I was officially diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder about 5 years ago, but I have been struggling with anxiety since I was a kid. I have always been on the sensitive side, which can feel like both a blessing and a curse. While I love how strongly I feel things and think this can be a superpower in many ways, (I didn’t always feel this way– it took me awhile to embrace my sensitive, emotional self), it can also create challenges.
As a child, I used to obsess over and create stories in my head, which would eventually spiral into panic attacks and an inability to function. It was so incredibly overwhelming and scary, but I have come a long way since then. With help from therapist, medication, alternative medicine, meditation, dietary health, yoga, outdoor exercise and truly taking care of my body, I have really begun to heal myself in many ways.
I rarely have panic attacks now, because I am so much more in tune with my body. I can sense when things are off and I am learning to take the time to do the things I need to do each day to stay healthy. Anxiety is not something that just goes away or can be “cured”, everyone struggles with some form of anxiety in one way or another. There are different types of anxiety and some require more love and attention.
Anxiety is our bodies way of telling us when something is off. Ellen Vora, who wrote, The Anatomy of Anxiety (which I would highly recommend) said, “Instead of asking, How can I stop feeling so anxious?, we should be asking, What is my anxiety telling me?” There is true anxiety and false anxiety and your job is to get to know your body well enough to know the difference and utilize the tools to manage it.
Today I’ll share the best practices that have helped how I deal with anxiety. From the power of movement to the importance of mindfulness and even the game-changing effects of journaling, I hope sharing some of the strategies I’ve used to manage my anxiety can help you or someone you love.
The Best Things I’ve Done to Cope With Anxiety
Explore Different Modalities and Tools to Help Manage and Prevent Anxiety
Everyone’s different and while I would love to tell everyone, go do yoga it will heal you, that is not necessarily true. For me, yoga has been 100% completely transformative in my journey with anxiety. While I still struggle with it everyday, yoga has provided me the tools and lifestyle to get to know myself and my body more intimately and be able to take care of myself the way I need and deserve to be cared for.
If it’s not yoga for you, consider trying some other tools that are known to help with anxiety. There are so many and you may find a few combined, that create the perfect self-care toolbox for you. Find YOUR tools and dig in! Do the work and your body will thank you.
Here are a few tools that can help with anxiety:
T.R.E. (Tension Release Exercise)
I recently tried this and have been using it occasionally when I feel that anxious energy built up in my body. Tension Release Exercise is a way to trigger the natural tremor response in our bodies. Over time, we have learned to control this response as it is not “socially acceptable” to shake in public. But it is actually the bodies incredibly healthy way of moving through big emotions like fear, anger and sadness. It is a powerful outlet for release and once you have learned the technique it is easy to do on your own at home. It feels a little strange at first, but the release is incredible and you will find yourself craving it! Not familiar with T.R.E.? Find out more about it here.
Meditation has proven time and time again to be one of the best ways to manage mental illness. Our bodies are craving this quiet connection to our inner selves and meditation is the best way to get there. You will discover new things about yourself and find so many benefits from meditation, not to mention less anxiety! New to meditation? I love my Calm app, try it out here!
Many find CBD to be super helpful for anxiety. Jess has been using Equilibria CBD for several years and it has been so beneficial for both everyday stresses and sleep.
I have been with the same therapist for over 10 years now. I am so thankful to her and it has continued to be one of my most important tools for dealing with anxiety. She has helped me through so many challenging times and also helped me uncover so many different parts of myself and my life that I continue to work on. I see her once or twice a month and it is so important for my mental and emotional health! If you don’t already see a therapist consider adding this to your toolkit. There are great online resources or see what’s available in your area. Finding the right fit is so important, so if you feel comfortable ask around and get recommendations!
Medication (Consult your doctor)
I was on daily anxiety medication for about 9 months and used medication for panic attacks occasionally for a few years. I am so thankful that I had this to help manage my anxiety at the time. While I decided I was feeling well enough to wean myself off, I know this is not always the case for everyone. Medication is such a useful tool for so many and there is absolutely no shame in that. Do what works for you and listen to your body. Consult with your doctor too.
Move. Your. Body. Seriously, move your body in whatever way feels good to you. Whether that is yoga, dance, walking, running, hiking, climbing, swimming, surfing, parasailing. It doesn’t matter. Find your thing and do it as much as you can. You will feel the benefits tenfold.
Writing has always been such a therapeutic outlet for me. I always seem to be able to express myself better on paper than I can verbally. I love the intimate feeling of writing my thoughts and often find I discover new things about myself and my anxiety while I am doing it. It is so incredibly helpful for working through all the feelings and thoughts.
Spend time with friends and family
Spending time with friends and family is such a great way to get out of a rut. If you feel safe enough to do so, be open and vulnerable. Tell them what you’re going through and let them be a support to you. It is so important not to feel alone in your anxiety and this is such a great way to be loved and supported.
This is something I actually need to come back to, but supplements can be a great way to deal with any nutrient deficiencies. Magnesium is known to be really beneficial for anxiety as well as vitamin B. Getting these levels checked by a doctor can help to determine next steps.
Cold Water Therapy
This one is a struggle for me and I’m only just starting to dip my toes in it. BUT cold water therapy has been shown to be hugely helpful for anxiety. If you think about it, it’s literally shocking your body out of a negative thought cycle and bringing you into the present moment. Ease in by jumping in the shower when the water is still cold, cool or even luke warm and even try ending your shower with a splash of cold water. You can increase the amount of time or make the water a little colder each time and your body will begin to adjust. Just breath through it. Whenever I do this I feel alive and invigorated.
Identify Anxiety Triggers
Part of living with anxiety is working to identify what triggers it. Below I’ve outlined anxiety triggers that I have discovered over the years, as well as those outlined in Ellen Vora’s book, The Anatomy of Anxiety.
One of the best ways to get a handle on your anxiety is to identify triggers. For so much of my life, I was so out of touch with my body that I had no idea things like what I was eating and drinking were significant anxiety triggers for me. Over the last year I have cut caffeine out of my diet and it has made a huge difference in my overall wellbeing. Starting my day with caffeine was causing me to be jittery, make my chest feel tight, breathing uneven and sending signals to my body that I was anxious. This would send me spiraling which is not a fun way to start the day.
I’ve really cut down on alcohol. I realized this was also a significant trigger for my anxiety. Nights that I drank more than 1 or 2 drinks I would wake up feeling panic, depressed, anxious and sad. It would leave me feeling off the whole day and effect my relationships and work. Unfortunately, while alcohol has a relaxing effect while drinking that is helpful for anxiety, it also causes the fight or flight mechanism in our bodies to activate, which is why you wake up with heart racing and feeling anxious in the middle of the night or the next morning. The effects of alcohol can last for days after too, changing your mood and affecting your life in so many ways.
If there are irregularities in your blood sugar, there is a good chance you are feeling anxious! Try to nourish your body with proteins and healthy fats, eating regular meals and avoid sugar and refined carbohydrates when you can. This will help keep your body regulated and working properly, which in turn will keep your anxiety to a minimum.
Sleep is a huge anxiety trigger for so many. On days that I am sleep deprived, I feel my tendencies to begin to spiral happen so much quicker. I feel so much less connected to my body and struggle to think rationally. Consider how many hours you need to feel fully charged and ready for your day. It is different for everyone, so try to really tune into what works best for you and prioritize that!
I have been on the gut healing journey for a long time and it is not easy. So many of us live our lives with guts that are completely out of wack. If you suspect your gut is out of balance, consider seeing a nutritionist or other dietary specialist to help you get on a path to healing your gut. The gut-brain connection is a real thing.
Media (Social Media/News)
Instagram and the news circuits make it very difficult not to be in a constant state of anxiety. There is so much going on in the world and we have access to everything. Consider the way our ancestors lived, in tribes where they were only privy to the news of their tribe–they had tragedy, but it happened occasionally, at a rate at which they could properly digest and heal from it. Due to our technological advances we know WAY too much and this is more than we can handle. Give yourself a break or set boundaries on media intake so you can protect yourself from added stress and anxiety.
Speaking of stress… Stress is a significant contributor to anxiety. When I am stressed my anxiety can completely snowball before I know it. Try to limit your stress by using your anxiety toolbox–meditation, yoga, walks, journaling or whatever else it is that helps you– to manage your stress levels. If you have a very stressful job or life, maybe even consider making bigger changes. What isn’t working for you and how could you make your life less stressful?
I have always had wild hormonal imbalances. Knowing this about myself has helped in preparing for those times of the month that may be more challenging to handle mentally and emotionally. I am sure to do extra self-care during those periods to help bring things back into balance. I don’t personally have imbalances with my thyroid, but I have heard this can be another common factor. Consult your doctor if this is something you suspect is out of balance.
This past year, I have been through a long process of various elimination diets to determine what food sensitivities I was experiencing. My gut was way out of wack and I had been suffering from a range of both physical, mental and emotional symptoms. After 5 months, I finally figured out onions and avocados were two big food allergies I’ve had. I always thought I was allergic to dairy or gluten. Once I eliminated these foods from my diet, chronic inflammation began to go down and I was finally feeling relief from symptoms I struggled with for most of my life! If you are having gut related issues try looking into food sensitivities as well. There could be something that is contributing to your anxiety. For many dairy, gluten and sugar are big contributors to anxiety. Many have found relief from their anxiety symptoms after eliminating these from their diet.
Chronic Inflammation & Micronutrient Deficiencies
Chronic inflammation is another leading contributor to anxiety. Inflammation can be caused by pathogens or bacteria, fungi or viruses in the body. To avoid or aid in calming inflammation you can eat anti-inflammatory foods, avoid inflammatory foods, exercise, manage stress and control your blood sugar.
So many of us are lacking in essential nutrients that our bodies need to function properly. A Vitamin B deficiency in particular is commonly known to contribute to anxiety. Many of the meats, fruits and vegetables we buy from the grocery store are so much less nutrient rich than they were a few decades ago. Buying from local farms or growing your own vegetables is a great way to get more nutrients. Having some tests run at the doctors to see if you are low in micronutrients might be another good way to determine if you need infusions or supplements to get you back on track.
Do The Things, Even When You Feel Good
Another thing I have found to be so helpful for my anxiety is doing the things in my toolbox, even when I feel good. It is often due to our hard work and consistency in taking care of ourselves, that we begin to feel good. This can give us a false sense of “we are fixed” and so we relax and begin to slack on our daily journaling, yoga, outdoor walks, etc. Suddenly we find that anxiety creeps back in and it’s a vicious cycle. If you can make it routine to carve out a small portion of your day, everyday to do something for yourself, you will find your anxiety is so much easier to manage and prevent.
What are the most helpful things you have done to deal with anxiety? Let us know in the comments below.
Disclosure: if you buy something through the links on this blog, we may earn an affiliate commission. We only feature products we would personally recommend. Thank you for your support.