I suppose managing anxiety (or any mental illness for that matter) is a lot like losing weight: really fucking hard to get to a point where you’re happy, and even harder to sustain it. I guess that’s why so many people avoid self-care… and diets.
I’m going to (or hope to) give you some useful advice about how you can cope with and, eventually, live with your mental illness.
For well over 5 years, I suffered day-in and day-out with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. It felt like I had been plucked out of reality and dropped into a new world where fear, irrational (and sometimes intrusive) thoughts ruled with an iron fist.
I was trying to escape from this seemingly eternal imprisonment and this seemed like too much of a herculean task; one that I wasn’t ready for, or so I thought. I believed this to be true because for the best part of my teenage years, my self-esteem was practically non-existent.
To cut a very traumatic and long story short, I decided that enough was enough. I was about to embark on a journey that would open my eyes wide enough to allow me to find the remaining strength and courage I had buried deep inside my heart.
After 2 years on this journey, I finally reached a point that I deemed a success. I was managing my anxiety daily, without it draining all my energy doing so.
I learned a few things that I’d like to share with you.
Patience is your New Best Friend.
As a man, patience is something I naturally struggled with. I wanted to be ‘cured’ quickly and, because of this, each setback I endured seemed like the end of the world.
I didn’t fully appreciate how hard self-care is. I wasn’t patient with myself, those around me or with the process of caring for myself.
Put it like this: when you get the flu, you do what the Doctor says, right? You rest up, you eat foods to help you heal, you medicate in hopes you’ll get better soon. There’s a cycle involved.
If you’d do that with the flu, why won’t you do that for your mind? Your mind is an incredibly vulnerable yet powerful tool that you need to nurture daily.
You need to go through the cycles. Some days you’ll feel better than others, but understand it’s all part of your learning process. There are times when I feel like anxiety is getting the best of me and that’s okay. I’m allowed to not be okay: I’m not a fucking superhero!
Lose the Ego.
Ego can be the reason why you didn’t try a new way of caring for yourself. It’s that simple. You need to be open to trying new avenues of recovery.
Recovering from and eventually managing your mental illness requires a degree of unbiased behaviour. If it means you were incredibly opposed to speaking to your mates in the past about how you feel, well, now it’s time to try it out.
There is a caveat to this: do what you feel is within your limits. Again, your ego plays a part in this, too. You need to be honest about feeling ready before you jump in feet first and hoping you come up for air.
To help with a possible learning curve, adapt this way of thinking in all aspects of your life. Normalise this thinking. If you only associate your ego with your mental health, you’ll isolate your thoughts. That is exactly what you don’t want to do.
Be Selfish with Your Time
This is a hard concept to grasp. People think to be a good person and to heal; you need to selflessly give your time up.
Within reason, yes, they’re right. You need to offer a helping hand to those that need it more than you, but not at the cost of your health. You come first before anybody else.
How selfish does that sound? I hope you don’t think I’m a dick… hear me out.
The more time you allocate to yourself, uninterrupted, the more time you’re gifted to spend understanding your day, your thoughts and appreciate the outside world.
Personally, from 7pm-8pm, would take this time to reflect on the day. I’d understand where I went wrong, what I did right, what I felt good about and what I could have done better. You become the student and the teacher. The subject? Understand who you truly are.
Tip: don’t take this time to focus on your negatives. This is where you need a balanced view of the day. If you’re going to acknowledge the shitty parts, you need to equally appreciate the moments where a bravo is in order.
Another tip: listen to your favourite song or type of music during this time. It will help you feel more comfortable.
Comparing Yourself is Destructive
This is my closing point because it’s something that we all do on a daily basis. We compare ourselves to somebody else so often that we forget to appreciate that our journey is different to theirs.
There’s no harm in aspiring to be a better version of yourself but, don’t ever feel like you need to be somebody else.
I used to compare myself to my friends all of the time. They would do all of the normal things in life without any hesitation and, there I was, having a panic attack at the thought of entering a restaurant. I would voluntarily kick my self-worth in the dick by doing this.
By comparing myself to other people, I opened the floodgates, behind which an entire tidal wave of self-sabotaging thoughts lay dormant in hopes that I’d start wishing for something I wasn’t.
I know this sounds incredibly cliché and, for that I’m sorry, but, embrace who you are. Embrace your flaws just as much as you embrace your strengths and only aspire to be a better version of you: not a mimicked version of somebody else.
If you can take anything away from this article, I hope it’s this: self-care is a process, not a race. It’s something you need to commit to daily before it becomes natural to you.
Some fantastically helpful advice from Ryan, so a massive thank you to him for all his helpful tips and advice. Has he mentioned anything that has also helped you? Is there anything else that has helped you? Let us know in the comments below. We also have a wealth of self-help strategies in our Man Kit.
You can keep up-to-date with Ryan on Twitter, where he's @NoMoreGremlins