When you have a mental illness, resourcefulness can be your best company. We can be known for our creativity and innovation because we couldn’t possibly survive a day or overcome hurdles without those traits.
I started seeking therapy for my anxiety in 2012. In therapy, I learned the conventional ways to deal with my anxiety attacks and social anxiety–Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and abdominal breathing exercises to name a few. But I soon realized that to conquer my mental illness, I needed to take some matters into my own hands by finding my own personal DIY therapies. This resulted in finding several non-traditional yet effective ways of overcoming my anxiety disorders. With these stories, you may also consider these ideas to help you conquer your own personal issues.
Rock music helped me to conquer my fear of bridges
It all started with an intense fear of driving.
Learning to drive was what caused me to seek help for my anxiety in the first place. Even though I had passed my driving test, obtained a license, and eventually drove home in my first new (used) car, I was still plagued with obsessive thoughts about having an accident. I would have dreams about it. I would sit at my cubicle at work, thinking of every possible disaster that could happen while driving home from work. At first, I just brushed it off (I was so used to anxiety that I couldn’t notice the fact that it was pathological). And then the panic attacks started.
I remember the first panic attack. It was 5 pm and my workday ended at 5:30. So that meant I would be driving home in thirty minutes. I started to obsess over the thought of getting into an accident. And that’s when I started to have heart palpitations. And trouble breathing. And a sudden headache. And hands that trembled so bad that I could no longer write or type. I remember running to the bathroom and crying in the bathroom stall, waiting for the time, or waiting for a future disaster. It took several minutes to realize what was happening and it took as much time to calm down enough in order to drive home (slowly, but surely).
That was only the first. I had another one the next day. And the next day. And the day after that, all happening around 5 pm. It was as if I had tricked my body into thinking that this was what it was supposed to do, and I was trapped.
This was how I finally gave in and went to see a psychiatrist and a therapist. After my diagnosis and several months of medication and therapy, I was able to drive home or to the grocery store without trembling hands on the steering wheel. However, I still had a long way to go. I was still afraid to drive over a bridge (a sudden phobia–I was able to drive over a bridge before the panic attacks started). No matter how many times I drove over the bridge that lead me to work, I still suffered from heart palpitations and tension headaches during the ordeal.
And then, salvation came. In the form of AC/DC. No, I’m being serious here.
One morning, I was driving to work and practicing my breathing exercises as my body prepared for an anxiety attack at the sight of the approaching bridge. And just before the bridge, while struggling to keep my breathing steady, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” started playing on the Classic Rock radio station. What better song to describe the current situation.
And that’s when I noticed something. My fear turned into excitement. The symptoms of an anxiety attack washed away as I sped along the elevated expressway at 60 mph, singing along to the chorus. Once I got off the bridge, I had to stop on the side of the road in order to process what had happened. That song did more for my anxiety than the Cymbalta I was being prescribed.
So I downloaded “Highway to Hell” on my phone, then played it again while driving home. And when it work a second time, I found a plan. I downloaded more AC/DC music and played it while driving over the bridge before graduating to other rock songs on a playlist.
In months I went from avoiding a small bridge to driving on the Greater New Orleans bridge while blaring “Hell’s Bells.”.
And when I told my psychiatrist about my new way of coping with anxiety, he found it amusing–and smart.
“It’s more common than you think actually,” he told me. “I think the music is hyping you up to face your fears. Music like that can do that to a person. In fact, many people in sports say that how they listen to rap or rock music to gear up for a big game.”
This may seem like anecdotal evidence that certain music will help with anxiety–but there’s more to it than that. A recent study for that, contrary to what you might think, rock music actually has a calming effect on people and has been known to be beneficial for anxiety.
So what can you conclude? Can rock music help you with anxiety? Who knows. But it never hurts to try.
Alternative make-up helped me to overcome my social anxiety
My social anxiety was caused by a grocery list of insecurities, and my appearance was just one of many insecurities. I was awkward looking (or so my social anxiety told me), and–to the disappointment of my mother–the perfect pink lipstick and mascara did not transform me into some great beauty. It was another thing to add to my list of personal failures.
I went down a “dark path” (as my mother would probably call it) by accident when I tried on a so-dark-it’s-almost-black brown lipstick. I looked in the mirror. And really liked what I saw.
And that was how it started. Despite my social anxiety, I would walk outside with heavy eyeliner and brown lipstick. Then the next day, I practiced putting on purple lipstick (my trademark). And then the next day–and I couldn’t believe it–I had progressed to wearing blue lipstick while buying green lipstick.
And for some reason, I wasn’t embarrassed or paranoid of what people thought as me as I strutted down the street or the halls at work in deep blue lipstick.
It actually took awhile to connect my fetish for alternative make-up to my anxiety. I remember coming to one major conclusion as I sat in my psychiatrist’s office one morning.
“I think I use alternative lipstick colors in order to cope with my social anxiety.”
He laughed. He said, “Yeah, I wanted to say that it’s pretty cool how your lipstick matches your shirt.” (My shirt was blue). He also mentioned that this was perfectly normal and probably more common than I thought. It made me wonder how many people who sport pink hair, or gothic make-up, or facial piercings are actually hiding behind a mask due to social anxiety.
Because a mask is how I view alternative lipstick colors. When I think of cat-eye eyeliner and purple lip, I think of my two favorite holidays: Halloween and Mardi Gras. And why? Because, as a person with social anxiety disorder, there’s liberation in hiding behind a Mardi Gras mask or a witch costume. That’s the magic of Halloween. For one night, you can abandon your awkward, socially anxious status and become someone else. And someone else was what I was while sporting black lipstick on a Monday. I’m wearing a new identity. Also, by wearing slate gray lipstick, you feel that people are focusing on your make-up rather than you social incompetence. This is one nontraditional way I use to conquer my social anxiety and it may work for you.
I used high heels to treat my social anxiety
I started wearing high heels when I was twelve (yes, twelve. My mother wanted me to be a lady.) But once I reached a certain age, when my social anxiety disorder started to develop, I stopped wearing them. Or at least avoided them unless I had to wear them at certain events.
I never really considered why I gave them up until I purchased black pumps for work. The next day, I walked on white tile to my office…and cringed at the sound of heels tapping on the floor. I was experiencing my worst nightmare: people noticing my presence. Every click-clack from my heels felt like a shout. That’s when I realized that I was avoiding heels in order to avoid attention, and started to reflect on that.
That’s how the idea formed. I could’ve stopped coming to work in heels, but instead, I kept wearing them everyday despite my paranoia caused by my anxiety. I figured I could turn this into desensitization therapy. Heels, just by the look of them alone, command attention–something I wasn’t initially comfortable with. With heels, I was forced to deal with people hearing me before seeing me, and getting used to strangers looking in my direction as I walked into a room. It wasn’t easy at first, but eventually the therapy worked. I was able to walk into a room with heels and, for once, not care what other people were thinking, or worrying that I was bothering people with my noisy shoes. What started as a form of therapy (supported by my psychiatrist), worked and helped me to conquer my fear of being the center of attention.
So what can we conclude from these stories? That AC/DC is more effective than Xanax in eliminating the symptoms of a panic attack? That high heels and make-up that would make Lady Gaga smile is the cure for social anxiety disorder? I can’t say. It’s really all up to you and the type of ways you use to cope with your fears and mental illness, weather it’s brown lipstick or making abstract art to deal with your emotions.
What quirks do you use to help you cope with your anxiety?