Stuff I did to deal with anxiety

A mostly-retrospective. Does not include any references to specific fears/things that made me anxious. Possibly part 1 of a series.


Sometimes you want to push yourself to do things that scare you, to confront your fears, but often it’s more important to just be able to spend some time not feeling anxious, whatever that takes. To that end:

I set a standard for “things that are too time-consuming/wasteful/etc. to do, even if anxiety makes me want to do them,” but I made it a pretty permissive standard. I let myself waste a lot of time and avoid things that were almost certainly safe. I found that, counter to what I expected, I didn’t need to consciously change this standard as time went on. When I started doing better, I stopped having those “what if ____ isn’t safe?” thoughts as often, and I was able to do things I had earlier been too anxious to do without hesitating at all.

I decided that nothing was too silly or too embarrassing to do, if it made me feel better and wasn’t actually counterproductive. Feeling like there was something, anything I could do to protect myself was what I needed, even if it wasn’t much protection in reality. When I felt embarrassed, I told myself that making myself less anxious = good, full stop. It was a way of taking care of myself, of making myself feel better, even when it was silly.

The first two points made it easier for me to find compromises– things that helped me feel safe and also interfered less with my life than some of the things I had been doing. One big issue for me was getting out of bed during the night/not sleeping. In order to make any progress towards actually going back to sleep when I woke up anxious, I had to find things to make myself feel safe that didn’t involve getting up and going somewhere else. Even if they made me feel silly or meant that my partner would know I was feeling anxious.

I mostly looked for ways to answer my anxious what-if thoughts, not to dismiss or deny them. Instead of “What if ___? No, that won’t happen.” I went with “If ___ happens, then I’ll do A, B, C, and D, and then everything will be okay.” Again, having things I could do to protect myself was reassuring.

Probably the most difficult thing I did in the first year or so I was dealing with anxiety was to confront the idea that even though things I was anxious about felt like The Worst Thing in the World, it wouldn’t actually be the end of the world if they happened. “Even if ___ happens, I will be OK” was incredibly hard for me to say, so much so that I initially used some really awkward phrases to avoid having to mention or even imply the existence of the things I was anxious about. But I was sometimes able to get calm out of that idea, if I focused tightly enough on the “I will be OK” part. I did it anyway because I believed that it was important, in the long term; that this was the idea I really needed to believe in order to become less anxious.


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