In March 2011 I had my first anxiety attack. It was gross. It was scary. It was completely unpleasant.

But the worst part? My doctor decided that I needed medication in order to function. Highly addictive medication, that is.

I used the happy pills for about a week before throwing them out the proverbial window and taking the following risks:

  1. I got a new doctor (duh!)
  2. I quit my stressful, micromanaged job (sweet relief!)
  3. I decided to move to Paris (Oui, oui)

At my first appointment with my newfangled holistic doctor (we’ll call him Dr.Happy), he handed me some pearls of wisdom on which I have entirely based my well-being (and this blog post). This is what he said:

“The healthiest people do two things differently. First, they know when something is off. And second, they know what to do in order to fix it.”

Dr. Happy knew what he was talking about. With those words, he changed the entire direction of my life. I can now say that I’ve learned how to recognize when my mental boat is a-rockin’, and I’ve spent the last 15 months collecting the tools needed to find my equilibrium after a storm. Now, I’m here to share my pearls of wisdom with you.

STEP ONE:  How to Tell if Your Mental Boat is Rockin’

So how can you tell that your life is out of whack? Simple. Ask yourself the following question:

Is this how I want to feel?

If the answer isn’t, “Hell yeah! I love feeling like this!”, then you’re in good company. Please continue to step two.

STEP TWO: How to Get Back to a Blissful Mental State

My doctor recommended “taking time for yourself”.

“Take time for myself?” I thought, “What kind of woo woo crap is that?”

As it turns out, taking time for yourself can come in the following forms:

  1. Practicing self-compassion
  2. Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities
  3. Finding flow
  4. Investing regularly in small pleasures

Practicing self-compassion is a fancy way of saying “be nice to yourself”. Let yourself indulge in some reality TV, a bowl of ice cream, or skip your work-out without letting the devil on your shoulder tell you how lazy and pathetic you are.

This doesn’t mean that you should do these things all the time. Of course not. However, when your self-control muscle is tired, give it a break!

Partaking in stress + anxiety reducing activities comes in a variety of forms. My favorites are meditation, jogging, and taking a nice hot shower. You can also spend 10 minutes writing, sign up for a class, or watch the clouds pass in the summer sky (I spent hours doing this during my June 2011 Facebook hiatus).

Finding flow is one of my favorite concepts. When you are in a state of flow (or in the zone) time passes quickly. When you’re in flow, you’re working with your greatest strengths.

The formula for flow is simple: find something that you like to do and that also challenges you. Don’t make it too challenging, or you’ll create anxiety. Likewise, an activity that you enjoy but that is too easy will make you bored.

For more on flow, check out Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s TEDx talk (he discovered it, after all).

Investing regularly in small pleasures involves just that: spending small amounts of money (under $10) on things that make you happy.

I regularly visit the local coffee shop for an iced tea, buy greeting cards to send to friends, grab a drink on a restaurant terrace, and buy books for my Kindle.

STEP THREE: Your Next Step

Now that you’ve got some fancy and fun ways to keep a cool head, grab a piece of paper and jot down 20 more ways that you could prepare yourself for a mental shit show. This list will become your tool box. Practice one of these activities tonight… and another one tomorrow morning! Remember: preventative care is better than a band-aid after battle!

(Photo credit: Flying Life Preserver via Shutterstock)

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