Although I’ve never been formally diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, I feel like I can say with confidence that the level of anxiety I tend to deal with on a daily basis is anything but average. Because of this, I’ve been cataloguing all the little things that help me feel less anxious for years, despite the fact that I didn’t fully accept my anxiety issues until recently. And I have to say, some of my coping mechanisms have been pretty reliable.
Like the millions of other Americans who struggle with anxiety, (anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting nearly 20 percent of the population) I’m no stranger to anxiety attacks. I had my first one when I was seven, and I’ve had many more since then — so a few months ago, I decided it was about time I saw someone about it. It was an important step for me, because it meant I was finally taking my mental health seriously — but the medication I was prescribed didn’t help me much. Yes, it relieved the tightness in my chest and kept me from crying in public, but it also left me feeling exhausted and irritable.
So, for the time being, I’m trying to learn how to manage my anxiety without medication. It’s hard work, but it’s definitely worth it. Here are 14 little things that help me when I'm feeling anxious. I hope they might help you too.
1. Chewing Gum
A while back, I was perusing Bustle's app for tips on how to improve your focus, and one of the articles I came across listed "chew gum" as a focusing hack. So before I sat down to write my next article, I bought some chewing gum, and I chewed the hell out of it. Guess what? It worked!
But not only did chewing gum significantly improve my ability to focus on my assignment, it cut down on my anxiety, too. I'm not entirely sure why this is, but I'm not the first person to use chewing gum to ease anxiety. Personally, I think this anti-anxiety hack works for me because chewing gum allows me to get rid of some of my nervous energy. All I know for certain, though, is this: chewing gum helps me feel less anxious. So nowadays, anytime I'm feeling anxious, I pop a piece of gum in my mouth. And when I run out of the stuff, I stock back up ASAP.
2. Eating With My Hands
Interestingly, I've actually found that eating sans utensils is a simple way for me to feel more grounded — and finding grounding strategies that work is an important part of managing anxiety and panic disorders. I mean, I don't eat with my hands for every single meal, because soup. Eating with my hands has proven to be an effective grounding strategy for me, though, so I do it whenever I can. This particular method of munching engages all of my senses, and it brings me back to the present when I start to freak out about one of my past actions or an upcoming event.
3. Playing With Animals
Playing with my cats isn't typically enough to bring me out of an anxiety attack, because those things can get pretty rough. When it comes to dealing with my everyday anxiety issues, though, Madeline and Smuggz are basically my fluffy, little saviors. Not only do they leave me feeling happier and more calm, parenting them forces me to think of someone else's needs. No matter what's going on with me, my kitties need to be brushed, fed, watered, and cuddled on a daily basis — and their presence in my house means I'm never really alone. As an added bonus, cat purrs literally strengthen bones, and research shows that cat owners have fewer strokes, too.
I know I can always also count on friendly dogs to help me gain control when I start to feel anxious. Sometimes, when I'm feeling too anxious to sit still but I don't want to bail on hanging out, I just ask if I can take my buddies' dogs for a quick walk. It takes maybe 15 minutes, and everyone wins.
4. Going For A Walk By Myself
Few things help me manage my anxiety better than exercise, and walking is the easiest exercise out there. Although I always enjoy walking with the people I like, (especially now that Pokemon GO exists) for me, walking alone is ideal when I'm trying to combat anxiousness. Solo strolls allow me to walk at my natural pace, (which is Gilmore-level fast) while simultaneously working in some meditation and positive self-talk. Plus, the mental and physical health benefits of walking are extensive.
5. Taking A Few Slow, Deep Breaths
It's a cliche for a reason. Anytime I'm driving alone, I take advantage of that privacy by practicing some deep breathing. If I'm hanging out with friends, I make double use of my solo bathroom trips to sneak in some more deep breathing. When I'm writing an article and I feel so anxious that I can hardly sit still, I close my eyes, and take five deep breaths. I try to do this whether I'm feeling anxious or not, though, because part of managing anxiety naturally is taking preventative measures to stay calm.
6. Standing And/Or Sitting Up Straight
Recently, my dude told me, "you know you slouch a lot." I'm sensitive as hell, so it kind of hurt my feelings, but he was right. Since then, I've made more of an effort to stand and sit up straight, and it's helped with my anxiety quite a bit. Considering that poor posture can mess with your breathing, your heart rate, your ability to focus, and your self esteem, it's really no wonder that this works for me.
Whether I'm writing in a cafe, hanging out with friends, chilling with my fella, or watching Stranger Things , stretching has proved to be a super effective way for me to control my anxiety. Sometimes, I'll stop, drop, and yoga when I feel anxiety bubbling up. When I'm out and don't feel like performing a wheel pose in public, I just touch my toes and/or do some arm stretches instead.
OK, so I don't get jazzed about cleaning my toilet or anything, but I've been cleaning to quiet my anxiety since I was a kid. To be clear, other people's messes don't bug me that much — but, personally, I couldn't live in a messy house without feeling anxious all the time. So whether it's my whole kitchen or just my bedroom, I try to clean something every day. It usually doubles as a time of meditation for me, too, and meditative actions are great for anxiety.
It's literally a scientific fact that climaxing reduces stress. Because it's also really fun, I try to make it happen every day. Luckily, my dude is pretty much always down to go down, so that helps. When we can't fit sex into our day, though, I just bust out my Foxy Toyfriend. Either way, in my experience, more orgasms = less anxiety.
I value my alone time, but too much of it can make my anxiety way worse. So when I start to feel out-of-control anxious, I always try to meet up with, or call, one of my friends. Being around the people I love, or even just hearing their voice, helps me feel safe — and it gives me an opportunity to listen to someone else's concerns instead of obsessing over my own.
11. Having A Cup Of Peppermint Tea
I love coffee, but if I go over two cups a day, I'm going to pay for it in anxiety symptoms. So when I need to soothe myself, but I've had my two cups of java already, I brew a cup of peppermint tea. Not only does the tea itself help calm my anxiety symptoms, the whole tea-making ritual calms me down, too; it forces me to focus on something besides the tightness in my chest and the string of anxious thoughts in my head.
Weirdly enough, my anxiety can make it really difficult for me to write sometimes — but when I manage to power through my anxiousness and write an article anyway, it always chills me out. Keeping a journal helps, too — because there's something about writing down all of my worries, and then reading them back to myself, that makes them feel a little bit less dire.
13. Practicing Self-Care
I've always been one of those people who likes to groom, but I've only recently realized why that it is. Sticking to a self-care routine helps me manage my anxiety for so many reasons. If I'm taking good care of my body, that's one less thing to worry about it. Plus, self-care is typically a solitary thing, and some alone time is crucial for everyone. On top of all that, making time for self-care boosts my self-esteem — because all of those coconut oil hair treatments leave me feeling (and, dare I say, looking) like a hippie goddess.
14. Putting My Phone Away
I used to keep my phone turned up and by my side pretty much constantly, and that habit didn't do my anxiety any favors. Now, if I'm at a friends house, I usually set my phone on one of their counter tops and ignore the sh*t out of it. I try not to check Facebook more than three times a day, either. And if it's after 6 p.m., I don't stress out too hard about missing work emails. Of course, this doesn't mean I don't Instagram on the daily, and I still take my phone everywhere I go, too. I'm just not quite as addicted to it anymore — and it's made a huge difference in my mental health.