Healthy Ways to Deal with Anxiety
Its no secret I am an anxious person. When the idea for this article came up Stuart immediately turned to me and said “you should write this”. While there are days I would give anything to be less anxious and more chill, it has allowed me to develop some skills that have served me well. For example, I am hella organized, so organized that I have time to spare and help keep other people organized. Keeping a detailed calendar, being able to easily find things and having a plan for everything helps keep my worrying at bay. On a recent trip to Tahoe with friends I made a spreadsheet to plan the meals and food shopping. Yes, I am that person. But I am also well aware the plans go awry and the unexpected occur. I also have had a fair number of addicts in my life and I suspect the vast majority of them are self-medicating for issues like untreated anxiety, depression, and PTSD so I try to avoid alcohol and drugs when I am feeling anxious and turn instead to my list of ways to deal with anxiety in a healthy way.
I know it gets repeated over and over but this is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety. It really doesn’t matter what you do as long as you find something that you will actually do. For me its hiking. Try yoga, running, biking or even just a walk around your neighborhood. Get your body moving and your heart rate up. There have been many studies that show it is one of the most effective ways to reduce anxiety and scientist are even starting to figure out why and how it works.
There are a ton of apps, audio guides, classes and groups that can teach you meditation. Its super helpful to a ton of people with anxiety. I am one of those people who has tried every traditional meditation technique out there but my mind still wanders and then I start to worry about why I can’t meditate, so I have found other ways to focus my mind, but its so helpful to so many people I had to include it on the list. One thing I am able to do is take 10 deep breaths and focus on doing that, which is often all I need to relax.
3. Familiar and Comforting Media
Everybody has something that makes them laugh or just feels comfortable. I reread favorite books, watch an old favorite movie or TV show, like Friends or The West Wing, or listen to particular classical music pieces. I have a friend who listens to Harry Potter audio books when she gets anxious. Sometimes just having them on in the background is enough to illicit a calmer feeling. Figure out what your comfort media is and don’t be shy about using it over and over.
4. Talk to someone
It can be a friend a family member or a therapist, but voicing your worries is another way to externalize them and make them less ominous. Sometimes you also get ideas or advice back that you wouldn’t have thought of on your own. I do know that the one thing that will amplify anxiety is shame and isolation. Don’t hide it from people who care about you. If it get to be too much for your friends and family find a therapist or support group.
Journal, blog, or just take notes. I keep a notepad and pen in my nightstand. When I find myself awake at night with worry, I jot down what is bothering me. Other times a longer writing is needed. I write emails to people I never send and blog posts I never publish but sometimes the act of externalizing my feelings is enough to release them from my mind.
6. Take a Social Media Break
Social media can seem like a great distraction but it often ends up heightening anxiety. Seeing photos of your ex with a new partner or your friend from high school with her perfect new baby can send you down a rabbit hole of everything you dislike about your life. If you can keep it in perspective that the ex’s new partner probably doesn’t pick up after themselves or the perfect new baby was up screaming at 3am, then go for it, but sometimes logging off for a day or two can give you a chance to focus on yourself without the distraction of comparing it to what everyone else is doing.
7. Interact with Nature
While you are taking a break from social media, get your butt outside. In the bay area we are lucky enough to have the beach, redwood forests, parks and lakes a short distance away and a ton is accessible by mass transit. Go outside, look up at a tree, listen to the ocean, or simply step out your door and feel some sunshine or marvel at Karl the fog rolling in over the hills. If the weather is crap, spend sometime with a pet. Playing with and petting animals will reliably calm you and reduce your blood pressure. If you don’t have or can’t have a pet, offer to help a friend with theirs or volunteer at an animal shelter.
* Please note that if you are having serious debilitating anxiety or panic attacks you should absolutely seek out the help of a doctor or licensed therapist. These are simple self-care techniques to help keep general anxiety at bay.