I had this uncomfortable realization recently that managing my anxiety is never done.
I don’t mean the way the dishes are never done or shaving my legs is never done. Yes, they’re perpetual tasks that never seem to end, but there’s always a time in between when the sink is empty and I have smooth legs. It doesn’t last long, but it does happen. And even when dishes start piling up and hairs start sprouting, I’m cool with letting it go for a bit.
When I say managing my anxiety is never done, I mean it the way breathing is never done. I’m pretty much always anxious, so managing it needs to be all the time.
24 Ways to 24/7 Anxiety Relief
Some of these I’m already doing; others are things I aspire to. I’m usually intimidated by long lists like this, but it feels less like to-do’s and more like ways of living. I feel empowered by that and hope you do, too. (Considering what we know about women and anxiety, empowering ourselves is key.)
1) Get enough sleep
Getting sleepy in the middle of a workday is so frustrating and anxiety-inducing. I used to need a nap pretty much every day. Since getting 8 hours a night, napping is once in a blue moon.
2) Wake up naturally
When I use an alarm clock, I tend to snooze up to an hour because my body isn’t ready to wake up at the exact moment the alarm tells me to. Having my sleep constantly interrupted like that is no way to start a peaceful day.
Since I’ve gone alarm clock-free, I don’t always wake up naturally at the same time every day, but it does tend to fall right around 8 hours from when I fell asleep.
By the way, the only reason this way of waking works for me is for three all-important reasons:
- I usually wake up early enough to feel like I’m getting a decent start on the day
- I work from home and make my own schedule, so when I wake can fluctuate as much as it needs to
- I don’t have kids
If any of these situations change, the way I wake up probably will, too.
3) Zone out first thing
Before I get the day started, I like to just sit there, wherever “there” might be – in bed, on the couch, on the balcony. At no other time during the day is my mind and body so clear of anxiety, so I like to set a good tone and soak it up. Even if all I take is just 5 or 10 minutes for this, it makes a difference.
4) Quit coffee
I know caffeine causes anxiety, yet I drink 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day. I’ve quit before and know I can quit again. The question is, when will I stop going back to it, convinced I’ll be able to stop at just one cup?
UPDATE: I quit coffee! Here’s how I did it (and how you should do it differently than me). I substituted with herbal teas for a while, but never found one I cared for. I’ve since picked up black tea, so I’m still getting caffeine; just a lot less. I’m considering switching to decaf coffee because I miss the taste so much. I’m just afraid it might be a slippery-slope back to the real thing. We’ll see.
5) Eat foods for anxiety
Some vitamins and minerals may help you with anxiety management, including B1, B2, B6, B9, B12, vitamin C, calcium, and magnesium. The question is, what are good sources of these nutrients? I did some hardcore research and here are the foods for anxiety that made my list.
By the way, if you’re thinking about incorporating supplements into your diet, keep in mind that it’s recommended you check with your physician first. I’ve had some negative reactions to supplements before, reminding me that a recommended dosage on an over-the-counter bottle of vitamins doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the right dosage for me.
6) Do yoga
Every time I do it, I wonder why I don’t do yoga more often because it feels so good. This morning my body was a tense, anxious mess. I did yoga and felt like I could breathe again.
As it is, I do yoga a couple of times a week, but really want to get this worked into my daily routine. At the very least, I’d love to slip into Child’s Pose or Happy Baby once or twice a day, as they are anxiety-relieving miracle workers for me.
UPDATE: I’ve since discovered that doing yoga every day isn’t necessarily a good thing. As Yoga Teacher and Movement Specialist Ariana Rabinovitch explains, we need variation:
“Most yoga teachers tell you to practice every day. But you shouldn’t – and at the least, you shouldn’t do the same set of poses every day. Why? Because anything that you do repeatedly over long periods of time can lead to a repetitive stress injury (RSI). Even yoga….
“Your body needs variation…. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) it is ideal to have a balance of cardiorespiratory, resistance, flexibility, and neuromotor exercises.”
Personally, I’m shooting for yoga every other day. I don’t always get there, but it has helped me get up to three times a week, minimum.
7) Do reiki
I’ve taken Reiki I and Reiki II and can speak to the power of this practice, which I always find to be anxiety-reducing and I don’t just mean when someone else performs Reiki on me. When you complete the training, you can do it on yourself.
As with yoga, Reiki is something I want to do more of and incorporate into my daily routine. It’s especially nice after a meditation session.
8) Do cardio
I trained for a half-marathon in 2009. I didn’t love the act of running, but I sure loved the way I felt after, like everything in me was exhausted, anxiety included.
I don’t know that I’ll pick up running again, but I’d love to find some sort of cardio to wear me out like that. Swimming, maybe; we’re joining the Y next week.
UPDATE: We have since joined and quit the Y. We just weren’t using it enough to get our money’s worth. I’m sorry to say, the only cardio I currently get is on the stairs. Though maybe that’s not as weak as it sounds. We live on the fourth floor (no elevator) and I’m winded pretty much every time I get to the top.
I started meditating 15 years ago but got away from it for a long while. It’s back in my life now, primarily because I have a meditation partner who keeps me motivated.
My finance, Andy, and I meditate just about every morning. We started out with 5 minutes and have worked our way up to 30 and beyond. It’s not always easy or comfortable, but I do believe it helps me stay calmer and more focused the rest of the day.
I’m also loving guided meditations; writing and recording them, too.
UPDATE: Our schedules have changed and our meditation practice has changed with it. It’s once in a blue moon these days. I hope we find our way back to it, though maybe “we” is part of the problem. Instead of relying on times when we both felt like meditating, I need to find a practice of my own. Keeping in mind this simple approach to meditation should help.
10) Work with crystals
Crystals have been used for healing for thousands of years. Here’s what my fave book on the subject – The Illustrated Guide to Crystals by Judy Hall – has to say about it:
“Specific resonances of crystals transmit energy. Such crystals can be used at a distance or placed on the body. They dissolve stress, remove blockages, support new intentions, and bring harmony into the environment. They neutralize negative energies, draw energy away from an overstimulated area, or reenergize a depleted one. Their effect is pleasant: they induce a feeling of well-being and harmony.”2
I have a few crystals I’ve picked up over the years, some of which I have displayed around the house. I’ve also meditated with some of them and carried them with me, in my pocket or purse.
Good picks for anxiety relief? Judy Hall recommends Aventurine, Green Calcite, Chrysoprase, Kunzite, Iron Pyrite, and Tourmaline.3
11) Use an essential oil diffuser
I don’t have one but would love to start using a diffuser for essential oils that are good for anxiety, like lavender, rose, vetiver, ylang ylang, bergamot, chamomile, frankincense, and clary sage, just to name a few.
There are many essential oils you can use in the bath or on the skin (like rose, which I use as a perfume), but please do your research first. Not all essential oils are safe for application to the body.
UPDATE: My brother got me an essential oil diffuser for Christmas. I started out with an essential oil mix specially blended for anxiety relief. The only thing is, I can’t stand the smell. My advice? Choose individual scents you love and mix your own (or use alone).
12) Work in 90-minute blocks with 20-minute breaks
For one, it’s based on research. We’re just more productive this way.
For another, it takes the guesswork and guilt out of how long you should work and how long you should break.
I like to convince myself I need to work until it’s “done” and only break as long as it takes to go to the bathroom or scarf down a meal. What I want to start doing instead is relying on the clock to tell me when to work and when to break – one of few scenarios in which time feels like it’s on my side.
13) Sit up straight
My anxiety already causes me muscle aches and discomfort in my solar plexus. Crumpling myself up on the couch in front of my laptop all day long doesn’t help. There’s a desk upstairs I could use, but I like to work in the living room. (Note to self, get a desk in here!)
UPDATE: I got a desk in here! All it took was for my couch-crumpled laptop use to give me tendonitis in my elbow. Healing it means ergonomic-ing the shit out of my work space, which includes an office chair that is straightening me out.
14) Switch from TV to music while I work
I used to think watching TV while I do non-writing work made it more fun. But in recent weeks I’ve noticed that dividing my attention between my computer and the TV just might be making me more anxious.
Meanwhile, my record player is collecting dust. At least it was. I pulled out my Mozart records yesterday. There may be nothing to the Mozart effect, but it makes me happy.
15) Take real breaks
The 20-minute kind that feel like refueling, not more work or mindless distraction. Walking, talking, reading, and spending time with our critters come to mind.
16) Only check my phone 3 or 4 times a day
Not my current 3 or 4 dozen. I don’t even know why I do it, as it causes me anxiety every time. Will there be an email from this person? A text message from that person? A notification from Twitter that someone has shared my latest post?
As with coffee, I’ve cut down on this before too, but I always find my way back to compulsive phone-checking all day long. What’s it going to take for me to stop? I’m thinking about setting a timer every 3 or 4 hours; will let you know how that goes.
UPDATE: I did not set a timer every 3 or 4 hours. But I did take my Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr apps off my phone. The impact? Huge. All I can check my phone for now is the news and Instagram. (I wish I could remove Instagram, too, but it’s only through the app that I can post pics to the site; fortunately, I’m not nearly as addicted to it as Facebook or Twitter.)
17) Pay attention to what I’m doing
When I’m taking a shower, take a shower. When I’m eating lunch, eat lunch. When I’m washing the dishes, wash the dishes. What this takes is mindfulness and conscious effort to slow down and focus on my current actions, not my next actions or thoughts about them. It’s hard.
18) Use breathing exercises
Following my breath helps me calm down and stay in the present moment. One of my faves is this: Breathe in for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds, breathe out for 5 seconds, hold for 5 seconds; repeat.
19) Change my environment
If I’m pacing around the house, lost in a worry spiral, the best chance I have of getting out of it is to change my environment. Because if there’s something new for me to see and navigate, it forces me out of my head and into the real world again. Getting out of the house always helps (though my social anxiety rarely makes that easy).
20) Get worries off my chest
I have my worry journal for this, but I don’t use it nearly enough. There’s the one I publish here on the website (which is also how I create positive affirmations), but I have a worry journal notebook that I should be using to work through the worries that plague me every day, all day long.
I also have people to share with. Sometimes all it takes is saying something out loud – hearing myself say it and having someone else respond – for the darkness and doom of an anxious thought to dissipate.
21) Give myself time to unwind before bed
Usually the unwind is in bed. That’s fine, as long as I have a good hour or two before I go to sleep. Sometimes we talk. Sometimes we read. Most of the time we watch TV. It works and I love it, my favorite time of the day.
22) Get massages
I’m inclined to be realistic and say once a month — once a week at the most — but if I had my way, it would be every day.
23) Try acupuncture and acupressure
Both can evidently help with anxiety relief. I tried acupuncture for a sprained ankle that wouldn’t heal and it did the trick. Now I’d love to see how it might help with anxiety. The same goes for acupressure, which I can learn to do on myself.
24) Take a day off every week
A day when I can do anything, or nothing, or everything (that’s not work-related). It can be productive things – like cleaning or gardening – but not expected things. If I feel like shampooing the carpets, great! If I feel like repotting the plans, fantastic! The point is, I don’t have to.
I’m not quite there yet, but I’m getting closer. And, in fact, I have a day off planned this weekend in Lake Arrowhead, where the only work I’m at risk of doing is taking new pictures for the website.
What do you think?
Love to hear your thoughts, suggestions, and experiences — with what’s already on the list or anything you’d like to add.
Please note, nothing on this list is intended to replace professional help for an anxiety disorder. If you think you might have one, find a therapist and/or support group in your area. I personally found cognitive behavioral therapy to be invaluable for learning how to manage my Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Get the facts about women and anxiety.
POST UPDATED: August 19, 2017