Whether your anxiety is typically tied to stressful life events, (like wedding planning and/or starting a new job) or it’s a near-constant part of your daily life, anxiety is something nearly everyone struggles with. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting an estimated 40 million adults. Further, although it’s true that stress and anxiety aren’t the same thing, dealing with chronic stress can be just as difficult as coping with anxiety. Anxiety can mess with everything from your sex life to your vision, and chronic stress can lead to burnout at best and depression at worst. So while it’s totally OK (normal, even) to be an openly anxious person, learning how to cope with anxiety is crucial to both your mental and physical health.
Fortunately, talking about mental health has become slightly less taboo in recent years. Bustle is just one of many sites that abounds with well-researched articles detailing how to define, diagnose, and treat anxiety disorders. (Hell, I’ve written many of them.) Twitter continues to destigmatize mental illness with their extensive list of mental health hashtags, too. Even rappers, like Kid Cudi and DMX, have used their respective platforms to talk about mental health.
Clearly, anxiety is incredibly common, and there's a lot we could learn from each other's experiences managing it — so I asked 15 ordinary people how they cope with their anxiety. Their answers are both encouraging and genuinely helpful, so if you struggle with anxiety, then read on. This is how 15 people handle their anxiety.
"To deal with my anxiety, I hold my dog Moose. I like to keep him clean for these moments, of course, so I can bury my face in his fur. He is always warm and will grunt at me while I hug him, and [he will] give me soft kisses on my forehead and hands. While I hold Moose, I try to make my breathing match his so I will calm down. Thinking of warm cuddles from Moose helps to calm me down if I am in an unfortunately public area at the time of sudden anxiety.
I highly recommend an animal for people with anxiety. Not everyone can drink and/or smoke a little bowl of weed when anxiety hits. For people whose anxiety eases with touch, animals should be a first choice."
"I use writing and music to cope with my anxiety. I also role play with friends. It helps me get away from this world and kind of live a different life — like a reader does when they become engrossed in a book. I am 31 and have used these methods since I was a kid. I also take medicine too, when the attacks are really severe."
"I like to go somewhere quiet, close my eyes, and breathe deep. As I breathe, I like to relax my muscles beginning with my chest, stomach, and back, and moving to my limbs. It literally takes me 30 seconds, but it's like taking a nap."
"I make slime!!! Textures and colors help — crochet and crafts...reading is awesome too."
"I practice deep yogic breathing, (of which there are many methods) as well as meditation, which is really awesome. Along with these, I try to incorporate visualization techniques, re-centering/refocusing on the at-hand moment — and I have my own personal mantra that I say over and over while doing these, whether it is the controlled breathing or meditating."
"I cope with my anxiety by crocheting. There have been a ton of studies on how knitting and crochet can help with anxiety ... Honestly though, there is something therapeutic in the rhythm of the stitching and the feel of the yarn in your hand. People may think I'm crazy for it — but hey, I already have that label, so whatever. The repetitiveness allows your mind to concentrate on the project and not your surroundings. Then there is the satisfaction of the completed project and the compliments you get when you show off your work. You can also find tons of tutorial videos on YouTube. The Crochet Crowd has my favorite videos."
"For a quick fix, I deep breathe and/or massage my neck or temples. If I have the time, being creative really reduces anxiety for me: painting or drawing. Also, regularly-scheduled massages help to reduce my stress and anxiety by giving me a planned time for relaxation and meditation, as well as getting those tense muscles relaxed."
"I cope with my anxiety mostly through physical activity. I kickbox at least twice a week and do yoga when I can. The aggressiveness of kickboxing helps me work out a lot of that anxious energy, and I notice a huge difference in my nervousness and my sleep if I go a week without kickboxing at all. I also do my best to refrain from watching or listening to anything news-related on the weekends, since that's a huge trigger for my anxiety right now. Even when my boyfriend says, 'hey can we turn on the news?' while we're making breakfast on a weekend, I try to nicely explain to him that that's a hard boundary for me. It really helps me wind down and maintain some distance from work (which involves the news and politics).
Lastly, I make sure that I have time to do really simple stuff that makes me happy. My recent thing has been coloring and watching cooking shows. It seems silly, but it allows me to totally shut off my brain and keeps my hands busy. I try to give myself at least one or two nights a week where I'm totally alone so that I can do something like that and only worry about myself."
"When I am anxious, I try to remember that it is only a feeling and that I am safe. I also find that being honest with those close to me helps. Sometimes saying it helps me to remember that the anxiety is just a symptom, not reality. It doesn't make the feeling go away, but it helps me power through. There is always an end. And of course, when I just can't bring myself to talk about it, there is always my dog."
"I take prescription medication for anxiety/mood. It's called Wellbutrin. I like it pretty well. I took Lexapro...for anxiety when it was especially bad. It worked well at first, but ended up being a total damper on my libido, so I stopped taking it. After a few months on nothing, I switched to Wellbutrin. Besides that, I see a LCSW once a month to chat."
"I throw myself into a big project that lasts a couple of days. That way, I can pray and think and meditate and be alone. Usually, by the end of the project I figure out how to handle whatever I'm anxious about. Plus, I have an accomplishment to feel good about."
"I never really had anxiety problems until I had my [car] wreck. At that point, I suddenly started experiencing anxiety attacks. The only thing that really helped at that time was Ativan and sleep. Now I notice that I don't handle stress nearly as well as I used to, and I occasionally need to remove myself from situations that make me anxious until I can start breathing more normally again.
When I'm feeling stressed now, I tend to turn to entertainment for a distraction. Whether it's a movie, a book, or a fun game, media can provide escapism from whatever is triggering my stress. Sometimes, though, stress becomes full-blown anxiety. When that happens, I'm thankful for my Apple Watch, which has a 'Breathe' app that reminds me to take a 30-second or one minute break each hour and just focus on my breathing."
"This is going to sound strange, but the thing that works best to pull me out of a panic attack is to have someone rub my feet. I think something about the physical contact helps to ground me in reality. Unfortunately, it doesn't help if I rub my own feet. When I'm alone and dealing with anxiety, I like to snuggle with my dogs. I like to make sure I have a paper bag nearby if I start hyperventilating. Trying to breath with the rhythm of a slow song can help too."
"When I'm anxious and I can't sleep, I try relaxation techniques, like deep breathing. I also meditate on Jesus and pray. It's really not even about repeating scriptures at that point, it's about a relationship that brings me comfort and peace."
"I list the most dangerous chemicals on earth and what they do. This makes me think and distracts my brain from freaking out. I remind myself that I am still breathing right now, and that's all that I need to do. It's OK if I vomit or if I need to find a safe place to sit on the floor for awhile. (Most establishments are totally cool to find one for you if you need one.) I use every anxiety attack as a stepping stone to get past the current one. I remember, I have felt this way before and I am still breathing. Everything was fine then and it's fine now."