Living, Mental Health

how to cope when you’re stressed out

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With all the tumult and anxiety going on lately, I’ve really been making an effort to try to equip myself with some coping mechanisms to keep from spinning out. For a long time, the second something made me anxious or upset, I’d let those feelings feed me until I was having an inconsolable panic attack. I’ve been in therapy for a few months now and over the past few weeks I’ve really started to learn that I had no coping skills I could use – I would just freeze up and let my thoughts spiral over and over or run down paths it shouldn’t go. Especially in light of the election results and confusion, I’m working to create a sort of “toolkit” to distract myself from unhealthy actions.

I used to primarily consider myself a lone wolf – I’d rather get through things alone rather than reaching out to other people. After the election (a night in which I spent on a Google Hangout with my friends, anxious, upset and teary) I headed back to Chicago a day early so I could be around people who felt the same way I did. Getting out of the house and being around my friends is an important way to connect with people to stay grounded, and calms the anxiety sparking in my head when I don’t have anyone to take me away from the thoughts. (Social media DEFINITELY does not count as a way to connect here.)

Distraction has always been a primary way for me to cope with negative feelings – knitting was one of the first things I started doing a few years ago when my anxiety was just starting to show. Keeps your hands busy, and following a pattern keeps your brain counting rows and purls. (Once you do learn how to knit or if you need some guidance to get there, there are a lot of great resources and communities out there!)

Physical activity is my primary way of coping now – whether it’s running or dancing, I’ve been using activity since that terrible breakup a few years ago when the treadmill was the only thing that would stop my brain. Now I love running not only for how it makes me feel, but also the endorphin rush I get – I can start a run feeling awful, and end it not even remembering what I had been so upset about.

It can be really therapeutic to write and get your feelings out. Whether you journal about what’s in your head, blog about your favorite topics, or write something totally unrelated, getting it out on paper (or the screen) is really helpful in working out your feelings.

If you’re anything like me, you have piles of unread or unfinished books around. Reading can be a great way to immerse yourself in a different world and if you need some suggestions on what to check out, I have more than a few!

One thing that I consider more often than I’ll admit is deleting my social media accounts. I use Facebook rarely as it is, but I can’t fully deactivate as I use it for work, but I don’t have the app on my phone – it does keep me from mindless scrolling as much as I used to. If it will help you to shut off your access to social media (where things can occasionally get pretty dark, election or not), don’t feel like you have to explain it to anyone – or like you have to keep up appearances by staying online.

What are your most effective skills to cope when you’re down?