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