Coping with Anxiety
Turning the Tide on Your Battle for Good Mental Health
Anxiety is by far the most common mental health issue affecting young people today (not to say that older people don't get anxious). Of course, there are varying degrees of anxiety; for some people medication truly is a necessity, but for most of us anxiety can be managed with a variety of coping mechanisms. The trick is finding healthy mechanisms that work for you.
What Are Coping Mechanisms
In the most general sense, a coping mechanism is a strategy employed to help us deal with a strong negative emotion or stressful situation. These mechanisms can, first and foremost, be healthy (such as exercise or meditation), or unhealthy (such as self-harm or substance abuse).
A coping mechanism is, for lack of a better term, a crutch that we use to get us through the most difficult times in our lives. The difficult part is making sure that these coping mechanisms are healthy and productive.
Anxiety management can be broken down into three categories, broadly speaking; body, mind, and behaviour.
We can't prevent ourselves from ever experiencing stress, loss, anger... or any of the negative emotions or situations that cause anxiety, really. Nonetheless, we can ensure that we prevent unnecessary stress by taking care of our bodies and minds.
Though you will no doubt have heard it 100 times or so, it is true: a good diet, regular sleep schedule, and a routine of exercise can do wonders for our mental and physical health.
In fact, a good diet and exercise regime can help us to manage stress, sleep better, feel well, and maintain a stronger foundational mental health. So, first and foremost, you need to assess your lifestyle for possible sources of stress and anxiety; if you're drinking too much alcohol (or too little water), or you're burning the candle at both ends and not sleeping enough, it will make life's trials harder to cope with.
On the flip side, taking up exercise, drinking more water, or napping strategically can help you to weather even the worst cases of anxiety.
This is perhaps the hardest part of the equation because, after all, it is your mind which is the problem when it comes to mental health issues. However, managing any mental illness, whether it be anxiety or schizophrenia, requires mental self-awareness above all else.
It is first necessary to consider your day to day life in detail and isolate events, times, people, and places that trigger feelings of anxiety or worry (or any other symptoms of note). Some of these things, like early morning traffic, cannot be avoided entirely and so you must manage your approach to and dealings with them.
Put the problem into perspective; can you alter the situation to minimise stress? What negative outcomes worry you, and can you mitigate them (for example, can you mitigate the worry of being late by leaving earlier?). Remember that you cannot control everything, and try to actively pursue positivity and kindness in your attitude and dealings with the world. More than this, correct negative thoughts about yourself; actively strive to forgive yourself for mistakes, and speak as kindly to yourself as you would to a loved one.
This is where the classic 'coping' mechanisms come into play, and the truth is that we all have our own coping strategies already... it's just that some aren't very healthy. Many of us eat to cope with stress, for example, or drink when we're sad. For many young people, self-harm is a coping mechanism that takes years to be brought to heel. Finding a coping mechanism isn't hard, but finding a productive, or at least healthy, one can be.
Exercise is one of the most obvious, but that too can become unhealthy if taken to extreme levels.
The truth is that it is best to employ a mixture of physical, emotional, and mental anxiety management, prevention, and coping techniques if you want to turn a corner for good. Of course, you should keep in mind that these techniques only help in the management and minimisation of symptoms; clinical mental health issues of any kind should first and foremost be treated in the way your doctor recommends.
Physical Anxiety Management: Fighting Physical Symptoms or Situations
- Avoidance (removing yourself from the stressful situation)
- Problem-solving (for example, studying to avoid taking an exam unprepared)
Emotional: Changing your Emotional State
- Positive self-affirmation ("I am worthy," "I am strong," "I can do this")
- Relaxation techniques
- Breathing techniques
- Distraction (e.g. reading, singing, knitting)
Mental: Modifying your Reactions
- Perception adaption (correcting your view of the cause of anxiety)
- Verbalising and correcting ("I am afraid that x will happen" then assess the likelihood)
- Substitution (swapping one crutch for another, e.g. swapping alcohol for coffee)
- Interaction (talking to a trusted person(s) about your worries and fears)
No single solution is the answer, and the effectiveness of these methods will depend upon the severity of the condition, but healthy, effective coping systems and strategies are a key part of living with anxiety and depression.