Paris is a mental illness survivor. She came out of the "mental illness closet" in 2012 and has been happier ever since.
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 like 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 therapies. This led to several non-traditional yet effective ways of overcoming my anxiety disorders.
When you have a mental illness, resourcefulness can be your best companion. After all, we are among the most creative and innovative minds because without these traits, we couldn't possibly overcome our hurdles or survive a single day.
After reading these stories, you may also consider these ideas to help you conquer your own personal issues.
Rock Music Helped Me Conquer My Fear of Bridges
It all started with an intense fear of driving.
Learning to drive was what made me seek help for my anxiety in the first place. Even though I passed my driving test, obtained a license, and eventually drove home in my first (used) car, I was still plagued with obsessive thoughts about having an accident. I would have nightmares 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 feeling anxious that I didn't realize it was becoming pathological.
Then, the panic attacks started.
My First Panic Attack
I can remember my first panic attack. It was 5 PM, and my workday ends at 5:30 PM. That meant I would be driving home in thirty minutes. I started obsessing over the thought of getting into an accident. 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 clock to strike 5:30 PM. Waiting for a future disaster. It took several minutes to realize what was happening, and it took just as long time to calm down enough to drive home—slowly, but surely.
That was only the first attack. I had another one the next day. And the next day. And the day after that. All 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.
Deciding to See a Therapist
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 bridges. This was a new phobia; I was able to drive over bridges 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.
"Highway to Hell"—How Rock Music Helped My Anxiety
And then, salvation came. In the form of AC/DC. No, I'm being serious here.
One morning, while driving to work and practicing my breathing exercises as my body prepared for an anxiety attack at the sight of the approaching bridge—I was struggling to keep my breathing steady—AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" came on the Classic Rock radio station—just before I reached the bridge. What better song to describe the current situation.
That's when I noticed something surprising. 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 just happened. That song did more for my anxiety than the Cymbalta I was prescribed.
So I downloaded "Highway to Hell" on my phone and played it again while driving home. 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. Within months, I went from avoiding small bridges to driving on the Greater New Orleans Bridge while blaring "Hell's Bells."
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's why they listen to rap or rock music to gear up for a big game."
So, Does Music Actually Help With Anxiety?
This may just be anecdotal evidence for certain music helping with stress and anxiety—but there's more to it than that. According to a recent study, 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 from this? Can music help you with your anxiety? Who knows. But it never hurts to try.
Alternative Makeup Helped Me 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 thought I looked awkward—my social anxiety reinforced this—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.
Trying Something New
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 I really liked what I saw.
Alternative Makeup as a Coping Mechanism?
This is how my love of eclectic makeup started. Despite my social anxiety, I would walk outside with heavy eyeliner and brown lipstick. The next day, I practiced putting on purple lipstick (now my trademark). And the next day—and I couldn't believe it—I had progressed to wearing blue lipstick while buying green lipstick.
For some reason, I wasn't embarrassed or paranoid of what people thought of 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 makeup 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 to cope with my social anxiety."
He laughed, saying, "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, gothic makeup, or facial piercings are actually hiding behind a mask to cope with their anxiety.
Why I Think It Works for Me
I say mask because that's how I view my use of alternative lipstick colors. When I think of cat-eye eyeliner and purple lipstick, I think of my two favorite holidays: Halloween and Mardi Gras. 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 these two holidays.
For one night, you can abandon your awkward, socially anxious state and become someone else. And someone else was what I was while sporting black lipstick on a regular 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 method I use to deal with 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, I avoided them unless I had to wear them at certain events.
Why I Gave Up Heels
I never really considered why I gave them up until I purchased black pumps for work. The next day, I walked along the white tile to my office. I cringed at the sound of my heels tapping on the floor. I was experiencing my worst fear: 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. I started to reflect on that.
Why I Started Wearing Them Again
I could've stopped coming to work in heels, but instead, I kept wearing them everyday, despite my fear of drawing attention to myself. I figured I could turn this into a sort of desensitization therapy—and my psychiatrist supported this idea. Just the look of high heels command attention—something I wasn't initially comfortable with.
Wearing them, I was forced to deal with people hearing me before seeing me. I had to get 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 not care what other people were thinking (for once). I stopped worrying about bothering people with my noisy shoes. What started as a makeshift therapy worked wonders and really helped me 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 what works for you. Whether it's brown lipstick or making abstract art, when conventional treatments don't seem to be working, think outside the box to find new ways of dealing with your anxiety.
What quirks do you use to help you cope with your anxiety?
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.