It’s easy to feel like we are the only people in the world to experience certain things sometimes. I know that I spent years thinking I was the only person who suffered from the same social anxieties and general anxious behaviours that used to plague me – that is, until I met a group of people as an adult who spent their entire lives feeling the same way I did. I’ve often toyed with the idea of sharing some of the techniques that I’ve learned over the years to cope with anxiety, but never got around to it. Actually, there are so many things I’ve wanted to share on this space before, but I’m just now feeling more comfortable with it. I’m sure many of you saw Renee’s awesome post last week on 43 self care practices for sensitive people (if not, please check it out). Then this week, my other dear friend Sophie posted a great article on teas for a better sleep. With all the talk these days about work/life stress, social media anxiety, and political dread, I think we’re all needing a little more relaxation and a lot fewer worries.
Anxiety is something I’ve been living with for as long as I can recall. While we all suffer for anxiety at different points in our life, sometimes they can become overwhelming and control what we want to do and how we interact with the world around us. The techniques I’ve outlined below are ones I’ve found useful in dealing with general anxiety, moderate panic, and social phobias. While these won’t help alleviate severe anxiety, they will help those who are suffering moderate anxiety, and are useful for anyone who is stressed or just needs a little bit more zen in their life.
Building your anxiety tool-box is a long process where you learn to deal with, and come up with tools to help you alleviate your anxiety. These are some of the natural methods I’ve used to help me lessen my anxiety over the years and learn to cope in the world with a little more ease. This list is definitely not exhaustive, so feel free to share your own ideas and experiences below.
- Make lists of the things you need to do each day. Having them visible on paper helps remind me of the tasks at hand. Once they are visual, for me they seem much less daunting – plus you have the added benefit of getting to mark off the things you’ve accomplished. I always add a few easy tasks (like taking out the recycling, or doing a wash of laundry) to the list which I can mark off immediately and get instant gratification from.
- Make your home your safe spot! Fill your home with things you love and that bring you joy. For us, that’s making it as cozy as possible with loads of house plants, sunshine, pillows, blankets, and hobbies (a sketchbook near by, or a guitar that’s easy to grab). This also means setting up boundaries between work/school and your home and keeping those things out of your sanctuary.
- Keep a diffuser going with a calming scent. Have you ever walked into a yoga studio and had that instant feeling of relaxation? For me it’s in part due to the gentle sounds, calming atmosphere, and relaxing smells. So at home, I often try to channel yoga studio vibes. I listen to quiet music, or have the windows open for the soft sounds of rain, birds, or wind. A gentle mist coming off of a diffuser helps fill the room with calming scents and adds to the tranquility. I have this diffuser (not sponsored in any way) and adore it, but any will do. Another great way to make a calm atmosphere is to mix up a room spray. Just combine 4 parts distilled water with 1 park vodka and 20-40 drops lavender essential oil (or whatever one your prefer) in a plant mister. These are some of my favourite calming scents to use.
- Ylang Ylang
- Clary Sage,
- Touch other people and have other people you love touch you. There is a lot to be said about human connection, and when I’m feeling anxious, I love to turn to someone I feel safe with and ask them for a hug. Like a long good hug. It takes away a huge amount of stress from your body and relaxes you in ways other things can’t.
- Take about it. I always make situations scarier in my head then they are in real life. Talking about a situation or thing that is making me anxious with other people helps put it in perspective and alleviate some of the burden.
- Meditation and yoga. Finding the right practice for you can be a bit of a challenge, but once you do, I find that regular practice helps elevate some stress and anxiety and brings me inner peace. A slower and methodical practice such as yoga with meditation, yin, flow, or restorative yoga, are the best for anxious people. I personally would avoid Bikram (the hot room isn’t good for anxiety) and Kundalini which has very fast breathing which can aggravate anxiety. Some other tips I’ve learned over the years is to try to find classes early in the morning if you can (they tend to be less packed than ones at 5 or 7 pm when people are off of work) or classes that have a mix of less advanced practitioners, older adults, people recovering from an injury, post natal mums, etc. I find they are quieter and have less posturing compared to classes filled with young, hot, yoga experts.
- Journaling. Keeping a record of both your fears and accomplishments is great therapy. Try not to only write down your negative feelings, but make a list of the little accomplishments you’ve made each and every day.
- Have a mantra. This is seriously my all time go to. And I know it may sound a little funny, but telling yourself something positive and affirmative over and over again when you’re feeling anxious can actually do wonders for your perspective on the world and how you interact with it. Think of a positive saying about yourself and repeat it in the morning, in stressful situations, and before you go to bed. One that I always turn to is telling myself that I am light. I realize that is probably the most hippy thing I could say, but it fills me with the feelings of love, airiness, joy, and a certain lightness that makes me feel like I’m floating through life.
- Avoid aggravating situations. We can’t always avoid things that make us anxious, but we can avoid some. I try never to have too many bright florescent lights on, I avoid loud and aggressive music, violent films, shows about wars/zombies/apocalypse, too much political news, and I never read the comments on YouTube or on political threads. Cut out the things that stress you out.
- Limit your caffeine intake. Something as simple as limiting the amount of sugar you consume and caffeine you drink can seriously do wonders for anxious people. I always stop at maximum two cups of coffee or matcha a day.
To Help You Sleep When Anxious
- Avoid looking at your phone an hour before sleep. Looking at my phone can sometimes stress me out. It reminds me of things I need to do, makes me feel inadequate (sometimes), or get’s me trapped in work. Plus, looking at a screen in the evening alters your sleepiness and suppresses your melatonin levels.
- Use items to help you get a more restful sleep. Some of my favourites devices to get a restful night’s sleep include using a night mask to block out light and to apply a gentle pressure to my eyelids (I use this one). I also love listening to Yoga Nidra classes as I fall asleep. These ones are taught by my ex-real-life yoga teacher, Jen. She also has Yoga Nidra classes on Insight Timer (which is a free app) specially designed for sleep and it is amazing.
- Take long and relaxing baths. A great way to help you fall asleep if you’re having trouble, is simply taking a nice warm bath. Adding things like epsom salts, lavender (a few drops of essential oil or flower), or some finely ground oatmeal with lavender, will help calm you and relax you and get you into that baby sleeping mode.
- Drink herbal tea. Herbal teas like chamomile, spearmint, lemon balm, and passionflower, all help with relaxation and sleep. Check out Sophie’s post form more.
Avoiding Anxiety in Public Places
- Sit near an exit. In public locations like cafes, concerts, or lectures at school, I try to sit near the door for an easy exit if I feel anxious. On busses and public transportation, I always try to sit near an open window if possible, for lots of fresh air.
- Have a worry object. Keep a worry object in your pocket to fidget with in anxious situations. A ring, necklace, or keeping a stone or coin in your pocket to play with, will fit the bill. My favourite is a Helen Levi brass ring on a cord I wear around my neck.
- Use calming scents. Wear a calming essential oil on your wrists to smell when you get overwhelmed. Bring a vile of it in your pocket, have some on a handkerchief, or wear a handy diffuser necklace like this one.
- Visualize a group of escape-thoughts. Have a set of happy thoughts you can turn to when you start to panic or become anxious. My personal favourite thoughts to distract myself sound silly, but they help take my mind away from dark places or situations and bring me somewhere safer. Often they revolve around planning a luxurious meal (like a dream cake), fantasizing about travel (where would I go if funds didn’t matter), thinking about cute animals like goats or puppies, picture sitting on a beach, watching a sunset, or whatever currently brings me joy.
- Shut your eyes! If I am on a crowded bus, subway, or venue (like concert or movie theatre), I can sometimes feel claustrophobic. As it’s not always ideal to jump off of a bus (or leave a theatre) because you’re feeling panicked, you can do this simple two step technique. The first is a move that my father showed me to prevent me from fainting (’cause I’m a fainter). Just put your head between your knees and let it hang (much like you were tying your shoe) and keep it there for as long as it takes, sometimes 10 minutes or more. Combine this with closing your eyes and deep breaths and you’re bound to feel better. I can seriously not tell you the amount of times I’ve done this in public before. I’ve even asked people on the bus if I can have their set because I’m feeling ill. I’ve never had anyone not be eager to let me take their spot, so don’t be afraid to ask.
- Wear comfortable clothes. Tight and restricting cloths never help when you feel anxious, so wear clothing you feel comfortable in. Sometimes when I’m anxious, I feel like my clothing or jewelry is too tight, or I suddenly get too hot. Having lots of layers you can take off is a great way to get instant relief from a situation. On that note, I know a lot of people who like to bring coats, scarves, or hats with them and wear as security blankets.
- Find your music. If you’re in an overwhelming situation or on your way to something you’re stressed about, try plugging into a set of relaxing tunes. Listening to music you have positive associations with can help put you in a good headspace and reduce the distractions around you.
- Avoid negative talk. Of course this sounds easier than it is, but avoiding negative thoughts about yourself and your feelings when in social situations (and all situations) is a must. And yes, this involves a LOT of practise and is something I’m constantly working on.
- Rehearsing. Sometimes imagining the situation in your head beforehand helps prevent any unknowns, or surprise situations. Walk through what you need to do mentally before it happens so that you already know what to expect.
- Have a doodle book. Having a notepad to distract you from overwhelming situations is a great thing to ease your busy mind. Use it for doodles or to write down your feelings.
When Anxiety Strikes
- Learn to recognize the signs around your anxiety. If watching certain things in movies, being in certain situations, or doing certain things make you anxious, try your best to avoid them. Sometimes they can’t be avoided, so learn to listen to your body and become aware of how it feels before anxiety sets in. Once you know it’s going to happen, you can try to nip in the bud before it fully occurs.
- Breathing. Something I always have problems with is breathing. Whenever I feel anxious, I tend to take super shallow breaths, which never ever helps the situation. Instead, try ujjayi breathing which is a deep breathing technique that gets lots of oxygen into your blood and helps calm you. Here is a great tutorial.
- Observe. Try to ground yourself in the moment but taking the time to feel the sun on your skin, or the sounds around you. This can help remove you from thinking too much and just be in your body. This is best combined with your breathing technique.
- Go to your mantra. Return to your mantra, saying it over and over to yourself or go to your happy place visitations.
These are just a few of my favourite tips and tricks. I would love to hear your favourite ways to cope with anxiety below.