Help! I'm Alive.
February 3, 2011 8:02 AM   Subscribe

My mind is a very dark place at the moment. Please help me find the light switch?

I have a really hard time remaining calm these days. I just _can't_ relax. I worry about every single thing.

I'm trying to change that. I even succeed for an hour or two, but I always go back to worrying about every single thing in my life. I try to focus. Sometimes I try to just relax and 'be myself' and tell myself that it's okay to do whatever I want. Other times, I feel guilty for slipping up and not sticking to plans and resolve (unsuccessfully) to follow a set of rules. Neither of these lasts for very long. Willpower and mental games are unsustainable. And exhausting. I feel like I don't know when to relax and when to push myself. Or even how, for that matter.

I am overly anxious about the way I look, the way I walk, talk, what I eat, what I drink, what I wear, what I should do, what I didn't do, could have done, etc. It's been like that for a few years now. I know it's unrealistic to expect that to change overnight, but it's frustrating when all my attempts to sort things out usually just fall flat. Over and over and over again.

I'm fairly successful at my job. I work freelance, I'm good at what I do. I've put on a little weight over the past few months, but am otherwise in reasonably good health. I don't really have any reason to complain, my life is good in a lot of ways. But every day I wake up feeling like crap—I wake up anxious and tense, and I don't know why, and I don't know what to do.

How do I just... relax? I'm very, very lost. I used to think it was possible to break out of this if I just tried hard enough, but now it seems less likely every day. Any help/advice would be appreciated.

posted by anonymous to Human Relations (22 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
One simple hack is a worry chair. Whenever you start to worry you must go sit in the worry chair. When you leave the worry chair you must stop worrying. If you start to worry again, you go back to the worry chair. The idea is to associate those trains of thought with the one specific location so that you don't turn your bed (in particular) into a worry zone.

Also, sometimes* it helps to catastrophize and think through the worst possible scenario. What is the WORST THING that could happen if you order an Appletini instead of a Diet Coke? Ideally I like to start with one that ends with "... and I'd end up dead" in some absurd way so I can work backwards to the worst REASONABLE scenario, which then doesn't seem so bad even if it's serious, and most of the time is still pretty absurd. And either way, I've now thought, okay, so this would happen, I could deal with this.

*sometimes this makes it worse. It depends on how your worrying works.

(Also, and I'm sure everyone will tell you this, but that level of self-consciousness and anxiety probably does call for a little therapy. Is there a reason you haven't tried therapy yet, or did you just not think it was serious enough to look for help until now?)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 8:11 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whenever I feel similar, I do the treadmill run at the fastest speed my body can handle for as long as I can handle. It really does miracles to all sorts of tension.
posted by mooselini at 8:13 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

First know this: although your body is telling you to be anxious, try to know intellectually that thing are not going badly.

Do you have medical insurance? If you do, or if you can otherwise afford it, go to your doctor and tell them about your stress and anxiety. Anti-anxiety medication can help, even if it's only taken for a limited time to break you out of your rut.

Do you take a daily vitamin? Do so.

Do you exercise? The endorphin rush from a workout might help. Work out everyday for a few days in a row, and see if it helps. Work up a sweat. Even running in place for 20 minutes will do the trick.

Hang in there. You have friends here.
posted by paulg at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2011

It's possible that you could have a very low level of an anxiety disorder. You don't give any specifics about age, sex, etc. so you might consider discussing this with your physician. A person very close to me has these same issues, and a simple daily medication has helped her get past them. Millions of people have anxiety disorders, so you wouldn't be alone in having one. They're almost ubiquitous in our society. Speak with your doctor about it. The solution could be closer and simpler than you'd ever believe.
posted by Jamesonian at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

-Spend time outdoors in nature whenever you can

-Get more exercise, take a dance class, a yoga class. Walk at a brisk pace for an hour every day

-Do some volunteering

-Avoid caffeine

-Get a good massage at least once a week

-Get a medical checkup (I don't know if you're a man or a woman, or how old you are. If you're a woman your hormones might be out of whack.)

-Get some counseling and consider taking anti-anxiety meds

-Don't be too hard on yourself

Good luck, I hope you feel better soon.
posted by mareli at 8:17 AM on February 3, 2011 [4 favorites]

There's lots of good advice in the earlier posts. I'd just add that for feeling more peaceful and contented, the vitamin you take should be vitamin D. 25 micrograms is a good daily dose, and you can get that dose in Boots chemists in England so probably you'll find it wherever you are. Vitamin D is very much a light switch! In humans it's made by sunlight falling on the skin, so unless you're somewhere near the equator, you may not be getting enough. Here, you would have to strip off and spend a quarter of an hour in full sun, no suncream, every day to get it naturally. All best wishes to you.
posted by iChas at 8:38 AM on February 3, 2011

Exercise. Distracts you, energises and invigorates you. And at the end of it you look better and feel better. It cures all.
posted by fire&wings at 9:08 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

This is a really, really smart book, research-based and miles ahead of CBT and similar stuff, in my personal opinion. Truly cutting edge.

Also, eat more fat, protein, and carbs, more of everything, really. Big, balanced meals and balanced snacks. And consider a high-quality multivitamin. Weight gain (and anxiety) can actually mean things are missing from your diet or that your simply not getting enough calories. (Body thinks food is not plentiful, down-regulates metabolism and starts packing on pounds in case things get even worse.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:19 AM on February 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

*you're x 2. wow.
posted by zeek321 at 9:20 AM on February 3, 2011

Can you get out of your own head for a little while?

There are good suggestions above. Try them and see what works for you.

Exercise, for at least an hour, or until you're tired out. Stretch after.

Lose yourself in some house project that needs to be done: Sorting stuff, cleaning, or the like.

I find that visiting a dog park does wonders: the dogs don't give a shit who you are or how you look; they will all think you're awesome. You can, in turn, study their body language, or play habits, or whatever.

Can you put yourself on a schedule, and try and develop good habits.

Be kind to yourself; you are often your own worst critic.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:22 AM on February 3, 2011

Also, try this. I vary it by counting down from a number, like 50.
posted by SillyShepherd at 9:26 AM on February 3, 2011

Screw all the other well meaning suggestions here - you have an anxiety disorder. This is proven to be treatable with medicine and therapy! Go see doctor or therapist ASAP.

(I don't mean to say that exercise and other behavioral changes aren't relevant - they are very important. But you also need to go see a doctor.)

Get well soon!
posted by yarly at 9:40 AM on February 3, 2011

This sounds like very high anxiety to me, just the level that you're obsessing over everything. I've been there. Exercise is nice and all, but starting with a foundation of therapy and/or medication will help. I felt like you did two years ago and now I almost NEVER do. There's like this whole - life -- out there that's amazing and manageable and interesting and it's out there waiting for you. Seriously it's like I used to see everything in blue and now it's green. Or something like that.

Once someone I was on a date with said, " how do you seem so relaxed and happy?" and I kind of shrugged it off but I was thinking, "Well, there's the meds, therapy, yoga, meditation, books, breathing, distracting games, diet, gym, etc etc etc etc."
posted by sweetkid at 11:30 AM on February 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I've found it helpful to battle anxiety by trying to turn it into anger. This seems to work it 'out' a little bit, as anxiety is inward-directed and anger is outward-directed. If I'm anxious while I'm trying to fall asleep, for example, I imagine myself swinging at walls and such things with a sharp implement...It sounds nutty, but it's effective.

I also take antidepressants, FWIW. They've helped tremendously.
posted by kitcat at 11:41 AM on February 3, 2011

an outside of therapy/medication idea that works for a few friends who have anxiety-related concerns - if they can't sleep at night because of anxiety they have found a way to put their anxiety "to bed."

take a notebook and, just before bed, write down all the things that you are worried about. then put the notebook to bed. literally tuck it into a drawer or shelf in another room.

when you're sleeping (or trying to) during your sleep hours (11-7 or whatever it may be), if you start to worry about something, say to yourself, "no, i've tucked in those worries for the night - my job now is to rest."

i can't speak to this from personal experience, but i know it has really helped a few of my friends. i hope it is useful for you.

and i agree with sillyshepherd, be kind to yourself in this. hope you feel more like yourself soon.
posted by anya32 at 11:51 AM on February 3, 2011

You know, if you feel like you can't cope anymore, it's time to see a doctor. The underlying ethos of medicine is that people are absolutely entitled to relief from their pain and suffering. That means you.
posted by kitcat at 11:54 AM on February 3, 2011

Seconding zeek321's reading suggestion. Kelly Wilson is a fantastic human being and a brilliant, compassionate therapist. See if his book is helpful, or go to the self-help section of your local bookstore and browse through books about coping with anxiety.

If self help books don't seem to do it for you, consider seeing a therapist. Anxiety disorders are quite treatable.
posted by jasper411 at 12:14 PM on February 3, 2011

Several ideas above are great. I am going to nth the suggestion that medication may help you. I have family that have suffered issues that are very similar sounding to yours, and medication helped wonderfully. If anything, it can help your mind get back onto the "right track" so that you can retrain yourself to think normally, rather than anxiously, about every day things using several of the above suggested techniques.

If you are anything like my family member, then the many suggestions and techniques to help your anxiety are going to sound overwhelming and make you more anxious. I am only suggesting ONE thing first. Go see a doctor and describe your symptoms, asking for anti-anxiety medicine. Once you get medicated, it may be amazing how much easier it is to handle all that other stuff.
posted by nasayre at 12:32 PM on February 3, 2011

Sleep a lot, exercise intensely, soak in hot water, eat well, and meditate for half an hour twice a day. It would be difficult to do all of these things regularly and not be happy.
posted by aesacus at 1:01 PM on February 3, 2011

Supplementing magnesium can be tremendously helpful for this. Go to a vitamin store and get any magnesium except magnesium oxide, which does not absorb well at all. Or, the more fun route -- Get a box of epsom salts from the drug store, pour the whole thing in a hot bath, and soak for an hour.
posted by blargerz at 3:15 PM on February 3, 2011

You will likely find Cognitive Behavior Therapy helpful for keeping the lights on.

While you're finding that, exercise and vitamin D are good for most people.

And as a first step, I recommend this 15 min TED talk by Brene Brown about the importance of accepting ourselves

Ask for help is a great first step
posted by Heart_on_Sleeve at 5:17 AM on February 4, 2011 [3 favorites]

One suggestion that hasn't been made yet is journaling. Hugely helpful if your mind is racing, because it forces you to slow down and take those thoughts out of your head and put them on paper.

The high-tech version of this is where you can do the writing online (it's free). It's wonderfully therapeutic to write out your thoughts, fears, worries, and anything else that happens to come into your head. In many ways, once you've written them, they don't tend to come back quite so often or quite so fast.
posted by gwenzel at 4:28 PM on February 6, 2011

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