Sometimes I struggle with panic attacks. Thankfully, they're pretty rare, and I've gotten better at dealing with them. But there was a time in my life when I was experiencing intense anxiety on a daily basis, and it was sending me into a deep depression.
When I have a panic attack, it doesn't take long before my mind gives way to a negative thought spiral, and those thoughts don't just stop the moment my breath stabilizes. It's terrifying, and the feelings of helplessness can last for a long time. Anxiety has a profound effect on our mental health. Everyone experiences it to a certain degree, but learning how to manage it is essential.
Unfortunately, it's not the kind of thing that goes away with the swallow of a pill. It takes a lot more work than that, and while medication is a great tool if you're having trouble dealing with anxiety and stress on your own, it is not a solution in and of itself. Whether you're taking medication or not, you must be proactive and take a hand in managing your own mental health.
If you're having a hard time, there are a lot of things you can do to feel better. It's not an immediate process, but by taking small steps you can reduce the amount of stress in your life. The ideas below are great "band-aid" solutions. They'll perk you up a little bit almost instantly. But it's important to incorporate these things (and others) into a regular routine of self-care. In doing so, you'll create space for yourself and make your mind an easier place to be, so that you need a band-aid less often.
Of course, if your anxiety is getting out of control, you need to see a doctor and create a plan of care for yourself that addresses your specific needs and can help you get healthy again. Always remember that there are plenty of resources out there, but the power to heal starts with you. And no matter how badly you feel, you are strong enough to take those first steps.
- Stretch your body. It's relaxing, and focusing on opening your body can open your mind, too.
- Read a fashion magazine, or something else trivial. Take your mind off the heavy issues of your life and the world for an hour or so.
- Eat something that's tasty and nutritious. A vegetable stew or a warm bowl of oatmeal is comforting and won't cause a sugar crash.
- Think of one small thing you can do to solve a problem, and then do it. Taking action, even when it's minor, is empowering.
- Watch a silly movie that you love (Legally Blonde, anyone?).
- Take a shower and let the warm water and soapy scents melt your tension away.
- Go outside. Stay there until you see something beautiful.
- Color in a coloring book.
- Change your clothes. A new outfit can inspire a new perspective.
- Entertain an elaborate fantasy. What would you buy if you won the lottery? What would it feel like to join your favorite band on-stage for a night? If you could vacation anywhere, where would you go and what would you do there? A temporary distraction can be the key to hitting the re-set button on a stressful situation.
- Get a pedicure. Sometimes the foot massage feels so nice, I think I might weep.
- Turn on some music in your kitchen and bake something. Leave the dishes for later.
- Ask someone to come and sit with you. If something is wrong, you don't have to talk about it (or anything at all), but it's comforting to be in the presence of someone else when you are feeling alone.
- Write a letter to yourself from your best friend. Tell yourself all the things you know he or she would say if they could hear the thoughts going through your head.
- Drink some water. Now drink some more.
- Take a long walk, or even a run if you feel up to it. Endorphins are real, my friends, and they are wonderful.
- Buy yourself some flowers. Even a cheap bouquet from the grocery store will brighten up your space and make you feel special.
- Light a candle, make yourself a cup of cocoa or herbal tea, curl up in a blanket and read a book for a few hours.
- Do a breathing exercise, or follow a guided meditation on YouTube. I like this one.
- Allow yourself to imagine the worst case scenario. Then think of what you would do after it happened. By focusing on the solutions, you'll feel more capable and prepared, giving your anxiety space to dissipate.
- Sing in the bathtub.
- Snuggle your dog. If you don't have one, ask a friend, or even go to a shelter and ask if you can pet one of theirs.
- Do something nice for someone else. Clear your neighbor's windshield the morning after a snow, leave a bigger-than-usual tip for your server at a restaurant, or grab your coworker a cup of coffee on your way back from the break room.
- Clean your bathroom.
- Make a list of coping mechanisms that work for you, and write them down on an index card. Keep them in your purse or wallet. When you start to feel stressed or anxious, pull out your card and try everything on the list until you feel better.
How do you make yourself feel better? What is your self-care routine?