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Beating anxiety : the little things that make a difference

Illustration: Julie K.

Content

HALT!Calm yourself by...Or confront your anxiety by...Take a break by...Wait

Do you deal with anxiety? Have you ever experienced panic attacks? Do you feel like self-harming to cope with your anxiety? Then this article is for you. Here's my best advice on how to beat the hell out of anxiety.

 

HALT!

Don't get too Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired. These tend to make anxiety worse and can actually start a panic attack. If you're feeling anxious, HALT! And tend to these needs first.

 

Calm yourself by...

Reading a good book

It helps reduce stress, and a study (University of Sussex, Galaxy Stress Research, Mindlab International, 2009) has also found that it does so more quickly and more efficiently than most other methods (it can reduce stress by up to 68%).

 

Dropping your shoulders and doing a gentle neck roll

Do this until you feel your muscles unclenching but beware of getting dizzy!

 

Massaging your hand

This will activate oxytocin, a calming hormone. You can also lightly run a finger over your lip, which should make you feel calmer because it stimulates the parasympathetic fibers in it.

 

Doing a few yoga moves

You can, for instance, watch yoga videos on YouTube.

 

Going for a run or a walk

Getting outside and especially running can get your head unstuck from its anxiety mode, because you'll be changing your environment. Also, it is now widely acknowledged that moving, doing sport, is excellent for the mind as well as the body.

 

Following a guided meditation session

10 or 15 minutes should suffice to help calm you down, if it is effective for you (here's an example on, yet again, YouTube). Beware, however, that meditation can make things more difficult if, for instance, your anxiety is trauma-based. It's simple : if after 5 minutes you feel yourself getting worse, just stop and follow another one of these tips.

 

Taking a bath

That's pretty self-explanatory. Hot water and the smell of, for example, lavender-scented bath bombs or a simple vanilla-scented soap, have calming virtues.

 

Cuddling a baby or a pet

Again, something that should activate the production of oxytocin. Moreover, pets often have the ability to feel when their human is in distress, making it all that easier to cuddle.

 

Trying one or several breathing techniques

 Here's a bunch that should help.

If you're feeling too panicky to remember and follow the steps, just find and use a breathing app like this one on the AppStore or here on the PlayStore, where all you have to do is follow the bubble (inhale when it goes up, exhale when it goes down).

 

Drinking a hot (non-alcoholic) beverage

The English drink tea all the time for a reason.

 

Listening to calming music

I suggest this one, but there are millions available!

Prefer using headphones instead of earphones, if you can. It's worth the cost, truly. This helped enormously with my social anxiety, when I couldn't bear to have people around me but couldn't get away, because it created a safe bubble of music around me.

 

Using an anxiety relief app

 Here's a good selection, on both the AppStore and the PlayStore.

 

Putting something out of place in its right place

Tidying up often can make you feel a sense of inner peace and satisfaction. Physical order = mental order.

 

Taking action on something you've been putting off

For the same reason as listed above, it can help your mind feel calmer and satisfied. It can be something quick and easy, such as an email, a phone call...

 

Scratching something off your to-do list for today

It can be either by doing it or... by deciding that you're not going to do that today and putting it on tomorrow's to-do list. There is no shame in recognizing that sometimes, you just can't.

 

Finding something on YouTube that makes you laugh

There's Ryan George and Jeff Dunham, for example, who are just... great.

 

Or confront your anxiety by...

Stating out loud the emotions you're feeling

For example, "I'm feeling angry and worried right now, even though I don't know why". You gotta say it to yourself, but out loud. I swear it makes a difference to hear it, and it helps you acknowledge what's happening inside of your head. To feel better, first you've got to acknowledge that you're not feeling well!

 

I used to have a recurring nightmare, where my loved ones' lives would be threatened by a villain. One night, in my dream, I finally faced the villain and told him: "Yes, I'm scared of you. But tonight I'm facing you and I'm not letting you win. Just because I'm scared doesn't mean you have all the power". And in the following nightmares, because of course they didn't just disappear, I was stronger and able to fight the villain. It got better, you see! All because I acknowledged my feelings.

 

Asking yourself real questions... and answering them

Ask yourself "What's the worst that could actually happen?" (and really answer! It's not that easy though).

When that's done, ask yourself "How would I cope?" And, hint: the answer isn't "I couldn't". It's about thinking what practical steps you would take, who you would turn to for support. Confronting your anxiety is sometimes all it takes for it to go away (see story of the nightmare above).

 

Taking action

  • If you're feeling anxious because of a mistake you've made, imagine precisely how you won't repeat it in the future. Write down 3 bullet points.

 

  • If you're feeling bad about yourself in general, call or email a friend you haven't contacted in a while. You might be surprised how good it feels!

 

Thinking positive

  • If you're feeling anxious because of something you're about to do and you fear a negative outcome, write down at least one possible positive outcome.

 

  • If you're feeling worried about life in general, write down 3 things you used to be anxious about but that in the end didn't happen.

 

  • You can also write down 3 things that you were anxious about but that didn't end up being that bad.

 

  • Write down everything (at least 3) that's going right in your life. You can also make this a journaling habit: every evening before going to bed, jot down 3 good things that happened to you that day, or 3 things that you accomplished, such as "I cooked myself a meal", "A dog came to me so I would pet it" and "I accomplished a mission successfully in a video game".

 

Accepting and knowing yourself better

  • If you're feeling unwell because of someone else's actions, accept that you may never know exactly why the person acted this way and let it go.

 

  • If you're feeling anxious because of a change in plans, or by someone suggesting it, understand that it is a key anxiety-inducing situation for a lot of people dealing with anxiety, be it social, trauma-induced or generalized. Accept that fact about yourself.

 

  • Recognize and accept that there will always be a gap between the real you and the ideal you. This is how you keep progressing towards a goal.

 

  • In that same idea, question how and especially whom you compare yourself to. Is it fair and logical or are you always comparing yourself to the best of each category?

 

Doing Beck's columns

This is a trick I learned in CBT therapy (Cognitive and Behavioral Therapy) with my psychologist. It's meant to fight your automatic negative anxious thoughts.

 

Here's how it goes:

  • Take a specific situation that's bothering you and making you feel bad about yourself. That's the first column. It needs to be objective and factual, for instance, "I'm not able to contact any of the people I need to talk to".

 

  • List your emotions in a second column, for instance "frustration, anger, anguish" and rate each one's intensity on a scale from 0 to 10, for instance "10, 8 and 6"

 

  • Write down, in a few words, your automatic thoughts, the ones that keep popping in your head when confronted with this situation, and that come to you automatically, almost by instinct. That's the third column. For example, "They're avoiding me on purpose", "I'm clearly not important enough in their eyes" and "I won't ever succeed and my business will shut down".

 

  • The fourth column is about challenging your automatic thoughts thanks to your alternative thoughts. Here's a little more detail on how to do that.
    • First, what could you have thought in the same situation instead of your automatic thoughts? For instance, "It's the system that's flawed because they don't have enough people on call, it has nothing to do with me".
    • Second, in the same situation, what would someone I know (and admire) have thought? For instance, I know my husband would have thought "They're simply a bunch of incompetent people who never answer their phones". My grandmother would have thought "It's August, they must all be on holidays and finding people to replace them is obviously not easy".
    • Third, what would a cameraman think, if he were observing the scene from afar? For instance, he would think that my failure at getting in touch with these people doesn't say anything about the quality of my business idea, and that I'm drawing conclusions too quickly: it's my fear talking.
    • Fourth, what would I have thought in the same situation, if I had not been mentally unwell to begin with? For example, I would have simply thought "I've already come a long way from the first days of my business idea, this is not saying anything about me and I will try again tomorrow".
    • Now, select two or more alternative thoughts that you find make sense and are more helpful than your automatic thoughts. Re-read them.

 

  • The fifth and last column is about re-evaluating those same emotions on a scale of 0 to 10: how intense is your frustration, your anger, your anguish? They should be down by at least a few figures!

 

Backing out of a commitment

If you rarely allow yourself to say no, and you tend to have an overflowing social agenda, try backing out of a commitment you've already taken. It could be that this is weighing on you. You're allowed to say no! You're allowed to say you can't anymore! My personal touch: explain why. Explain that you're anxious about it instead of making excuses. People will be much more understanding, especially if you have to cancel again in the future.

 

Looking back on the anxiety-inducing situation from the future

Try imagining this situation as if you were 6 months from now. Does it still seem so very frightening and like you'll never get out of it?

 

Take a break by...

Not watching or listening to the news

That one is surprisingly efficient for something that you don't actually have to do.

 

Not actively trying to solve the problem you're anxious about

That one is not very easy, the best is to try to distract yourself while your mind processes everything in the background.

 

Wait

Most anxious feelings tend to pass. You just have to wait them out. You can do this!

 

 

Going further

  • An article by the Child Mind Institute (a very helpful ressource on all mental health matters!) on how to get organized: it can help with the anxiety!

 

 

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