Despite living with anxiety for my entire life, it’s only in the last few years that I’ve really started to find healthy coping mechanisms for when I’m anxious, and I thought I would share them with you, in the hopes that one of these methods may help you in times of distress.
It’s important to note that while, for the most part, these work for me, they may not necessarily work for you – and that’s okay. It took me several years of trial and error to find ways to cope that successfully help me manage my anxiety, and it might take a few attempts for you to find coping mechanisms that will help you. It’s important to remember that there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to coping with a mental illness.
THE FIVE SENSES METHOD
This method is one of my favourites. After finding it online one day, my boyfriend used it on me when I was experiencing a particularly bad panic attack. What I find helpful about this is that it gives me something else to focus on. My first thought when he first asked me to name five things I can see was how ridiculous this was, because couldn’t he understand that I have much more pressing issues to focus on? I’m anxious. I’m panicking. There’s danger around. But he was persistent, so I humoured him. It helped. It really did. The moment I started to concentrate on the five things I could see, I started to feel my heart slow down, my breathing get easier, and my body release a bit of the tension it was holding. By the time I had named one thing I could taste, I was breathing much easier, and my initial panic had subsided. It’s now one of my go-to’s when I’m experiencing an awful panic attack and don’t feel I’ll ever get through it.
This was one of the first methods I ever used and it all started when I was in secondary school to help me feel less anxious during class. What I do is break down time. So, for example, all of my classes were an hour long, so I broke them down into ten minute intervals. There’s six ten minute blocks in an hour. Rather than focus on the whole hour, I focus on each ten minutes. It can be ten minutes, it can be five, or it can be just one minute. It’s whatever works best for you and you can adapt it to fit in with your particular situation. It work for me because I just have to get through ten minutes. It feels like a lifetime for the first ten minute interval to pass but, once it has, I remind myself that I survived and that I just need to survive another five more. The next ten minutes pass a lot quicker than the first and it helps to reduce my anxiety. Before I knew it, the hour was up and I survived.
I’ve found, for me, that I need to keep my brain engaged when I’m anxious, so what I’ve done is I’ve downloaded puzzle games to my phone. The three I have downloaded currently are 100 Pics, Wordscapes, and Word Stacks. These are the games I’ve found work for me because they give me something else to focus on and that’s exactly what I need in moments of pure panic, but you could use any style of game that suits you better. I always have my phone on me, as do most people, so it’s handy to be able to get my phone out in anxious situations and work on the puzzles for a little while. When the first two methods I mentioned above fail to work, this one is my go-to, and it’s usually the one I use when I’m recovering from a panic attack.
I debated including this on the list because, let’s be real for a second, not everyone is fortunate to have a support network around them – I know that I don’t always have this either. But, as I’m now becoming more particular about who I allow in my inner circle, I’m starting to feel more comfortable with opening up and admitting to people when I’m feeling anxious and need help. I’ll admit that I’m really not good at this. I’m not used to asking for help and, more importantly, allowing myself to be helped. I have, for the most part, people around me who understand that I have a mental illness(es) and that certain situations make me anxious. By opening up to them and admitting when I’m feeling anxious and panicked, they can help me leave the situation or confront it. Social anxiety, in particular, thrives from me isolating myself, and so when I admit to how I’m feeling to other people, it renders it powerless.
So these were a few of the methods I’ve found that help me during moments of overwhelming anxiety. I’d love to know what methods you use and whether you use any of these.