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One Year of Talk Therapy - Coping with Anxiety

I was born anxious. I mean that to say, I have had anxiety my entire life, as long as I can remember. I didn't have a word for the thing that made me irrationally angry, physically sick, and feeling different from the other people around me until I was in college. That's a very long time for someone to live their life feeling like there's something wrong with them and not knowing what exactly it is. Being labeled with anxiety gave me the power to seek help. 

I've officially been in therapy for one year this week. The benefits that counseling has brought me have changed my life. My therapist has taught me coping strategies for dealing with my anxiety on a day-to-day basis, insights into how I see the world and respond to stressors around me, and we're beginning to unravel why my brain works the way it does. It's been the best investment (both financially and time) I could ever make in myself and I don't see myself giving up my weekly sessions any time soon.

One of the first things I learned in therapy was the coping strategies I use to manage my anxiety. If you're living with anxiety, you have to be able to help yourself in the moment to prevent yourself from spiraling out of control before you can begin to get to the roots of your anxiety. Some people might try something simple like going for a walk, or taking a bath, others might go for self-medication through something like a kava kava pill, and some will feel able to go to therapy and seek professional help. I tried several different strategies before finding what works for me. Read on to learn a few anxiety coping strategies that you can practice next time you're feeling anxious.

1. Four Count Breathing

Breathe in for four counts, hold for four counts, breathe out for four counts. Repeat. These deep breaths help to release the cortisol (the stress hormone) in your body that builds up when you're anxious. I like this method the best because it's easy to remember and you can do it discreetly anywhere you are. After awhile, your body naturally begins breathing in this rhythm when you start to get anxious and stops anxiety attacks before they start.

2. Grounding

There are a few different grounding techniques. One I've seen circulating the internet incorporates the five senses - Look around you and find five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. My therapist taught me a different type of grounding and I find this one easier to do: Simply look around you and name the objects you see. Take a deep breath in between naming items. Don't forget that the breathing is the most important part of this exercise to release cortisol. For example: Desk. (breathe) Chair. (breathe) Coffee cup. (breathe) 

3. Fidgeting

My therapist suggested I try a fidgeter. There are a ton of fidget toys you can buy online that give you something to do with your hands when you're feeling anxious. They can help to quiet the mind when you've got what we call "monkey brain" (that nagging voice in the back of your head that just won't go away). I wanted a fidgeter that I could always have on hand and would be discreet so I purchased this ring that I wear on my index finger.

If you find yourself coping with the realities of an anxious mind, I encourage you to seek therapy. For too long, I thought therapy was for "crazy people" and completely dismissed the idea. It's hard to open up to a stranger about your problems and allow yourself to be vulnerable with someone. But before long, your therapist isn't a stranger anymore and you find that it's easier every week to open up. It's so important to find a therapist that you feel comfortable with and that you click with. Don't be afraid to shop around before you find someone that you jive with and if you're ever not feeling it, it's okay to switch therapists. I promise no one will be offended.

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