As a HSP (Highly Sensitive Person), I deal with my fair share of stress and anxiety. While stress and anxiety can be good things – they can help us pass exams and avoid dangerous situations – these feelings can leave us feeling exhausted, frustrated, frightened and dissociated. Taking medication is crucially important for those who need it, but there are other ways to remedy and prevent anxiety alongside medications or if you don’t take them at all. Anxiety management has both physical and mental factors, and I’ve learnt this over the years as I’ve come to understand myself more and more! Below is a list of the ways I’ve learnt to deal with my anxiety.
Small meals throughout the day
This falls under the preventative category. Something as simple as hunger can act as a constant, underlying stressor to someone who is prone to anxiety. Wait too long, and you’ll be hungry, stressed about getting your next meal while tackling other tasks and unable to focus on what your doing…. aaaand before you know it, you have a huge empty bowl on your lap that was previously filled with chips, you’re bloated, tired and feeling just as bad as before! Sound familiar? Whether or not hunger affects you to that extreme, keeping a partially full stomach throughout the day is great for controlling stress, as it keeps your energy up and encourages you to take regular breaks (especially important if you’re studying!). Try to stick mostly to wholefoods and home cooking (which will be more nutritious and give you slower-releasing energy), but don’t be too harsh on yourself – an overbearing diet may make your anxiety worse!
Make a hot drink… that isn’t coffee
Many people believe in an array of health benefits from drinking tea; while staving off cancer is unlikely true, sitting down with a warm cup and practising mindfulness is sure to be positive for you mental health. Unfortunately, I find that I don’t like taste of most teas, but I am partial to a hot fruit tea, and of course, a creamy almond milk hot chocolate. People experiencing anxiety should stear clear of coffee, as its caffeine content can worsen their symptoms. Huffington Post states that peppermint, chamomile and green tea are among the best for reducing anxiety, however, I think that if you can find a (non-coffee) brew that you find delicious, and relish in it, that’s the key to unlocking the restorative powers of The Hot Drink. If your interested in trying out the tea lifestyle, I’ve found a few teas I think fit might bill. Try “Gone Surfing”, “Sleep Tight” or “Relax” from T2. T2 also sells the teas mentioned by Huffington Post.
Disconnect from social media
The world is full of horrible things – nobody can deny that. While it is our responsibility not to be ignorant to the suffering in the world, sometimes disconnecting from it all brings some much needed relief. Every month or so I will uninstall Facebook from my phone for a while, and the positive effects are immediate. Whether it is the relief of not having to keep up with a constantly updating stream of media and news, or not having to keep up with my friends and family (introvert, here), it is obvious that my anxiety is worsened by the presence of social media in my life. While social media acts as a much needed security blanket for an introverted, unusual woman, it can also act as a barrier from focusing on other things in life. If it affects me so much, then I’m sure it affects others’ anxiety too! There’s something beautiful and relaxing about silence and solitude which you never realise until your forced to experience it.
Invest in a weighted blanket
If you’ve never heard of them, weighted blankets are, well, blankets that are weighted, distributed evenly with tiny glass beads. The gently pressure applied to the user gives a sense of calm and intimacy, as it stimulates the production of oxytocin, the same chemical produced by a hug! Weighted blankets are particularly good for people with anxiety and sensory issues. As Highly Sensitive People are sensitive to stimulus, mine works fantastically for me.
You can use the blanket whenever you feel anxious at home – I use it during studying and during assignments as it helps to keep me grounded and focused. Unfortunately, they aren’t cheap. I was lucky to receive mine as a heartfelt gift from my mother. If you can afford to invest in one, I would highly recommend for those with anxiety, ADHD and sensory issues.
Keep a journal
I started keeping a journal relatively recently, and it has had a wonderful affect on my anxiety levels! I think this comes down to the idea that everything I need to know, plan for, buy, study and do is in one place – and I no longer have to hold it all in my brain! If your an artistic person you might want to try out bullet journaling, or if you are not, there are plenty of planners and diaries out there (or even just use a plain notebook for to-dos). Planning out my time day-by-day has allowed me to muster the focus to do the things I often become anxious about (or are too anxious about other things to do, like simple house-hold chores). Keep on top of your future plans, deadlines and to-dos, and you’ll free up space in your mind.
Turn down the lights and light a candle
I’ve never been someone for aroma-therapy and essential oils, however, I do know that the gentle red light of a candle helps to to unwind from the stress of the day. Perhaps this is because I am reducing the stimulus around me and creating a more relaxing environment. This can be applied to other things as well – turn down the TV (or turn it off), take a moment to eat in silence. Many people attempt to deal with their anxiety by “staying busy” – this way they don’t have to think about whatever particular thing is troubling them in that moment. In fact, this can actually make things worse. By piling up tasks and ideas instead of acknowledging and dealing with them, anxious people can become even more anxious. Learning to be comfortable in silence was one of the best things I did for my anxiety. Now, instead of piling on more stressors, I have time to let some of them disperse.
Re-evaluate your thoughts
Sometimes, in the depths of an period of intense anxiety, it can be extremely difficult to control you thoughts and the often unrealistic scenarios they come up with. During these times, its important to question the way you feel – try to do this as if you’re pretending to be a friend or family member. Questions like “Is it probable that they actually feel this way?”, “What makes you think this is true?” and “Is this a realistic outcome?” often yield results that show our anxiety is altering the soundness of our reasoning. If this fails, sometimes I have to just tell myself “What I’m experiencing is exaggerated by anxiety, and in a week I will see this situation differently”. And sure enough, that is usually true.
Find a hobby that doesn’t have any deadlines
A hobby which is controlled and judged only by you, whether its creative like drawing or music, or something like jogging, cooking or solo gaming can be really great for unwinding away from the things that make you anxious. I’ve spent some of my best days cooking – its great to do something on your own terms away from the judgement of others, and it may make you feel achieved at the end of it! I think its positive for everyone to have some kind of hobby, but if you struggle with anxiety, you might find that adopting a relaxed, lightly sensory hobby helps take your mind off anxiety in a productive way, without just piling more tasks onto your shoulders like “staying busy” does.
Be gentle on yourself
This might seem like vague advice, but part of having anxiety is coming to accept that you can’t always control your emotions or the situations you find yourself in. Coming to accept the way you are can open up so many doors, and it has for me. Coming to terms with the fact that socialising is a painful experience for me has enabled me to re-organise my life around my personal limits. Operating within your comfort zone doesn’t mean you are stopping yourself from living to the fullest, it means that you are being considerate towards yourself, understanding what makes you happy and what makes you anxious. Coming to accept that <insert trigger> makes you anxious, and re-configuring your life around that can make daily life so much more enjoyable and rewarding! For me, this meant enrolling in mostly external classes for university and doing most of my study online, among other things. In the end, it comes down to you being more comfortable in your skin – one less thing to be anxious about. Obviously, this isn’t as easy as it seems on paper, but working towards this ideal will do wonders for your anxiety – it has for mine.
Anyway, these are the lessons I’ve learned! Everyone’s experience of anxiety is different, but I hope that some of the ways I’ve learnt to cope may help you too!
(Disclosure: this post contains affiliate links.)