Anxiety is a perfectly normal reaction to stress (and in some cases very useful to our survival!), but when you’re in the midst of experiencing it, it doesn’t feel all that normal. As someone with an always-racing mind, anxiety has always been a part of my life. I was an anxious kid, always worried about getting my schoolwork done well before it was due, trying as best I could to plan my day so I’d always be on schedule. (Today friends from childhood still tease me about always having to be at home at 7pm so I could take my nightly shower!) I’ve gotten better at managing my anxiety as I’ve gotten older, but I still have moments where I really struggle with it. For me, anxiety comes in waves. There are times in my life where I don’t experience it much and there are times (like right now…) where it feels as if I’m constantly anxious. As you can imagine, this does not pair well with striving to live a positively present life.
Whether or not you suffer from anxiety on a regular basis, this time of year can spark anxious feelings in even the most at-peace individuals. Adding holiday tasks (gifts…cards…parties…baking…etc.) to your already long to-do list can feel overwhelming, as can all of the events and family time (which, for some, can be a major stressor even if they really love their family members). Anxiety always seems to ramp up for me at the end of the year because, not only do I have all of the new holiday tasks to contend with, but my workload always seems to be the heaviest this time of year. (And don’t get me started on the whole being-single-during-the-holidays-stress!) A lot of you might be in the same boat so I thought, Why not write a blog post about some of the ways I combat my anxiety?
Over the years, I’ve tried a lot of different anti-anxiety remedies and I know there are still more I could put into my stay-calm toolkit (essential oils and regular meditation being some), but here are some of the tools I’ve been using to combat the end-of-the-year anxiety that seems to always come knocking at my door around early November…
1. TALK ABOUT IT WITH OTHERS.
Talking about anxiety can be tough, and it’s especially tricky if you’re in some sort of position where you’re supposed to have everything together (like, for example, someone who writes about staying positive and present for a living…). It can be awkward to talk about any mental health issues, but, believe me, it really helps to share what you’re going through with someone else. I’m lucky to have a close friend that also struggles with anxiety and she’s one of my go-to people to talk when I’m struggling because she knows exactly what it feels like. But people don’t have to have experienced anxiety to be empathetic. And, to be honest, most people have experienced some level of anxiety in their lives — whether it’s a slight bout of anxiety before a big test or a full-blown panic attack — and they should be able to somewhat relate to what you’re going through. And if you can’t find a close friend or relative to share your feelings with, seek out the help of a good therapist. A good therapist can work wonders with an anxious mind. (If you’re not sure about the idea of therapy, check out my 10 Reasons to Sit on the Couch post.)
2. MAKE TIME FOR A TIME-OUT.
Sometimes, when my anxiety gets to be too much for me, I just have to press pause on what’s going on in my life and take a time-out. This “time-out” can be anything from a half hour break from work spent reading on the balcony in the sun (my favorite relaxing activity!) to realizing I need to take an entire day off of work to recharge my batteries and get into a healthier mental state. Working for myself, it’s relatively easy for me to take a day-long time-out, but I know that’s not the case for most people. However, if you’re feeling so overwhelmed and anxious that you’re no longer being productive, it makes sense for you to take a mental health day. You can actually do more harm than good if you continue working when you’re anxious, as anxiety can negatively impact your career. Even if it’s hard and you have to ask others for help with your job (or kids or schoolwork), being okay with taking a time-out can be a game-changer when it comes to anxiety. Those moments (or days) spent relaxing can be just what you need to create a more positive mindset.
3. ENGAGE YOUR MIND FULLY.
One of the best ways I’ve found to combat anxiety is to do something so stimulating to my mind that I don’t have room for all of the anxious thoughts, something that 100% gets me into the flow mindset. When your thoughts are racing, it can be a challenge to get them to focus on anything other than worrying, but there are certain activities that can really bring you fully into the moment, which is essential for combatting all of those stress-driven thoughts. There are tons of activities that prompt people to get in the flow — drawing, painting, running, etc. — but my personal favorites are: coloring, doing puzzles, and playing Boggle on my phone. (Yes, I know, I sound like a 90-year-old lady.) Whenever I do these three things, I find it hard to keep my mind on what’s causing my anxiety because I’m so completely focused on what I’m doing. In particular, I like using the Boggle app because: (1) it’s a set amount of time (three minutes) so I have to focus on the game and I can’t let my mind wander, (2) I can play it almost anywhere so it’s a great on-the-go anxiety tool, and (3) I really like words and searching for things so it’s kind of the perfect mix of a game for me. I only recently discovered that an app/game could work so well for my anxiety, but it’s something that fully engages me and I think that’s the most helpful aspect of it.
4. CREATE A SOOTHING ROUTINE.
“Soothing” isn’t really my forte. I tend to walk fast, talk fast, move through my day quickly, and the high pace I generally like to keep (which exists even when I’m resting on the couch since I’m usually scrolling through a million different apps, trying to watch a show, and reading all at the same time!) isn’t very good for my anxiety. However, one thing I’ve found to really work for me is sticking to some sort of routine. Not every day can be exactly the same, but I try as much as I can to have a routine during the day and especially at night (when my anxious mind really kicks into high gear!). Crazy as it sounds, one thing that really helps to soothe me is watching the same show every night before bed. For some (most) people, this might sound like a waste of time (or something that a lunatic would do), but I find it very soothing to turn on a show (30 Rock) that I’ve seen countless times. Even though, by now, I know almost every line, for some reason it soothes me and helps me feel a bit more at ease at the end of the day. This is my go-to routine, but yours can be anything — a special kind of tea before bed, a relaxing bubble bath, a walk around the block, a snuggle with a weighted blanket — that helps to soothe your mind.
5. CHALLENGE IT WITH GRATITUDE.
One of the best quotes I discovered last year was Danielle LaPorte‘s “Interrupt anxiety with gratitude.” When I read this I thought to myself: Wow. That is so, so wise. As soon as you start thinking about all of the things you have to be grateful for (health, family, friends, a roof over your head, food, clean drinking water, a job, your unique talents, every possession you own, the experiences you’ve had, your personal strengths, etc.), it becomes much more difficult to be anxious. I’ll admit that I don’t always remember to do this one. Sometimes I’m so caught up in the craziness of my mind that I forget to focus on what I have. But when I do remember (and I really try to!) this tactic of replace anxious thoughts with grateful ones works every single time. Gratitude is a really powerful force, which is one of the reasons I continue to do the 30-Day Gratitude Photo Challenge every year. Each year it’s a great reminder of how important it is to be thankful and I try to keep that reminder with me all year long — especially during the times I’m struggling with anxiety.
6. AVOID (STRESSFUL) PEOPLE.
During anxious times, one of the worst things you can do for yourself is be around people who cause you to feel more anxious. I bet if you think for just a minute you can identify the people in your life that make you feel more stressed, overwhelmed, or unhappy. Some of these people might be bad people in general, but more often it’s just that they’re bad for you. For whatever reason (a past experience, a weird vibe, a personality difference, an underlying issue we haven’t dealt with) some people are just tougher to be around than others. A lot of the time this is okay and you can cope with it, but when you’re struggling with anxiety, this is not the time to try to tough it out. During stressful times, it’s very important to stay away from stressful people (or limit your interactions with them if you can’t avoid them all together). And, as a bonus tip: try to spend even more time with people who make you feel at ease!
7. MASTER THE ART OF DISTRACTION.
When you’re feeling super anxious, one of the best things you can do for yourself is distract your mind from negative, racing thoughts. This might sound kind of counter-intuitive coming from someone who strives to live in the present moment, but when it comes to anxiety, sometimes you need a little distance from the present state of your mind. Oddly enough, some of the best ways to take a step away from current anxious thoughts involves engaging in activities that bring you back to the present. I recently found this amazing round-up of distraction ideas on Tumblr, and I’ve gotten in the habit of referring back to it whenever I’m in need of an anti-anxiety activity. I’m sure there are tons of other ideas online for distracting yourself when things can really tough so if you ever need ideas, just search for some. This tip might seem like you’re avoiding your emotions (something I don’t recommend!) but, as anyone who has suffered from anxiety knows, sometimes you have to step away from your thoughts in order to stay sane.
8. SET A DATE WITH WORRY.
Anxiety often stems from ruminating about a situation that made/makes/could make you unhappy. As humans, we try to protect ourselves from harm by assessing what hasn’t worked in the past and what might not work in the future, but sometimes we take all this analyzing too far and that’s where anxiety comes from. One way to combat the obsessive rumination of a situation is to set up a date with your worry. Set a timer for 5-10 minutes and write down every single thing you’re worried about. Don’t hold back — just let it all out. Doing this gives you a opportunity to think things through, which you can then refer back to when you feel as if you might need to rethink a situation. Honestly, this trick doesn’t always work for me. Sometimes it’s so liberating to write down my worries and I feel almost completely free of them after I do so, but other times, I find myself still drawn back to worrying, even when the clock has stopped. That being said, the times it’s worked, it’s worked so well that I definitely think it’s worth giving a try!
9. MAKE A PHYSICAL CHANGE.
I’ve only discovered this tactic more recently, but I find it to be really useful. When the mind is stuck in anxious-mode, one way to break the cycle can be to make a physical change. This can be changing location (get off the couch and go for a walk), changing position (if you’re lying down, sit up), or, my personal favorite, making a temperature-related change. What’s a temperature-related change, you ask? It involves engaging with something really warm or really cold. Some examples: taking a hot bath, holding an ice cube, putting a cool cloth on your forehead, sticking a blanket in the dryer and covering up with it, taking a cold shower, stepping outside when it’s really cold, drinking hot tea, drinking really cold water, etc. It might seem odd that these things help with anxiety, but they really do. I don’t know exactly why (I’m pretty sure there’s a scientific reason, though I’m not certain about this), but the change in temperature is like the rational part of you giving your brain a nice, firm “wake up!” jolt that seems to send the anxiety running.
10. SEPARATE FROM YOUR THOUGHTS.
Last, but definitely not least, is learning to separate yourself from your thoughts. In case you weren’t aware: you are not your thoughts. Let me write it again (in case you missed it): YOU. ARE. NOT. YOUR. THOUGHTS. If this sounds odd to you, read this. It might seem as if what you think is reality and absolute truth, but in actuality, your thoughts are only going on inside your head. They are not part of the real, actual world. And, as a result, you don’t have to accept them as 100% truth. For example, thinking anxious thoughts doesn’t mean you are anxious. Just because you feel anxiety doesn’t mean you are anxiety. The more you can learn to see your thoughts as separate from yourself, the easier it becomes to gain control over them. It can be really hard to take note of your anxiety and say, “Hey, I see you. I don’t like you being here and I need you to leave.” Identifying anxious thoughts can be hard because sometimes they are so dominate that they feel as if they are the only thought option. But they are not. You might not completely eliminate anxiety by remembering “I am not my thoughts,” but you’ll definitely help it from spiraling out of control and taking over your mind.
An important reminder before you use any of these tips on your own: I am not a doctor or a psychologist or a therapist. I don’t know if these tips work for everyone or even why they work for me. What I do know is that they work (most of the time) when I need them, and they’ve helped me when I’ve really been struggling, which is why I wanted to share them with you. You have to try things out and you have to figure out what works specifically for you.
Speaking of things that work (or don’t), you might notice that a very common anti-anxiety tip is missing from this list: taking deep breaths. That one can be useful for some, but not long ago I had a really bad experience with deep-breath-taking. I was in the situation that produces the most anxiety for me (getting an IV put in at the hospital) and I decided to give deep breathing a try. It started off okay, but pretty soon I’d worked myself up so much that I was hyperventilating and I even passed out for a little bit. Yikes. Clearly this did not help with my anxiety. Deep breaths don’t work well for me (though sometimes counting my breaths does), but they might be a miracle-cure for you. The point is this: try things out. If you suffer from anxiety or racing thoughts, give the things I’ve written about a try, and try other things too. You just never know what kinds of weird things (Boggle! 30 Rock! A warm blanket!) might work for you.