So please, don't let it get to you
I know that you won't realize it
But it's still all up to you
I know that you won't, I know that you won't realize it
But it's still all up to you
-Rostam "Don't Let it Get to You" from Half-Life (2017)
While anxiously waiting in the Madrid airport for my 3:00 AM flight to Kiev, Ukraine, I decided to start this list. Unexpected disasters* had consumed my last few days in Spain, leaving my nerves shot and my mind full of unsettling thoughts. I had hoped to end my summer in Spain on a high note, and instead I was scurrying through the back door trying to avoid more problems. Like others that suffer from anxiety, panic, and depression, I could not stop thinking about the potential disasters awaiting me and reminders of my failures; it was difficult to stay focused and relaxed, but I did my best by telling myself these six things. This list is a mix of my own thoughts and advice from The Anxiety Coaches Podcast (Meditation Minis is also another great podcast). I have learned that taking my time to think through this list -- during a morning meditation, when going to sleep, or when feeling anxious -- is helpful in managing negative thoughts. Because when it comes to anxiety and mental health, there are no absolute cures and we sufferers must instead learn to accept and manage bad thoughts to the best of our ability.
1. You have options. One of my biggest struggles (of which there are many) is balancing my focus and accepting uncertainty. I’m a goal-oriented planner by nature, so sometimes I get overly-focused on one thing and lose sight of other, even better, options. Meaning that when I get hung up on one thing and it crashes and burns, I'm left devastated. During these times, I remind myself that I still have options, sometimes good ones, sometimes bad ones, from travel destinations to major decisions to love interests to pizza toppings. Remembering that we always have the power of choice (but not necessarily outcome) is reassuring, and it's also helpful to ask yourself why you're hung up on a particular thing.
2. Be present. Reminding yourself to live in the moment has to be most powerful tool in staying mentally balanced (staying present is another story). When anxiety strikes, I find myself ruminating longer than necessary on past or future dilemmas. What a waste of time! When this happens, I do my best to forget everything but the moment, realizing that I am safe and comfortable and have no need to worry.
3. Breathe. Deep breathing has amazing calming effects, especially when paired with aromatherapy (I love my Aveda Blue Oil).
4. Shift your perspective. Reframing a situation can be incredibly helpful, either by empathizing with someone (maybe that person was mean to you because they just got bad medical news, who knows!) or looking at yourself from another's perspective (hey, don't be so hard on yourself; you're just another person doing your best). Changing my perspective can alleviate a burden, and the few times I've smiled and faked happiness didn't hurt either.
5. Relax, and sometimes let things take care of themselves. Over time I’ve learned that I only have so much control in a situation, so exerting mental energy trying to control the uncontrollable is a colossal waste (as is being in a rush). In some situations, it's best to extract yourself, relax, and watch the issue resolve itself. Voilà, an answer made easy.
6. Thoughts aren’t facts. Mental illness is indeed an illness, one in which sufferers can't control the dark, negative thoughts clouding their head. So, it's helpful to remind ourselves that these uninvited thoughts are uncontrollable and not remotely true. Also, be careful about how you talk to and treat yourself because most debilitating thoughts and feelings are self-inflicted. My rule of thumb is that if it's too mean to say to someone else (like, that person is a failure because they don't have xyz), then it's too mean to say to myself.
*I dropped and damaged my external hard drive with all of my photos from this past year, and -- if possible -- data recovery could cost $3,000; issues with my property management company in Madrid grew unbearable; flying out of the EU from Spain with Mango turned out to be incredibly complicated. And in my personal life,well, that's a entirely separate bag of feral cats.