Stuff that works: Anxiety

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Ah, anxiety, my old friend. Except it took me a surprisingly long time to see her as that; so sure that ‘anxiety’ was something else entirely, a plague on housewives and teenage exam students – all wringing hands, jittery knees & butterflies in the stomach.
True anxiety is nothing like this; it is a swarm of hornets humming angrily around your heart. It is fingernails scraping, scraping against skin and scalp and bone in the middle of the night, searching for relief. It is standing, staring at the inside of your front door, wondering why your hand wont open it, for long, terrifying minutes.
I’ve found some things that help with my anxiety. Perhaps they’ll help you too.

  • Be kind to yourself. Say what you’d say to your best friend.
  • Eat some carbs. ‘Rest and digest’ is the opposite of ‘fight or flight’. Seriously – google it! Plus also, yum.
  • Get enough sleep. Being tired always makes everything more difficult, and that’s especially true for mental health problems. Lack of sleep can trigger psychosis and manic episodes in patients who suffer from these things; it makes perfect sense that it can also contribute to chronic anxiety & panic attacks.
  • Cut down on your caffeine. It took me a surprisingly long time to recognise this; one cup of coffee a day is pretty much my limit.
  • Be creative – a diversion like knitting, painting, or – my personal favourite – colouring in, can be just the right combination of soothing and absorbing. Choose something easy – this isn’t the time to push yourself.
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  • Identify the voice of your inner critic – mine is called Julian! You don’t have to go as far as naming yours, but it helped me to learn to separate that negative ‘who do you think you are? What did you do that for?’ voice from my own, honest beliefs. Julian’s kind of a douche, and he needs to quiet down.
  • Get outside. Fresh air + daylight + movement are all good things for your brain chemistry.
  • Accept that you will always feel anxiety. Nobody ever told me this – I thought all my interventions had failed when they didn’t completely ‘cure’ me. Instead, aim for a healthy amount of anxiety, in proportion to the situation.
  • Laugh! Watch your favourite comedians on youtube to release some tension. I also have a Pinterest board for this express purpose.
  • Self-soothe – sensory integration theory says we all have sensory preferences – roughly, things that help us to feel ok, and things that make us feel worse. These are completely individual; for me, crunching boiled sweets, lying under a heavy blanket, having a tight hug and cool fresh air all help ground me.
  • List the evidence. When I’m really certain of a terrible impending doom, I’ve learned to write down all of the cold hard facts. Inevitably I discover that most of my ‘evidence’ is stuff like, they looked at me funny, I have a bad feeling, she sounded a bit abrupt. Prooobbably wouldn’t stand up in court, but I’m not a lawyer, so that’s just a guess.
  • Get some exercise & burn off that adrenaline. A walk is fine – let’s not get carried away here.
  • Medication. It seems remiss to leave this off. Medication can really help, and doctors are generally nice people! If your anxiety interferes with your day to day life, it’s always worth having a conversation with a qualified professional. Dr Google does not count here, sadly – he can’t prescribe the good stuff 😉

What do you do when the ‘mean reds’ hit? What stuff works for you?

  • mia

    Thanks so much for sharing! I can’t remember having much anxiety previously since I was soo London busy. That’s part of why me and my boyfriend and toddler moved to sweden last year; to get time to reflect. But now with a lot of time on my hand in “sleepy Stockholm”; and me doing what I’ve dreamt of for years; doing art and pottery. Suddenly anxiety is running high. Suddenly when we have all we had hoped for we are both feeling lost. I keep having the sentence “be careful what you wish for” running through my head. It’s also funny every time we re back in London we see only the good things about it and what an amazing city it is!!! Have a nice day

    • Oh Mia, this made me feel so sad for you. What an awful disappointment for you all! :( Are you finding a way through it? I think sometimes being too busy keeps anxiety at bay, and then having time to yourself again can leave you open to a fresh new wave that you weren’t expecting. I find I never do very well alone, and often need to visit cafes or walk in busy places to stay in a good head space. Hoping you feel better soon x

  • katie

    Lovely and insightful! I recently stopped taking antidepressants and beta blockers as I feel I’m in a better position to confront the depression and anxiety. Plus, I’m on a bit of a holistic/natural health journey at the moment (katiedaniellemarie.blogspot.co.uk – if you’d like to read about it). I want to try some more natural remedies such as; Bach’s, Kalms and St John’s Wort (I’m not on the pill!). I’ve found yoga to be a godsend and encourage anybody to give it a try. Alcohol is also a trigger for me – and many others!

    • Thank you for sharing, Katie – those are all brilliant additions to the list, especially St John’s Wort, yoga & avoiding alcohol! I find a night’s drinking really ramps up my fear the next day! Yuck! x

  • Mina Fagerlund

    All good points, Sara! Thank you! Listing the evidence seems so obvious and helpful, yet I’ve never tried it. I will see if there will be space in my mind for doing that. Oh – and calling him/her a name! That’s brilliant! 😉 Thank you so much for sharing these <3

    • Thanks Mina – glad it feels helpful! Writing down the evidence is key – thinking it through in your head somehow doesn’t have the same effect! I even found an app for it once 😀 xx

  • Holly

    Thank you :) pinning this post for when I need some good advice.

  • Helen Stephens

    I love this blog Sara.
    … a hot chocolate every day, and a walk with my dog helps me. Also spending time with my lovely friends in their beautiful house in Yorkshire.

    • Well, these are all the best things! Frankly I think that package should be available on the NHS. xxx

  • Such a useful, thoughtful post – thanks for sharing. Whenever I feel anxious I make an effort to breath deeply and focus on the moment – little sounds around me, the feel of the ground, the breeze. I suppose it’s my version of mindfulness and self-soothing x

    • Yes, sounds very mindful and quite meditative! I shall give it a try. Thanks Abi! xx

      • I was taken through exactly this as a mindfulness technique in ASD support group this week. I find it works much better than breathing into my foot as they tried to persuade me to do the week before. Who can breathe into their foot? Honestly!

  • Well the evidence list and carb loading are news to me so I’ll certainly be giving those a try! Thank you! Here is my article on anxiety in case you fancy a look:

    http://alifelessphysical.com/2014/12/11/beating-anxiety/

    • I’m glad to hear some suggestions were new to you – that feels like no mean feat on the internet these days! :) Clicking over to you now x

  • megan

    I’ve just recently discovered my anxiety (yay!…sarcasm) lol.. I’ve noticed talking to someone or just trying to think about anything else usually helps…also, thumbing through my tumblr, or looking through instagram seems to soothe me.. your list actually helps out alot, and reminds me that i’m not the only one going through it.

    • Haha! Isn’t it funny that we are the last to discover our own anxiety? I remember telling a friend I had an anxiety disorder in amazement, and she was like… well, yes – didn’t you know? Doh! You’re right, instagram & online stuff can be a really nice soothing distraction. I’m glad the list was helpful, and wish you lots of luck in finding the things that work for you :) xx

  • Lisa

    A book called Making Friends with Anxiety by Sarah Rayner, turned my world around, if I could recommend one thing for people who suffer with anxiety, reading this book would be it. The author who suffers from anxiety herself, has written a short book in simple honest terms making sense of anxiety and the symptoms and gives advice on what could help. But most important to me she explained that the symptoms I feel when I’m anxious are down to adrenaline pumping around my body and that it is ‘only’ adrenaline and I’m not having a heart attack! I now practise yoga and meditation everyday, both of which have helped me a lot, and my little book is always around to help get me back on track, with it’s scribbled notes inside and scruffy turned down pages it’s been a life saver. But please don’t be afraid to seek professional help, therapy has also helped me a long the way too. As scary as it can be you are never on your own with this.

  • BritW

    These are all good tips! Giving your anxiety a name made me LOL. I think mine is named Jojo, and she’s a bitch.
    I’ve found passionflower tincture to be enormously helpful, although it can make me a bit sleepy. Valerian root works well too, but can only be taken in capsule form because it’s so bitter.

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  • Rebecca Harrison

    There’s so much serenity in your photography, though. I imagine you as the Queen of Serene. *nods*

  • I understand you. It’s been a month since I started dealing with serious panic attacks. It’s really difficult. I have to live normally in order to face them but at the same time they make my everyday life such a struggle. There are some steps I follow to deal with this situation, but after some time they don’t seem to work either..

    xo

  • Marta Pavia

    I understand you so much. I suffered of anxiety and panic attacks for years. I know I can’t consider me completely “cured” but now I’m able to control it. For me learning autogenic training worked very well, it taught me how to deeply relax myself. Try it! <3

  • It is heart warming to know that we are not on our own with that unwanted friend anxiety, I have my moments and finding new ways to tell that friend to sod off really do help. Swimming works for me, just me and the water helps enormously. Jane x

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  • Just stumbled across this post and lovely tips, number one is something I struggle with, and 2, and well a few of them! lol not having enough sleep isnt an option at the minute being a Mama to littles but I definitely need to go to bed a lot earlier some nights instead of trying to play catch up all the time! x

  • Vanessa Gorman

    I love this article 😀

    I’m an anxious mess! 9 years of insomnia has ruined me! I try all sorts of things to help calm me down… smiling, mindful breathing, yoga, drinking water with lemon in, rescue remedy, try and think of anxiety as a positive feeling (it’s not really that dissimilar to excitement… that nervous butterfly feeling) so repeat the phrase “I am excited by this feeling” when you feel anxious. I also try and tell my brain that I’m safe by literally repeating “I am safe, I am calm” several times. Have a biscuit and a decaf cup of tea. Repetitive positive thoughts and positive affirmations. Slow down, slow down your pace, slow down your eating, slow down your speech and breath. I also have 3 bangles I had made by a girl on Etsy with “smile, breathe & go slowly”, “positive mind, positive life”, “you’ve got this” – I look at those when I feel my anxiety lurking! I also have a sprig of dried lavender in various places and when I notice it I smile to myself, just a reminder to relax. I think that’s about it ;)… oh progressive muscle relaxation technique can be helpful too xxx

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  • Great article. Definitely relevant. I have suffered with bad anxiety my whole life.

    Something that helps me is to mentally list write in my head reasons why I am feeling irrationally anxious..or if my anxiety is rationally anxious then ways in which I can keep my self occupied in the mean time.

    Anxiety sucks hugely. I love the idea of nameing the anxiety part of you. Haha. I am so going to do that because tbh she is a complete drain and tries to sabotage everything ever.

  • I love this. I’ve been learning more about the importance and application of self-care this past year once I started having insanely stressful weeks and weeks in a work situation. I wish this was something we learned to value back in high school!