I have a confession to make. In spite of all of the running and yoga that I do, I sometimes get so anxious that my breath shallows and my heart races and I stop thinking clearly. It's really unpleasant, but I've focused in on the trigger so that I can begin to recognize when my anxiety might get the best of me and I've come up with some good ways to cope. Ten of them are listed here.
My biggest anxiety trigger is time. I like to be prepared and prompt and if I feel like I don't have enough time to get things done well or if I think I'm going to be late then I start to get anxious.
The last time I really got anxious was just before we were leaving for our trip to Cyprus. I hadn't finished packing. I had committed to myself and a friend that I would go running. My car was in the shop and I needed to figure out a way to get there to pick it up. Nothing was particularly urgent but I started to feel like I wasn't going to be able to get everything done by the time we said we were going to leave, an artificial deadline. I was starting to panic and then something happened that helped me regain some perspective. My car broke down on the way home from the shop. It stopped and would not go forward at all, not even enough to find a safe shoulder or side road. After I called roadside assistance, put out my warning triangle, and called a friend to pick up my daughter from school, I stood in the grass on the other side of the guard rail and laughed. When presented with a more urgent situation all of the other things that were worrying me fell into perspective.
With that perspective came thankfulness and calm. I was thankful that it wasn't pouring down rain or freezing cold like it had been earlier in the day. The Germans stand a safe distance away from their broken down vehicles regardless of the weather. I was thankful that our flight left early the next morning and we really didn't have to leave for the hotel at the airport at a particular time. I was thankful that I had a friend to call to pick up my daughter. I was thankful that there are still strangers that will stop to see if a stranded woman needs help.
How an attitude can change with a little perspective! Having the instinct to be prepared and prompt makes me hard-working, high-achieving, and conscientious, all excellent qualities. However, I'm not doing myself or anybody else any favors if I let it get out of control. Here are some things I do to try and manage the pesky clock and the worry that it brings.
- Exercise. Exercise releases endorphins, those feel-good brain chemicals and it can help take your mind off of your worries.
- Ask for help. I misplaced my wallet yesterday and it was going to be a big deal. It (unwisely) contained all of my ID, Stateside driver's license, official and tourist passports for my daughter and me, military ID. It was going to big deal. After looking all the places it could have been but before canceling my credit and debit cards, I asked my husband to take a look in my car. I thought I had looked in all of the pockets of my new gym bag but I hadn't. He found it. Asking for help can instantly help relieve the stress of a situation.
- Know how long things take. We're a military family so we move all of the time and we don't have the comfort of knowing exactly where everything is in our area. When I receive an invitation to an event at our current location I can usually assume that everything is approximately half an our away but sometimes I'm surprised. It is better if I map out the address way ahead of time so I know how much time to allow to get to a new destination.
- Plan ahead. I can avoid last-minute scrambling if I spend some time on the weekend planning ahead for the coming week by putting things on my calendar. It's particularly important to include that don't happen regularly like school hot lunches and in my neighborhood trash/recycling pickup. I use the calendar on my iPhone and I also like the Todo app.
- Be realistic about what you can accomplish. I am in charge of my own schedule and I choose to pack it full, often hoping to achieve much more than I possibly can. I've started identifying the three things I absolutely must accomplish in a particular day and letting the rest be optional.
- Get up before the rest of the family. I love having some time to myself in the morning to settle into my day before anybody needs anything from me. I check my calendar, my email, and Facebook to see what's going on and what it means for my day. I also get my daughter's lunch and snack made so that when she comes down I'm ready to eat breakfast with her and get her out the door. If I could just get her to put her shoes away in the same place every day things would be great!
- Take deep breaths. Breathing from the diaphragm rather than from the chest can help bring a sense of calm. Often with long, deep breaths I'll repeat a mantra that I learned from an Army chaplain in the Soldier 360 Yoga Training, "Right here, right now, just this, not that.". Repeating positive words helps bring peace to active thoughts.
- Make a list. Free your mind from the pressure of having to remember lots of tiny details by making lists. When I run out of something or see that I'm starting to get low I immediately add it to a shopping list so I'm not caught off guard without toilet paper or a kitchen staple. I like the Shopper app for grocery shopping.
- Mise en place. It's tough to cook dinner with interruptions so I prep my ingredients and equipment before I begin cooking so everything is ready to go. If I'm having a particularly organized day I'll prep ingredients ahead of time so dinner gets done faster.
- Use community resources. If you're really struggling, talk to your doctor, religious leader, or the Military Family Life Consultant for military folks. They can help give you tools that you can use to help with your particular situation.