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Mental Health Awareness Month: How I Tamed My Anxiety

We often don’t like to talk about our mental health. It's a topic that has unfortunately been accepted as a stigma across various societies. We tend to suppress our admissions of mental health struggles - maybe because we fear embarrassment, or we simply want to protect what we deem a vulnerability. Whatever the case, mental health has been left out of the important conversations happening around holistic well-being. That needs to change. That’s why May has been globally acknowledged as Mental Health Awareness Month, and this year’s theme highlights one of the most common and yet misunderstood mechanisms in the human brain: Anxiety. 


What is anxiety? 

Anxiety is a natural response from our brain. We can’t eliminate it from our lives because it is a protection mechanism deeply engrained in our biology. According to Rootd, it is the state of apprehension and fear experienced when anticipating a real or imagined threat, event, or situation. 

Have you ever felt yourself suddenly starting to have trouble breathing, cold sweats, blurred vision, feeling trapped, nauseated, or that you are about to lose control? That’s your body responding to a threat. An extreme myriad of the above is called a panic attack. The problem with anxiety happens when we experience it without the presence of a real threat. Stress can wear our bodies down and weaken our minds. A tired brain can misinterpret the stimuli that surround us. 


So, what is the difference between stress and anxiety? 

Have you been using these interchangeably? Don’t worry, I used to think they were the same too. After all, they are both responses and generate a similar set of emotions. But according to the American Psychology Association (APA) the difference is that stress is caused by something external like when you’re approaching an important deadline at work, or you are watching something distressing on the news.  

Anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily have to be caused by an external trigger. It can be evoked by something as simple as a thought, a memory, or an idea - things that aren’t necessarily happening or will ever happen, but that are very real in your mind and perceived as harmful. 


Let’s say I am struggling with anxiety right now. How can I manage it?

Most importantly, you don’t have to feel ashamed. 263 million people on this planet, me included, are living with anxiety as their rent-free roommate. 

I was nineteen years old when I experienced my first panic attack. It was late at night, and it came out of nowhere. All of a sudden, my heart started pounding against my chest, the walls of my bedroom began closing in on me and I started to feel really sick. It was a terrifying thing to feel not just because it was so strong and overwhelming, but because I couldn’t understand what was happening to me.  

I started obsessing over it. I painstakingly analyzed my surroundings because I believed that if I could control my triggers then I would conquer anxiety and return to my self-identified normal state. Yet, as I began to understand my anxiety better, I realized that coping with it instead of trying to control it became much easier. 

Here are some coping tactics that worked for me: 

  • Talking about it is always the first step. Don’t be afraid to tell your family, friends, co-workers, or boss what’s happening. Don’t be ashamed to go to therapy. You don’t have to go through it alone; ask for help.
  • Be kind to your mind. It’s easy to get frustrated with ourselves when we’re going through an anxiety spike, or when we don’t feel understood by those around us. But don’t forget that love and acceptance start from within. Be at peace with yourself and the rest will follow.

  • Breathe in through your nose until your lungs are full, hold it for 5 seconds, and then breathe out through your mouth until your lungs are empty. Repeat this for 1 minute. It will help you lower your respiratory rate and heart rate to a steadier pace. 
  • Trust your body. I know it might be difficult to trust it when it’s making you feel all these uncomfortable things but believe it can handle all the sensations you are feeling. Trust in yourself, trust in the process, and know that it is temporary. Your body will get you through this spike and you’ll be stronger for it.  

Additional resources and insights to help tame anxiety

Start with the simple things. If you’re experiencing panic attacks, or you feel that the anxiety levels you’re having in your life are too high, reach out to someone you can trust and tell them about it.  

Try meditation, yoga, or other types of exercises. Breathing-based practices will help you synchronize your breath and heart rate. Also, APA states that exercising and staying active helps your body to physically match the heightened emotions you are feeling, and this way you won’t feel overwhelmed by them. 

Take time during your workday to decompress and regroup. You might think it is difficult to do, especially when you have a long to-do list. But taking these short breaks will allow you to rest your mind and give it time to process everything that’s going on. Also, don’t cheat yourself out of your adequate sleep. A well-rested brain has profound physiological effects beyond my comprehension; but, from my own experience, I know it is an essential factor in optimizing mental and physical performance. 

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Lastly, request counseling. As part of our Be Well (well-being) program, Thirdera offers Eranauts from all over the globe and their family members free and confidential services through our Employee Assistance Program. Not only does this program provide access to articles, podcasts, tools, and other resources to help effectively manage mental health, but it also provides an opportunity to request one-on-one counseling sessions with highly qualified, local healthcare professionals.  

Remember, you are not alone. No issue is small, silly, or unimportant. Talk about it, ask for help, trust your body, and be kind to your mind.  


Astrid Espinosa

Astrid is the Culture & People Experience Lead at Thirdera. She is a Psychology professional with experience within different HR fields and is passionate about helping people and organizations thrive.
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