Below are a few coping mechanisms that I find helpful when I’m feeling anxious. These are not related to any kind of medication or therapy – they are just short term strategies that I have found useful in getting me through the next 5 minutes! Some of the strategies help to bring your attention away from anxiety, some help you to accept it, and some could be helpful for your body.
DEEP BREATHING: Even though this is the most obvious, I found it really hard to get to grips with this technique until recently when I started practising yoga. I never realised that you actually need to do quite a few deep breaths for it to have an effect on your mental and physical state. I’d always do 3 deep breaths and then end up panicking more (why am I not relaxed yet?!). My advice would be to bring your awareness to your breath, and then gradually start to deepen the inhale and exhale. Try to pause slightly between each breath as this will help you to slow down. Your mind will wonder (probably back to the anxiety and whatever else), so just bring your focus back to your breath whenever you remember to. Do it for a minute, then 3 minutes, then 5, and see how you feel. There are so many useful tools online to help you slow down your breathing if you need help.
EATING: When I feel very anxious I usually completely lose my appetite as my body is preparing for ‘fight or flight’, and my tummy feels awful. I find it can actually be really helpful to eat something small (even if I’m not hungry) and bland – maybe half a banana or some bread. Having a bit of plain food seems to help me calm down, as it’s like a physical reminder to my body that everything’s normal and I don’t need to run away from anything!
LAUGHTER: For me, laughter is one of the best antidotes for day-to-day anxiety. It often really helps if someone close to me can (in a kind way) make fun of me when I’m really worrying about something silly. Then we just have a giggle about it and it doesn’t seem so serious. But unfortunately funny people are often hard to come by in an anxious situation. I try to keep a mental note of a number of programmes or YouTube videos that always make me laugh – and go to these for distraction. I love watching anything by Chris Lilley or Fawlty Towers. I’d say this works better when you’re feeling mildly anxious, but not severely anxious (anything to do with TV when I’m seriously panicking drives me mad).
PUZZLES & CARD GAMES: It sounds a bit lame, but doing easy puzzles (like Sudoku) or playing card games (like Solitaire) can be so helpful when you’re feeling anxious. It brings you away from your feelings and into the present. I have found this particularly useful when I’ve got insomnia. I also find it’s better to do puzzles or play games that are unrelated to anything serious or emotional. For example, I find it’s safer to do a numbers-based puzzle than a crossword where you are at risk of coming across trigger words. The other benefit is that these kind of puzzles are easy for most of us to access – all you need is internet access or a deck of cards.
ASMR: Give ASMR a Google search if you’re not familiar with it! A lot of people watch ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) videos online, and I would highly recommend giving them a go if you don’t already. I find ASMR videos so relaxing when I want to calm down or relax before bed. The videos I watch usually involve people speaking very softly into a microphone, or making gentle tapping sounds. It’s not for everyone, but if you’re interested I’d recommend WhispersRed on YouTube. She’s so lovely and relaxing!
DO NOTHING: My number one piece of advice (which is unfortunately the most difficult to master, and I always forget how to do it) is to let the anxiety be there, and do nothing. Anxiety is a trickster, and it cons you into thinking you need to do something to get rid of it. I suppose that’s because, in a situation when anxiety is actually useful (like if you’re being chased by a bear) then you DO need to do something to get rid of it (ie. to get away from the bear). But for most of us struggling with anxiety in the modern day, 99% of the time it isn’t there to save you from a bear. And you find that you end up being anxious about anxiety itself. If you are feeling very anxious, when you know logically that you are perfectly safe, then your body needs a reminder that everything is okay. When I choose to fully accept the anxiety and let it take over me, that’s when it finally leaves. As I said, it can be difficult to get your head around it as it seems so counter-intuitive, but there are lots of helpful tools online. Paul David explains this really well here.
Disclaimer: I am not a mental health professional, and none of the above is professional advice. These are simply some techniques that I have found helpful for me. If you are struggling with your mental health, you should make an appointment with your doctor as soon as you can.
I hope this was helpful in some way! Thank you for reading x