Last week, I wrote about generalized anxiety disorder--excessive, ongoing anxiety and worry that interfere with day-to-day activities. This malaise has plagued many of the people around me—my friends, coworkers, students, fellow yoga instructors and church members—for the last three months especially since Inauguration Day. The heightened anxiety perhaps feels even more pronounced, because we live, work and try to enjoy life in the nation’s capital. We can’t ever seem to escape political news and its ramifications.
In my last post, I shared four strategies for dealing with generalized anxiety disorder, including:
Today, I want to share a few more strategies, including ways to move forward and take action.
5. Practice Self-Care: On airplanes, the flight attendants always remind caregivers to put on their oxygen masks first before helping their loved ones. We are no good to our friends, family, communities, and country if we are worn out and overwhelmed. Self-care includes getting adequate sleep (7-8 hours a night), moving your body vigorously several days a week, and eating healthy, whole foods (this is not the time to overdose on processed crap).
Spending time with loved ones is another crucial component of self-care. We all need time with our tribe to encourage us and give us the motivation to keep on keeping on. You can find your tribe at the gym, your yoga studio, church, community group, sorority, or simply among family and friends. It helps to have more than one source of support in your network, so that you have multiple options in times of need.
If you want to elevate your self-care routines, give meditation a try. The daily practice of stillness and acceptance will go a long way to improving your mindset.
Finally, find ways to nourish your soul. I am a firm believer in artist dates. Every week I find some way to spend at least an hour enjoying art, cultural activities, or sipping on a mug of chai tea in a pretty tea shop.
6. Practice Gratitude: Find at least three things each day for which you are grateful. Write them down in a special gratitude journal every night before you go to bed. Watch to see how your mood and mindset begins to shift after only a few weeks.
I am a notorious pessimist. Last January I decided to begin a gratitude practice. My timing could not have been better. The first three months of my daily gratitude practice prepared me to deal with the worst thing in my life—the death of my beloved godmother Annie. I still miss her every day, but I was able to walk through my grief without despairing of life. I wouldn’t have been able to do that without finding reasons to be grateful in the midst of the loss.
7. Talk It Out: Sometimes the thoughts are too overwhelming, or you struggle to gain perspective. Other times, the amount of negative outweighs the positive. In those cases, it really helps to share what you are thinking and feeling with another. I am grateful for the friendships I have formed in DC. When I got some really bad news last week, I reached out to three of my closest friends. They couldn’t change the circumstances, but they reminded me how awesome I am and how incredibly loved. That helped.
If talking to your friends is not enough, or you are afraid of wearing them out, you may need to talk with a professional. I started seeing a therapist in 1999. That was the year when I first remembered the sexual abuse that I had experienced as a child. For weeks, I would cry in the therapist’s office as the memories began to return and overwhelm me. At that point, therapy provided what I needed most—a safe space to remember and process events that I had blocked out for almost 20 years.
8. Take the Pill: If your therapist refers you to a psychiatrist, who recommends medication, just take the pill. Don’t worry about what it means. Don’t worry about becoming reliant on it. Don’t try to tough it out. Don’t be afraid what others may think of you. We don’t shame breast cancer patients or those dealing with cardiac issues about seeking treatment and following medicine-based protocols. We shouldn’t shame people with mental health concerns who need medication to manage them.
Take the pill, and be patient. It probably will take a month or two to work its way through your system and get things stabilized. While you are waiting, keep practicing numbers 1-7 above. Your support network is most crucial at this time.
When the meds finally begins to work, and you start to feel better, you will wonder how you survived so long in such misery. You also will be very grateful you decided to take the pill.
9. Things to Avoid: Try not to wallow in your feelings of despair. Talk about them. Distract yourself with pleasant activities. Just don’t wallow.
This may be a great time to take a break from social media. For the last month or so, my Facebook timeline has been one political or news post after another about all the bad that is going on and people’s prognostications about the worse things that may happen in the future. Reading all that stuff can make the anxiety worse. I’ve done weeklong digital detoxes with a group of friends that have been refreshing. This year, I have been picking one day a week to stay off all social media. Usually I turn it off at 8am and back on at 8pm. Even 12 hours without Facebook, Instagram and Twitter makes a huge difference in my mood, and gives me time to do better and more productive things with my time (like hang with friends or go to museums).
Finally, do not isolate yourself. When we are feeling sad and worried, we usually also lack motivation and energy. It is easiest to come home from work, eat, drink and veg in front of the television. It is okay to do that one or two days a week, but it cannot be an everyday occurrence. Get out. Spend time with your tribe. Work out. Take a yoga class. Go for a walk at lunch.
10. Take Action: If you are feeling anxious about our government and its policies, you can do something about them. You can resist. How?
I suggest picking the one issue that matters most to you. There are thousands of things to protest and with which to find disagreement. You will burn yourself out trying to fight them all, so just pick one. Education is always at the top of my list of priorities. Women’s issues, especially those affecting women of color, are a close second.
Once you settle on your issue, find a group of like-minded people. Last week, I attended an activist training session at the National Women’s Democratic Club. In the future, I intend to go back to attend more meetings, trainings, volunteer opportunities and strategy sessions. I also will probably march, and reach out to my members of Congress.
None of us can do it all. So, don’t even bother. Just pick your issue, and the best way to engage with it. Then, you can start taking concrete steps in the right direction.
Here’s the bottom line: Life sucks sometimes. Our fears and worries can overwhelm at others. All this is normal. Pollyanna happiness is abnormal. Be honest with yourself and those around you about how you are feeling. If you can barely function and perform your normal, everyday activities, seek professional help. Try not to wallow in the despair, find your tribe, and get busy. Together, we are infinitely more powerful than we can even imagine.
Crystal Moore began her wellness quest in 2003 after being diagnosed with lupus. Her quest has led her to embrace yoga, faith, exercise, healthy eating, and relationships. Share her journey.