You might be saying: “Okay, great. I give myself a pep talk and I tell myself I’m doing fine. How do I deal with the physical symptoms of my anxiety?”
Any of these sound familiar: upset stomach, nausea, spacing out, cold/hot flashes, chills, headaches, pins and needles in legs, shaky hands, feet, and voice, dry mouth? What about trouble concentrating, forgetfulness, trouble making eye contact, clammy or hot hands, and racing heart? Do you ever feel like the room is getting smaller? Or that you’re about to choke?
I deal with this, too, and so many others. You’re not alone and there are ways to cope.
My anxiety’s physical symptoms will quickly throw off any mental progress I try to make when attempting to ignore feeling anxious.
For example, I can practice a presentation all night and memorize everything, but when it comes time to present, I might get hot and sweaty, which makes me feel nervous because then I start to get anxious. I start to worry if anyone can smell me sweating, or if my breath stinks from my morning coffee, and this will make my confidence drop and it gives me a higher chance to stuttering, which makes me more anxious.
Sometimes, you can focus too hard on being prepared so you won’t be caught off guard… and doing all of that will remind you of your anxiety anyway!
I’ve discovered that sometimes you have to distract your brain using your 5 senses. The following are some of the methods I use.
Smell – essential oils: lavender
Lavender is a calming smell and I wholeheartedly recommend it for the next anxious human. It reminds me of sleepy, rainy days, and the scent slows my rapidly beating heart.
Touch – textures: fuzzy, silky, smooth
Wiping your hands on your clothes might help you focus and feel less anxious (because if your hands get clammy, you feel less inclined to grab anything). Rubbing a soft shirt, fuzzy socks, or even coin between your fingers will give your hands something to do. This change in focus will grab your brain’s attention and focusing on the texture of what you’re feeling will take your mind off of your stressor.
Taste – Food: gum or breath mints, a sip of water
There’s an old saying that you don’t eat food while you’re in danger. Chewing on gum or munching on a breath mint is also a change of focus, and it can slow your heart down. Only sip on water if you’re certain that you won’t choke. Sometimes, if I’m feeling anxious enough, I tend to choke. Start off easy on the water and I would advise you to only sip water (no soda or bubbles; might increase the odds of choking) if you have a case of dry mouth.
Hearing – Music: self-explanatory
However, you want to play soft songs, like piano instrumentals. I recommend Yanni’s Until the Last Moment. The soft piano notes and wistful violin will (hopefully) reach your heart and settle it. Closing your eyes always helps.
Sight – Visual aids: closing your eyes, pictures of sunsets, cute animals
A cute cat photo never hurt anyone, and escaping your brain for a moment to say “Aw!” might do more good than you think.
“Taia! I do all of these! Give me something new!”
I will try, dear reader.
A Change In Scenery
This might benefit you the most. I don’t mean, “go outside and explore nature”. I mean, “get out of your regular space.” Sometimes, when our anxiety is at its peak, we don’t want to be around people, and that is perfectly fine. If your anxiety is really getting to you, try escaping to a new coffee shop, take a different route home, or hitch-hike with a friend home. Shaking up your routine will make your brain focus on the newness of what is going on. You’ll want to see where this new road goes, or how that strangely-named latte tastes.
Try Something New
My anxiety will sometimes keep me awake at night. I usually scroll through youtube for hours, adding insult to injury because of the blue light on my phone, so I propose a different solution: find a new thing. Whether this means looking up something you’ve been dying to learn about forever or digging deeper into a hobby you’ve picked up (or put aside), your brain will welcome the distraction.
You can also take this time to look into a new hobby. I fell in love with knitting when I realized I still wanted to be productive without stressing myself in the process. It made a sleepless night (after an unproductive day) easier to deal with. Productivity is a huge stressor for me.
However, if you’ve been up for a while or have been having trouble falling asleep, your brain might resist you and either quit on you (get sleepy) or refuse to pay attention. Then what?
Write About What Stresses You Out
Yes, you heard me right. Grab some paper and write (at length) about what is bothering you. Try and get to the root of the issue. For example, I find it hard to eat when I’m having a hard time coping with stress. Whenever I give myself time to write about what is stressing me, sometimes I’ll hit a gold mine and discover why. Once I know why, my appetite comes back.
Writing is therapeutic, which is why so many websites tell you to journal. However, to add a twist to this, write as if you are ranting to a friend. This allows you to really go into depth about the issue and you might come up with solutions as you write. Allow the words to flow without analyzing them.
To add another twist, write in 3rd person (i.e Taia is stressed about…) and pretend that you are a fictional character. Propose solutions to your character’s problems or continue the story as an escape (i.e Growing tired of stressing, Taia went to the kitchen to grab snack…)
This list will not save your life or replace any doctor’s advice! Always go to a professional when you find yourself unable to cope for an extended period of time. There are medications that can assist you with managing your anxiety and you should never feel ashamed or embarrassed for needing them.
In my next post in my Anxiety & Me series, I will open up a bit more and let you in on my personal insecurities, anxiety triggers, and other ways that I cope with what life throws at me.
How do you cope with anxiety? Did my list help you? Do you have any tips? Let’s talk about it!