Something I have not yet talked much about on here is how I struggle with anxiety, among other mental illnesses, many in part due to my dating history. Anxiety is very common and finding ways to cope when it hits you can be very difficult. Today I wanted to touch on my coping strategies for when my anxiety hits me, especially because this time of year is tougher for me, anxiety-wise. I have several things that I have found to be helpful and am still trying to find even more things to help.
A large trigger for me is sickness, particularly stomach bugs and hearing of individuals around me being sick recently. Although that is a major trigger for me at this time of year, anxiety also happens when I am in large crowds in public places (for example at concerts, movie theaters, or large sporting events I’ve been to), it happens when I’m in tight spaces or someone is clinging to me too tightly (due to being claustrophobic), it happens when someone mentions they feel sick, are sick, or someone they recently had contact with is sick, it happens if I hear a sound that sounds remotely close to someone throwing up or someone stating they will be sick (although I am getting better at this), it happens at night, it happens for no apparent reason at all. Sometimes my anxiety makes me feel like I am drowning because my brain is constantly putting scenarios in my head (sometimes completely absurd scenarios) that are weighing me down and pulling me to the bottom of the ocean. It puts me in a state of fear to do common every day things like go to work when I know someone was recently sick, or get on an airplane where people are stuck in a small space with you and germs are just floating in the air. It is like living in a constant state of fear sometimes, not knowing what will happen next or be right around the corner, and that makes anxiety a difficult reality for me to deal with at times. It is frustrating knowing that you are freaking out for what others perceive as absolutely no reason and you don’t have the ability to shut the emotion/your brain/this fear down.
These coping strategies are things that I have found that seem to work for me. Anxiety is different for everyone and my coping strategies may not work for you. Coping strategies are a matter of finding what works best for you, not what works best for someone else. I am constantly looking for new ways to handle my anxiety when it hits me, especially when it feels like I am dealing with it on a daily basis. Feel free to leave comments or messages about coping strategies that you have that work for you!
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and am in no way trying to present myself as one. These are strategies that work for me that I have found throughout the years. What works for one person is not guaranteed to work for someone else.
When I have anxiety, it can present itself in different forms:
- One or multiple extremities (either an arm or leg, maybe both legs, maybe all extremities) begin to shake uncontrollably and I cannot stop it unless I physically hold on to what is shaking with a lot of pressure. Usually once I let go, the shaking immediately picks up again
- Difficulty breathing
- Hot flashes, sweating
- I start fidgeting (trying to crack my back, hands constantly moving, legs tapping/shaking)
- A sense of panic, fear, or worry (or all of these)
- Increased heart rate
- Racing thoughts
- Tense muscles
Anxiety looks different for everyone. This is why coping strategies for anxiety vary so much from one person to the next. Here are coping strategies that I have found to be useful for myself when my anxiety hits. Keep in mind that these are things to do once I am in the middle of an anxiety attack, not things that help to reduce anxiety attacks from occurring in the future:
- Mint gum– chewing gum has always been my go to when my anxiety pops up, especially in public settings. It gives me something to concentrate on and in addition to that, some say that peppermint can be soothing for an upset stomach/nausea which I find to be true in my case (this may not be true to everyone, especially individuals that have a GERD diagnosis).
- Having someone talk to me– this might sound a little strange, but when I am with someone close to me when my anxiety hits (either my mom or husband), I tell them my anxiety is bad and to talk to me. It takes my mind off of my anxiety and has me thinking about something else. Typically they will start talking about something that is positive and happy. Sometimes Luke will talk to me about things we’ve done before that were awesome memories or tell the story of how we first met and started dating. When my anxiety hits, my mind is in overdrive and I can’t come up with something positive or happy to distract myself. Listening to someone else gives me something to concentrate on plus they’re providing the happy thoughts while my brain tries to slow down.
- Pacing– pacing is something I usually do when I am at home and my anxiety comes up at night. It helps me to walk back and forth across our bedroom or down our hallway with my hands on my head. It helps me to concentrate my breathing so that it is more even and I can start to slow it down, since my anxiety typically speeds up my heart rate. It also helps me to focus strictly on my breathing.
- Get outside and go for a walk– when my anxiety hits me in an indoor public space (bar, movie theater, work, etc.) I try to get myself outside for some fresh air. Sometimes it helps me to remove myself from the area where my anxiety struck me and just get fresh air. I have done this multiple times on my lunch break when anxiety would happen at work. Getting out of the building, breathing some fresh air, and just getting my body moving a little bit can be helpful.
- Progressive muscle relaxation– this was something I used to do a lot when I was in high school and my anxiety hit me at night while I was laying in bed. I try to do this when my extremities are shaking too much for me to want to pace/walk around the house as well. I lay on my back while in bed, since its a comfortable place to lay. I usually start with my toes and work my way up my body. First I squeeze all the muscles in my toes and tense up my toes. Then I count to 7 (7 was just the number I settled on, anything between 5-10 seconds is usually good). After counting I release all my muscles. Next I tense up everything from my ankles down and count to 7. Then release. I repeat this process gradually until suddenly I am tensing up every single muscle in my body and then releasing. Sometimes I do this final tense and release several times until my body feels calm. I have found this to be very calming and it is also a strategy that makes me focus my mind on something other than the racing thoughts my anxiety has running through my head.
- Taking a shower or a bath: I have found that anything that can aid in relaxation has the potential to be helpful during an anxiety attack for me. I myself prefer to take a shower mostly because it is quick to get started and ready compared to a bath. Although many people would argue that baths are much more relaxing and probably more comfortable than standing on my feet, I find that time is much more important to me than finding 100% relaxation during an anxiety attack. Anxiety attacks usually take a lot out of me and I am usually exhausted afterwards so if I were to set up a bath, it is very possible that other strategies may be more effective to use while the bath is getting ready and I then may be too tired to even use the bath once it is ready. Having the water from a shower can be relaxing and I can also do deep breathing while in the shower while keeping my hands on my head to help open up my chest. I can also regulate the temperature quicker in a shower to adjust it if I am experiencing chills or hot flashes.
After I come down from an anxiety attack, there are also several things I like to do to help with the recovery. I am typically very tired from them, sometimes I want to be by myself, other times it helps to be with others. Many times I don’t want to do anything too extravagant after they occur and I am not likely to want to go out in public afterwards for any big outing with friends. Here are some things I like to do during my recovery period after an anxiety attack:
- Sleeping or taking a nap (depending on what time of day my anxiety took place)
- Taking a shower or bath (if I didn’t do this already during the actual anxiety attack)- relaxation is key!
- Journaling/blogging (it really helps to get my thoughts out whether it be in a blog or on paper and to decompress)
- Simply relaxing on the couch and cuddling with my husband or one of the pets
- Having something to eat (many times my anxiety can be exhausting to the point where I feel like I haven’t eaten in days- and oftentimes my anxiety does cause me to skip at least one meal, again, depending on the time of day it occurred)- I usually try to follow whatever craving I am having (whether it be chocolate, popcorn, ice cream, or even McDonalds, because that is usually the most satisfying for my body and helps my recovery the most)
- Watching a more upbeat show/movie (my go-to’s are Friends, Big Bang Theory, Say Yes to the Dress, anything on HGTV, any Disney/Pixar movie, Friends with Benefits, Valentine’s Day, and She’s the Man).
I know there wasn’t a whole lot in here that everyone can find to be helpful for them, but hopefully this can be helpful for at least one person. I am always looking for more coping strategies for myself to use when an anxiety attack strikes, so I am always open for any suggestions anyone can provide!