These tips will help you decrease your anxiety symptoms.
Many parts of bipolar disorder have gotten easier to manage with age.
For example, I learned to stop the unhealthy habit of self-harm years ago. By sticking to a treatment plan, my manic days rarely reach the dizzying highs, and my depression episodes are less soul crushing.
One thing, though, seems to get worse with each passing year: anxiety.
The COVID-19 pandemic made my anxiety much worse. I was already struggling with social activities, but then two years of isolation intensified my worst feelings. It didn’t help that little things, such as someone sneezing or coughing, were genuine reasons to be anxious.
In a recent reader survey, I asked respondents to identify their biggest struggle right now. Over half said it was anxiety. It shouldn’t surprise me because it’s my toughest struggle, too.
As I read the replies, it was clear I needed to write more about coping with anxiety. While a few stories mention my social anxiety, I still hide much of it, but these are stories you need to hear.
This post is a start. In the following paragraphs, you’ll read an overview of anxiety and coping strategies. In future posts, we’ll dive into each tool in greater detail.
First, let’s learn to identify your anxiety.
Identify Your Anxiety
I struggle with sharing my anxiety because it makes me feel weak. A nasty voice in my head berates me, saying I shouldn’t feel afraid to go to the store, be around friends, or drive my car. But many days, all of those things are true.
Just to be clear, anxiety has nothing to do with strength or weakness. The chorus in my head is lying, but it’s a trial we have to face.
According to WebMD, there are 10 types of anxiety. Let’s focus on two.
Social anxiety “is an intense, persistent fear of being watched and judged by others.” (NIMH) The fear makes it hard to be in public or around other people. Extreme cases can cause agoraphobia and make it impossible to leave home.
Everyone is discussing social anxiety now. One of the few positives to come out of the last few years is an increased understanding of social stress. Now, almost every person can relate to some extent.
For me, social anxiety starts screaming in my mind even from simple things like a text message. I have to prepare mentally for days in advance for any group function. Crowds may induce panic attacks. Invitations from friends may cause headaches, nausea, and dizziness.
Social anxiety can cause problems at work, make you feel like you can’t leave home, and strain relationships. I check all three boxes.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
I fight generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) every day. When you live with GAD, you often feel anxious for no reason. Anxiety can wake you up in the middle of the night and then make sleep impossible.
More serious than simple nerves, GAD can trigger an intense feeling of dread or a fight-or-flight response. GAD has sent me running from both parties and shopping centers.
While you may think you know what type of anxiety you have, you may need a medical professional for an accurate diagnosis and treatment. For me, medication is a must.
Once you identify your anxiety, it’s time to look at triggers.
Anxiety often has a trigger, but finding it can take some time. Simple things, such as a smell or sound, can trigger anxiety, especially if you also have PTSD.
To help minimize your stress levels, it’s essential to learn what triggers you. Both journaling and talk therapy are great ways to figure out what sets you off. It also helps to talk to loved ones and get their input. Often others can see things we missed.
When anxiety limits your daily life, it’s time to discuss it with your professional care team. You may need daily medication or a pill you can take when things get worse. Anxiety meds can be temporary, especially if your struggles are coming from a recent trauma.
Many learn to manage anxiety with talk or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). My therapist helped me identify triggers and toxic people in my life. Avoiding both reduced the amount of nervousness I felt.
A naturopath can also help you manage feelings of dread. Whatever avenue you choose, your goal should be to learn ways to better manage your mental health.
With a helpful guide, it’s time to set boundaries.
One of my toughest challenges is two tiny letters: N O. While I know I have to protect my energy levels, I struggle with saying no. Whether it’s a dinner invite or a movie night, saying no is never easy.
Proper boundaries are essential for managing bipolar anxiety. Whether it’s limiting the people in your life or the time with them, clear limits are vital. Setting boundaries includes knowing what places to avoid or what activities. While a drink might take the edge off, alcohol can make anxiety worse. You may also need to restrict the hours you spend away from home or the days you work.
The best tool for identifying boundaries and triggers is journaling.
There are many benefits to journaling. As you explore your thoughts and feelings on the page, you also learn to spot trends and the things that make you feel better.
Your journal is an excellent place to examine your anxiety because it’s a safe place. There are no rules and no judgements within its pages. It helps me to keep my journals to refer to later, but some people choose to destroy each entry after they write it. Again, no rules. You do what’s right for you.
The act of journaling is powerful for helping you see things in your life from a new direction.
Connecting with what’s happening in your body is crucial for managing bipolar anxiety. Another helpful tool is to practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness helps you reconnect with the world around you. By practicing mindfulness meditation, you connect with what’s going on in your body. During a session, you pay special attention to what each of your senses is telling you, consciously relax muscles while focusing on deep breathing.
What I love about mindfulness is you can do it anywhere, anytime. Even five minutes during the day can help you lower your anxiety. When I’m at home, I try to journal after practicing mindfulness. You’ll frequently feel more clear and centered right after. By writing in your journal, you can examine any thoughts and feelings that come up.
If you’re looking for a companion for mindfulness, consider aromatherapy.Start Today!
I’m going to fess up here. Although I know the benefits of the aromatherapy, I rarely use it. It’s not that I don’t feel better using essential oils, but I forget to get them out.
If you’ve never worked with essential oils, you may think the whole aromatherapy thing is a lot of hooey. I used to feel that way, but then I tried it. Using the right scents will completely change the way you feel.
While certain scents, such as lavender and sandalwood, are well known for their calming effects, you may find other oils work better for you. I let my body decide what it wants. In my bathroom, I keep a wooden box full of essential oils.
When I’ve been struggling for a while, I pull out the box. One by one, I take the cap off each bottle and take a sniff. After each inhale, I reflect on how I feel. You’ll quickly find some scents appeal to you right away while others you hurry to put down. I’ll take the two or three scents that I felt the strongest attachment to and put a drop or two of each in the diffuser.
Almost always, I feel more peace afterwards.
Exercise is one of those things you do on the better days to help you improve the worst days. Not only does exercise release endorphins, but it helps keep your heart healthy and improves your breathing.
I most enjoy walking because it gives me time to think without all the pain of running or weightlifting. Choose an exercise that’s right for you and your body. If it’s been a while since you last exercised, it’s good to talk to your doctor before you start.
Exercise is especially calming when you can do it outside.
Nature is my solitude. There’s nothing I like better than sitting in my backyard listening to the leaves rustle and the birds sing. However, nature isn’t calming to everyone. If you live in a city, you may have limited access to nature and then only in a part of the city that feels unsafe. It’s still good to get some time outside, even if it’s just sitting by an open window in your home.
Sunlight will warm your skin and calm your nerves. The sun not only gives you vitamin D, but it’s also a great way to practice mindfulness. As bask in the rays of the sun, think about it feels on your skin. Pay attention to any aromas in the air. How do they make you feel? Then close your eyes let your ears explore nature.
If possible, try to spend at least 15 minutes in the sun every day. Even a few minutes of fresh air will help you relax.
Nature and mindfulness have another friend: grounding.
There are two types of grounding. One involves connecting with earth’s elements by interacting with soil and water. The other is a way to come back from a panic attack. Let’s look at the second one.
Similar to mindfulness, grounding is about connecting to your surroundings. I find the 5-4-3-2-1 method most effective, especially when my anxiety is in high gear. It goes like this:
- Focus on taking slow, deep breaths.
- List five things you can see.
- List four things you can touch.
- List three sounds you can hear.
- List two scents you can smell.
- List one flavor you can taste.
By engaging all of your senses, you force your mind to slow down from the tornado spinning inside. It’s helpful to have a friend to guide you through this exercise and remind you of the steps.
The things you eat and drink also affect anxiety. Let’s talk about nutrition.
I once believed that what you ate or drank had nothing to do with your mental health, but my body proved me wrong. When I was learning to eat with gastroparesis (a partial paralysis of the stomach), there were days of drinking nothing but smoothies. Each drink was full of fresh fruit or vegetables. The lack of solid food made me feel hungry a lot, but my mind was clearer.
In time, I learned to add other foods back into my diet. Since I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, I also slipped back into eating junk food. Every time I slipped on gorged on potato chips or cookies, I felt terrible, both physically and mentally. When I switched back to smoothies, things improved.
Not only do caffeine and alcohol affect mental health, but so do processed foods and sugars. A diet rich in ultra-process foods can increase feelings of anxiety and depression.
Test yourself out and see how you do. Try watching what you eat for a week and pay attention to how you feel afterwards. The results may surprise you.
Anxiety is one of the toughest challenges people with bipolar disorder face. One post like this isn’t enough to change everything, but it’s a start. Pick any item from the list above and try it out for the next few days. Keep track of how you feel and see if there’s any improvement.
Never forget, you’re not alone in your fight against bipolar anxiety. The number of people suffering from anxious thoughts has never been higher. By using the tools listed above, you may find your anxiety easier to manage.
Until next time, keep fighting.