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I Tried Popular Anti-Anxiety Habits And Here's What Happened

I wanted to feel less anxious, get better sleep, and spend less time getting stuck on the little things. So I tried pretty much everything.

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Jenny Chang / Getty Images / BuzzFeed

Hi, I'm Michelle, and I'm an anxious person.

I've been this way since I was a kid. And even now, as a twentysomething, I work daily at stepping outside my comfort zone. On one hand, I know I'm motivated and ambitious. But on the other hand, I tend to worry a lot — about things big and small — and that gets in the way of my goals. Despite any facade of self-confidence, feelings of anxiety are always with me.
Michelle No / Via Instagram: @michellenope

I've been this way since I was a kid. And even now, as a twentysomething, I work daily at stepping outside my comfort zone. On one hand, I know I'm motivated and ambitious. But on the other hand, I tend to worry a lot — about things big and small — and that gets in the way of my goals. Despite any facade of self-confidence, feelings of anxiety are always with me.

So going into a new year, I decided to take steps to change all of that.

I wanted to feel less anxious, get better sleep at night, and spend less time getting stuck on the little things during the day. To do that, I decided to spend an entire month trying out all the well-being habits people swear by to be more at ease, or ~more zen~. Stuff like ditching coffee and alcohol, yoga, journaling, turning off phones and TV screens, meditation, and more. By the end of the month, my goal was to find new habits and products to incorporate into my life.
Nathan W. Pyle / BuzzFeed / Via Instagram: @https://www.instagram.com/nathanwpyle/?hl=en

I wanted to feel less anxious, get better sleep at night, and spend less time getting stuck on the little things during the day.

To do that, I decided to spend an entire month trying out all the well-being habits people swear by to be more at ease, or ~more zen~. Stuff like ditching coffee and alcohol, yoga, journaling, turning off phones and TV screens, meditation, and more.

By the end of the month, my goal was to find new habits and products to incorporate into my life.

Before getting started, I read everything I could get my hands on about self-care and ~well-being~.

Disney / ABC Television

Everything from long testimonials about how yoga has changed someone's life to odes to essential oils, a how-to on getting a perfect night of sleep, and a really valuable wellness book (Joy on Demand: The Art of Discovering the Happiness Within by Chade-Meng Tan) that sold me with its scientific approach to explaining meditation and mindfulness.

Then I rounded up a bunch of the most popular habits and made a month-long schedule during which I'd try them all.

I'd try every habit at least five times. And if any of them stuck, I could continue them as needed.I knew it was a lot, but figured that, with many of the experiments, like tea or melatonin pills, I could pretty much immediately figure out whether they worked or not. And for the more intense ones, like meditation or going coffee-free, I could at least feel out if they were worth the long-term commitment.
Jenny Chang / BuzzFeed

I'd try every habit at least five times. And if any of them stuck, I could continue them as needed.

I knew it was a lot, but figured that, with many of the experiments, like tea or melatonin pills, I could pretty much immediately figure out whether they worked or not. And for the more intense ones, like meditation or going coffee-free, I could at least feel out if they were worth the long-term commitment.

All in all, here's what I learned along the way.*

*And obviously, my findings are based on my personal circumstances, genetic predispositions, and weird illogical preferences. So, just take 'em with a grain of salt, since what worked for me (or didn't) might not work for you (or will!).

1. I'm impatient AF, so I thought I'd hate meditation. But I was wrong.

Headspace, Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I decided to try meditating using Headspace, a guided meditation app in which a soothing, ambiguously British voice talks you through 3-, 5-, or 10-minute breathing sessions. Going into it, I wasn’t sold on the idea of committing my mornings to something so ~abstract~. But I actually liked it a lot more than I thought I would!

Taking a few minutes to close my eyes and *just* focus on breathing in and out (instead of focusing on my anxious thoughts) felt really restorative, especially after a few sessions. I also liked that the sessions were short, so I could easily do it again later in the day if I wanted to. Overall? A win.

2. Podcasts didn't change my life, but I did get answers to a few questions I didn't even know I had.

Converse / Via giphy.com

I started with the Happier podcast. The episode that resonated most with me was about happiness myths — including the myth that purports that it’s selfish to try to be happier. As the podcast explains, studies show that "happier people are more likely to help other people, and are less preoccupied with their personal problems." I hated that I had to have my personal quest for happiness validated by a study, but I also felt better about all the time I've spent obsessing over the best way to breathe in and out.

3. Keeping a gratitude journal was something I immediately loved.

I started by making super-generic lists of things I was grateful for: my coworkers, my job, my health, my friends, etc. But my gratitude journal got extra effective when I got more detailed. Once I started taking the time to record all the little conveniences that fill my daily life — even things I wouldn't normally think to be grateful for, like the fact that I that I live in a miceless NYC apartment — I started actually noticing them throughout the day, too. For me, the gratitude journal turned out to be an easy way to focus on the positive instead of the problems. It felt pretty absurd to worry about not having a 401(k) (a seriously daily worry!!) when I reminded myself how far I'd come since I first moved to NYC. (I lived in an apartment where bedbugs, mice, and roaches were frequent houseguests.)
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I started by making super-generic lists of things I was grateful for: my coworkers, my job, my health, my friends, etc. But my gratitude journal got extra effective when I got more detailed. Once I started taking the time to record all the little conveniences that fill my daily life — even things I wouldn't normally think to be grateful for, like the fact that I that I live in a miceless NYC apartment — I started actually noticing them throughout the day, too.

For me, the gratitude journal turned out to be an easy way to focus on the positive instead of the problems. It felt pretty absurd to worry about not having a 401(k) (a seriously daily worry!!) when I reminded myself how far I'd come since I first moved to NYC. (I lived in an apartment where bedbugs, mice, and roaches were frequent houseguests.)

4. But essential oils did nothing for me, except give me a headache.

OK, so...I hated essential oils. I dabbed some lavender oil — which some say increases relaxation and reduces feelings of anxiety — onto my wrists and worked some into my body moisturizer. But I immediately washed my wrists because I experienced a rubbing alcohol–like smell and sensation. I also tried oil in a diffuser. While the more subtle scent was nice, it wasn't mood changing on any level whatsoever. Idk, I’m the kind of person who likes scentless everything, so, personally, this was more relaxation-breaking than anything else.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

OK, so...I hated essential oils. I dabbed some lavender oil — which some say increases relaxation and reduces feelings of anxiety — onto my wrists and worked some into my body moisturizer. But I immediately washed my wrists because I experienced a rubbing alcohol–like smell and sensation. I also tried oil in a diffuser. While the more subtle scent was nice, it wasn't mood changing on any level whatsoever. Idk, I’m the kind of person who likes scentless everything, so, personally, this was more relaxation-breaking than anything else.

5. Yoga was *really* uncomfortable at first, but actually turned out to be the best thing I tried all month.

I so wanted to be like those lithe Instagram contortionists who can stand on their hands like it's NBD — but yoga is fucking hard, people. Even though I started with the beginner class at my local yoga studio, I still felt like the most inept person there. As I moved from down dog to up dog, twitching with each position, I felt like I was the furthest thing from zen. But then things got better. After the third day, I felt more comfortable with the poses, and honestly, just more okay with sucking at yoga. (Scaling back from an in-studio class to a YouTube yoga session that I could do at home / at my own pace also helped.) I like the idea behind yoga because the practice essentially involves staying relaxed while actively being uncomfortable. (And when I think about it, that's the balancing act of my mind, too.) With each session, it got a little easier. And after several, I was hooked.
Michelle No / buzzFeed

I so wanted to be like those lithe Instagram contortionists who can stand on their hands like it's NBD — but yoga is fucking hard, people. Even though I started with the beginner class at my local yoga studio, I still felt like the most inept person there. As I moved from down dog to up dog, twitching with each position, I felt like I was the furthest thing from zen.

But then things got better. After the third day, I felt more comfortable with the poses, and honestly, just more okay with sucking at yoga. (Scaling back from an in-studio class to a YouTube yoga session that I could do at home / at my own pace also helped.) I like the idea behind yoga because the practice essentially involves staying relaxed while actively being uncomfortable. (And when I think about it, that's the balancing act of my mind, too.) With each session, it got a little easier. And after several, I was hooked.

6. Shutting off my screens at 9 p.m. didn't have the relaxing effect I thought it would.

I know, I know. All of the fancy studies and articles say our phones will keep us up if we use them too close to bedtime. So when I ditched screens for a full two hours before bed, I really thought my mind would chill the fuck out. But as I lay in bed every screen-deprived night, I felt legitimately angry at my own body for refusing to fall asleep. I wondered if my body was so hardwired to crave social and visual engagement at all times that, when not "fed," it became even more agitated. Like, the kind that a sugar addict who's trying to wean off sugar might feel. Despite its lack of tangible results, I did like the idea of concentrating on something other than angry tweets and memes right before bed, so I decided to keep this habit up — but cut it down to just 30 minutes of no-screen time before bed.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I know, I know. All of the fancy studies and articles say our phones will keep us up if we use them too close to bedtime. So when I ditched screens for a full two hours before bed, I really thought my mind would chill the fuck out. But as I lay in bed every screen-deprived night, I felt legitimately angry at my own body for refusing to fall asleep. I wondered if my body was so hardwired to crave social and visual engagement at all times that, when not "fed," it became even more agitated. Like, the kind that a sugar addict who's trying to wean off sugar might feel.

Despite its lack of tangible results, I did like the idea of concentrating on something other than angry tweets and memes right before bed, so I decided to keep this habit up — but cut it down to just 30 minutes of no-screen time before bed.

7. My white noise app was supposed to be soothing, but stressed me out instead. *face palm*

Rebecca Hendin / BuzzFeed / Via giphy.com

A few months ago, a coworker told me about a free app called Rain Rain that plays soothing nature sounds. It's free, and the sounds are actually very lifelike. One night, after a hot shower and the aforementioned no-screen time, I laid down with the cozy sounds of a crackling fire playing on my iPhone next to my bed.

And I couldn't stop stressing out about when the white noise app would end.

You can either leave the app running or set a sleep timer. I knew that if I left it running, the sound would inevitably wake me up at some point. So, I set a timer for a generous hour out. And with every single minute I spent trying to fall asleep, I wondered, "Is the white noise going to end now? Have 10 minutes gone by? Or 45? If the app ends, that means I've wasted an hour trying to fall asleep and I should sleep in an extra hour tomorrow...etc., etc."

The app made me incredibly self-conscious about time, which, ironically, is what fuels my insomnia most other nights.

8. Quitting alcohol for a week made me pretty asocial, but I think it's because I went about it the wrong way.

Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I'm not huge on drinking, but alcohol is a regular part of my life. In a given week, I drink anywhere from one to three nights. The fact that alcohol has such a regular presence in my life also means that those post-drinking dips are pretty routine. I was wondering what would happen if, for just one week, I completely cut out alcohol from my life.

Like a complete newbie, I decided that to remove the possibility of temptations, I'd cut my nights out (in bars or at friends' apartments where alcohol was present) short. Which, obviously, made me lose out on social time and all the mood-lifting benefits of my best friends' company. Like I said, total rookie move.

I'm sure that if I were to get comfortable having sober hangs with my not-so-sober friends, abstaining from alcohol a bit more frequently would personally contribute to a better use of my weekends — since half of it wouldn't be spent in hangover mode. I know everyone has a different relationship with alcohol, but for me, I think a little more abstinence in the future would go a long way.

9. Puzzles wore me out (in a good way!), made me sleepy, and were actually pretty addictive. 🤓

As a kid, I loved puzzles. But admittedly, the idea of sitting down to work on a puzzle as a grown-ass woman felt trivial and like a waste of my after-work hours. Cut to me spreading 1,000 puzzle pieces onto my tiny desk. It was slow going — given the tight space, bad lighting in my rooms, and hard chair — but within minutes I was INTO 👏 IT 👏. As a person who craves challenges and is constantly trying to prove herself, I loved the stimulation this puzzle provided, the visual element, and the fact that I could combine it with another soothing activity (listening to a podcast) while doing it.I know some people simply destroy the entire puzzle once they're done with it, but choosing a pretty design that I could possibly frame gave me extra resolve to get into it.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

As a kid, I loved puzzles. But admittedly, the idea of sitting down to work on a puzzle as a grown-ass woman felt trivial and like a waste of my after-work hours.

Cut to me spreading 1,000 puzzle pieces onto my tiny desk. It was slow going — given the tight space, bad lighting in my rooms, and hard chair — but within minutes I was INTO 👏 IT 👏. As a person who craves challenges and is constantly trying to prove herself, I loved the stimulation this puzzle provided, the visual element, and the fact that I could combine it with another soothing activity (listening to a podcast) while doing it.

I know some people simply destroy the entire puzzle once they're done with it, but choosing a pretty design that I could possibly frame gave me extra resolve to get into it.

10. Beauty self-care (in the form of face masks!) turned out to be the nicest thing I did for myself on any given day.

I love trying on lipstick shades and getting manicures, but there's something about the simplicity (read: affordability) of face masks and skin care that feels so gratifying. So, I sat down with a bunch of face masks that my mom had given me and peeled one off and put it on my bare face. And honestly? I hate to admit it, but nothing grounds me more than staring at my own damn face. 💁 10/10 would recommend these.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I love trying on lipstick shades and getting manicures, but there's something about the simplicity (read: affordability) of face masks and skin care that feels so gratifying. So, I sat down with a bunch of face masks that my mom had given me and peeled one off and put it on my bare face.

And honestly? I hate to admit it, but nothing grounds me more than staring at my own damn face. 💁 10/10 would recommend these.

11. Forcing myself to go to bed early (and getting that extra two hours of sleep) made my mornings extra peaceful and set a ~zen~ tone for the day.

I've always known that, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I'm a morning person through and through. So naturally, going to bed earlier, which led me to getting up even earlier, led me to shift my "free/play time" from the evenings to the mornings. And it was a game changer. Whereas in the evenings, I come home drained and lack the motivation to do anything productive, in the mornings, I wake up bright and early (sometimes 5 a.m., other mornings at 6:30 a.m.), excited to journal, exercise, and take a crack at some yoga. As studies suggest, my thoughts at night are more negative, while my headspace in the morning is a bit calmer.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

I've always known that, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise, I'm a morning person through and through. So naturally, going to bed earlier, which led me to getting up even earlier, led me to shift my "free/play time" from the evenings to the mornings. And it was a game changer.

Whereas in the evenings, I come home drained and lack the motivation to do anything productive, in the mornings, I wake up bright and early (sometimes 5 a.m., other mornings at 6:30 a.m.), excited to journal, exercise, and take a crack at some yoga. As studies suggest, my thoughts at night are more negative, while my headspace in the morning is a bit calmer.

12. Reading turned out to be a commitment-free way to entertain myself.

My book of choice was Still Life of Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, which had all the makings of a relaxing pick-me-up: It's short-ish, I can open it up to any page and be entertained, and it's filled with quirky, joyful lines like, "There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.” 😂There's nothing like the feeling of reading a book that perfectly sums up an emotion you long thought you were experiencing by yourself — and this book was filled with so many of them.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

My book of choice was Still Life of Woodpecker by Tom Robbins, which had all the makings of a relaxing pick-me-up: It's short-ish, I can open it up to any page and be entertained, and it's filled with quirky, joyful lines like, "There are only two mantras, yum and yuck, mine is yum.” 😂

There's nothing like the feeling of reading a book that perfectly sums up an emotion you long thought you were experiencing by yourself — and this book was filled with so many of them.

13. Ditching coffee for a week made me realize that I'm actually — gasp! — better off without the stuff in the mornings.

Michelle No / BuzzFeed

Not gonna lie, in the first few days, I struggled hard — I was tempted to replace my morning coffee with an extra snack or five. And without my usual 10 a.m. caffeine high, it proved challenging to get through my inbox and knock off things from my to-do list.

But as the week went on, and all the adverse effects of caffeine withdrawal went away, I wrestled with the completely unexpected conclusion that my morning workouts were actually enough to energize me through my mornings. And in fact, I realized that without my caffeine "high" (aka jitters that I've misconstrued as energy), I felt a smoother level of alertness throughout my mornings.

It did cut my days a little short — I felt (as one should) more tired earlier in the day. To compensate, I opted for a light cup of tea or a single shot of espresso around 3 p.m. But overall, I felt less dramatic shifts in energy, and therefore fewer mood dips. Out of all the stuff I've tried, I feel like going coffee-free in the mornings made the biggest immediate difference.

So, after a month of experimenting, here're my TL;DR on what actually worked for me:

Meditation via Headspace: I used it to "scrub" my mind in the mornings and set it to a clean slate. I've also used it during the day to help me calm down during moments of high stress.

Keeping a gratitude journal: Reminding myself, on a daily basis, of what I already have, continues to give me clarity on how to deal with my stress and how everything fits into the bigger picture.

• Yoga: Combines meditation with exercise = win/win.

Shutting off all screen usage (laptops, TVs, and iPhone) after 9 p.m.: Though it wasn't a cure-all, this helped in reducing the prebedtime buzz in my head.

Doing a puzzle: Loved this! A good, mindless, yet just-challenging-enough activity to turn your attention away from your ruminating.

Reading an escapist book: Though it takes a little more effort, reading has been and always will be a way for me to feel less alone in the world.

Beauty self-care: Don't mind if I do. 💅

Going to bed two hours earlier than usual: More sleep = less repetitive negative thoughts at night + more time in the morning to read/meditate/do yoga.

By the end of this experiment, I would have loved to distill all my findings into a single perfect formula for keeping calm and carrying on. But...my takeaways were kind of all over the place. I found success with both old-fashioned ways of staying mindful and centered, like meditation and keeping a journal, as well as more ~2018~ ones, like beauty self-care and turning off my screens 30 minutes before bedtime. And three months after starting this experiment, I can honestly say I still keep up with all the above. In a time when everything seems to require our immediate attention, finding a new way to organize and prioritize my thoughts and energy has been calming. These days, yoga and meditation continue to be my daily reminder that life goes on when things aren’t addressed on such a minute-to-minute basis.Sure, on some days, every zen thing I've committed to feels like SUCH. A. CHORE., and I feel like I've trapped myself in a whole new routine that I have to keep up with to maintain my sanity. But when you think about it, mental health, just like physical health, *is* an essential (if not the most important) part of daily happiness. I'm pretty sure my anxiety will never fully go away. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want it to, since it's so linked to my creative impulses. But I'm convinced that if I flex my mental muscles enough, I'll eventually get to a place where I'm in full control, where I can process each moment of stress like a tiny bug bite I can ignore into nonexistence.
Michelle No / BuzzFeed

By the end of this experiment, I would have loved to distill all my findings into a single perfect formula for keeping calm and carrying on. But...my takeaways were kind of all over the place.

I found success with both old-fashioned ways of staying mindful and centered, like meditation and keeping a journal, as well as more ~2018~ ones, like beauty self-care and turning off my screens 30 minutes before bedtime. And three months after starting this experiment, I can honestly say I still keep up with all the above.

In a time when everything seems to require our immediate attention, finding a new way to organize and prioritize my thoughts and energy has been calming. These days, yoga and meditation continue to be my daily reminder that life goes on when things aren’t addressed on such a minute-to-minute basis.

Sure, on some days, every zen thing I've committed to feels like SUCH. A. CHORE., and I feel like I've trapped myself in a whole new routine that I have to keep up with to maintain my sanity. But when you think about it, mental health, just like physical health, *is* an essential (if not the most important) part of daily happiness.

I'm pretty sure my anxiety will never fully go away. And to be perfectly honest, I'm not sure I want it to, since it's so linked to my creative impulses. But I'm convinced that if I flex my mental muscles enough, I'll eventually get to a place where I'm in full control, where I can process each moment of stress like a tiny bug bite I can ignore into nonexistence.