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13 Little Things Anxiety Sufferers Should Know

Big things help, but so can little things.

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Like a lot of people, I have anxiety. In my case, it's primarily social anxiety, with a little bit of generalised anxiety thrown in to spice things up.

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I'm a potent blend of discomfort and overanalysis. I call it eau d'neurosisi.

My anxiety keeps me up at night, makes me question EVERYTHING, affects how I interact with people, and is generally a complete *insert terrible swearword*.

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If anxiety were a person, it would be that one guy at parties who hoards all the nibbles and then tries to explain your own dissertation to you.

Over the years, I've developed a few small strategies and tricks to help me manage and even lessen my anxiety. In the interest of maybe helping fellow anxious people, I've put my best ones in a list below.

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Maybe they'll help you too! Or maybe you'll hate them. If it's the latter FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON'T TELL ME – I'LL OBSESSIVELY WORRY ABOUT IT FOREVER.

1. Find a time each day to completely switch off all your devices.

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I mean, surely by now we've all read at least one article about how bad it is to be staring at screens all day? In general I'm pretty addicted to my smartphone, so I feel kind of hypocritical saying this, because I am the WORST when it comes to switching off.

Honestly though, I've found taking even just 20 minutes a day to turn my laptop and phone off and put them in another room while I read a book or wander around outside really good for putting myself in a better state of mind. I'm also trying really hard to not be on my phone before bed too, because I've noticed this helps me sleep easier – and as a chronic night owl, anything that gets me closer to the holy grail of eight hours is a godsend.

2. Bookmark videos and clips that soothe you.

View this video on YouTube

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For some reason I find watching YouTube clips from my favourite Disney films impossibly soothing. Also Disney song mashups. And also the above Disney video mashup. Basically all the Disney. I have my favourites saved, and when I feel myself getting anxious, I can immediately put one on, and it usually helps me feel a bit calmer.

I have no idea why this is, but I'm not alone! My friend and colleague Rachael recently wrote this fantastic essay about how watching cooking shows helps her to calm her anxieties. IT'S A THING, PEOPLE.

3. Exercise.

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Exercise releases endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people don't shoot their husbands. Or something like that. Maybe exercise endorphins won't guarantee a murder-free, happy existence, but I'm pretty sure a workout can help stave off anxiety. Sure, running up and down some stairs might not instantly get rid of a panic attack, but I always notice a big difference in my mindset between when I'm doing regular exercise and when I'm not.

If you hate the gym (like me), there are tons of classes out there. Personally, I love Hula Fit, but you can also use ClassPass to find a class that works for you. I've also heard yoga (and the meditation techniques you learn there) can be very helpful for anxiety sufferers too.

4. Find a smell that relaxes you.

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If you don't buy into this, that's cool, but I am 👏 here 👏 for 👏 aromatherapy👏 .

I always carry around an essential-oil rollerball in my purse to rub on my pulse points, I'm a huge fan of candles and scented baths, and I also use a pillow spray to help me sleep. Maybe I'm just a creature of luxury, but there's something about the ritual of all these things, and taking the time to focus on lighting a candle or running a bath, that I find intensely relaxing – as well as the actual smell of it.

If you'd like some product recommendations for essential-oil blends, candles, etc, click here.

5. Embrace herbal tea.

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Caffeine in general has been shown to potentially exacerbate anxiety (which makes complete sense to me – coffee gives me anxious jitters like nothing else), as it ups your heart rate and can disrupt your sleep. So consider switching your coffee or tea to a caffeine-free infusion.

Plus, I find herbal infusions super relaxing. Maybe it's a placebo, or a learned reaction, but a mug of rooibos, chamomile, or a specific anti-anxiety blend with a few drops of rescue remedy added does wonders for me.

6. Listen.

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A while back, I tried out a few different techniques from a psychologist to help with social anxiety. All of them worked to varying degrees, but the one I found helped best was listening.

This sounds so basic, but according to the psychologist, when we interact with people we frequently put pressure on ourselves to entertain, which "floods our brain with stress hormones". But when we put the onus on the other person by asking them questions and just listening to them, this lets us relax. Trying to listen more to people also helps to take my mind off my own anxieties, because I'm focusing on them.

Separate to this, listening to podcasts or putting together a soothing playlist to switch on when you need it can also be helpful. I named my soothing playlist "Chamomile, Extra Brewed" because all my playlists are named after teas – yes, I am that tragic.

7. Change your scenery.

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This can literally be anything from taking a day trip, to leaving your house for a walk, to just getting up from your desk and going and sitting in a toilet cubicle for a bit (there's something about small, enclosed spaces that I find really soothing – I was probably a field mouse in a former life). Physically changing where I am acts like a break switch for me, and can help me get out of a bad headspace.

If you can also get outdoors, I'd highly recommend that, too, as I find a lungful of fresh air and a nice view can be a great way to pause and realign my thoughts. If you're based in London, here are some lovely spots to escape to, or if you fancy going on a proper hike, there's loads of suggestions here.

8. Communicate.

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This has two parts. First, interacting with friends can be really helpful when you're feeling anxious. Socialising releases oxytocin (the love hormone), which, while not an instant fix-it, can help us feel calmer and more positive. So if you're feeling anxious, it's worth seeing if some friends are free to hang out.

Second, it's worth communicating with your friends to let them know what you're going through and what you need from them. Talking about your mental health can be scary, but if your friends are really your friends, they'll want to support you. And the only way they can do that is by knowing what's going on. Maybe you want their understanding if you're acting a bit strangely. Maybe you need to bend their ear for a bit, sans guilt. Maybe something they do, thinking they're being helpful, is negatively affecting you, and you need them to stop. Whatever it is, the only way to get this is to ask for it.

9. Challenge negative thoughts.

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There are loads of different therapy techniques for anxiety, from cognitive behavioural therapy to mindfulness. All have their merits, some might work for you, some might not. One of the most useful therapy techniques I've found though, is learning to question my negative thoughts.

For instance, a lot of my anxiety is social, and I often worry that when I talk to people I'm annoying them, so by not speaking to them, I'm doing them a favour. Now when I think that, I try to turn it on its head – by staying quiet, or walking away from a conversation, am I actually coming off as rude? Maybe, rather than saving the other person from my awkward chit chat, I've inadvertently made them feel anxious or rejected.

Challenging negative thoughts, and trying to look at them another way, can help to change negative behaviour patterns and prevent you from wallowing in a bad headspace.

10. Find a way to occupy your hands.

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When I was a kid, I used to knit, which in retrospect explains a lot about my school experience. But seriously, I find it so relaxing. Because it's so rhythmic, it puts me in a bit of a trance and I always feel more relaxed afterwards.

It doesn't have to be knitting though: You can get a stress ball! Or a worry ring! Or a colouring book! Or anything really, that you can use to keep your hands busy. It might help you take your mind off your anxiety for five minutes, and relieve some pent up nervous energy.

11. Spend time with animals.

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EMOTIONAL SUPPORT DUCK. Just kidding. Like, if you can adopt an emotional support duck (Do NOT steal one from your local pond. I'm serious. Put it down.) legally, and are fully equipped to look after it, then yes, do that. But spending time with animals in general has been shown to have positive effects on people. Don't jump into getting a pet before you're ready though – you can try Borrow My Doggy, visit an (ethical) cat café, or see if you can get involved with Pets as Therapy.

And if you do feel ready for a pet, then I 100% recommend you adopt rather than buy!

12. Embrace your anxiety.

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Yes, I know, this sounds questionable. But hear me out. For so long I thought there was some kind of magical "cure" for my anxiety. When I came out of an anxious slump, I'd go "oh great, I'm fixed now!" and forget about it until *BAM* I'd hit a rough patch again. This mindset meant that I would 1) feel like a failure because my anxiety had returned, and 2) be taken completely by surprise by the relapse.

Learning to accept that my anxiety is less like mental chicken pox, and more a condition that I live with, which I can help minimise with therapy, coping mechanisms and learned behaviours, means that I'm more prepared when my anxiety rears its ugly head. And because i'm now always trying to follow my anxiety-fighting techniques, even during my good patches, i've noticed my really bad anxiety attacks come less frequently, and I can often pre-empt them... *touches wood*.

13. Don't let anyone who isn't your therapist tell you how you *should* be dealing with your anxiety.

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All of these are just suggestions that have helped me, and if they don't work for you that is TOTALLY FINE. There are so many different kinds of anxiety, from GAD, social anxiety and anxiety attacks, to the run-of-the-mill stress and worry that everyone goes through (if you have not experienced this, please contact me, I think you might be a Labrador in disguise), and added to that is the fact that we are all different people with different chemistry, mindsets, and reactions.

The point is, don't let people make you feel bad about anything that works for you, or try to tell you you're failing because THEIR method of anxiety-coping isn't your jam. It works both ways: I've had well-meaning friends with anxiety use their therapy techniques on me and had it backfire, and I've also had people tell me that candles and baths are placebo-effect nonsense. But so what if it is? The point is, it works for me, and if something works for you, KEEP DOING THAT. Nothing wrong with a good ole' fashioned placebo IMO.

Talking to your doctor and getting therapy are both important and worthwhile, but if something small like lighting a candle also helps you, then that is valid too. And no matter what helps, the most important thing is to always be respectful of other people's coping mechanisms, whatever those may be. After all, we're all in this together.

For 36 more simple little ideas to help quiet your anxiety, click here!

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