Health/ Lifestyle

HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX

HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX

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.

HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX

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.

At Home

  • 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.
    • Lavender
    • Chamomile
    • Vitiver
    • Ylang Ylang
    • Bergamot
    • Frankincense
    • Basil
    • Clary Sage,
    • Frankincense
    • Marjoram
    • Palmarosa
  • 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.

HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX

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.

HELPING BUILD YOUR ANXIETY TOOLBOX

xox Sophie

16 Comments

  • Reply
    renee (will frolic for food)
    May 7, 2017 at 4:03 pm

    I just love everything about this. Logan suffers from anxiety depression and I’m going to point him to some of your tools. We use a lot of these already, but I like the idea of a fidget toy he can keep around. He used to carry amethyst around in his pocket when we first met, which I think helped him a lot. Also a mantra would be so good for him 🙂

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 11, 2017 at 4:26 am

      Oh, I’m so happy to hear you like the post, Renne. I really hope some of these tools can help Logan in some way. Both anxiety and depression can totally be a debilitating and my heart goes out to him. I find the worry object really helpful for me, especially in social situations where I tend to clam up. Wishing you both the best, and I have a feeling you guys will come up with some awesome mantra ideas <3

  • Reply
    Janna
    May 7, 2017 at 4:57 pm

    Sophie! This is beautiful thank you for sharing this list. I started a Podcast called The Toolkit for Life because I felt we need all the tools we can get to deal with life. I will refer to your post when talking about anxiety if you dont mind. Xx

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 11, 2017 at 4:36 am

      Awe, thank you, Janna! Your comment means the world to me. I must go check out your podcast right now. And yes, life is hard and I love the idea of asking people for help. There is this short video online where the social theorists Judith Butler talks about how we as humans are always so afraid to ask for help, but yet nobody lives in this world unaided by others. We are constantly at the mercy of each others assistance, and I think that is a really beautiful thing to point out. And yes, please share away. All the best to you <3

  • Reply
    Sophie | The Green Life
    May 8, 2017 at 5:00 pm

    Sophie, this is such an amazing post! I love love love it. There’s so much good stuff in here, I’ll have to read and re-read it again. Thank you for sharing your tips and thoughts in such a beautiful way. So grateful for you, lady. <3

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 11, 2017 at 4:40 am

      Thank you ever so much, Sophie! I’m delighted you got something out of this post <3 I really appreciated your tea post this week too. I am always battling a little insomnia, so it was just perfect for me. Big hugs to you!

  • Reply
    Heidi | The Simple Green
    May 8, 2017 at 5:01 pm

    GAD/ Panic Disorder is so prevalent and you’re absolutely right…it’s an isolating experience suffering from it. I love that there is so much great Information out there now; I think people are really starting to feel like it’s ok to be open about their experiences with it and that there is no shame in talking about it. I wish I had this post 10 years ago though as I thought I had all the techniques down pat! But you’ve managed to share a few I wish I had back then, like sitting near an exit and a doodle book, although I did keep a “feeling journal” which I found and read last year (I was actually kind of impressed with my insights, of course looking back I hated writing about them lol)!

    The worst part was always being in public and the fear that you’ll have a panic attack, which would ultimately bring them on…then comes the embarrassment and shame and more fear coupled with it. It’s just not fun and my heart deeply sympathizes with anyone who experiences this terror. I’m glad more people are sharing this type of information.

    I totally agree on avoiding war/horror/violent movies, aggressive music, etc. Over the last 5 years (5 loooong years) I’ve managed to learn how to love my anxiety and treat it as a friend of sorts; besides I feel as a society there is far too much desensitization to violence/ aggression/ political climate etc. and anxiety helps me to remember that it is OK, moreover, healthy to feel and be bothered by these things to a degree. And I love your comment on avoiding reading YouTube comments, they’re SO STRESSFUL, lol!

    Anyway, I didn’t mean to ramble on here…years upon years of learning to live with and love anxiety here as well; couldn’t help but relate all too easy.

    Thank you for sharing, Sophie…you’re pretty much my favourite blogger now 😉

    Xx

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 13, 2017 at 10:06 pm

      Hey, Heidi! Thank you so much for this reply. I am thrilled beyond belief to hear you enjoyed this post. I totally agree with you that in this age of social media there are more and more people opening up to talk about mental health and I love that. The more discussion, the less there is to fear. <3

      It's funny how little things in life can be so stressful, even thing things that are supposed to make our lives easier - sometimes I purposely let my phone stay dead for days on end just so I don't have to look at it.

      So much love to you, buddy! Wishing you the best <3 <3 <3

  • Reply
    Ruby
    May 9, 2017 at 7:55 am

    This is such a beautiful, thoughtful and timely post. I have some close friends who struggle with severe anxiety, and personally I have had bouts of it off and on during particularly stressful times in my life. It is good to have a toolkit to refer back to just in case, because I find often when we are in the midst of deep anxiety, it’s hard to see clearly how to get out! Thank you for these lovely suggestions xx

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 13, 2017 at 9:19 pm

      Thank you kindly, Ruby! I hope these tools come in handy for you and your friends at one point or another. And it’s true, when we are in the midsts of being anxious, we totally become clouded. So much love to you, friend!

  • Reply
    Jessica
    May 11, 2017 at 12:32 am

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. Everything about this is post shows how much time and thoughtfulness you put into the work you do. I’ve saved this post in numerous places and it is something I plan on referring to over and over again. I’m currently on a very small dose of medication for anxiety and while I know it has it’s place, my goal is to eventually come off of the medication and treat my anxiety naturally. I’ve been incorporating more calming and mindfulness techniques but I can now now add many more to my repertoire. Thank you for writing such a beautiful post!

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 13, 2017 at 9:11 pm

      Jess, you’re too kind! Thank you a million <3 Sometimes a little medication is needed - I've been there before and have plenty of friends who have found it to be so useful for them. From my experience I've also found great help with things like Behavioural Therapy + Acupuncture (if you're into those). Wishing you the best and if you need any more tricks and tips, don't be afraid to shoot me a message. xox

  • Reply
    Sarah | Well and Full
    May 12, 2017 at 6:12 pm

    Bookmarked. As someone with GAD, I can’t tell you how much it means to see someone speak up about having anxiety and talk about it in such an open and honest way. I get scared to talk about it on my blog so I applaud your candor and bravery in discussing this in such a way that can help others. And I really appreciate the way you crafted this post, addressing anxiety in different scenarios… when the panic sets in, when you’re at home, etc. I really feel like this post can help me.

    • Reply
      Heidi | The Simple Green
      May 13, 2017 at 4:55 am

      I feel exactly the same way, Sarah <3

      This is such a great post!

    • Reply
      Sophie
      May 13, 2017 at 9:01 pm

      Awe, thank you from the bottom of my hear, Sarah! I’m so delighted to hear that this post will come in handy for you. I’ve battled anxiety ever since I went to kindergarten – from GAD, to panic attacks, to OCD. It sucks, truly, and it is a hard thing for most people to talk about. But I think so many people experience it a some point in their lives, we’re not alone. Big hugs to you buddy xox

  • Reply
    Rebecca
    May 20, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Hello Sophie, what a wonderful post :). I’m familiar with many of the tools you suggest — but not all. I particularly like the doodle pad and the worry object, and also the idea of wearing particular clothes. I will try these out next time I’m anxious. My anxiety is emetophobia (fear of nausea and in particular of vomiting), which unfortunately has got a lot worse since I’ve been experiencing intermittent bouts of nausea for a couple of years. The thing I most struggle with is anxiety in the workplace and in social situations. When I am feeling nauseous, I get so anxious that I can’t get to work for a few days and so have to call in sick, and I cancel any kind of social engagements with my friends/family. It’s quite isolating and I worry about losing my friends and even my job. Have you ever experienced anything like this? I wondered if you had any specific tools for this? Thanks again for the post 🙂 x

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