Being someone who suffers from severe anxiety I’ve had to develop a list of various activities that can help me manage it. When I have moments where I feel like the world is collapsing around me and I may spontaneously die at any moment or that my chest is going to explode and my brain is going to rocket off into space from all the thoughts of impending doom, I have to have an arsenal of coping mechanisms to help get me through it. These days, I can usually stop myself before I hit full on panic attack mode using these tactics. However, I do still have days where it is all too much and I break down into a blubbering heap of human sadness meat that can’t function or produce coherent sentences. That being said, I hope that someone out there who is trying to deal with heightened anxiety can find some of these ideas useful!
Here are ten of my favorite anxiety management activities (in no particular order).
(1) Talk it out or better yet, hug it out.
I’m fortunate enough to have an amazing partner who helps me to talk about my anxiety. It can be overwhelming to have a partner with anxiety and I am so grateful to have someone willing to take the time to learn how to help me when I’ve “fallen down the rabbit hole” so to speak and who is able to help calm me down.
If you have a partner or a friend or anyone in your life you trust who can help you when you’re feeling anxious, it can be life changing. When I become overwhelmed with my anxiety symptoms, it can feel like I have tunnel vision and I get obsessive thoughts* that I can’t seem to quiet down on my own. My partner helps talk me through it and acts like a voice of reason when my own VOR has left the building to go down the street and get a donut.
But sometimes, talking doesn’t help. Sometimes I can’t quiet my mind and the only thing that helps if big ol’ hug. Hearing my partner’s heartbeat can be one of the most calming things in the universe for me- especially at night when I can’t sleep. Laying with my head on their chest, listening to their heartbeat reminds me that I’m not alone.
I love to do puzzles to help manage my anxiety- especially in the winter when it’s cold and rainy here in Seattle. They give me something to focus my mind and energy on without taking too much effort. My favorite puzzle artist is Eric Dowdle because his art if fun and colorful. He does all different kinds of scenery and I find it very calming. When choosing a puzzle, you may want to make sure it won’t trigger your anxiety further, though. I mean, something like “don’t do a puzzle of spiders if you’re afraid of spiders” is pretty obvious but there can be less obvious triggers like if you’re nervous about an upcoming trip, you may not want to do a puzzle of an airplane as it may make you worry subconsciously. Of course, that my just be me- did I mention I’m a worrier
Sewing and cross stitch are really new activities for me- I recently decided I wanted to teach myself to sew and by doing so I ended up starting a project that required me to learn how to cross stitch. This is something I do by the way- I collect hobbies and activities like nobody’s business. I’m a regular jack-of-all-trades, master of none.
Knitting is something I learned very young. My grandmother taught me at an early age and it’s kind of like riding a bicycle in that you never forget how- there’s muscle memory to it. So, no matter how long I go without knitting, I always seem to remember how to knit and purl.
I love using these activities for a few reasons. They keep my mind busy as well as my hands. They also require focus, but not so much focus that I can’t binge watch Project Runway in the background.
(4) Comic Books
As a kid I didn’t read comic books. I discovered them much later in life and fell in love. I love getting emotionally invested in the characters and their storylines. I love the anticipation of waiting for the next issue to come out. I love going to comic book stores and searching for new titles and characters to discover.
When I’m feeling anxious, comic books help me get outside of my own mind and take a trip to another world. Reading of any kind does that but these days, comic books really make my imagination run wild which is great when I’m trying not to think about conversations I had 10 years ago in which I may have said something awkward.
GAMES! I love them!!!! Board games, video games, games on my phone, mind games… just kidding about the last one. Seriously, though- games are one of my favorite things. I love having game nights and laughing with my partner. Video games are especially fun but I have to be careful that they don’t eat up all my time. When my partner isn’t in the mood for a tabletop game or I’m flying solo and need a distraction, I immerse myself in video games. Some of my favorites include Assassin’s Creed (The Ezio Collection and Origins), Lego Harry Potter (because, duh), and Unravel.
(6) Baseball Cards
I love baseball and a few years ago I started collecting player autographs which snowballed into collecting baseball cards. So sometimes, I like to work on organizing my collection. This was a project I set out on awhile back because, like a moron, I originally organized my cards by their card number in the collection. I soon realized that was stupid as I had a super hard time finding cards for players when I wanted to pull them out to get signed.
So I decided to reorganize all my card in alphabetical order. While I’m at it, I’m putting them all into protective sleeves. This is a HUGE task as I have thousands of cards which means it’s ongoing.
I find it incredibly soothing to sit down with a big pile of baseball cards and sort them- again, the idea is to keep my mind busy and my energy focused but not so much that I become overwhelmed.
(7) Brushing the cat
As a cat lady, this one holds a special place in my heart. My cat loves to be brushed and he is the most loving little being! (btw- shameless self-promotion, you should totally follow him on Instagram as @sirfuzzykins)
Bonding with pets can be a great way to feel connected to another being and cat purrs are THE BEST.
(8) Write it out
I’ve recently discovered this as a new coping mechanism which is very effective; especially when I’m in a place or situation where I can’t talk to my partner or anyone else about the spiral slide I’m riding down into the abyss of a panic attack.
All I do is open up a doc or a note on my computer or phone and I write out what I imagine someone would tell me to help me calm down. I like to think of it as I’m talking to my anxiety. I’m sitting it down and looking it dead in the eye and saying, “Look bitch. You need to calm the fuck down.” But obviously I do this in a much more loving and caring tone of voice. I write out what I imagine my partner would say to me or what an adult would say to a kid if they were feeling the way I am at that moment. It often looks something like this:
“You’re okay. Just take a deep breath and take a moment to relax. What are you worrying about? Well, that won’t happen and even if it did, you could deal with it.” And I list all the ways I could deal with whatever I’m worrying about. It has a similar effect to talking it out. I keep the doc open for as long as I need it and continue to write and add to it if the feelings start to creep in again.
Yes. Coloring. To be perfectly honest, I’m very picky about my coloring supplies and frankly, I find a lot of the coloring books geared towards adults infuriating and overly detailed. I prefer simpler coloring books and I like to use Crayola markers so I can really get in touch with my inner child.
I’m sure you’ve noticed the rise in popularity for coloring these days and the chatter around how it can help to relieve stress. I have found that it is also soothing for my anxiety.
If I were putting these activities in order, I would put this one as number 1 because I fucking love to nap. Anxiety is exhausting and it can drain me both mentally and physically. If you’ve never experienced the physical symptoms of anxiety, you are one lucky duck. Napping can be very rejuvenating for me and can keep me from feeling like I’m losing my mind as long as I don’t end up with post-nap grumpies. My general motto is “nap it off” for anger, anxiety, illness, general feelings of ennui….
As you can probably tell by now, my general course of action when it comes to managing my anxiety and to help keep me panic attack mode is to find activities that either help me work through it or that keep my mind and hands busy. Distracting myself from my obsessive thoughts can often be the best way to help.
*For me, obsessive thoughts are ones that move through my mind like a merry-go-round. The same thought keeps coming back over and over again, retriggering my panic and causing me to spiral through heightened emotions including fear. I catastrophize and continue to say “what if…” over and over and am unable to stop the cycle without help.