You’re doing an everyday task, and out of nowhere, you’re overwhelmed with a flood of intense thoughts and feelings. Your heart starts racing, your chest hurts. Your palms are sweating and you feel like you can’t breathe. If this sounds familiar, you likely know what it's like to experience anxiety.
This beast called anxiety presents itself in different ways. Everyone’s experience is unique. For some, it might come on slowly, a nagging feeling of unease, building steadily until things feel out of control and unmanageable. For others it's like being trapped inside a small box, with the walls closing in. Or the inability to focus attention. Insomnia. Or feeling like you're having a heart attack. There's a whole spectrum. But know that no matter how it manifests itself in you, there’s nothing to be ashamed of. And it's much more common than you would expect.
Anxiety usually presents itself to me as this nagging feeling in the back of my head. Most of the time it's when I'm actively dreading something, maybe when I'm applying for a job or fearing a talk/confronting someone. It doesn't have to be a bad thing, but it tends to build up higher and higher the longer it goes untreated, like waves crashing against a wall. At that point it usually does become a serious issue. - Stephan Rumping, Concept Artist and Visual Developer.
General anxiety, panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, the list goes on. As do the factors that can trigger it. Phobias, crowds, public speaking, impending deadlines, traumatic events, self-doubt, and more. Whatever the case, sometimes it feels like it's all too much. And that’s OK. When anxiety hits, the first step is acknowledging what's happening. Then, from there, you can take a step back and try to diffuse or alleviate it.
I feel anxious in social situations, especially when I'm around people I really want to like me, like for example some artists I admire. The way this anxiety manifests for me is that I am often overcompensating by trying to be EXTRA funny. Or I have to plan my contribution to a conversation for so long in order for it to be 'perfect' that by the time I am ready to say something the conversation has moved on and it does not fit anymore. This makes me even more anxious in the end because I think that I have been way too silent during a conversation and probably everybody thinks I'm boring or shallow. - Olga Andriyenko, Story and Visual Development Artist
So, what can you do to weaken anxiety's hold? We reached out to fellow Tribe members for some insights:
Listen to your body
Anxiety can be sneaky, creeping up on you when you least expect it, or building subtly until it's too late. But our bodies don't lie. That crick in your neck that tenses when you get anxious, that feeling of lightheadedness as you step onto a plane, the way your mind starts racing or eyes lose focus just before a panic attack hits, whatever the tell is for you, take heed. And if you don't know your tells yet, try to pay closer attention in order to make out patterns. The moment you feel the first signs exhibit themselves, take action. With practice, you may be able to nip it in the bud before it escalates.
My coping strategies are: listening to myself to see when I am starting to get overwhelmed. Then it’s important to reassure myself, give me a break, breathe and drink some water. Quiet time does wonders for me, and when I feel ready to create again, I start small, without pressure… just making little doodles and sketches, talk about things I love, things that inspire me and make me laugh. Vera Rehaag, Illustrator and Animator
Talk about what's on your mind
- Left to our own devices, we can easily make mountains out of mole-hills. Our inner voices are great at that, running us in circles and pretending it's all valid thoughts. The next time you hear a concern emerge and gain momentum, instead of feeding it, talk it out with someone you trust. At best, they might help you find a solution. At worst, saying it aloud reduces its magical hold over you. Every big problem can be broken down into manageable pieces. It's time to take a bulldozer to that tower.
I see my brain as a boiler room, and talking helps me release steam. Often easier said than done, but confronting whatever I'm dreading is how I can truly get over my anxiety. - Stephan Rumping
- The world can feel like it's about to crumble, then you go outside, get some fresh air in your lungs and life returns to normal. Maybe that's thanks to breaking routine and shifting focus, breathing in flowing instead of recycled air, or nature's beauty shocking us out of our stupor. Whatever the case, a change of scenery can make a world of difference. And here's a fun tip. If you're still feeling really caught up in your head, try this: exercise all five of your senses for a few mindful moments. Yep, that's right. Take a deep breath and really think about what you smell, close your eyes for a moment and identify all the sounds you hear, dare to look like an idiot as you start touching the leaves, or rocks, or park benches and feel their texture, take a closer look at something in your surroundings, and savour the taste of something you enjoy (chocolate is always an option) instead of merely inhaling it. Getting back in touch with your senses helps put you back in your body, and be here, present, right now, instead of worrying about past or future you.
If everything fails, I just put on my shoes and go on a hike. It doesn't work for everything, but sometimes having a bit of space from the place where your worries initially come from (your desk/the office/maybe even a sketchbook or drawing tablet) can help by trying to see things in a different light. Sandra De Simone, Illustrator and Concept Designer.
- An extension on the above, get active. Stand up and stretch, yawn wide, reach far, go for a walk, a run, dance around your apartment for the length of a song, do some yoga, go for a bike ride. Whatever gets you out of your head and gets your body moving, give it a try. There's no harm and who knows, it might just help :)
- In the middle of a stressful situation, or feeling anxious around people? Consider whether it's possible to step away for a moment. When in a conversation that's escalating, can you take a step back, acknowledge the other person, and give yourself some space? "I hear what you're saying and I need a minute to think about that. Can I get back to you?" That's not always possible, but often we don't even take the opportunity when it is. Know that you don't always have to be reactive. Sometimes time away helps everyone see things more clearly. And as for social situations, if you're feeling uncomfortable, it's ok to take a moment for yourself. No easy out? "Bathroom break" and "refilling your drink" are easy options that don't draw much attention.
Being in a crowd is problematic [for me]. When I realize I am starting to get too agitated, I withdraw to areas with fewer people, or find another quiet place to regroup and calm down. - Vera Rehaag
See the critiques for what they are
You might think that movie was sh*te; someone else thought it was pure gold. They're opinions. And everyone is entitled to theirs. It's important to be open to feedback, but it's also imperative to be honest with yourself. If the voices in your head are telling you your work doesn't cut it, but a wealth of other sources say differently, it's time to question who you believe. Likewise, maybe your work isn't the greatest right now. That's totally ok. You're a work in progress. And every day you're improving. So, sure, listen to the critiques and use them to improve, but don't let them rule your life or define your worth. Especially if they're not actually critiques but just self-deprecation in disguise.
Control what you can
If feeling out of control is a trigger for you, determine what is in your control, and actively take care of that. Planning a trip, but there are lots of unknowns? Ok, fair enough. But what is in your control? Sort that out and remove as many stressors as possible. Sometimes even the simple act of organizing your apartment, doing the laundry, or making a nice meal can help set your mind at ease: a reminder that yes, not everything is going awry, you are indeed still in charge of your life.
It's time to trick our bodies into submission ;) Ever noticed that your breath slows down when you're relaxed or about to go to bed? It's a signal, our bodies winding down in preparation for sleep. When anxious, our breathing can often speed up or get shallow, as fight-of-flight instincts kick in. The minute you feel that happening, slow things down by trying this: take an inhale that lasts 7 seconds, hold for 7, exhale for 7. Repeat, slowly, five times. And remember to count out each second in your head: one Mississipi, two Mississipi, three Mississipi (or use whatever other word lasts a second), to seven. With your mind focused on Mississipis, and your breathing slowing down, your body's natural inclination will likely be to think the stressful situation is over. Pens down, crisis averted, all's well again. And if things kick up again, no problem, just repeat the exercise, however many times you have to. You've got this. As simple as it sounds, it actually works wonders. The challenge is to remember to actually do it in the moment.
Don't be afraid to reach out
The Tribe is always here for you but if you feel like your anxiety is getting in the way of living a full and healthy life, it’s worth seeking professional help. More and more people are openly talking about mental health, just as they should be. This is your health and if there's someone qualified out there who can help you, seek them out. And know that you might not find the perfect fit on the first try. It might take some time to find the person that best resonates with you. Give it the time you need to find the right match.
During my university days it got so out of hand that I had to go to a professional and his techniques and advice regarding anxiety helped immensely. I still have to deal with it from time to time, but not as often and luckily it's not as intense as it used to be. - Sandra De Simone
That we get through each day and accomplish all that we do, is remarkable. You're doing great. Anxiety will try and tell you otherwise, but that's a lie. You've got this. And though it’s important to challenge yourself, it’s also important to take care of yourself. So remember, above all, be kind to yourself.