Anxiety can be scary. It can come on suddenly without so much as a warning, or it can have a slow build and come on like a storm. Either way it can feel like the skies have opened up above you and is raining down all the problems of the world. I have experienced anxiety since middle school and it has taken me years to find the things that help me manage my anxiety. There was a lot of trial and error, days of constant anxiety, feeling completely lost inside my own body, but eventually I found things that help me in almost any situation. These are the things I have learned and used to help manage my own anxiety.
1. Know your triggers
This one was important for me. I had to learn what makes my anxiety flare up, what is difficult for me to handle. One of these things are crowded areas, so malls, conventions, stores, movie theaters, anywhere that I feel overwhelmed by the number of people around me. Another is noise. This typically goes hand in hand with crowded areas, but noise that is made up of lots of different things, like music with many people talking at the same time. Another is being over-scheduled, when I have a million and one things to do.
What I’m trying to say is pay attention to the specific situations that make you feel anxious. Pay attention to what kind of sensory stimulation, interactions, or types of situations cause you to have more anxiety. Try to think about the times you’ve felt anxious. Where were you? What were you doing? Who were you with? Are there any reoccurring themes? Take note of those reoccurring themes.
2. Know the warning signs
Once you know what your triggers are you can notice what happens in your body that indicate you may be feeling anxious. You may even notice these first. I’m not talking about full blown symptoms of an anxiety attack, but rather the minor, little things that could let you know you may want to start making some changes to help reduce your anxiety.
Some of my more minor signs of anxiety would be restlessness. My hands, legs, and feet begin to feel restless when my anxiety is starting to build. I often start to lose focus on what is going on around me. This could be zoning out in the middle of a conversation, lecture, or any situation, as well as getting distracted when I am trying to complete a task.
These are just some of the things I experience as signs of anxiety. Start paying attention to what your warning signs are. Pay attention to how your body feels and mental state when you are in a situation that could potentially be anxiety inducing.
3. Find the things that calm you
There will be things that will help to calm you down. It could be listening to music, reading, drawing, playing with fidget toys, playdoh, sensory toys, etc. Try different things, think about what kinds of signs you experience and find things that will help with those issues.
If noise bothers you get a good pair of headphones and listen to music, a podcast, or audiobook to zone out and reset. If you feel restless and fidgety keep a fidget toy with you, like a fidget cube, meditation ring, or whatever else works for you. Cleaning and reorganizing my space is often a way to calm my anxiety when I am feeling out of control. Try different things for different situations or feelings and see what works best.
4. Have something you can take with you
This goes along with my previous tip. Once you find the things that will help to calm you down see if you can have a version that can go with you. I am someone who fidgets and as a result I love things like playdoh, but I can’t exactly take that with me everywhere. So instead, I can use things like necklaces and rings to fidget with instead.
Do the same for yourself. Try to find alternative versions of the things that calm you down that you can easily slip in your bag or pocket.
5. Use your breath
One thing that can always go with you is your breath. So use it. When you are feeling anxious take deep breaths. Focus on the feeling of air flowing in and out of your lungs. Focus on your breath and nothing else.
Breathing and focusing on breath has helped me in many situations. It can calm me down in a few moments and I will never forget it at home. It’s something that can make anything a little bit more tolerable. It calms the nervous system and can calm the mind. Find a way it helps you. You can try guided meditation, simple deep breaths, or looking up breathing techniques online. See if it helps, it could be a secret weapon in your toolkit for difficult situations.
6. Be picky
If certain situations, interactions, or events cause you anxiety be picky with which you agree to. Don’t say yes to everything just because you think that you should. If you have the option to say no and it doesn’t feel right for you to go, don’t go.
7. Don’t stay quiet
Even if there is only one person you can tell, tell that person about your anxiety. Tell that person what makes you anxious. When you tell someone you gain an ally and they will be able to support you when you need it. You can tell them you need to leave or get some air. You can ask them to help you in a certain way that supports you. Sometimes simply having someone you trust by your side is enough.
Anxiety works differently for everyone so not all of my tips will be helpful. These are just things that have helped me and that I have learned. If even one helps you or gives you an idea of how to better support yourself then my job is done. Just know you aren’t alone and there are ways to make it easier.