I’m an anxious lady, but I do my best to keep it on lock-down. If I let myself spin out of control—which happens when I’m not taking care of myself—it’s hard to organize my thoughts and zip myself back up.

Are you like me? Are you an everyday human being fighting an invisible battle that has nothing to do with anybody but yourself? Do you have general (or very specific) anxiety? Do you have tips and strategies for coping with life and its rote challenges?

Here is how I live with my generalized (and very boring) anxiety problems.

1. Build upon positive momentum. Life with anxiety feels relentless. When things are going well, I keep it rolling. I try to sleep, exercise, and eat well. Unplugging from the internet has been huge for me. Abstaining from alcohol, even just for a few days, saves my sanity.

2. Read all the fun books. In general, I try to avoid self-help books. That being said, go read Bryan Wempen’s new book. I enjoy reading books that change the conversation in my head. I’m about to start Luckiest Girl Alive. I also read mindless magazines—nothing serious. We have a subscription to The Economist in this house that I never touch. If I want last week’s news, I’ll watch John Oliver.

3. Breathing works. Anxiety is visceral, sneaky and seductive. If you don’t feel much of anything, which I don’t, it is both miserable and extraordinary to feel like the world is coming to an end. My broken brain tells me that emotional disarray is a necessary precursor to clarity, but that’s a goddamn lie. A panic attack is Gallipoli on the central nervous system. It’s Antietam on the heart. But the one thing that’s true is that I can’t have a panic attack while I’m breathing. So I’ve learned how to breathe.

I have one more tip: don’t take tips from people like me. Go find an expert, and don’t look at me when you’re wandering through a park, alone, hyperventilating and wondering how your life fell apart. I got nothing. If you turn your head, you can see that I’m standing right next to you trying to breathe, too!


  1. Wow, this sure hits home with me. I can go through years with no anxiety and then BAM, it bangs into me full force. You are right about the breathing but sometimes you get so wrapped up in the problem that you think there is something wrong with your breathing, which causes a whole new set of problems. The past couple of years my anxiety has been common and I think it has something to do with menopause. And, the effect tripled when I had a scary diagnosis last August. That’s all behind me now and I’m still battling the anxiety but I have started meditating daily and that does help. But everything you said is right. When you eat right, exercise, etc., it definitely helps but professionals help too. If there was only a way to turn off the knob in your head that causes the fearful thoughts, that would make it all easier.

  2. Exercise. I’ll get on the treadmill or the eliptical and go until my head is clear or my knee gives out.

  3. Good posting, Laurie. I have had some experience over the last few years with someone who started having panic attacks in 2006.

    As a result, I have had contact with a number of doctors in emergency rooms and consultations.

    On the whole, I haven’t found them to be particularly smart or helpful.

    So, although I am glad that you qualify your personal remarks as just that, I think they can be just as helpful as speaking to a professional.

    I am not the person with panic attacks I just talked about. That’s someone else.

    However, I have tried measured breathing when I feel nervous and I have never found it helpful.

    Moreover, the breathing advice you see in articles usually tells you to start right off the bat with breaths that are much longer than normal and, therefore, for me, unpleasant and hard to maintain.

    So, if you have more details about your breathing experience I think it’s worth putting into another posting.

    I’m surprised that you didn’t mention running. If you’re feeling edgy, a couple of miles can tire you out too much to feel it anymore. The same goes for a strenuous exercise class.

  4. Ah… A fellow traveler. Anxiety sucks. I want to go see someone but can’t afford the specialist copay times multiple visits…
    Mindlessness helps… TV, fun books and music. But in the end you’ve got to learn how to read yourself so you don’t panic in front of coworkers. You see it coming and you go Zen and freeze and concentrate for a bit so you can hold it in and respond appropriately in the workplace.
    I’ve heard about a smartphone app called Pacifica that’s supposed to be helpful but I haven’t tried it yet.
    Thankful I’ve never been to the ER but I’m scared that might be me someday, having completely melted down and lost control. I really should see someone. Meds might be helpful.

  5. Anxiety sucks. I had my first attack about 5 years ago when I had an unrelenting sinus infection and melted down in the doctor’s office. It was quite embarrassing. Now I sometimes get anxious over the possibility of getting anxious!

    Everyone is different, but here is what helps me: I follow a regular schedule of zumba and spend plenty of time playing and cuddling with the cats in an attempt to minimize its effect. I color from time to time – I find the patterns and colors relaxing. I also have some guided imagery on phone to listen to when I’m going through a difficult time.

    • Angela, what caused it to start, I’m guessing, out of the blue 5 years ago?

      You mentioned a physical illness. Were you a nervous person before you had what I imagine was a full-blown panic attack?

      • I can’t speak for Angela but mine started during a period of extreme stress. I had a full-time job along with being a full-time student, when my wife got sick for two months and I had take care of the kids and the house during that time as well.
        Along with the occasional anxiety I also have become more withdrawn, less able to multitask, and more irritable, although I work hard to manage myself.
        I guess I never recovered from that period of extreme stress.

        • Thanks, DT. What puzzled me was how it could be triggered by an especially stressful time and then not go away when things cool down. I wonder what’s happening in the brain.

      • I’ve always been a nervous person and have been treated for depression for about 10 years. The best I can figure is that being sick had me worn down and more susceptible to a melt down. I was also under some stress from being in a not so great situation at work, but nothing extreme. Today I’m generally fine but the anxiety does creep in occasionally during our busy time of year.

  6. I suffer from anxiety from time to time as well, and can empathize with you. It sucks.
    I exercise a lot, and I can see you already know how helpful that is.
    I believe in God, and imagining that I am in the presence of God, like right there next to me, calms me. As does deep breathing, and a low dosage of Buspar!

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