The Struggle is Real: 8 Easy Tips That Help Me Tame the Anxiety Beast

If you’re new here: Hi! My name is Serena, and I have anxiety.

For the regulars: Hey, hey, heyyyyy. Let’s talk about my favorite subject!

I had my first panic attack a little over eight years ago, and I’ve struggled with panic attacks and generalized anxiety ever since. Thanks to a wonderful (and endlessly patient) therapist, a lot of trial and error, and some fundamental lifestyle changes, I’ve slowwwwly gotten a handle on my anxiety, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a constant struggle.

The past year has been a whirlwind of excitement and awesomeness (engagement, and book launch, and #dudediettour, oh my!), but along with all the fun, there’s been a lot of stress, sleeplessness, uncertainty, and travel, which wreaked some serious havoc on my brain and body. And about midway through the book tour this spring, I realized that my anxiety was quickly spiraling out of control. I’d started having panic attacks again—the dying, fetal position kind, which I hadn’t experienced since the early years—and finding it hard to sleep and concentrate. I knew I needed to step up my management game and employ every tool in my arsenal to help get me back to zero.

There are good days and bad days, but I’m thrilled to report that I’ve been feeling so much better the past few months by slowing down a tiny bit and taking better care of myself. (Always easier said than done.) Since anxiety is so common—seriously, SO COMMON, peeps—I thought I’d share some of the simple tips and tricks that help me tame the beast on the daily. Everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique, but I’ll consider this post a victory if it’s helpful to just one of you and/or makes you feel a little less alone. Let’s dish…

8 Simple Tips for Anxiety Management:

1. Acknowledge the panic. Props to my therapist for teaching me this trick early on because it has single-handedly helped me get a grip on my anxiety. The simple act of recognizing anxiety for what it is takes away a lot of its power. When I first started having panic attacks, my initial thoughts when one hit were typically along the lines of, “Oh shit, OH SHIT! I feel weird. What is happening? Something weird is happening! Wait, I think I’m dying. I’m definitely dying!!” Once I started to accept that it was PANIC causing my physical symptoms in these scenarios, it became easier to manage an attack by telling myself, “You are having a panic attack. You’ve experienced this before. You are (almost definitely) not dying. You have tools to deal with this.” (See below for said tools.) Reminding yourself that you are just experiencing a temporary—albeit extremely unpleasant—mental/physical state that you’ve survived before is soothing in and of itself.

2. Breathe. Yes, I realize I’m being Captain Obvious here, but stopping everything you’re doing and focusing on your breath has an instantaneous calming effect, and it’s something I still regularly forget to do when I start to panic. When you find yourself feeling anxious, close your eyes (location permitting—I guess it’s sort of a faux pas to close one’s eyes mid-conversation at a party or in a meeting), and take several loooong, slowwwww breaths. It’s the oldest trick in the book because it works.

*A little addendum on breathing: I’ve yet to embrace full-blown meditation (although it’s a short-term goal), but I do a cheater’s version, where I will sit or lie down for 10-20 minutes and just BREATHE. I do this twice a day during high-anxiety periods, once in the morning and once in bed at night. (The latter helps me fall asleep.) Thoughts pop into my head sometimes, but I try to gently acknowledge them and bring my focus back to my breath. It’s helped me a lot, and I highly recommend it for peeps who think meditation “isn’t for them.”

3. Hydrate. There’s actually a very sound reason people always say, “Let me get you a glass of water!” in stressful situations. Dehydration upsets your body’s equilibrium in so many ways, and if you’re prone to anxiety, you reallllly don’t want to fuck with your equilibrium. (Duh.) Plus, cool water is refreshing, and the basic act of swallowing can be both soothing and a pleasant affirmation that your throat is not, in fact, closing up. HALLELUJAH!!

4. Move. I’ll skip the “Exercise releases endorphins!! Get out there and sweat it out!!!” spiel because you’ve probably heard it infinity times before. Yes, we should all try to make exercise part of our routines, but that can be easier said than done. Even if you’re not exercising on the reg (until embarking on my festive #fitnessjourney a few months ago, I most definitely wasn’t), I urge you to MOVE when the panic hits. I’ve always been a fan of “anxiety walks”—whether it’s a long, leisurely stroll or a quick walk around the block, just moving my body and being in the fresh air is a game changer when I feel panicky. On a good day, the walk helps lift the anxiety fog altogether, and on a bad day, putting one foot in front of the other is a nice reminder that my legs are still working. At the very least, if you think you might die, you may as well go outside and collapse in public where somebody will see you, right ;)?

5. Mix a Calcium-Magnesium Cocktail. My mom is actually the one who started me on calcium-magnesium back in high school. Many of us are deficient in magnesium, and a magnesium deficiency can manifest itself as fatigue, insomnia, muscle tension, and—you guessed it—ANXIETY. I mix Natural Vitality’s Natural Calm into warm water and drink it once or twice a day when I’m feeling anxious. It could be in my head (which is fine by me!), but I swear it works. Sometimes even the simple act of boiling the water and mixing the drink has a calming effect. If you’re not into this idea, try making a cup of chamomile (or any other decaf) tea when you’re feeling off. The ritual of doing something that has calmed you in the past can go a long way toward managing your panic.

6. Limit Sugar/Caffeine/Alcohol. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but these three things are no bueno for anxiety. Sugar and caffeine are stimulants, and since anxious peeps tend to be hypersensitive to any form of stimuli, these bad boys can be triggering. On the flip, alcohol is a depressant, which is also dangerous. Even though you may feel calmer after a drink or two, that calm is short-lived, and once the sedative effect wears off, the “withdrawal” tends to heighten depression and anxiety. When I’m going through a particularly anxious phase, I often cut this trio out entirely for a bit because something as simple as good old coffee jitters or a hangover can prompt a full-blown panic attack. Sacrifices must be made.

7. Eat Soothing Foods. While limiting your intake of certain triggering foods is great, upping your intake of ze good ones is equally important. Foods rich in vitamin B, antioxidants, and omega-3 fatty acids are great for your brain and can help calm you down and boost your mood. Some of my personal favorites: salmon, avocado, leafy greens, blueberries, citrus, almonds, beef and poultry. I also find whole grains soothing (carbohydrates release seratonin, which makes you feel happy!), especially brown rice, quinoa, and rolled oats.

8. Indulge in your “Instant Happy.” This can be whatever you want it to be! An upbeat song. A hot bath. A favorite TV show. A poem. A podcast. A weird cat video. Anything that makes you smile, laugh, or feel a small sense of joy. I spent a lot of time this spring jumping around hotel rooms to Good Vibrations and watching 30 Rock in strange bathtubs. You gotta do what you gotta do…

If you have any tips or tricks of your own, please feel free to share them in the comments. And to my fellows in anxiety arms: You are not alone. (I am here with youuuuu.) You are not weak or damaged. You don’t owe anyone an explanation for your anxiety (sometimes there is no “why”), and you certainly don’t have to apologize for it. Let’s keep the conversation going and support each other however we can, please and thank you.

Love and virtual koala hugs,
Your weird (and anxious) blog lady

Like what you read? Share it!
Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterGoogle+Pin on Pinterest
  • mimi rippee

    Oh my. Who would have guessed? It’s good you’re taking care of yourself, because no one else will.

  • This year has been a doozy for anxiety for me. First was intense systemic anxiety caused by too high a dose of thyroid medication (my body changed its needs without telling me). Then there was excess stress from family matters AND discovering that the caffeine in chocolate was causing anxiety. Add to that generalized anxiety for literally my entire life (all 72 years of it, and yes, I know why I have it – I spent years working on that crap). Fortunately I’ve never had a panic attack, and hope I never do. But I have a very vivid memory of the worst anxiety of my life, when I literally wanted to kill my next door neighbor. I don’t know how many hours I spent walking up and down my driveway trying to get rid of the anxiety and other emotions, before I was finally able to calm down. The neighbor lived, and I can vouch for the effectiveness of moving as a way of achieving calm.

    If I would offer any tip, it would be to check your caffeine intake. I gave up chocolate (the only caffeine I ever do) for two months this summer, and the difference is amazing. I had some for breakfast the other day, and could feel how it made my hands shake, and how there was electricity coursing through my body. A little caffeine in the morning can be okay, but limiting it can definitely be helpful.

    Thanks for sharing these tips, Serena – they are excellent.

    • Susan, I’m so sorry this has been such a tough year, but I’m glad you figured out the thyroid dosing was off! (I have a friend who went through something similar and they didn’t identify it for a year! So scary/such a pain.) I completely agree with you on the caffeine front. I have one relatively weak cup of coffee in the morning, but other than that, nothing. If I exceed that one cup, I have the same shaky/electric feeling. Gotta keep things in check!

      So glad you found value in this post. xx

      • Thanks, Serena. I was really lucky about the thyroid. I have to undergo regular tests because I am on thyroid replacement hormone after having my thyroid removed in 2008, and that’s why it was caught. Thyroid anxiety feels very different from the standard kind – it’s very intense. I’ve discovered, thanks to the regular thyroid tests that one’s thyroid needs do not remain static. For a while I needed increasing doses, and now my doctor may take my dose back down to the starting level of 100 mcg. Go figure, because I haven’t had major changes in weight or activity.

  • Julia Broggi

    Virtual koala hug back at you! I adore your blog. You do such a good job.

  • Kyra

    Excellent post! I also struggle with anxiety and my therapist suggested acknowledgment as the best start!

    Also, when I have general anxiety (not a panic attack where I feel like I may die), she suggested identifying (if possible) what is causing my anxiety and then asking myself, “what’s the worst that could happen in this situation?” Usually, even the worst case scenario is not worth spiraling into a full blown panic attack. Another tip that goes along with meditation is muscle release therapy (methodically tensing and then relaxing muscles — I find this really helps me to fall asleep).

    Lastly, I’m so glad that you mentioned the negative effect of alcohol on anxiety. After a night of too much drinking, my heart races like crazy similarly to the beginnings of a panic attack. Once I identified it as anxiety I immediately cut back to 1-2 drinks/max per night out. Thanks for this tips, I’ll have to give the calcium-magnesium trick a try sometime!

    • So glad you enjoyed this post, and thank you for sharing!! I play the “worst case scenario game” with my therapist all the time, and it’s SO helpful. I haven’t tried muscle release therapy, but I’m going to experiment ASAP. I have such a hard time falling asleep and am always on the lookout for new things to try…

      Also, the hangover anxiety is the WORST. I know exactly what you mean about your heart racing, and I do my best to avoid it at all costs. Hope you give the c-m a try!! xoxo

  • chelsea
    • I LOVE this, thank you for sharing!!! (The YouTube video is also amazing…)

  • Becca

    Thanks for sharing! Anxiety is REAAAAL. Quick Q… which naturally calm product do you use, and does the mag give you diarrhea (sorry if too personal but I know too much mag can act as a laxative! 🙂

    • I use the Natural Calm Plus Calcium (https://naturalvitality.com/natural-calm-plus-calcium/). The original is palatable if you just want to drink it plain (it has a faint taste), but the flavored one is actually pretty good. And no, it doesn’t give me ‘rhea! It does soften things up if you know what I mean, but I consider that a plus? 😉

  • Alison Willingham

    Thank you Serena! I suffer from anxiety (hospitalized for panic attacks post college several times) so scary. And then generalized anxiety w a sprinkling of panic attacks after. Any way I love these techniques and as Barney as it sounds “taking care of yourself” is huge. Also, I highly recommend the app 10% Happier from Dan Harris. So helpful. I also just stared my own business and got married {we have the same wedding planner} so lots of change and even when positive it can flare my anxiety so taming the beast and looking it in the eye by acknowledging it totally helps me feel more in the driver seat.

  • Anita at Hungry Couple

    Thank you for posting this and always being open about your anxiety. We each have our own calming (ish) methods but I find it enormously comforting to hear that someone who looks like they have their shit together, actually has panic attacks (not in a mean way, I promise). Love, your fellow NY anxiety sister.

    • Hahaha I would never take that comment in a mean way! Sending so much love your way, NY anxiety sister. Keep on keepin’ on. xoxo

  • Thank you so much for reminding me that I am not alone in this! 🙂