I am generally an optimist. Usually, the one in the room who will try to come up with the positive side of everything. But despite that, I have struggled with anxiety and I’ve only realized, accepted my struggle with it recently.
In 2005 I had, what I now realize, a panic attack. When it was happening though, no one had the slightest idea what was going on. It came on suddenly and I was crying for days. No exaggeration! I was having terrible thoughts that were spiraling out of control and it felt like my life and everything around me was just going in a tunnel and there was no hope at all, for anything.
I’d recently started my first job after graduating university and it was a tough transition going from university life surrounded by friends to be working a job where I hardly had anyone to talk to. I also felt ill-fit to the work I was doing and added to that, there was an hour-long commute to and from work which meant I reached home much after dark and it felt depressing. I realize now that I was stressed by this new phase and maybe that is what triggered the panic attack.
But in the moment I had NO IDEA what was wrong with me. It was one of the scariest things I have ever experienced. For months and years after that, I feared it would happen again.
Early on in Seattle soon after I had moved, I remember reading an article describing panic attacks and that’s when I realized that THAT was what had happened to me. It was a relief being able to put a name to it. I also became aware then of controlling my train of thoughts so they don’t spiral into those dark places.
This was a little backstory.
Earlier this year, triggered by some personal things, I started getting severe bouts of anxiety (you might have read about it on my instagram). For a few weeks, it felt like there was nothing in our lives to look forward to. I was literally just passing time till bedtime, which is so unlike me. For the first time since having Anya, waking up first in the house didn’t make me excited. In fact, I lay in bed, dreading going downstairs to be alone with myself and my thoughts. If you have suffered from anxiety or panic, you probably know what it feels like. If you haven’t, even if I explained in more detail, it would be hard for you to relate (you can read a little about it in this TIME writeup).
It took a couple of weeks for me to literally FORCE myself out of it. There were a few things I consciously did at that time that helped and since then I’ve been wanting to share these if you or anyone around you suffers from anxiety too. I hope this can be of use. If you suffer from anxiety, know that you aren’t alone!
(A necessary disclaimer though. Anxiety, panic & depression can be serious and sometimes it is not possible for us to help ourselves out of it. What I’m sharing is by no means medical advice. If you feel like you’re not able to cope or are having extreme thoughts, make sure to seek a professional’s help.)
WHAT HAS HELPED MANAGE MY ANXIETY
1: FACING THE FACTS
Anxiety and panic are real and they affect the way we THINK. Most of us grew up without much conversation on mental health around us and so we can be very hard on ourselves for feeling the way we do. Knowing that it happens to so many people around us and gaining more knowledge about it can be very helpful!
This has also helped me remember that when I’m feeling panicked, every situation or thought is going to feel magnified. It is normal to think of extreme scenarios when you’re anxious. After losing Papa from cancer, I have realized that I have health-related anxiety and knowing that there is even a term for that has helped me.
HELPFUL LINKS // Mind Body Green is such a great website, full of awesome articles on anxiety & mental health and so many tips. / Everygirl also has a whole section on mental health / This podcast from an anxiety coach that is SO useful
Instead of a crazy rushed morning, starting the day with reading the Quran (or your choice of scripture or spiritual book) can be amazing. My mom has this habit and I’ve seen how she finds strength from this during scary times. My favorite way to do this is ‘reading’ my English translation of the Quran. I do ‘listen’ to the Quran translation but I feel the act of reading helps focus much more so I would recommend that!
It is so amazing how so often we’ll find the EXACT words we needed to hear. The stories of Prophets, their struggles, their duas etc give one hope and so much strength.
Since anxiety is a lot about worry for the future, staying connected with my faith also helps to remind myself that what has to happen will happen. In my control is just doing the best I can in my right now, pray all I can, namaz but also duas. That life is never perfect and there WILL be ups and downs and my test is how I deal with what I’m given to deal with!
3: FOCUSING ON BEING ‘IN’ THE MOMENT
Anxiety by definition is specifically about something in the future, which basically means that we are focusing more on something that may or may not happen IN THE FUTURE. Meanwhile, though we are ruining our present moment because of the worrying. Practicing mindfulness helps a lot to stay in the moment and not be overtaken by anxiety.
Mindfulness is the act of bringing our attention to RIGHT NOW, the moment we are in right here. For example, when we’re sitting with our child or a loved one, instead of focusing on the worries in our mind, focus on the moment – actually noticing the curves/lines of their face, the way their soft skins feel under our hand etc.
One trick to do that is by bringing our attention to focus on our senses – our sight, touch, hearing etc. instead of letting our mind wander back to our worried states. It does take a little bit of practice but it is so amazing and something actually all of us need in our rushed lifestyles.
4: GET INSPIRATION FROM OTHER PEOPLE’S COURAGE
When we’re going through something it can feel like we’re the only one in the world dealing with this! Reading other people’s journeys and stories of struggle helps me a lot. It gives me strength and courage, but it also makes me feel less alone. (This is one of the biggest reasons I share about my struggles too. Hopefully, it can make someone else feel like they’re not the only one struggling & give them hope).
A personal favorite who I read regularly & who openly shares her struggles along with the happy moments is Ohdeardrea. I read through her blog during the time that I am down. A recent discovery who shares very openly about mental health is Hannah Gale . It helps that she is so funny (follow her insta-stories) and amazing too!
MORE HELP // Asking yourself this question can help you worry less. from ohdeardreablog.com
5: LIMIT SOCIAL MEDIA USAGE
When we’re depressed, we have more tendency to just sit in a spot and pass time and of course, our phones are there as we try to pass time. If we are upset & down inside, that is what social media will make us feel even more. So usually the best thing to do is to limit usage or take a complete break and fill up that time to read, meditate, even watch a good show on tv.
Be conscious when we are using social media for just ‘passing our minutes or hours’ or mindless consumption because I think that affects us most adversely.
6: DISTRACT YOURSELF
At some point, to get ‘out’ of the thoughts in our head, we just need distraction. Watching a show every day whether an old favorites or something engrossing that will pull you in. Maybe even dive ourselves in a guilty pleasure kind of fiction that you normally feel guilty reading, whatever can take your mind off for some time regularly.
That’s about all I can think of right now but if you have any tips to add please do share. Stay strong loves, we are all in this together.
If you are in the Seattle area and winter blues for you are a little severe than the usual feel free to reach out. Maybe it would be nice to meet up and find support with each other!