Updated: Jan 10, 2020
Do you find yourself ruminating about every little thing? Second guessing yourself? Unable to sleep? Heart racing and chest tightening?
Anxiety can be suffocating. And when you're drowning in it, it's hard to remember how to swim.
“When we work from a place that says 'I'm enough,' then we stop screaming and start listening, we're kinder and gentler to the people around us, and we're kinder and gentler to ourselves.” -Brené Brown
If you struggle with these symptoms of anxiety, it's important to develop a set of tools you can utilize when it feels like too much. Below is my list of tips for coping with anxiety; some are tried-and-true, and some are unconventional. Pick a few and try them out when anxiety hits.
13. Deep Breathing
It surprises me as much as the next person how much deep breathing actually helps. When you feel anxiety setting in, check in with your body and ask yourself, "Am I breathing? Am I taking full breaths?" Oftentimes the answer is no. Take a minute to focus on your breathing, inhaling slowly and fully for five seconds, holding your breath for five seconds, and then exhaling for five seconds.
12. Body Scan
Sit in a comfortable place with both feet grounded on the floor, ideally somewhere quiet without distractions. Starting from the top of your head, start “scanning” your body down to your toes. Bring awareness to any tension you may have, to your breathing, and any physiological feelings you are having.
11. Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Spend five minutes relaxing each muscle group at a time starting from the top of your head down to your toes. Another variation of this exercise is to first tense up each muscle group as tightly as you can before completely releasing.
10. Get out the Crayons
9. Use Your Support System
Identify someone from your support system that you can call and talk to. This can be your mom, your co-worker, someone in your life that understands anxiety, or whoever might help you regulate.
8. Utilize a Mantra
Identify a mantra that helps put your anxiety into perspective. When you are feeling really anxious, say this mantra to yourself. Another tip: write it on a post-it note somewhere you are likely to see it throughout the day. Examples: "I've been very anxious before and I have always survived,""This too shall pass," "I have lots of tools to help myself feel better."
7. Sensory Observation
Connect with your senses. Identify things you can see around you, three sounds you can hear, anything you can feel (in a tactile way, not emotionally), anything you can smell, and (if you can) anything you taste.
Find something in your visual field that there are a lot of and count how many there are. This could be tiles on the ceiling, things that are green, etc.
Think of any category and try to identify as many things that fit into that category as possible. Examples: dog breeds, different cereals, countries...
Cook something following a recipe that requires your full attention. Watch a movie or TV show. Find a yoga video on Youtube and follow along at home. Find a random DIY project on Pinterest to try out. Do a crossword puzzle.
3. Safe Place
When you are feeling low anxiety, identify a place you have felt safe in your life. This can be somewhere outdoors—a beach, in a forest, in a park, your grandmother’s house, your bed, or anywhere you feel most comfortable. When you are experiencing panic or anxiety, remember your “safe place” and mentally explore it. What do you see around you? What does that place smell like? What time of day is it?
2. Find a Furry Friend
Whether you have an animal or someone you know does, petting animals can be very soothing. Their love can soften your tensions and put a smile on your face!
1. Challenge your Cognitive Distortions
This one is a valuable tool in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.
Identify the “evidence” that supports your anxiety, and then identify the “evidence” against it. Make sure you stick to the facts. You might have a big, important project due at work and that would be a fact. But the thoughts "I'm going to get fired if this isn't perfect!" or "My boss thinks I'm the dumbest, worst employee ever!" are interpretations. Identify these distortions and let them go. Focus on the facts. Use this worksheet for guidance in identifying your own cognitive distortions: cognitive distortions template.
Let me know what you think of these strategies for coping with anxiety! Do any of these work for you? Are there any you would add to the list?