5 Anxiety Hacks That Don’t Involve a Meditation App
If you have ever experienced anxiety, you know it can be a hard hill to climb. Although I have tried meditation and have come to appreciate it, sometimes it doesn’t do the trick. To overcome my anxiety, I often have to engage in an activity, rather than a silent reprieve. While I am by no means professionally qualified to give advice on mental health, I want to offer some of my personal hacks for easing short-term anxiety in the hopes that someone else finds them helpful:
- Retreat to something familiar
Anxiety has a way of making us feel a lack of control, like a passenger stuck in the backseat of a car going 90 miles per hour. Doing something familiar allows you to take over the wheel again.
Whenever I start to feel anxious, I tend to watch a show or movie I have seen a million times, whether it is a light-hearted Parks and Recreation episode or a thriller like Gone Girl in which I already know all the twists and turns. Sometimes I will even pull up a script and read along in front of the TV. For someone else, a familiar activity might be walking the dog on a frequented route or making the same breakfast as yesterday. It can be extremely simple. And often, the simpler, the better.
- Focus on what is real
Focus your mind on things that are true and real so that nothing feels too out of reach. For me, I might call a close friend just to hear their voice. The sheer certainty of their existence can start to outweigh the uncertainties plaguing my mind. Other times, I may write down all my daily tasks on a piece of paper. Seeing them in front of me detaches them from the thought spirals doing backflips into doom.
Sometimes it is hard to find the source of my anxiety, setting off an overwhelming wild goose chase. It’s a lot of “abstract stress,” like stumbling around in the dark, making out shapes here and there, getting lost in one’s own imagination. But when I focus on tangible things and stay in the moment, it’s like someone finally hands me a walking stick and I can slowly start to identify and latch on to my surroundings.
- Schedule your worries
It sounds oversimplified and a bit robotic, but setting aside time to freak out and worry allows a release without a complete loss of control. Focusing on other things can be helpful. But in some cases, it can be just as helpful to lean into the discomfort.
When I have important work to do or an errand to run or a commitment to fulfill, I will first set a timer for five to 10 minutes and let my mind run wild. Made-up scenarios. Hypochondriacal diagnoses. The horrors of a never-ending pandemic. Time’s up! When the alarm goes off, I return to what I have to do. This can be done once a day or be broken up into small intervals throughout the day. And it is completely subjective to your own emotions.
- Move around
My anxiety arrives most commonly in the morning. I’ll wake up with a cement chest and try my best to fall back asleep. When that doesn’t work, I’ll roll around and stare at the ceiling. Then I’ll toss and turn again and stare out the window with hopes of some magical cure. The weight keeps me in bed; I become almost paralyzed. I can’t go anywhere, and I just want to melt into the mattress.
What I find helps is doing the exact opposite of what I want to do: move. I go brush my teeth or take a shower or turn the light on. The simple act of being upright allows me to slip out from under this enormous rock. The movement alone doesn’t eradicate the anxiety, but it’s another way to gain control. I am no longer a sitting duck.
- Get your body out of panic mode
During soccer team run tests in high school, my former conditioning coach would say, “Get your body out of panic mode.” She gave us this advice in the one-minute breaks between sprints as we were huffing and puffing and probably thinking we couldn’t do another set.
Anxiety is a mental and physical game, not unlike a hard workout. The symptoms can be somatic, such as a fast heart rate or dry mouth or dizziness. When I view my anxiety from a physical standpoint, paying attention to my body rather than my mind, I am able to bring myself out of the panic. I take a sip of water or breathe a bit slower or sit down on a chair to stop the swirling. I still might not know the “why” or the “when” or the “what” or even the “how,” but I know the “where.” I know the parts of my body that are taking most of the impact and I can start the healing there.
So start there. You can scream and jump and throw up and flail your arms. Then pick something, whether it is a movie, a song, a painting, a friend, a cool beverage, a piece of furniture, or a pen and paper. Pick a way out of the overwhelming abyss and move toward it. Work your way back from the edge.
–Winnie Brandfield-Harvey, Content Creator