How to manage anxiety from trauma


Anxiety. It's the worst thing, isn't it? The good news is that it doesn't always have to be disabling and terrifying. I know that because I've gone from being sick from it to the point of not being able to leave the house, to where I am today about to start a podcast!

Shaking uncontrollably, feeling nauseous, sweating, heart pounding, feeling scared half to death (literally), are some of the things you can experience when anxiety gets the better of you. I've dealt with all of these feelings to the point where I would have panic attacks. Maybe you haven't had full blown panic attacks, but anxiety alone can be enough to interfere with your ability to function.

When you feel anxious, you worry all of the time. It becomes difficult to relax and concentrate on anything. It's a terrible thing to experience, but it can develop after a trauma. PTSD, like I talked about in the last post, is actually considered an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can develop when we feel like we don't have control of the situation, and this is how we can certainly feel from a traumatic experience.

Feeling anxious is one of the worst feelings you can experience. When you're anxious it's hard to know how long it will last. Will it last for a moment, the whole day, longer? We try to get it under control but it seems to have a mind of its own. I used to feel completely helpless and hopeless when I felt anxious.

When Anxiety Ruled My World

I remember the exact day it started. It didn't start right away after the bullying ended. It took a few years to manifest itself, and it took a physical illness to trigger it. I woke up feeling sick one Friday. I thought it was a stomach bug or something I had eaten, except it didn't go away. After several tests, a specialist and a few months later, I was diagnosed with acid reflux. Just what I needed.

Well, as a result of waking up feeling sick every morning, I was also waking up nervous, expecting to feel sick. Of course, this would become a self-fulfilling prophecy and I began a vicious cycle.

I had just started working at my first job and had to take three weeks off. It took all my courage to go back after those three weeks. The fear I would experience every morning was terrible just knowing that I had to go to work. Sometimes I would literally get sick over it. I wasn't able to eat much or focus on anything during those days. In fact, that's how I was on my non-work days too because I would anticipate the next time I had to go to work.

This went on for some time and I developed social anxiety as a result. Basically, I became anxious to go out and be around others. I was afraid of getting sick while being out. I could have been feeling okay all day and then I would get sick right before getting together with someone or a group of people later that day and not be able to go out. It would take all my effort to keep myself together all day and then I would still lose control of my feelings when the time came to go out.

I hated being this way. Not only was I dealing with the effects of being bullied, but now I had to deal with this too. I was just trying to get my life back and now I couldn't handle going out and being with people. Not the direction I wanted to be heading in.

This went on for a few years until college and my second job. Things started to get a little better but it was still a struggle. It took me having to go on medication to get things under control. It was at that point that I was able to break my vicious cycle and start implementing some tactics to help me manage my anxiety. Let's look at what those were.

9 Tips For Managing Anxiety

1. Exercise.  There's nothing like getting the blood pumping to make you feel better. I found it to be a great outlet and distraction for me.

2. Meditate.  This helped me to calm myself down by focusing my thoughts instead of them running out of control in my head.

3. Push Through It.  Sometimes the thought of what we have to do is worse than actually doing it. So sometimes the best thing you can do is face your fear head on. I always felt better after actually leaving the house. It was after realizing that nothing bad was going to happen that I would finally be able to relax.

4. Use Small Wins To Build Momentum.  This goes along with the previous tip. If you face what is making you anxious and nothing bad happens, then think of that the next time and use that to build up some momentum and confidence.

5. Go Easy On Yourself.  I used to get so mad at myself for feeling anxious even though it was out of my control. If you're feeling anxious, accept it for what it is and don't beat yourself up over it. You can't overcome your anxiety if you're mad at yourself for it.

6. Write In A Journal.  This was another good outlet for me. Sometimes getting all of your feelings and fears out on paper can make you feel better and help you realize that you don't need to be so nervous.

7. Avoid Caffeine.  Sorry about this one, but caffeine will make you anxious, along with any other stimulant. Not too long ago I was on a caffeine kick until I realized I was feeling nervous after my cup of coffee. No need to put something in your body that is going to make you feel anxious.

8. Progressive Muscle Relaxation.  One of the first things I did was get a workbook and tape recording of this technique. This is where you focus on different muscles in your body separately and relax each one. Go here for instructions on how to do it. I found this technique very helpful.

9. Visualization.  Another thing that really helps is visualizing the thing that makes you anxious. Close your eyes and imagine yourself going through the action and not getting anxious. If you can imagine being calm then you are more likely to remain calm when you actually do the thing.

Lessons Learned

So do I still struggle with anxiety today? Not much more than the average person. Of course, we have to remember that some anxiety is normal. It's just human nature to feel anxious at times, especially with new things. The important thing is to not let that get out of control and interfere with your ability to do those things.

I've come to realize that besides the tips I listed above, there were two constants that really helped me make my anxiety manageable. One of those constants was relying on a routine. Simply knowing what I would be doing from one day to the next really helped me stay calm. Now I'm able to do things outside of my comfort zone and only get a little bit nervous.

The other thing I was doing regularly was focusing on building my self-esteem. This allowed me to feel more confident in my abilities, which I used to build momentum. The better you feel about yourself, the less anxious you'll be in anxiety-producing situations; and the less anxiety you feel, the better you'll feel about yourself. This is the kind of cycle you want to create.

The goal should be to get to a point where not being anxious becomes the norm and where you don't mistake "normal" anxiety for anything more than that. Anxiety can be a wild beast to control, but there are things you can do to tame it. If you've been dealing with anxiety for a while then it's probably going to take a while to overcome it. It's basically like you've become conditioned to be anxious and now you have to condition yourself to not be anxious.

Please consider getting professional help if you are not able to manage your anxiety on your own. The strategies I provided here are only good if you have some control over your anxiety in the first place.

Do you struggle with anxiety? Has anything helped you? Feel free to share in the comments below.  
Also, if you know someone who struggles with anxiety then share using the links below.
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photo credit: porschelinn via photopin cc


  1. Eli Evitt says:

    great story i was really touched by what you said and what do do with trauma because i really needed it because i have PTSD and that really helps thanks

  2. Melissa,

    Thanks for this page. I have been bullied and seen bullying of others (I stood up and became a victim even more) and am still at the same work place and have to confront it at the beginning of the school year again. The anxiety is crippling at times. I am bitter. Reading you posts help – I want to return to that place of love and kindness that once defined me. I teach so I guess I need to get to the point where I will not be bitter if the bullying takes that away from me. Reading this helps.

  3. Great post Melissa! Great information and tips as well on managing anxiety. I think all of us, at one point or another, experience anxiety. I know I have, and I know it’s a scary feeling. Sounds like you know that same feeling all too well also. The suggestions you’ve provided here are great and I believe can certainly help anyone to manage their own anxiety. Thanks as well for your bravery in sharing your own experiences with us. You’re awesome! Congrats on your upcoming podcast too… look forward to hearing it! 🙂 Cheers!

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