Anxiety is a hot topic. I hear or use the word almost every day between my job in the field of Psychology & just in conversations with others. We have information coming at us from so many sources now & it often feels impossible to disconnect. In a world where we are always trying to do more, keep up with the life we believe others are living, & trying to hold it all together, anxiety is inevitable. This post is long overdue, but I can think of no better time to share it than now, reminding me that everything happens as it should. Today, I’m sharing a ton of positive ways to deal with anxiety.
If you all read my post about how I quit my job, then you read that in October of 2019, I was having bi-weekly panic attacks from being completely overwhelmed between my full time job in the field of Psychology, blogging, & my husband being out of town most days during the week after getting a new job.
Since then, a lot has changed. I quit my full time job (although I am working until the beginning of June), my husband stopped traveling, & now we all have all this craziness going on related to the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been a lot of ups & downs. I’ve had conversations with a lot of you about anxiety & how to do deal with it, not only during this pandemic, but just on a daily or weekly basis. I feel like I have a lot of experience in regards to dealing with anxiety, both because I’ve worked for ten years in the field of Psychology & because I am a perfectionist who often finds herself trying to do it all. I’ve had a lot of trial & error over the years, both with myself & with those I’ve worked with, in finding positive ways to deal with anxiety. It seems like we could all use a few extra tools in our toolbox, so today I’m sharing a roundup of things I do & that you may be able to try to help.
First Things First
I am a big believer in getting to the root cause of issues. I don’t like quick fixes, because the results are quick & fleeting. You have to put in some work to see lasting results. It’s true in all aspects of life: relationships, fitness, business, & mental health. If you haven’t already, try to take a step back & discover the sources of your anxiety & what is happening before it spikes. I can honestly write an entire post about this & I will, but I couldn’t just skip over it for now. It’s so important to look at EVERY aspect of your life. Consider: How much you’re sleeping, what you’re eating, what you’re drinking, who you’re talking to, who you are spending time with, what you did over the weekend, how much movement you’re getting in, what season it is, & more. I recommend writing things down or making notes in your phone so you can reference this as needed. It is beyond helpful!
Positive Ways to Deal with Anxiety
Until you can fully identify all the things that cause you anxiety, or even once you have identified them, it’s important to have a lot of options to serve as positive ways to deal with anxiety. I’m rounding up what works for me & what works for others who I’ve worked with to help give you a ton of resources.
- Get Moving: workout, go for a walk, do yoga, run, swim, hike, go to a pilates class, try an online workout, dance, throw a ball with your kids, park far away & walk into the store, do a spin class. Our bodies are meant to move & I promise that this is the number one way to distract yourself, work through frustration, & get some endorphines flowing. Movement does not require one hour of your day. You can do something for 10, 15, 20 minutes & you’ll notice a huge shift. If you hate working out, I suggest you keep at it until you learn to love the feeling or continue trying new things until you find a method or class that works for you. Didn’t like a certain class? Try the same one with a different instructor. It’s important that you find ways to move or workouts you enjoy or you will dread doing it, it will spike your cortisol when you are doing it, & it won’t help as much as it should. I’ll say it again: this is the number one recommendation I have for managing anxiety.
- Rest: I really need to take my own advice more often here & I have been since being home so much more during this COVID-19 pandemic, but rest is essential. You NEED sleep. Staying up two hours later to cross things off your to do list may help here & there, but in the long run it does not. I’ve been to a lot of trainings about sleep & how it impacts our mental health & despite what you think, you can’t actually ‘catch up’ on missed sleep in the long run. It doesn’t work like that. Our minds have to have rest & our bodies need this time to recooperate. If your anxiety spikes, check in on how much you’ve been sleeping.
- Sunlight: You may not realize how much getting natural sunlight & vitamin D can impact your mood. This helps so much with both anxiety & depression. I tried advocating for years to have access to a window at work with no luck, so I got a lamp that simulated sunlight & would try to leave for lunch or take a walk around the building to get a little access to natural light & the sunshine during the day. It helps SO much. Happy lamps that simulate sunlight are used for those who suffer from seasonal affective disorder, depression, anxiety, & more!
- CBD: I started taking CBD daily at the beginning of 2020. I had used some hemp chocolates previously to help me sleep over the course of 2019, but early in 2020 I started using drops & gel tabs daily + cream as needed. Wow, what a difference! I’m working on a whole post answering CBD, but until that is up, this is the brand I have been taking. This is such a natural way to manage your every day feelings of anxiousness & worry + to help you sleep without having to resort to pharmaceuticals. You can read more about CBD & the brand I take in this blog post: The 411 on CBD.
- Eliminate or Limit Caffeine: I know, you think you can’t live without your morning coffee. I thought the same! You can. Try to switch to decaf or try to slowly cut back or eliminate by drinking 3/4 a cup a day, then 1/2 a cup, then 1/2 every other day, etc. Caffeine is a known trigger for so many for anxiety. It is literally like a legal drug in how your body & mind respond. There are SO many other ways to wake yourself up instead of caffeine in the morning. Just to name a few, try: a cold shower, a 10 minute yoga flow, meditation, or a walk around the block. If you are going to have caffeine, don’t have any after 2:00 or 3:00, as then it will cut into your sleep, which of course then affects how you feel even more. I try to start my morning with hot water + lemon. I try to limit when I have caffeine to just one or two days a week because I’ve identified it as a huge trigger for me.
- Meditate: Meditation is such a powerful tool that has been used for centuries. It doesn’t have to be an hour alone in a room not talking. I read The Daily Stoic each morning & take a few quiet moments to reflect. Stressed in the middle of the day? Try a guided meditation. There are five minutes guided meditations for free all over the Internet. The Calm app is a great resource, Melissa Wood Health (see my review here) has several great ones, Headspace is amazing, & my friend, Katie even has a great one on IGTV you can check out. This is great to incorporate into your morning routine & even better if you can reflect again for a few minutes at night, but this is also a great tool to have on hand when you feel yourself tensing up.
Limit or Eliminate Alcohol: Ah, you knew this was coming. I’ll be the first to admit that pouring a glass of wine at the end of a long or stressful day feels like an instant stress relief. Alcohol is a natural sedative. However, once the short term affects wear off, you are usually left with even more anxiousness. If you enjoy a cocktail or wine as a way to wind (or wine, ha!) down, try looking for something to replace it with half of the time & go from there. A walk with your family after dinner, reading a book, or calling a friend may be a better long term choice. I’m still working on this one because I love my wine! For me, this really is a matter of balance with other things, which I’m talking more about below.
- Clean Up your Diet: For me, too much processed junk & sugar is a huge trigger for me. I wish I could totally eliminate sugar, but it’s a really big challenge. I do the Whole 30 often & feel so SO good with no sugar in my diet, so I really try hard to limit it. I’ve found replacements for so many daily items that had sugar in them for a better alternative like agave or honey. However, it still creeps in. Sugar really is in ALMOST every thing store bought when you get down to the ingredients. Some of my favorite brands that are great about no or limited sugar are: Tessamae’s, Yai’s Thai, & Primal Kitchen. It’s also important for me personally to limit gluten and dairy. I’m always looking for gluten free alternatives when eating at home. The only dairy I consume is some cheese. Ultimately, if I’m eating whole, plant based foods, I usually feel best! Figure out what works for you but know that diet is SUCH a big part of mental health. I can chat about this for days, so I’ll add this to the list of topics that need an entire dedicated post. In the mean time, please stop drinking sodas! They are horrible for your body & mind.
- Get a Pet: I’m totally #teamdog & a proud support of #adoptdontshop, but regardless of what animal you get & how you go about getting it, animals are amazing companions to help relive anxiety & depression. They give you a sense of purpose, give you something positive to come home to or have around the house, & they really are therapeutic. Plus, they are so darn cute & sweet! If you’re really frustrated & a sweet animal comes up to you wanting to cuddle up, you instantly feel better. Emotional support animals & therapy dogs are things for a reason, they work. The bonus part is that you get an adorable new family member & can potentially save a life. Our dogs have made the biggest positive impact on our lives. This is another topic I will write a whole post about because the research & stories related to having animals is crazy & speaks for itself!
Little Things to Try
The above lifestyle changes are so important, but as things come up & you need to deal with feelings of anxiousness in the moment on a daily or weekly basis, the below little tips or strategies can be helpful.
- Talk to someone: this can be a therapist, a friend, a colleague, your parents, your spouse, any one. Talking it out sometimes helps you in the moment when anxiety creeps up!
- Pray: If you are someone who is religious or spiritual, praying can be a huge help & can be done any time, any where.
- Time Out: If you are in a certain situation or around a certain person that causes you anxiety & you are able to just walk away for a minute or however long you need, then you should. We teach this to kids all the time! Remove yourself from the situation if you are able. We teach them to ask for permission or utilize a signal with their teachers, but as adults we know when it is appropriate or not to politely excuse ourselves for a minute & take a little time out from the trigger.
- 5 senses: This is a technique I teach a lot of the kids I work with, but it works great for adults, too. Stop what you are doing & try the following by either saying these out loud or to yourself depending on where you are. Breathe as you do this!
- SEE: Find 5 things you can see
- FEEL: Find 4 things you feel
- HEAR: Listen for 3 things you can hear
- SMELL: Identify 2 things you can smell
- TASTE: Say 1 thing you can taste
- Size of the Problem: this is another thing I do with kids I work with & it’s SO helpful. Talk yourself through the size of the problem that is currently making you worry. If it is something that may happen, how big of a deal will it be if it actually happens. When you really sit down & rate the size of the problem in the grand scheme of life, both your own life & in consideration of how much more difficult others may have things, how big is this problem, really? Is your reaction matching that?
- Breathe: It sounds so simple & it is. Just breathe. In & out. Feel your chest rise & fall. Close your eyes. Inhale, exhale. If you need a guided breathing meditation, save a favorite & try that. I love to sit on the ground, with my legs crossed, & my hands into prayer at my heart or with one hand on my belly & one on my heart & breathe deeply when stressed. It makes SUCH a huge difference & is such an important strategy to use in stressful moments.
- Essential Oils: These can be really helpful! I love lavender the most because of its calming effects. We just got a diffuser to diffuse some oils around the house & I have been loving it. I also have a roller ball of a lavender blend in my purse to put on my wrists & neck during the day. It can be so nice to do quickly in the midst of any thing stressful. Then you have it there to use to take in a few deep breaths!
- Journal: Write out what is bothering you, try a brain dump & get out everything racing through your mind, list out what you are grateful for, or just write a calming word & doodle around it. Taking time to write it out can be such an awesome form of self-expression & way to manage how you feel. When you journal, you are identifying a feeling & coping through it as you write what is on your mind.
- Color: If you aren’t in to writing, try coloring. There is a reason that adult coloring books have become such a popular item. Actually holding a crayon (or colored pencil or marker) in your hand & color forces your mind to focus on something else & calm down. I LOVE coloring or doodling with pretty colors when stressed!
- Music: Music is such a powerful tool. Putting on calming music while working, listening to your favorite hype song when working out, or listening to a nostalgic favorite song or album that brings you back to a happy time can all help with anxiety. As we sing along to lyrics or move along to a beat our mind becomes distracted & endorphins rush through our brain. We got a record player & we love to put on albums as we cook, clean, eat, or hang around the house.
- Tea: Chamomile tea or another low or no-caffeine tea can really help you calm down. Something about a warm drink just makes you feel good & relaxed. A cup of tea before bed is a great ritual to have & can really help with anxiety. Making yourself a cup when you feel stressed is such a great way to manage feelings of anxiousness.
- Eat: If you are hungry, your anxiety will spike. Make sure that you are not hungry, as this can definitely make anxiety onset quickly. Try a healthy snack & it may subside.
- Practice Gratitude: This can be a part of journaling or go with meditation, but stopping & thinking of three to five things you are grateful for can totally shift your mindset. It can be as simple as the shoes on your feet to being able to see or any thing else. Making a list or using a guided book is a great place to start!
- Supplements: Try vitamins & supplements. If your mind & body aren’t getting all the nutrients they need from food, even if you’ve cleaned up your diet, they can’t function optimally. Supplements such as ashwaganda, probiotics, reishi or other mushroom blends, & more can all help so much with balancing your mood naturally.
- Stretch: We carry a lot of tension in our muscles. Stretching can be a great way to move through that tension so you’re not carrying it around. Breathe as you do it & you’ll feel better in a few minutes. Getting a massage can be a great way to manage stress & anxiety or you can even get your own at home back massager to help.
- Take a Bath: A bath is such a great way to wind down after a long day. It’s a signal to our minds to stop & calm down. Load up with salts or bubbles & take some time away from everything for yourself.
Remember, Balance is Key
Balance is the key to all of the above. You don’t need to do EVERYthing. If I worked out that day, got a good amount of natural light in, limited my caffeine & ate pretty well, then a glass of wine works fine for me. If I didn’t work out, barely slept, basically only survived my day because of almond milk chai lattes (my favorite when I do indulge), then I don’t also need to drink & eat a lot. I often do all these things on vacation to indulge & enjoy, but even getting up for 20 minutes to get some movement in first thing in the morning will help me manage any anxious feelings while away until I can get back home & into my healthy routine again. We’re all going to have good days & bad days & my hope for you is that you can learn to identify what days are more challenging when you may need to apply more of these positive ways to deal with anxiety than others. It all ebbs & flows, which is natural.
My Brief Thoughts on Medicine
I am not a licensed physician & I believe ‘you do you,’ but I will share my brief thoughts on medicine because I think it’s important to understand how I approach dealing with anxiety & really all things related to my health & wellness.
Some of my above positive ways to deal with anxiety may be unpopular opinions just because they require lifestyle changes that may initially be challenging, but they work. I personally use medicine as a last resort. I would much rather find ways to change my habits (most of which I know aren’t good to begin with & should be changed) than have to take a pill every day. Medicine is amazing & it can help so many people. However, there can also be a lot of side effects. To keep my thoughts on medicine as brief as possible I will finish & say that it can be such an amazing tool to get people back to feeling themselves enough to make some lifestyle changes or try other little things to help with anxiety (or other conditions). However, unless I absolutely have to, I do not approach medicine as a quick fix or a life long solution unless it has to be. Again, I will reiterate you do you & consult with your doctor.
Some of my favorite resources that serve as positive ways to deal with anxiety are listed alphabetically below. They are a few apps, sites, or books that are helpful. I’m also including some of the shoppable items I mentioned above such as books, oils, & more for you all to shop below.
- Anxiety Coach
- The Calm App
- The Daily Stoic
- Mood Kit
- Stillness is the Key
More Anxiety Resources
I hope this post was helpful to you all with identifying positive ways to deal with anxiety. I wanted to include both lifestyle changes & little things so that you can feel better long term & so that you can have some strategies to use in the moment when you feel a sense of heightened anxiety. If you all like these sort of mental health posts, I will keep them coming. They have been highly requested & I am so passionate about mental health, so it’s long over due that I start sharing more. Feel free to reach out with any specific requests! XO
Although I am a mental health professional, my posts are for informational purposes only & shouldn’t be seen as specific health or medical advice. Information provided is general & based on my own experiences. Information is solely the opinion of the author & provided based on information deemed to be accurate & reliable. You should consult with a professional about your own specific needs.