An Essential Anxiety Toolkit

Hey everyone!

When I was first dealing with anxiety, it felt so big and scary. Not just because the physical feelings and intrusive thoughts were big and scary, but because I didn’t know how to make any of it feel less big and scary. I didn’t have the language to discuss or express it. Worst of all, I didn’t have ANY tools to control it (as much as anxiety can be controlled.)

My first year with anxiety, I spent a lot of time in trial and error trying to find things that worked, at the very least, to make friends with my anxiety. Part of that process was research. Living with anxiety can feel so isolating.

So, for anyone currently dealing with anxiety, please know that you are not alone and that while you may be uncomfortable, you are most certainly not unsafe. Here is a list of methods I use whenever I am having BIG anxiety days.

Disclaimer: I am not a doctor, and this is not an exhaustive list of potential solutions to manage anxiety. This is simply what has worked for me.

Immediate Solutions

1. Mint Chewing Gum

When my chest feels tight and my vision starts to get wonky, I break out the mint chewing gum, and it works every time. The mint will help open your chest and make you feel like you can breathe easier, while the chewing will give your brain something else to focus on other than your physical symptoms. You can also use Altoids or any other mint flavored food. But I always have mint gum on hand for occasions when the anxiety is big.

2. Hair Ties

The reason for hair ties is actually many fold. When I am having a high anxiety day or moment, having a hair tie in my hands give me something to fidget with. I flick it. I twist it around my fingers. And the movement, just like with the chewing gum, gets my mind off of the physical symptoms in my body, gets my brain thinking about something more focused, and moves the adrenaline around even a fraction. Also, my anxiety tick is that I am constantly doing and redoing my hair in a ponytail or bun (my anxiety makes me really warm all of the time and I hate having my hair down when I’m hot), so the hair tie helps with getting my hair out of my face and off my neck, while also giving me something to do.

3. Give Your Anxiety a Funny Voice

Let me formally introduce you to my anxiety and panic disorder, Martha. My niece said Martha sounds like an intense name. To which I said, “Well, she’s an intense lady.” Martha also sounds like the “Why’s it so spicy?” sound on TikTok. Intrusive thoughts and panic thoughts are terrifying, but I have found they are not so terrifying when you give them a funny voice. How can the thought that you are going to go crazy on an airplane be scary if it speaks the fear to you in the most ridiculous voice you can think of? I also have that anxiety voice apologize to me because it turns out, we have more control over the anxiety voice than we think we do. Giving anxiety a voice of its own THAT IS NOT YOUR VOICE takes away its power. No longer is it your conscience saying things to scare you, it’s a different, outside entity with its own voice. In fact, it’s a voice that you can laugh at.

4. Repeat/Listen/Watch a Mantra/Song/Show that Makes You Feel Safe

Repetition in the throes of anxiety and panic can feel like a lifesaver. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve been on an airplane or a long car ride and listened to the same song on repeat for hours and hours because it made my heart stop racing. Or how I can watch Modern Family and a few other comfort shows over and over because they make me feel warm and cozy when my brain won’t shut off it’s anxious thoughts. And when the panic has been super big, I repeat, “I am uncomfortable, not unsafe.” It’s the repetition of a thing that allows us to lean in to it. Maybe it’s a lyric or a certain beat. Whatever it is, don’t be ashamed to repeat the thing that gives you comfort. And remember, however your body feels in that moment, you will survive it. Uncomfortable is not unsafe.

5. Move Your Body

One of THE BEST WAYS to help anxiety is to get moving. Get outside. Go for a walk. I know anxiety makes you want to stay at home until the uncomfortable feelings subside (or at least anxiety makes me personally not want to leave the house), but that’s exactly when you have to get up and move. Dance it out in your living room to a favorite song. Go for a walk around the block. Pace. But moving gets the adrenaline flowing out instead of staying stagnant, and your brain gets the benefits of all those feel good chemicals it creates naturally when you’re moving. Any movement is good movement when it comes to anxiety, so get up and get going.

Long-term Solutions

1. Journaling

Journaling for me has been a game changer. Through journaling I have been able to uncover personal patterns that have given me insights into my behaviors and even physical symptoms that I didn’t even realize were part of my anxiety. For example, two days before school started in August of 2020, I got hives. I hadn’t eaten anything different. I hadn’t used any new products. But there they were, itchy and insistent. Annoyed by the fact that Benadryl would only work for so long, I took to my journal to write about my frustration and ended up writing about how scared I was that teaching was going to take up all of my time, as it did every year, so that I would have no time to write. Wouldn’t you know, as I was writing about my fear the hives cleared up? I’m not even kidding. That’s how powerful this process is. Now, every time my anxiety starts to make my body and brain feel out of whack, I take to my journal and getting all my fears and feelings out on the page helps me feel less alone. You can find journaling prompts or just free write. Nicole Sachs has some great prompts on Instagram. But no matter how you approach journaling, be prepared to get more out of this than you could ever imagine.

2. Meditation

When I was in the throes of my anxiety and was too afraid to take medication, the ten minutes a day that I would spend meditating after I journaled (or sometimes before) were some of the only times I could get my thoughts to slow down and could actually feel peace in my body. If you are a first time meditator, start with a time limit of 5 minutes or so and just notice your thoughts. Let them pass without judgement. And if you feel you are too focused on one thought or aspect of your body, bring your focus back to your breath or a positive mantra. My favorite one is from a Gabby Bernstein guided meditation where you are told to repeat, “I am not my body, I am free.” I love a guided meditation. In fact, if you’re looking to begin a meditation practice, Gabby Bernstein is a great place start. You will definitely see the benefits of meditation when you practice regularly, and it gives your body and brain a safe space to return to to help it reset when it gets too big.

Final Thoughts

As I stated earlier in the blog, this is not a complete list of all the things you can do to manage anxiety.

For example, therapy is an awesome solution to help manage and treat anxiety, however, not everyone has access to that method for a variety of reasons.

I didn’t include a discussion of medication and supplements in here as a solution because A. I am not a doctor and B. not everyone is interested in walking down that path. For me, medication has been a game changer because my brain just a needed a little extra help at this iteration of my anxiety. But I can honestly tell you that these methods at previous points in my anxiety journey were able to help me into a period of remission from anxiety and panic disorder completely.

That’s the other thing that no one talks about in terms of anxiety. It’s a chronic illness, and like any chronic illness, it can go into remission. But, regardless of where you are with your anxiety right now, know that you can live a happy life with anxiety.

I hope these tips help you grow your toolkit. And if you are dealing with anxiety, please let me know in the comments what works for you! (My personal anxiety toolkit is forever growing.)

Until next week, friends. May you enjoy days of happiness and creativity!

Published by Robyn Neilsen

I am a writer and educator based out of New Jersey. My creative nonfiction essays and flash fiction stories have been published by Thought Catalog, Vocal Media, and On Mogul. As a lifelong learner, I enjoy honing my craft through writing workshops with LA Writers Group, Gotham Writers, and The Moth. I am currently querying my first novel and am actively working on my second.

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