I don’t speak about this much on my blog, but I’ve had anxiety for pretty much my entire life. I’ve always been prone to panic attacks, social phobia, and irrational thinking. However, I’ve also made great strides in my lifetime. I overcame my childhood diagnosis of selective mutism, conquered my paralyzing fear of driving, and have far less anxiety attacks than I once did. But I’m not fixed. I’ll have generalized anxiety disorder for the rest of my life and, as well as I’m doing now, I still have bad days. But I’ve learned how to cope and self-soothe when I feel a panic attack coming on. If you have anxiety, you’ve probably received advice along the line of “just take some deep breaths.” And, while deep breathing does work, it’s far too vague an instruction. So, I’ve cultivated a list of specific tips and tricks to help you deal when things get too real:
- Use breathing .gifs. There are .gifs out there created specifically to help coach you through deep breathing techniques when you’re feeling anxious. You can find them with a simple Google search (try “anxiety gifs” or “deep breathing gifs”). Utilize them whenever you can. That way, even if you have an anxiety attack when you don’t have access to these tools, you are already well-trained in a breathing technique that works. With this helpful guide, you’ve found an effective way to breathe yourself into calmness.
- Listen to music that comforts you. Whether that be a specific song, an album, an artist, or a genre, find music that brings you a sense of comfort. Have a playlist ready, if you need to. For me, Demi Lovato’s music is incredibly soothing. If I’m feeling anxious or upset and I put on her music, it really helps calm me down. Figure out what kind of music does this for you before you have an episode. That way, you’ll be ready when one does happen. If you don’t have access to music when you have an anxiety attack, try to think of a song that calms you. Then you’re focused on trying to think of the song, instead of your anxiety. Believe me when I say even something so simple can go a long way.
- Wrap yourself tightly in a blanket. Being wrapped up helps you feel more in control. If you don’t have access to a blanket, use a jacket. It also helps to cross your arms tightly or to get a hug from someone you care about. Making yourself tight and small allows for the illusion of control and safety. There’s nothing more secure than being a human burrito. The soothing pressure really helps to ease anxiety. The heavier the better. Feeling cozy means feeling calm.
- Squeeze something. Find something small and squeeze it tight. This allows you to express your anxiety in a physical way without hurting yourself. I recommend a small fidget cube or stress ball. Pick one that’s small enough so you can keep it in your purse or pocket just in case. Focus on squeezing over fidgeting. Fidgeting is too absent-minded an action. Squeezing takes force. Just imagine you’re pushing out your anxiety or even strangling it. Take away its power. It’s just a small way to bring your mind back to the physical world and tell your anxiety that you’re the one with the power.
- Try to focus your mind elsewhere. Work on a task or watch TV. Occupy your mind with something outside yourself. The task doesn’t have to be complex, just as long as it’s not mindless. Mindlessness will trap you inside your head. Give yourself something simple to do that still requires you to pay attention. Nothing you go on autopilot for. If you choose to watch something, pick your favorite episode. That way you’ll pay attention, but you don’t have to worry about taking in new information. This gives you the same kind of balance a simple task does, requiring enough focus to distract your brain but not requiring too much of you. If you have a pet, go and pet or play with them. Again, it’s a relaxing task that forces you to get outside of yourself with too much expectation. Shifting your focus will cause your brain to forget to be anxious, thereby making you calm, cool, and collected.
If you try these tips, you’ll soon find yourself with healthy coping mechanisms and safe ways to self-soothe. But remember, if you have an anxiety disorder, the best way to treat it is medication and talk therapy. These solutions are just day-to-day, in-the-moment tricks to help you when you’re having an anxiety attack. Long-term treatment is what you help you get your mood disorder truly under control. If you cannot afford professional treatment or do not have access, find an online group you can join or do further research into other safe, healthy ways you can treat your anxiety. Do not let it run your life any longer. You are more than your perpetually frightened brain.