Anxiety is one tough cookie – it just doesn’t back off! To be honest, I don’t think I ever ‘recovered’ from anxiety. It’s an everyday battle that I have learned to accept – and this acceptance pushed me to organize my life around it.

This mindfulness helps me make rational decisions to provide myself a better quality of life. However, this wouldn’t have happened if I did not seek professional support.

Prior to that, I was convinced that I would never fit into the ‘good vibes only’ clique – I was cynical, irrational, negative, miserable and developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. Some days I turned to food to numb my pain, some days I couldn’t step outside my room, bottling up emotions and chronic IBS.

Reflecting on my past, I am glad I reached out for help and chose my battles. It makes sense to me why I struggle with anxiety. Enduring trauma may have made me stronger or more mature, but it’s okay to acknowledge the burden that I had to carry at the cost of it.  At the end of the day, it’s not about choosing groups – I am happy to be a part of the anxiety club along with the good vibes only clique!

Here are some realistic strategies that have worked for me over the years:

1. When I find myself overwhelmed with anxiety; I sometimes allow myself to sit with those feelings. In the past, the more I ran away from emotions, the more I developed unhealthy coping mechanisms. Occasionally, I need to cut myself some slack, stay in pajamas all day, binge watch Kath and Kim and order my only vice – bubble tea! (even if the UberEATS delivery fee is $3.99).

2. While yoga and meditation can definitely play a key role in mental health well-being, I found myself not being able to relate to it – it just wasn’t helping. I wanted people to understand that what works for them, may not work for me. However, I make sure to go out for long walks, with my Spotify workout playlist at the ready. I also enjoy Zumba exercises that I can follow from YouTube tutorials in my own room. This ensures that I don’t end up hating myself just because I can’t meditate even for a minute, or stretch my legs without bursting into tears.

3. Yes, social media can be harmful for our mental health. All of us are living our best lives on Instagram. I’ve had moments where I frequently felt “damn, that person is so lucky”, not realizing that other people might have the same thoughts about my life. After all, pictures of me having a panic attack or not being able to get out of my room don’t really fit into my Instagram aesthetic of trips to Noosa and Whitsundays Island. The grass is always greener on the side!

4. Speaking of Instagram, there are moments when I feel triggered by the content or pictures posted by certain accounts. I have found that unfollowing accounts on social media to protect my own mental well-being is one of the best forms of self-care. Being a fashion and skincare junkie, I love scrolling through make-up tutorials and fashion styling tips, it can be really soothing. I also love following the accounts of psychotherapists and psychologists, who share resources and tips for mental health well-being and awareness. They teach me a lot about myself and the feeling of “wow, they get me!” (Just remember these accounts are not a substitute for seeing your own psychologist!)

5. On the days I feel that my anxiety has paralyzed me, I put on my Spotify playlist created specifically to counter those feelings and try make some realistic goals for myself. I give myself a big pat on the back, even if I only manage to make my bed or take a shower. One step at a time! Nutritious food can help too. Reddit is one platform I’ve found helpful in learning to making healthy meals, especially on a bad mental health day. On my phone, if I have 5 pending WhatsApp messages to respond to, I make sure that I follow up with the most important one at least.

6. Sometimes, your family and friends may have the best of intentions to support you, but may end up giving advice or saying something that could cause more harm than good. Eventually I got sick of making excuses and reached a stage where I just wanted to take my “mask” off. Now I am honest about whatever emotions I am going through, and had a talk with my family and friends about how I want to be supported. Creating healthy boundaries has also made a world of a difference – asking for space, requesting support, saying yes to new positive experiences, and maintaining honest communication.

7. To silence my inner harsh critic, sometimes I like to file a “mental lawsuit” against my anxiety and challenge it at the high court: Is this is idea a thought or a fact? What evidence do you have that this is true? What evidence do you have that this is not true? The way you speak about yourself, would you say that to your best friend who needed support? Do you have any control over this situation? How can you make the most of this situation in a positive way? What support do you need right now?

8. I consider myself confident enough to be seen in public without make-up or in my pajamas, it doesn’t faze me. However, if I ever have a rough start to my day, a bright lipstick, some bronzer, mascara and a chic dress can definitely do wonders for my self-esteem. I feel much more put together, and it gives me a positive boost as I strut down to the train station feeling like Naomi Campbell.

9. Mindfulness has made a huge positive impact in my life and I now swear by it. It helps me to be present, self-compassionate, able to label/identify my emotions, and most importantly realize their impermanence. The technique of “thought replacement” helps too. Instead of thinking “I am such a failure for not passing this test” I have better, more truthful options. “I tried my best despite being unwell. Now that I know where I have faltered, I will try harder next time. My mental health matters more than a test worth 10%.”

This piece was written by one of the ICLA eFriend Peer Support Workers. eFriend is an online platform where you can connect with a trained peer support worker whom has their own lived experience of feeling lonely, isolated, stressed or worried. You can speak to your eFriend Peer via video or phone call. Your eFriend Peer will listen, validate and provide hope. If you like, they can also assist you to identify any other services you may like to try or help you create plans to improve your personal well-being. Or they can simply listen.

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