I've suffered from anxiety, stress, and panic attacks for as long as I can remember. Like most people that suffer from these same things, I've learned how to hide it well. I may be smiling and appear laid back on the outside at times, but the truth is, internally, I'm typically a mess.
Until very recently, I was a habitual avoider, and this only added to my stress and anxiety because I never learned how to cope with anything. I would avoid a topic that made me sad or upset. I almost always avoided conflict. I avoided anything that made me feel vulnerable. I avoided social situations that made me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
I've since learned that dealing with things that cause anxiety and fear head on may be difficult in the short-term, but has many long-term benefits. Facing conflicts and tragedies, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning to let things go has done wonders for my stress, even though you think some of it would do the opposite. I went from a constantly anxiety-ridden, emotionally closed off shell of myself to the confident, friendly (I won't go as far as to say outgoing), well-balanced (ok, some may argue this, but I'm talking comparatively here), and happy person I always wanted to be.
All of this has been possible because I learned how to cope with the relationships, events and situations in my life that triggered my anxiety and stress. I'd like to share some of the strategies I use for anyone that has dealt with or currently deals with the same kinds of triggers that I do.
The term is self-soothing techniques, although I'll be honest, there is something about that term that I don't care for. When I hear the word soothing, I think of a crying baby or a child experiencing a tantrum. I believe that being self-aware enough to recognize your own triggers for anxiety and educating yourself on how to manage them shows incredible fortitude and resilience. We should be made to feel that way about it. Hell, we should be made to feel empowered.
With that said, here are some methods that are doing wonders for me personally. Let's call them "Mastering Techniques" because they help me deal with problems I experience and difficulties I encounter in every day life. That rolls off the tongue a bit better, at least for me.
"Breathe" - this sounds pretty simple, but it's one of the most powerful. One of the symptoms I experience when I'm in the throes of an internal melt-down is a rapid heart rate. My heart pounds and my patience run short. I feel as though my head or chest may explode and I can't absorb or focus on anything else around me. Those moments can happen at the most random times and one thing that helps ground me is to take deep breaths until the moment passes.
"Talk To Yourself" - I do this all the time. No, I mean it. All. The. Time. When I'm feeling overwhelmed about bills or work, when I'm in an uncomfortable social setting, or when I start to panic about something in the near future, I simply talk to myself positively. It helps change my mindset and focus on something positive. I tell myself that this moment won't last forever, that I'll get through whatever I'm dealing with at the time, that I should stay in and enjoy the current moment instead of always looking ahead, and that I hold the power to make myself calm. I truly believe that perspective is a powerful weapon.
"Get Outside" - I'm someone who instantly feels better the moment I go outside. The sun on my face, the cool breeze on my skin, and the smell of the outside air all help me get back to the moment at hand instead of getting lost in my head and thoughts. I don't feel as closed in when I'm outside. It helps open and quiet my mind.
"Play With An Animal" - I'm an animal lover and especially a dog lover. I truly believe animals have healing powers and understand us and our emotions better than most people think. When I was going through a lot of stress and emotional turmoil this past summer, my dog was the only thing that could bring a smile to my face. He comforted me when I cried. He jumped on my lap or cuddled me when I felt lost and needed a friend. He never left my side. He was my shadow in every sense of the word and he always knew exactly what I needed when I was spiraling out of control mentally and emotionally.
"Chew Gum" - This may seem like a strange one, but I promise, it really works. I chew gum the way a lot of people smoke cigarettes -- multiple packs a day. It's a good technique that works when some of the others may not be possible. I almost always have gum with me and it's an easy technique that most people won't take notice of. The scientific reason behind the success of this is that chewing gum helps reduce cortisol levels. A study done in 2008 showed that "the use of chewing gum was associated with higher alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and improvement in overall performance on multi-tasking activities."
"Incorporate Music" - I have always listened to music to help relieve stress. I throw on a sad song to cry it out or an upbeat song to sing or dance it out (sometimes both at the same time). I'm teaching myself how to play the guitar and if my work day is getting a little stressful, I'll take a break and play (the benefits of working for yourself -- avoid this at your job unless you have a very understanding boss and/or co-workers). If I'm feeling overwhelmed by the ever-growing task list in front of me, taking a short break to focus my mind on something that doesn't stress me out helps me to be more productive when I do return to my work.
I find that when using these techniques, it helps to be mindful of my senses. I take notice of what I'm touching, feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting. Doing so forces me to experience what I am doing instead of simply going through the motions. It helps slow everything down when I feel like my (insert stress, anger, patience, fear) is spinning out of control. Mostly, all of these things help me to feel like I'm the one in the driver seat, instead of my tumultuous emotions. We all have the power to let things bother us or not. We control what we give power to and what is important. These little techniques help remind me when I lose sight of that.
This article was also published on Elite Daily as "6 Ways To Relieve Your Anxiety If You Can't Get Into Meditation" on May 3, 2016.