Mental Health Month is all about awareness. After all, mental health is the lens through which we all view the world around us. If you haven’t had an experience with depression or anxiety yourself, it’s likely you know someone who has struggled with a mental health condition. This month, our goal is to feel more connected through the struggle and talk more openly about what works, what doesn’t, and what our experiences have really been like. Because at the end of the day, we’re all on the road to better mental health together.
It's one thing to get anxiety advice from a doctor, neurologist, or meditation guru. It's another thing entirely to get it from someone who's actually been there. Did you know that about 18 percent of the population—40 million adults—are affected with anxiety or anxiety-related disorders? In light of this, we asked real people with real anxiety about how they cope and what really works and were blown away by with the tangible take-aways throughout. Thanks to our community, and we hope this enlightens you (or your anxious loved ones) as much as it did us.
1. Kimi, artist:
I've been dealing with depression for as long as I can remember. It wasn't until my mid-20s that I found therapy, and it's the best decision I have made to improve my health. Anxiety comes in waves, the worst upon waking where it's almost impossible to move. Personally, I find the most helpful remedies are deep breathing and the practice of honoring my thoughts and letting them go. I am a huge advocate for communicating about mental health. Being open and sharing with friends and peers, listening, and surrounding myself with positive people in the community always help. Exercise, taking walks, and making time to do things I enjoy creatively or sitting down to finish a simple crossword tend to soften the intensity of anxious thoughts. Be good to yourself and always be mindful of your magic.
2. Rosemary, account supervisor & yoga teacher:
For me, the key to dealing with anxiety is to hone in on the here and now to keep thoughts from looping or distracting me from the tasks at hand or I can follow them down a bottomless hole to nowhere.
If I start to feel anxious in the middle of a workday or a meeting, I have a corner of my notebook I use as the "parking lot." It's literally a square I draw in the corner of the paper and put any thought that comes to mind that isn't relevant. That way it's out of my head and if I need to revisit it later, I can (half the time I don't even need that thought so it's good to clear it out anyway).
I've also started incorporating aromatherapy into my desk life. Around 3 p.m. every day I'll give myself a spray of this amazing mineral mist from 3rd Ritual. I've also offered it to co-workers who come over with anxious energy, and it helps calm them down.
If I'm at a place where things are just way too much (I'm a chronic overscheduler by nature) I will cancel a whole day of plans to reset and regroup. This day is like a dire mental health day and I'll usually start cleaning the whole apartment and blast the Rolling Stones (my mom always listens to it while she cleans), which makes me feel better and gives me tangible concrete things to tackle (e.g., bleach the grout in the tub, deep-clean the refrigerator, reorganize the closet) instead of following around loops of thoughts in my head. I always feel more focused and at peace when my space is squared away, plus at least I tire myself out and can lie down in an organized space.
3. Elli, holistic life coach:
I used to try to fix my anxiety, analyze why I felt anxious, or blame myself, others, or circumstances. None of that actually helped me to feel better. Getting clear that "feeling better" is the intention, I love to practice the 3As I learned from David Michael: awareness, acceptance, and adjustment.
- Awareness: Recognize the feeling as fear, become aware of where in your body it is located, so you can easily spot that sensation next time.
- Acceptance: "Even though I feel scared and anxious, I deeply love and accept myself."
- Adjustment: What is my intuition telling me to do? What's the kindest choice I have available to feel a little bit better?
4. Candace, director of customer service (tech startup):
Becoming more aware of my daily thoughts helped with my anxiety. Keeping a journal or just being more mindful and then being able to document and track my thoughts and look back on them with perspective has been an incredible help. People with anxiety tend to have distorted thinking that they might be unaware of. These thoughts affect our behavior and well-being. So just being more aware of them and learning to notice when they are distorted is very helpful.
Realize that nothing is permanent. Along those same lines, looking back on times of discomfort and tracking your thoughts helps you to realize that your state is constantly changing. I find change to be comforting in knowing that everything will pass and no state of discomfort can last forever.
Belly breathing helped my panic attacks. I used to have a lot of panic attacks before I knew how to control them. This was a vicious cycle because the fear of having them led to more occurring. Learning the simple tool of belly breathing has allowed me to control a panic attack in a number of seconds and this control is empowering and has reduced my fear or panic significantly.
Sitting with the discomfort was very helpful. Finally, I think anxious people will always battle with anxiety, but it's how you respond that really determines how much you suffer. I find that when I'm anxious, sitting with it and accepting it is the best response...rather than avoiding it, which really just builds fear. In my opinion, having the strength to just sit with your anxiety is what truly makes you "beat it" because you realize that it is manageable and that it passes.
5. Jess, animal welfare professional:
I can't honestly remember a time when anxiety didn't have a presence in my life. Over the years, I've tried to incorporate coping mechanisms aside from the weekly therapy sessions and daily medication. What I've found most helpful is making time for things I love doing—reading a fun book that I can get lost in, or working on a DIY project like a jewelry rack or a refurbished dresser. Another simple activity that keeps my anxiety at bay is writing lists. Just seeing things I need to do on pretty stationary and having the ability to cross items off that piece of paper is incredibly soothing.
6. Rachel, licensed clinical social worker:
I've always considered myself to be an anxious person. I never found my anxiety to be debilitating and have never experienced a panic attack; however, I'm aware that it's there and likes to join me from time to time. Over the years I've learned how to welcome and befriend my anxiety. My anxiety is trying to tell me something so I've learned to pay attention to what it's alerting me to. I often find that once I listen my anxiety lessens. For me, placing my hand on my heart, the place where I experience my anxiety most, and repeating nurturing affirmations is what helps me most.
7. Emma, writer:
For as long as I can remember (I had my first panic attack in fifth grade), my anxiety has come in waves, manifesting itself as intense insomnia, restlessness, and, yes, panic attacks. Though I still consider myself an anxious person, my symptoms have really calmed down in the last two to three years—something I attribute to an all-around healthier lifestyle. A combination of eating well for my body, cutting back on alcohol consumption, and introducing long runs into my life has become the ultimate "chill pill" for me.
8. Janine, research assistant:
Anxiety for me can be difficult to control. One day a breathing technique may work, and other days it may not. One thing that always makes the worry go away is my dog. A dog may not be able to ask you what's wrong, but they know when you are in distress. My dog picks up on my mood and will shower me with affection to let me know things will be OK. If I begin to panic, I just look down and there is a wagging tail ready to distract me from my anxiety trigger. The bond between someone and their dog is unique. We may be two completely different species, but we have a mutual understanding that we will take care of each other.
9. Amanda, editor:
For me and my anxiety, there have been a series of small turning points. The first was going off birth control pills and balancing my hormones, which really took the edge off. The next was learning about the vagus nerve and how my nervous system works; understanding the science convinced me that turning to tools like meditation, belly breathing, and yoga would really work. Another big thing for me was learning about the concepts of self-observation—this helps me create some distance, witness my own behavior with total compassion, and assess the situation without allowing it to swallow me up.
These days I try to think of my anxiety not as my enemy but as my teacher. It often knows that I'm off track before I'm really conscious of it and sends me signals that I need to slow down and assess my needs.
10. Quentin, writer & speaker:
One thing that has helped significantly with my anxiety has been my diet. When I cut out sugar, fried foods, processed foods, caffeine, gluten, and dairy, I felt an immediate shift in the severity of the physiological symptoms of my anxiety. Most of what I was eating I believe was creating a lot of inflammation in my body, which was adding to my mental fatigue, mood, and brain fog.
Drinking a green juice daily has also been a significant contributor to my health by adding the necessary nutrients my body needs to fully function at its optimal level.