Anxious jealous insecure EEEEEEEJASFADF​JKLSAJKFLSDJ!!
April 14, 2014 9:18 AM   Subscribe

What are some things I can do to 'work on' my anxiety?

Hey askmefi, this stuff comes and goes, but lately I have been very anxious and jealous and insecure about relationships and generally swimming around in my puddle of self loathing. This happens a lot more at night. And I don't know what I can do to stop, I have been sleeping and drinking water and exercising but I still get it and it feels so urgent like it is screaming and I should start screaming too. Usually I write down my negative thoughts and breathe a lot but it doesn't help so I end up binge eating instead of doing all the work I have to do for the evening.

I hate this! And I get counselling already although I use a free counselling service offered by my school so I don't have access to many sessions, and have quite a lot of issues. This hasn't really come up so far. For those of you who can relate to this and have overcome it, or for those of you who are naturally chilled out about life, what/how/WHY please tell me! I can't live like this anymore!!
posted by dinosaurprincess to Human Relations (20 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I will be watching this thread for tips too, but first I'll give you the only one that's ever worked for me so far.

When the meter starts getting into the red zone, take 5 minutes and do what I call No Words. There's only one rule to No Words: you can walk, look at things, have feelings, whatever you want-- EXCEPT THINK ANY WORDS. Think shapes, think feelings, think sounds -- ANYTHING BUT WORDS.

I find that the vast majority of my anxiety is not actually a pure feeling, but it somehow comes from the verbal part of my brain freaking out like someone put a spoon in the microwave. But when I silence the words, I almost instantly feel things cool off.
posted by the jam at 9:28 AM on April 14, 2014 [41 favorites]

Can you see the school psychiatrist? An as-needed medication for anxiety attacks could be very helpful.
posted by oinopaponton at 9:32 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

It sounds like there is a lot going on which your anxiety and jealousy. Its hard to determine what might be more helpful, so below is some very general elements:

When you are feeling jealous, ask yourself: what is it about this that I want? And would I want their entire life? Probably not.
It is not about "should", but it is about "could". You should do x, y, and z. But you can't do all of those if you aren't rested and feeling ok.
You are going to have sunny (good) days and rainy (bad) days. Therapy can help you have more sunny days, but also give you the skills to have an umbrella on rainy days.
When you feel like binge eating: maybe find a replacement activity. If you want, do something active, like jumping jacks or jogging around. Or try Diaphragmatic breathing while tensing and relaxing muscle groups.
You can ask your school counseling about more sessions. They may have a sliding scale if fees are necessary.
Medication can be helpful.
posted by troytroy at 9:35 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Visualizing the ocean. Mantras- they help keep my brain occupied, burn off nervous energy, and the message kind of sinks in. (I've seriously repeated over and over in my head before "I'm a confident kick-ass woman." I know it's ridiculous but it helps!)
posted by quincunx at 9:48 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

This might help get things out of your mind for awhile, it does for me.

Imagine that the thing bothering you is tangible. I often imagine it as a piece of paper. Take that paper, wad it up into a ball. Take your imagined paper ball of problems and toss it away from you. Imagine you tossed it across the room, or across the city.

If your mind wanders back to the problem: give yourself a little mental kick that you threw your problem away so stop giving it your attention.

I know it sounds silly (I often even mimic the physical motion of throwing the ball and "watch" it sail away from me) but it really does work.
posted by royalsong at 9:49 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to be much like this, until I learned that:

1. There is no such thing as "THE ONE." There is one feeling... one emotion to love and feel loved, but there are many sources and sparks for that flame.

2. Fear is most often an illusion, persistent, because it is borne out of self and feeds on self. Much like the jam noted above, one solution is to get out of self. To break the illusion, one needs a positive and/or redirecting action. I find it most helpful to turn my attention to helping someone (calling an old friend / family member to ask how they are doing, clean up a common area in the house, going on "helpful patrol": e.g. go for a walk and pick up every piece of litter/trash I see).

3. Know myself, my likes, my dislikes, my wants and needs.
I had to find myself (for me I stayed single for a year). Find out what I like to do and what I don't, completely independent of other people and my desire to make others happy. Find out what I like and don't like in other people. Be OK with that. Be OK with not liking other people, sometimes for the silliest of reasons, and I'm more OK with not being liked myself.
Once I know what I like, independent of others, I can learn to rely on myself for positive activities and things that make me feel good without an emotional hangover (non-destructive behaviors which I find pleasing). My reliance upon significant others (and anxiety or fear of them leaving) has diminished incredibly now that I know how to make me happy.

4. Decrease selfish behaviors and patterns.
For me, anxiety and jealousy (fear) are selfish and self-centered. Even love and togetherness used to be a selfish endeavor, as I "needed" the person, because of how they made me feel. Looking back, in every relationship I was firmly entrenched in self. I loved them not for them, but for how I felt with them. I treated them well, because I wanted them to treat me well, not because I wanted to better their lives. I lashed out at them because they hurt me, for rational and irrational reasons, not because they intended to hurt me, but because "Don't they know who I think I am?!"

Once I grasped on to 1-3, I began to enter relationships seeing what I could offer the other person. What qualities do I possess that will benefit their lives, how can I add to their existence?

Now, I know I can take care of me and my happiness. My job in a relationship is to take care of this other person. What makes for a successful relationship, is when this is reciprocated.

By no means am I a doormat, but provided no boundaries are being violated, I always try to assume my partner is coming from the most positive of places, and see what it is that I can add to or do for them, even when I don't necessarily want to. The greatest thing is that I feel she does the same for me, which is why my current relationship works.
posted by Debaser626 at 9:51 AM on April 14, 2014 [18 favorites]

If this is recent, or recently got quite a bit worse, it might be worth doing a checkup with a medical doctor. Seriously. And mention any other symptoms you have. Insomnia? Unexplained weight loss and/or extreme appetite (you mention binge-eating)? Nausea? Tremor? Muscle weakness? Heart palpitations?

Sometimes anxiety has a medical cause. Get that checked out. If it is medical, deal with that. And if it isn't medical, your doctor can refer you to someone who can assess you for anxiety, OCD, etc. and help you determine if medication might be the way to go.
posted by pie ninja at 9:52 AM on April 14, 2014

Best answer: insecure about relationships / instead of doing all the work I have to do for the evening

One thing my anxious brain will do is create some very creative things for me to worry about, generating urgent! crises! so then my focus shifts to address crisis after crisis, without ever having to address whatever's really bothering me.

A major insight I've gotten from therapy is when my worries feel super-duper pressing at the moment, those worries are almost never the real problem; they're distractions from the real problem. And even my overarching worry about why am I so anxious? how do I stop being so anxious? is also a distraction from the real problem. For me, the real problem is always something blatantly obvious that I don't want to see or deal with. The reassuring thing about figuring out what it is, is it reduces my worries down to just the one mundane, straightforward thing that I either work on changing if I can, or try to accept if I can't change it.

For example, right now is the end of semester where I need to make a big push to finish up final projects. That's it. That's the real problem, and I know exactly what I need to do about it. And yet my anxious brain is telling me I need to go on OKC right now and find a date or else. And my anxiety symptoms have been ramping up to the point where I'm thinking, do I need meds, etc.? If I were to focus either on dating or on anxiety meds right now, they would be a distraction. Because actually, for me, what I really need is about four hours in a library with wifi turned off, so I can finish a project and turn it in.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2014 [11 favorites]

I know you say you exercise, but do you do it daily? I have anxiety and I have to exercise at least 5-6 hours a week for it to have its desired effect. I do it in the evenings, which keeps me from binge eating my nights away and spending too much time in my own head. I'm an avid hula hooper so as ridiculous as it may sound, I pick up my hoop when the anxiety is building up and run myself for 15-20 minutes. It almost always takes the edge off while building a fun skill. For me it's hooping. For other friends of mine who suffer anxiety, it's running, hiking, lifting, etc. I also write and paint, which require concentration and occupy my mind.

I also force myself to relax. I carry stress in my jaw so I clench and grind my teeth when I'm anxious. When I notice this happening, I take a moment and sit there with my mouth hanging open. the jam's suggestion of "no words" is fantastic because it describes exactly what I'm doing when I'm in relaxation mode. Negative thoughts will try to creep in and I'm just like "NOPE! RELAXATION TIME. WORRISOME THOUGHTS CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF."

Not sure if you're a coffee drinker, but I used to pound back 4-5 cups a day. Now I'm down to one (using decaf tea as a substitute) and I feel so much less wound up than I used to. I also limit my sugar intake to a tiny amount, which has also made a noticeable difference.

Mantras are good too. I spent a lot of time worried about what COULD happen and it was always the worst case scenario. Looking back and realizing that none of those bad outcomes actually happened helps me look forward in a more positive light. And I tell myself that if bad things do happen, I will deal with it and I will be okay.

Also, this one might sound silly, but do you have anybody around you who gives a great hug? Sometimes all I need is a hug from a friend or loved one and I feel a lot calmer.

Medication is good too. I took Celexa for a couple of years and it really helped. Have been off it about a year but wouldn't hesitate to go back on it if things got where they were a few years ago. Also, ask your doc for a round of bloodwork. My life really turned around when I figured out my laziness was actually the result of an underactive thyroid.
posted by futureisunwritten at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I grew up with a therapist and I've had anxiety my whole life. I did visualization, I did biofeedback, I did affirmations, it goes on and on.

Know what worked for me? Celexa. 20mgs of Celexa.

My life is SO much better now.

There's only so much you can do, but if you're having anxiety attacks that are interferring with your sleep, it's time to think about pharmaceuticals.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:08 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Therapy can help you have more sunny days, but also give you the skills to have an umbrella on rainy days.

I really, really like this.

Because my anxiety has luckily mostly not been intense enough to need medical attention, I spend a lot of time working on the "umbrella" angle.

I spend a lot of time trying to step back and think rationally about what is happening. Is the thing I'm fixated on likely to have the consequences I'm worried about?

Super personal example that sounds like it might resemble what you're going through: I get a lot of anxiety about my relationship. When I'm not working on "umbrella" strategies, things can spin way out of control, to the point that I'm apologizing for breaking the yolk on one of the poached eggs while I make him breakfast. Because... I'm afraid he's going to break up with me over it? Yes, this thought pattern is completely nuts.

I've gotten pretty good at noticing when this is happening. Thanks to therapy, mostly.

So I take a step back. I breathe. I tell myself that I'm OK. And then I remind myself of facts I intellectually know to be true, but which tend to go out the window when I'm feeling anxious about something. One ruined breakfast isn't going to make my boyfriend stop liking me. One broken egg yolk isn't even going to ruin breakfast. This is so incredibly not a big deal, at all. I'm OK. I'm OK. I'm OK.

I try to think of it like being the James Randi of evaluating my woo-woo reptile brain's tendency to believe in psychics and Sasquatch. Reptile brain, is this thing even real? It's not, right? OK. Then let it go. There is no Sasquatch. It's OK. You're OK. Enjoy your breakfast and stop worrying about a Sasquatch attack. Because there is no Sasquatch. Remember? You're OK.

I will admit that sometimes this doesn't work, and I can't dial it back. But just recognizing what I'm doing, and being able to tell myself I'm OK, has helped in a lot of situations.
posted by Sara C. at 10:10 AM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

I like the things desaber626 has to say.

Another thing I do is break down my jealousy and anxiety to a very specific level and examine how rational those fears are, and what will happen down various decision trees, and realize that while they may not be 100% rosy, none of them are really worth fearing. It can be really helpful to look very closely at something that's causing you to wig out and unwrap it until you can see the specific thing that's driving it. Most often, it's irrational, and even when it is rational, the the ideas heaped around it, making it look bigger, are false assumptions that can be changed.

This method of anxiety management may be "advanced", though. I've been actively working on stuff like this for about 2 years. It helps that I had some major shifts deep in my brain about where happiness comes from, what independence means, and what healthy relationships with other people look like. Being able to come back to core beliefs like "a rising tide lifts all boats" and "if my presence is limiting your happiness, we don't belong together" can reframe what is 'rational' and help me focus on my own agency and capabilities in various situations.
posted by itesser at 10:38 AM on April 14, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Our minds are sooo tricky. You really don't want to do the work before you and you can't just walk away from it, so your mind gives you a great out -- anxiety attack! No one could possibly do work when they're having an anxiety attack!

Bet you a million dollars it goes away if you get the work done.

Also, to the extent you're meditating, breathing, watching your breath, please don't only do it in the midst of an anxiety attack and expect it to work. The reason for a long term practice is to exercise the muscle of awareness enough to allow it to remain mindful during crisis. You don't go to the gym on the first day and pick up a 100 lb. weight. You start with the 5 lb. weight and work your way up.
posted by janey47 at 11:07 AM on April 14, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I self impose severe limits on social media, both for posting and browsing (like 15 mins per week maximum. I find this keeps me to the good stuff like congratulating engagements, saying happy birthday, and scoping any event thingys.)

Walk away. If you are in a situation and you feel like screaming, just walk away (or excuse yourself if necessary) and go somewhere for a quick break. Think like a smoker. Go pace outside on the corner for a few, hide in the bathroom, sit in a clearing in the woods, whatever.

Xanax and the like. Check it out with your doctor and see if will help with sudden episodes.

Eat something, something good. like a slice of turkey rolled up and an apple. Make sure you're not irritated from being hungry, which can sometimes be hard to recognize.

Turn off the TV adn radio and other noise and image sources. Then do do stuff thath you know you need to do but keep putting off because its annoying. You'll probably make a decent dent in those tasks in 15-20 mins of silent work them won't feel anxious about loafing about watching TV for 2 hours afterwards.
posted by WeekendJen at 11:13 AM on April 14, 2014

Eat something, something good. like a slice of turkey rolled up and an apple. Make sure you're not irritated from being hungry, which can sometimes be hard to recognize.

This is great advice. A few years ago, I spent about a month waking up nearly every night around 3 a.m. and wallowing in anxiety, panic, and downer self-sabotaging talk. It was really rough and unpleasant. Finally I worked out that much of my anxiety is tied to hunger, and that if I don't want to either cram sugary junk food down my throat (you mention binge eating) or wallow around in a pit of self-loathing and sadness, I need to eat good stuff at very regular intervals, including right before bed. Note: I'm not pre-diabetic or diabetic, and low blood sugar doesn't seem to affect me much otherwise. It's literally just a mood thing.

Eating well and frequently probably won't fix the whole problem, but it certainly can't hurt. Good luck!
posted by WidgetAlley at 11:25 AM on April 14, 2014

Best answer: All anxiety, all jealousy, all envy, stems from a belief that we ourselves are not worthy, good enough, or okay. Start with figuring out how to eradicate that belief, and many good things will follow.
posted by Hermione Granger at 11:29 AM on April 14, 2014 [6 favorites]

"Cain't fix the roof while it's rainin'... and if 'taint rainin', no point fixin' it anyhow."

This is clearly no more than a recipe for spending every rainstorm frantically rushing around inside the house with buckets, but it's remarkably close to the way most of us actually end up dealing with the troubles that drive us crazy.

Habitually treating unpleasant internal experiences as problems to be dealt with right now is coming at them the wrong way, in my view. I far prefer to treat them as shitpits I need to learn how to see coming and avoid stepping into. Once I'm in one, I'm in one and there's not much that can be done about that. The trick is in noticing when you've managed to find your way out of the shit for five minutes, and then practising staying that way.

If there's one thing I've learned about my own bodymind in the 52 years I've lived in here, it's that whatever I do with it gets easier with practice - including worrying and fretting and freaking out. I don't feel good while those things are happening, so I don't want those to be how I spend most of my time, so I make a frequent practice of paying conscious attention to what's going on inside and outside me when I do happen to find myself feeling calm and unworried. The net result of this practice over a few decades has been that I am now calm and unworried far more often than not.

Once I have slipped into a shitpit, which naturally does happen from time to time, my standard method for dealing with the resulting shitswim is just to put up with it and wait it out. This works at least as well as anything else I've tried, unless the shit involved is anger: for that, hard physical exercise gets rid of it about two to three times as quickly as simple waiting. Blaming other people for the stench of the shit I find myself swimming in always seems to make the swim last longer, so I've learned not to do that. I just wait, and remind myself that although I feel like I'm completely drowning in shit right now, I won't feel that way forever as long as I pay enough attention to sleeping right and eating right and practising thinking right.

So I often remind myself that there are things I can control and things I can't, and that the things other people do and say and think all fall squarely in the latter category; that everybody has a life story in which they are the central figure, which makes it impossible for the whole world to revolve around delivering to me every little thing that I want; that whatever I feel right now is whatever I feel right now, and is to be endured and learned from until I find myself feeling something different; that there exists an entire marketing industry whose sole aim is to fill my mind with desires for things I actually have no genuine need for and fears that not owning enough of those things makes me worthless; that if it's on Facebook, it's bullshit.

My roof doesn't drip much any more.

You're young. It's a stormy time of life. It gets better. Give it time. Give it attention. Be kind to yourself, even if that means being kind to somebody you don't much like right now.

And when it's late at night and your mind is racing and keeping you awake with worry and misery, pay more attention to the fact that it is racing than to what it's racing about, and just keep on coming back to reminding yourself that what you actually need to be doing right now is not thinking, but sleeping; that tomorrow is another day and when you wake up in it you will know yourself just a little better then than you do right now; and that knowing how you actually work is the most useful thing you can ever know.

One last thing: caffeine is a far stronger drug than most people give it credit for, and is well known to make anxiety much much much worse for many people naturally inclined to suffer from it anyway. It could be worth your while putting yourself through the two days of feeling achy and miserable and tired that going cold turkey on coffee will cause, and then paying attention to the frequency and intensity of your anxiety episodes in the week that follows. There's a fair chance you'll find that experience enough of an incentive to switch your hot beverage of choice, or at least to use it more judiciously.
posted by flabdablet at 11:31 AM on April 14, 2014 [10 favorites]

Another step is to cut out people who are toxic and who aggravate your anxiety by being untrustworthy. Take a good hard look at your relationships to confirm to yourself that you aren't trying to talk yourself out of warranted fear and hurt.
posted by spunweb at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2014 [3 favorites]

As a diametric opposite to the jam's answer, I'm going to suggest writing. I always found that the reason writing in my journal put the brakes on any anxiety I had, because for me it was the half-formed ideas that caused fear - and the act of trying to find words to describe what I felt forced me to think about them more concretely, which short-circuited the anxiety.

Also, the act of putting ideas down on paper felt like they were being excised from my own head - and if they weren't in my head anymore, they weren't there to cause me trouble.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:34 PM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes anxiety has a medical cause. Get that checked out. If it is medical, deal with that. And if it isn't medical, your doctor can refer you to someone who can assess you for anxiety, OCD, etc. and help you determine if medication might be the way to go.
posted by pie ninja at 9:52 AM on April 14 [+] [!]

Quoted for truth; I have never felt such anxiety as when I had an undiagnosed thyroid disorder. Horrible. You can make a doctor's appointment and talk to them about the anxiety you've been having, and they may run some tests to rule out a physical cause. Certainly if you express an interest in what your thyroid is doing, they'll run a standard TSH lab test (blood draw).

Also: seconding EmpressCallipygos about getting thoughts down on paper. Even writing 2 minutes a day (link to pdf research paper - but easy to read!) has been shown to have positive health benefits (!).
posted by joseph conrad is fully awesome at 1:45 PM on April 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

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