May is mental health awareness month, and something I don’t talk about very often is my long history with anxiety. I had my first terrifying experience with a panic attack when I was eleven, so I’ve spent a large portion of my life learning to overcome my fears, and how to respond when anxiety strikes.
Thankfully, I’ve been free from major panic attacks for almost five years now, but I often have to face days when my mind is swirling with troublesome thoughts, and I’m either plagued by a severe restlessness or an unshakable sense of doom and gloom.
Each moment of anxiety is different, but I’ve become pretty good at learning how to quickly address the situation before it escalates. Today I’m sharing seven things that help me when I find myself stuck in my own head.
1.) GET OUT
Leave your house. Go for a walk, hit the gym, stand on your balcony, or sit in a café (but probably don’t drink caffeine). It doesn’t really matter where you go; the fresh air and a different perspective will do wonders. If you’re at work, you can’t always get up and leave, but trust me when I say you NEVER have to apologize for leaving the room when you need to. You are not chained to your desk. Take a walk outside to clear your head, or ask your boss if you can run an errand. Everyone has the right to step outside for 15 minutes.
What if you can’t leave work? I worked in the restaurant industry for years, and I couldn’t just walk off the floor when I felt like it. Try standing up and bending over so that your head is between your knees. This move gets the blood flowing to your head and has an immediate calming effect.
I cannot stress this enough: anxiety loves isolation. Spending time alone can be an awesome form of self care; I often need to be alone in order to recharge. But when I’m feeling down, the desire to hole up in my bedroom is strong, and 100% of the time it only causes me more mental distress. I cannot speak for everyone, but every time I fight the urge to isolate myself, I feel so much better.
Call up a friend, parent, sibling, mentor, significant other, or anyone who makes you feel good and also safe. Tell them how you feel. You are not a burden to these people; they love you and care about your well-being.
Try not to cancel plans. You know your body best, but I find that cracking on with my day and being in good company makes me realise my feelings are not as wild as I think they are.
3.) MAKE ART
This is not exactly the best example of art, but one of my favourite things to do when I’m feeling off is to watch a couple episodes of Family Guy. It’s silly, a bit crude, and pokes fun at absolutely everything and everyone, reminding me not to take life so seriously.
I would suggest doing whatever creative thing brings you joy – whether it’s your favourite TV show, music, painting or drawing, reading, gardening, redecorating and organizing, or anything that’s going to make the right side of your brain happy.
Sometimes scrolling through Instagram and looking at happy pictures of someone on the beach or talking about their new favourite lipstick will have a grounding effect on me – other times the constant bombardment of images and information is just too much. In that case I would suggest turning off your phone, or leaving it in another room.
5.) MOVE YOUR BODY
Nothing mends my brain quite like a spin class. No matter how tired, frustrated, or gloomy I feel, as soon as I hop on the bike my spirit and energy levels are immediately lifted. However you like to move your body best, do that. Your adrenaline has nowhere to go if you sit on the couch overthinking, so get up and sweat it out!
6.) GET BUSY
What better way to combat an anxious mind than by crossing everything off your to-do list? If you’re anxious about a situation that’s out of your control, focus on something that you can control – answer emails, do laundry, empty the dishwasher, tidy up, declutter, book a dentist appointment… before you know it you’ll have accomplished a ton of stuff that you probably didn’t even realise was weighing on your mind.
7.) MAKE A LIST + TAKE ACTION
One of my mom’s standard emotional support lines has always been, “feeling listless? Make a list.” When feeling overwhelmed by the multitude of thoughts swirling around my brain, one of the most helpful things I’ve found is to get it out on paper. It’s similar to Dumbledore using the pensieve in Harry Potter (#nerdalert); once it’s on paper you don’t have to think about it so much.
My favourite way to do this is to write out all the things that I think are causing me upset. These things can range from enormous weight of the world situations (climate change, inequality, etc.) to tiny annoyances (my toilet has started squeaking every time I flush). Then I write a solution to each problem underneath, or something that will possibly make the situation more bearable. Can I fix climate change on my own? Unfortunately, no. Can I do my best to reduce my carbon footprint? Yes. Can I call my landlord to send in the plumber? Definitely yes. Look at that, two problems already tackled!
I hope these ideas are helpful next time you find yourself feeling wound up. Let me know in the comments if you struggle with anxious feelings, and how you work through them. Also feel free to send me a message if you ever want to chat! Don’t forget to follow me on Instagram, and please feel free to share or pin the image above if you think someone else would benefit from this post. 🙂