Mental illness is a difficult battle. With so much of the experience internalized by the individual suffering, it’s often forgotten that we fight off our intrusive thoughts and anxious behaviors every single day. While that may sound time consuming and exhausting (and it can be!), it can be beneficial to have an arsenal of tools to aid your battle. I have been fighting my anxiety for my entire life, but lately I’ve begun to beat my anxiety by identifying my most effective ways of attacking it.
I congratulate myself.
I have spent too much time waiting for others to acknowledge how much effort I put into the mundane details of each day. Got out of bed before noon? Good job! Made my own meals? Nice work! Called the doctor, even if it took two hours to gain the courage? You did it! I’ve learned to accept the responsibility of being my biggest cheerleader. It’s important to focus on the strength I see in myself; that confidence will help me much more than fretting over my weaknesses.
I challenge myself.
Anxiety can be seen as an obstacle, a nuisance, a bother, or it can be seen as a challenge. When we let our anxiety challenge us, we are fighting it. I’ve begun to challenge myself to three social outings a week. Usually I control these so that they are planned in advance and with companions that I trust, but it’s an extra challenge if I allow myself to accept impromptu invitations. Unplanned, unprepared events tend to trigger my anxiety – how long will it last? who will be there? is this a real invite or a joke? – and in the past, I would immediately decline and remain in the safety of my own bedroom. Now, I am stepping away from that, and the more I choose to battle with my anxious thoughts, the less frequently they intrude on my fun.
I talk about it.
Gone are the days that mental illness is seen as an embarrassing secret. Lately, with the help of positive social influences, this generation is erasing the stigmas associated with mental health by opening up about personal experiences with mental illness diagnosis, therapy, medication, and recovery. Before I met the role models that encouraged me to talk openly about my own anxiety, I held it in, and the pressure of keeping it all a secret only added to the overwhelming nature of my mental illness. Now that I can talk about it with nearly anyone, I know I can openly say, “hey, I need a break right now,” and having that valid escape available when I absolutely need it is a great cushion of protection as I challenge myself.
I monitor my thoughts.
A difficult part of mental illness is when we can recognize that our thoughts are disordered or illogical, but we cannot break out of that thought stream. By monitoring the way I’m thinking (especially through events that I already recognize as triggering), I can attack the intrusive thoughts the moment they begin. I may still have a consistent stream of anxious thoughts, but I can immediately label them and remind myself, “this is your anxiety talking,” so that I can continue on with the event.
Mental illness is extremely personal, and my most effective strategies may not be your most effective strategies. With time and attention, you’ll start to recognize the way you react to different methods of fighting your anxiety, and soon you’ll be able to identify the best options for you.