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Monday, June 29, 2015

Taking Control of Happiness: 10 Ways to Dig Yourself Out of the Anxiety Cycle

It's true guys, I have a little bit of an anxiety problem.
It hasn't always been this way, for most of my life I've been busy and comfortable and excited about the future.
However, after graduating college I found myself with a lot of free time and very few goals for my future.
For the first time in my life I didn't have a plan for what I would be doing for the next four years and I ended up isolating myself from things that I enjoyed. 
Sometimes I would even awake in the middle of the night with a racing heart and a sense of hopelessness.
And when I'm stuck in this funk I don't quite know how to handle life. I start handing out my stress to everyone that passes by, hoping that someone else will be able to give good enough advice that it will change my cyclical thought patterns. 
And most often, whoever I'm in a relationship with gets the brunt of the blame. 
The problem with living in my little sphere of anxiety determinism is that it means my feelings are completely in the hands of others. 
My agency, my ability to choose happiness disappears when I give others the power to guide my emotions.
 Now don't take this the wrong way, I'm  not saying that anxiety or depression, (or any mental illness) can be wished away, or that everyone can simply change. But what I am saying is that when we take control of our emotions and thought patterns then we can at least make a space for change to happen.
 We've all heard that we need to work on the things we can change, accept the things we can't, and to know the difference between the two, however, the "Things we can change" seem few and far between when we're dealing with anxiety. 
So, I came across this list of "Things I can change" in "Beyond Addiction" and thought I could share it, hoping that it might shed light on just how much we can have control over in our lives.

Things I Can Change:

How comfortable I am right now
How generally optimistic I am
What behaviors I personally encourage
How much I argue
How often I smile
How much time I devote to sleeping
How strong I feel
My habitual reactions
My tone of voice
What I pay attention to
My point of view
The atmosphere in my apartment
How isolated I feel
How I deal with stress
How much I worry
My heart rate
How I spend my money
How I express my concern
What substances I use
How I help
How I get help
What kind of help I get
The first thing I do in the morning
Whether anything good happens today
How much I enjoy life

The first time I read this list I was surprised at all of the small aspects of my life that I have control over but that I've been giving up to others to decide for me. Some of these things might take a little work to gain back control. Some might take the rest of my life. It's also empowering to know that I have the ability to smile whenever I want, I have the ability to choose how I react, how much I argue, and how I handle my stress. 

Also, I've wanted to share a few little tid-bits that have helped me deal with anxiety, because maybe they'll work for you too!

1) At night, before you go to bed make a list of all of the things you want to get done the next day. Include simple things like, drink a smoothie for breakfast, walk to the mail box, do the dishes, write a blog post, tell Mom I love her, etc. Then the next day choose the things that you feel like doing that day. I've found that having a list of things that I WANT to do and then checking them off gives me a small sense of accomplishment and reduces the time that I spend worrying or feeling anxious.

2) Become aware of negative self talk. That means starting to listen to how I talk to myself, what stories I tell about the actions of others, and how I generally think about life. 

3) Replace the negative self talk with a simple, positive, mantra. Find a phrase that resonates with you and keeps your mind in a helpful and goal directed place. There's still room for emotions, just don't let them lead you to a place that isn't where you want to go. I like to simply remind myself  "I'm going to be okay, even if it takes some time." 

4) Think back to times when you've been through a negative experience, and find something positive that came out of it. When we are able to find the things we've learned, even from really difficult times it gives us a light at the end of the tunnel. We gain perspective when we are able to remember that although we go through hard things, we can still choose to learn and grow from every experience we have.

5) Make a weekly grateful board (and update it!). For me I just took a normal white board and hung it in front of my bed, that way, when I'm in my bed (and often where I'm most anxious, right before I go to sleep) I'm able to have a quick reminder of what good things I have to be grateful for. Like the to-do list, these things can, and should be simple. Sunsets, dill pickle Pringles, seeing a cute little birdy, or a text from a friend, any thing that will remind you that there are sweet little experiences in life.

6) Take advantage of the moments right after waking up. The time right after waking up is precious and can often spin us into some serious worry, we remember the worries of yesterday and the problems of today. Usually turning on some good upbeat music, or my favorite... brushing my teeth as I walk to the mailbox in the morning, will really kick start my day and get me experiencing the little joys of life.

7) Experience time in the sunshine every day. I was in an Institute of Religion class when I heard this trick and I really liked it. Vitamin D makes me so happy! It's also really easy for me to feel the sun on my face, look at the mountains, hear the birds sing and just experience a little happiness. 

8) Practice yoga or meditation. So, I can't testify for meditation, because I've never tried it, but I have heard a lot of good things about it from people I trust, like my brother. As for yoga, I love the YouTube channel Yoga with Adriene. (Try her 30 day yoga challenge) 

9) Throughout the day focus on small pleasures. I've found that learning to "be in the moment" includes experiencing the five senses more fully. For instance, if it's a blazing hot day and you walk into your nice cool apartment, take time to feel what it's like. If you're driving by a restaurant and smell something yummy take the time to enjoy it. Mainly my small pleasures come from looking at the beautiful mountains around me and enjoying the sunrise as I drive to work. 

10) Praying or talking out loud about stresses. Finding private time to vocally express my feelings has always brought me peace. I believe it's because I have a loving Heavenly Father who is actually listening and willing to help me. But also, if that doesn't resonate with you just taking time (maybe while you're driving to the grocery store) to speak out loud about what it is that frustrates you can really open up some brain space and helps to alleviate some of the stress.

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