01/20/2017

What do you do when your thoughts get dark?

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Sorry, T-Swift, but “shaking it off” might be harder than it looks. This especially applies when we lose our chill. Living in the bustling industrial city that is Metro Manila makes losing our chill less and less avoidable. Whether it’s fighting with jeepneys for road dominance or cracking during hell week exams pressure, anxiety gets us during these little “do or die” moments. The catch is it doesn’t even matter if we have mental illness as an excuse. Freaking out is actually normal, after all, and shockingly quite helpful.

“It’s a normal response of our body to stresses and pressures. Being anxious makes us respond to stresses in a functional way,” says John Jamir Benzon R. Aruta, a registered guidance counsellor at De La Salle University-Manila (he’s soon finishing his PhD in counselling psychology as well). However, Aruta adds, “Some people experience excessive anxiety and develop dysfunctional responses. For example, some people may lose focus and concentration, have sleep disturbance, muscle tension and more.”

Are there people exempted from the anxiety party? Unfortunately, everyone’s invited. “Anybody can experience panic and anxiety,” Aruta says. “Some people may be more vulnerable due to genetic factors, and dysfunctional beliefs (people who were taught to view/over-interpret the world as a dangerous place).” He adds: “Young adults starting to expose themselves to the fast-paced nature of the work world may feel overwhelmed and respond with anxiety.”

It might sound like there’s no escaping anxiety. But there are ways to combat it and learn to settle in. Think of it as tolerating that tita who stays over and says “tumaba ka” on repeat. It won’t be easy, but at least you can make things bearable. Here are Aruta’s tips that’ll help us tame this demon on the go or at home.

SEE NO EVIL, FEEL NO EVIL

Try to slowly remove yourself from the problem. Distract yourself from the source, whether in a real or imagined way. When stuck in a traffic jam, try blasting the radio (and sing along). Try talking to yourself. Give yourself a pep talk or just talk about things far away from the subject that is your problem. It’s not as easy as it sounds, but distractions will give you more clarity and help solve your problem later.

MIND OVER MATTER

Meditation isn’t limited to enlightened, healthy individuals who drink wheatgrass on a daily. This practice can help us center ourselves in tense situations. When visited with anxiety, we are often scatterbrained and less likely to make rational decisions. Deane Alban, writer and manager of the Be BrainFit medical website, has a simple meditation technique.

1. Sit quietly and close your eyes.
2. Breathe. Focus on your breathing.
3. Saying “Breathing in, breathing out” can help keep other thoughts at bay.
4. When you notice a random thought, simply label it as “a thought.” Ease your focus back to your breathing.

It’s a misconception that when you think of something during meditation, you’ve somehow “failed.” Your brain will continue to generate thoughts constantly, which could heighten our anxiety. Meditation helps push these thoughts aside.

GET PHYSICAL

All of us have different excuses when we hear the word “exercise.” We all hear them constantly, post-holiday season. But it’s not only beneficial to people who want to lose extra chubs. It’s also beneficial to people who experience frequent anxiety. As the pink law goddess Elle Woods once said: “Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy.” She continues about the reasons for shooting one’s husband, but that’s irrelevant at the moment.

You don’t have to be the next face of Century Tuna’s Beach bod to find ways to avoid anxiety. But at least get a move on every now and then, to avoid it.

PAGING DOCTOR WHO?

Don’t think of counseling as a one-way ticket to the loony bin. That’s not the case at all. When all else fails, go seek a counselor, or consider psychotherapy. There are problems we can’t face alone and there are problems our friends can’t solve for us. Put all those local misconceptions about mental health behind you for a second and think of this as a way to reach self-love. The brain is an organ, after all, just like the lungs or heart. It can falter every now and then. You can learn to set it right.

Hopefully these tips help you regain your chill whenever the Big A comes around. Remember, anxiety’s a part of life — a quite annoying part of life. But depending on how you experience it, there are life hacks to tune it out so you can make #selflove2k17 happen.

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