I've suffered from anxiety, stress and panic attacks for as long as I can remember. Like most people who suffer from these same things, I've learned how to hide it well. I may be smiling and appear laid-back on the outside, but the truth is, internally, I'm a mess.
Until very recently, I was a habitual avoider. This only added to my stress and anxiety because I never learned how to cope with anything. I would avoid a topic that made me sad or upset. I almost always avoided conflict. I avoided anything that made me feel vulnerable. I avoided social situations that made me feel uncomfortable and self-conscious.
I've since learned that dealing with things that cause anxiety and fear head-on may be difficult in the short term, but it has many long-term benefits. Facing conflicts and tragedies, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning to let things go has done wonders for my stress, even though you think some of it would do the opposite. I went from an anxiety-ridden, emotionally closed-off person to the confident, friendly, outgoing, well-balanced, happy person I always wanted to be.
All of this has been possible because I learned how to cope with the relationships, events and situations in my life that triggered my anxiety and stress. So, I'd like to share some of the self-soothing strategies I use for anyone who has dealt with (or currently deals with) the same kinds of triggers I do.
This sounds pretty simple, but it's one of the most powerful. One of the symptoms I experience when I'm in the throes of an internal meltdown is a rapid heart rate. My heart pounds, and my patience run short.
I feel as though my head or chest may explode, and I can't absorb or focus on anything else around me. Those moments can happen at the most random times, and one thing that helps ground me is to take deep breaths until the moment passes.
2. Talk to yourself.
When I'm feeling overwhelmed about bills or work, when I'm in an uncomfortable social setting or when I start to panic about something in the near future, I simply talk to myself positively. It helps change my mindset and focus on something positive.
I tell myself this moment won't last forever, and that I'll get through whatever I'm dealing with at the time. I remind myself to enjoy the current moment instead of always looking ahead, and that I hold the power to make myself calm. I truly believe perspective is a powerful weapon.
3. Get outside.
I'm someone who instantly feels better the moment I go outside. The sun on my face, the cool breeze on my skin and the smell of the outside air all help me get back to the moment at hand instead of getting lost in my head and thoughts.
I don't feel as closed-in when I'm outside. It helps open and quiet my mind.
4. Play with an animal.
I'm an animal lover, especially when it comes to dogs. I truly believe animals have healing powers, and they understand us and our emotions better than most people think.
When I was going through a lot of stress and emotional turmoil this past summer, my dog was the only thing that could bring a smile to my face. He comforted me when I cried. He jumped on my lap and cuddled me when I felt lost and needed a friend. He never left my side. He was my shadow in every sense of the word, and he always knew exactly what I needed when I was spiraling out of control.
5. Chew gum.
This may seem like a strange one, but I promise it works. I chew gum the way some people smoke cigarettes: multiple packs a day. It's a good technique that works when some of the others may not be possible. I almost always have gum with me, and it's an easy technique that most people won't take notice of.
The scientific reason behind the success of this is that chewing gum helps reduce cortisol levels. A study done in 2008 showed that "the use of chewing gum was associated with higher alertness, reduced anxiety and stress, and improvement in overall performance on multitasking activities."
6. Incorporate music.
I have always listened to music to help relieve stress. I throw on a sad song to cry it out, or an upbeat song to sing or dance it out (sometimes both at the same time). I'm teaching myself how to play the guitar, and if my work day is getting a little stressful, I'll take a break and play.
If I'm feeling overwhelmed by the ever-growing task list in front of me, taking a short break to focus my mind on something that doesn't stress me out helps me to be more productive when I do return to my work.
These techniques help me to be mindful of my senses. I take notice of what I'm touching, feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling and tasting. Doing so forces me to experience what I am doing instead of simply going through the motions. It helps slow everything down when I feel like my anxiety is spinning out of control.
Mostly, all of these things help me feel like I'm the one in the driver seat, instead of my tumultuous emotions. We all have the power to let things control us. We control what we give power to and what is important. These little techniques help remind me when I lose sight of that.
This article was originally published on the author's personal blog.