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Ed. Note: If you have a mental illness, please see the bottom of this post, and don’t take anything I write seriously between now and then.

With the holidays among us, we’re all searching for that perfect gift. Unfortunately, with the economy as is it is most of us do not have the money to purchase presents for those we care about. Everyone says that homemade presents make the best impression, so ask yourself: what could be a better gift to your loved ones than developing a crippling problem with anxiety? It costs nothing, ensures plenty of conversation, takes everyone’s minds of their own problems, and, if done right, can outlast the holiday season. Truly a gift that keeps on giving. Read on to discover how to cultivate a balls-to-the-walls problem that will set even your closest friends on edge.

1. Take note of all of your faults

Most people would say that, to cultivate an anxiety disorder, one should focus first on their fears. These people are amateurs. You’ll go further and further into a serious anxiety problem if you first focus on your faults. Aim for actions you could perform better, such as your public speaking abilities, rather than feelings. This accomplishes two things: First, it beats down your feelings of self-worth and, second, if damages your feelings of being able to cope. Not feeling able to cope is an important quality for anyone developing an anxiety problem. Take fifteen minutes and write down the ten biggest faults you feel you have as a person. Be honest, no one else will be reading this. Use this list as a starting point for the next exercise.

2. Find people who encourage you in the areas you feel you are deficient in. Begin to doubt them.

Read over the list you made in step one and jot down the names of one or two family members or close friends who encourage you in the areas you feel you suck. Begin really looking at what they say when they encourage you, and find the holes. They can be difficult to pin down, but with a bit of word-twisting you can make it. For example, say your mother tells you that you’re learning how to cook for yourself quickly. A fairly mentally healthy person will take this as a complement, assuming it indicates that they are developing a necessary life skill quickly and competently. Someone working on an anxiety disorder will be able to twist this to mean that his or her mother has hated every meal he or she has ever cooked, and will then be able to approach the stove with an appropriate amount of trepidation. Some may say this step is best when attempting to sink into a depression, but I say anxiety and depression are two sides of the same damn coin.

3. Remember that everyone is judging you

Everyone wants to be accepted by their pack, and a real cherry on the anxiety sundae is being certain that you won’t be accepted by yours. This is also a good introductory move to more crippling anxiety, as it plays into fears that everyone (well, okay, maybe not your supremely self-confident, gorgeous older sister, but she’s a freak of nature*) has on some level and allows you to explore panicking in social settings. The key here is to internalize the idea that everyone is paying very close attention to you at all times and dislikes what you are doing intensely. Think about situations in which you’ve embarrassed yourself before. Did you put your foot in your mouth in front of your best friend’s new girlfriend? She remembers, and laughs at you with your best friend whenever they see you. Did you unintentionally insult someone’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, social status or education? In spite of the fact that you apologized, they not only remember it but they hate you. Focus on these interactions until the thought of being around new people gives you the sweats.

*Remember, everyone who projects a confident, happy exterior is a freak of nature with no problems who never worries about anything. You’ll never feel like that. Now, focus on that feeling and remember people can see it when they look at you.

4. Begin to focus on your fears, and the millions of ways they could come about

Everyone, at some point, has an irrational worry. This is normal in even mentally healthy individuals, but for those of us seeking anxiety the fear needs to be cultivated. What’s your biggest, most unlikely fear? Medical disasters? Loss of a loved one? Being robbed, raped, or murdered? By a serial killer? Great! Spend an hour a day vividly imagining the various scenarios that could lead to this eventuality. Remember, it’s not a matter of if something bad happens to you, it’s a matter of when. It’s happened to someone, somewhere, which means you’re next. Begin counting down the days until your personal tragedy strikes. Remember: if it occurs, it will be the end of the world. You’ll be sleepless in no time.

5. Focus on your close relationships, and the infinite ways you piss others off

This is a little different from the social anxiety addressed in step three, because it’s harder to be nervous around people whom you already assume like you. It’s an advanced step, but you’ve had time to practice your social problems and your fear of the unlikely. The key here is to remember that no one really likes you. Your loved ones put up a front of caring about you, but that’s only because they’re saints. Really, they keep you around for amusement. Begin to think of all the things you could do to upset them. Remember that they’re acting upset even though they’re saints who pretend to like you. That means if you’ve upset them, you must’ve really fucked up. Repeat until it’s internalized: they’re only tolerating you until someone better comes along.

6. Begin to talk about all the things others can do to help you “cope” with your anxiety issues

Remember that a key to successfully staying mired in an unhealthy mental pattern is to actively refuse to do anything to help yourself. Instead, explain in great detail to all of your loved ones how they can rearrange their lives to enable your issues. Make sure that when you discuss it you word it so you sound like you’re asking for their help, while you’re really just asking them to jump through hoops to not do anything that forces you to admit you have a problem. Some good examples: Ask your significant other to not bring up relationship problems, tease you, or make jokes because they make you nervous. Ask your co-workers to avoid discussing their spouses if you might be around, because it makes you worry about your relationship issues. Ask a friend to drive you home, enter the house with you and wait until you’ve turned on the lights and opened the closet doors in every room to make sure you won’t be murdered by an intruder (best if you’ve got an alarm system). Refuse any compromise anyone offers. Remember: anxiety isn’t about rationality.

7. Cry

You’ll begin to feel overwhelmed at this point. Begin to cry whenever you worry. If you stop crying, think about your anxieties and cry more. This will drain just about every impulse you have to feel better out of you and increase your feelings of lack of control, with the added bonus of being uncomfortable for everyone around you.

8. Repeat until you have a panic attack

Panic attacks are unpleasant, and a surefire sign that you’ve achieved an anxiety disorder. You may even have a bonus depression problem waiting in the wings. Good job!

This ends the Handy Dandy Guide: Cultivating Your Anxiety Disorder. By following this guide, even the most worry-free individual be wracked with anxiety by New Years’. We’d wish you best of luck, but we all know that you’ll soon be fired, mugged on your way out of your former workplace’s parking lot, and dead minutes later in a fiery car crash because you lost control when your wife called to tell you she wanted a divorce, so really, that’s just silly.

Editor’s Note, Ctd: Before anyone accuses me of being a horrible, insensitive person, I’d just like to say I’ve been through the anxiety disorder roller coaster and poking fun at my own poor thought patterns is one of the ways I deal with it so save it. If you have a mental illness and read this post hoping to find help, sorry I couldn’t provide you any but the internet is not the best place to look. Instead, contact a local therapist, talk to your school guidance counselor, go see your GP, or just call a trusted loved one if there’s one you can reach. You can find a therapist (US only) here by searching for your particular brand of mental illness. If you think you can’t afford a therapist, call around for sliding rates or contact your municipal or county health services – there are lots of great programs out there. As always, if it’s an emergency or you think you might hurt yourself call your country’s emergency services line (US: 911, as usual). Above all, get help! From one off-kilter brain to another, you may never feel “normal” but you can feel better than you do now.

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