thoughts. Take long, measured breaths, and remain focused as long as possible without becoming distracted. It’s difficult, but it’s one of the most effective methods I’ve come across to help deal with anxiety as well as many other common issues.
Lastly, be aware of your thoughts. Try to think better. Try to think about what other people are thinking. Think about why you’re thinking what you’re thinking. Think about what might be making you think the way you do. Think about how you’d like to be thinking, and what might help you think that way. I think about thinking a lot, which is probably because I’m an emotionally retarded autistic guy. Or maybe I’m just smarter than you. Just kidding, you’re obviously smart because you’re reading my blog. I like you. Other people like you. Try to like yourself more than everybody else combined.