As May is Mental Health Month, I wanted to take the opportunity to talk more about my experience managing anxiety and share some tips I’ve picked up along the way.
While there appear to be more and more articles like this out there, I still think the best thing we can do to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health is to TALK about it.
In particular, I still think there is a lack of TANGIBLE advice to help manage anxiety. The other day while taking the metro home from work, I was listening to The Skinny Confidential podcast by Lauryn Evarts and Michael Bosstick, and I realized one of the reasons I love the podcast is because they ask each guest to share incredibly specific and detailed advice. They almost always ask about the guests morning routine, one “hack” or “tip” that’s transformed their life, and one book recommendation. They always seek out all of the nitty-gritty details in the guests’ answer and never let them get away with generic answers.
I realized I find this to be an issue with a lot of “advice” that’s out there on managing anxiety. Which much of it is this way simply because anxiety looks different for everyone, I know for myself, the “tips” that I’ve actually stuck with weren’t vague or broad, but realistic and tangible tools I could add to my mental health toolbox.
Enough rambling, here are top 10 tips!
- Download a meditation app.
No, I’m not telling you to consider meditating at home or try a class. Download an app. Better yet, download Calm or Headspace – I’ve tried most of the meditation apps out there and have found those to be the best, and they’re most rooted in evidence. Once you’ve downloaded the app, download 2-3 meditations that vibe with you. These will be your go-to’s for when you need instant calm on demand, anytime, anywhere. No WiFi needed.
- Find a breathing technique that works for you.
The meditation apps I mentioned above have guided breathing meditations. Headspace has a one-minute breathing meditation if you need a super quick dose of deep breathing. Personally, I follow the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
- Make a playlist.
Music can change your mood and instantly distract your mind from racing thoughts. This will surely be different for everyone, but create a playlist of songs that no matter what, make you at ease. These might be calming, slower songs or these could be songs that make you nostalgic or bring you to a happier place.
- Cut the caffeine (and start drinking matcha).
I’ll admit it, I’m a matcha evangelist. I’m not at all saying you have to give up coffee, but making the switch from unlimited coffee to coffee in moderation has made a big difference for me. I still need that first cup to wake up in the morning but have been trying to switch cup #2 to matcha and I’ve seen a huge difference.
- Make an anxiety emergency kit.
It might seem silly to people who haven’t experienced anxiety, but if you’ve ever had a panic attack, you know you’ll do ANYTHING necessary to avoid another. Mine includes:
- Lavender essential oil.
- Granola bar(s).
- Glucose tabs( because balancing blood sugar is key).
- Become aware of your surroundings.
This is somewhat related to meditation and mindfulness, but one of the first things I learned to do when I was diagnosed and did CBT was to label things around me in the room. Whenever you are, doing this and becoming aware of your surroundings can help bring your racing mind back to reality. Reminding yourself that your feet are on the ground, things around you are continuing as usual and everything is okay, can sometimes be a big help.
- Use heat as a source of calm.
People use heat to relax muscles, and this will vary depending on the person, but I know for myself, my muscles are often tight when I have anxiety. Some might clench their jaw; some might hunch their shoulders. But, when we go into fight-or-flight mode, we tend to get our bodies into a state or preparing to either “fight” or “flight” – and engage muscles when we don’t need to. When we could just be sitting at our desks or in a meeting. I also find that my anxiety is MUCH better in the summer and in warmer climates. However, if you live in a climate with four seasons and can’t just step outside into sun for some instant relaxation, here are a few ways I use heat for anxiety:
- Sip on warm tea.
- Use a heating pad or a “hot water bottle.”
- Take a bath.
- Buy a weighted blanket.
Weighted blankets or “compression therapy” are used to treat a number of things in addition to anxiety including insomnia, depression, ADHS, autism, and others. Research shows that “light touch” can alert the nervous system but the sensation of “deep touch” is calming and relaxing. Also known as” deep pressure touch stimulation”, this type of pressure has psychological and physiological benefits and results in a similar feelings to getting a massage with pressure exerted over the body. I’m actually in the process of purchasing one of these bad boys, so if you have one and love it – would love a recommendation!
- Most adults use weighted blankets from 15-25 lbs.
- Here are some popular brands.