Mental Health

non-traditional ways to cope with anxiety

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It’s no secret that I live with anxiety and depression – I’ve blogged about it extensively. Though I’m on a better regimen of drugs that help me cope better with things I’m learning in therapy, I still struggle with anxiety every day. There are plenty of resources with tips on how to better manage panic or racing thoughts, and they all work for everyone differently. In my 15+ years of living with this, I’ve worked up some less common methods of coping on my own.

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The Joy of Painting With Bob Ross: When I was a little kid, I was raised by PBS. Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, Sesame Street, Today’s Special, Zoobilee – and to be honest, I do go back and put some of those on from time to time. (When you’re sick and just want your mom to take care of you, there’s nothing like the comfort of Ben Vereen’s voice.) A few weeks ago I was struggling to fall asleep, a relatively new symptom of anxiety for me. I was trying everything I could think of – counting down backwards from 100 (my go-to sleep trick for years), listening to Sleep With Me, and even trying this YouTube video I’d seen people talking about. Nothing was working to quiet down my brain. Then the YouTube video ended and a suggested video was The Joy of Painting. I popped one on and as he painted quiet streams and happy little trees, his assuring voice eventually overrode my inner monologue, letting me fall asleep.

ASMR: That YouTuber I’d been seeing a lot of was GentleWhispering, a girl who does relaxing videos in – you guessed it – a whisper. Some of the videos are roleplaying exercises, as though she’s washing your hair, and some are more in the “calming empowerment” realm. ASMR is autonomous sensory meridian response – you can read more about it on Wikipedia, but it’s basically a tingly sensation that many people get throughout their bodies that seems to be very relaxing and soothing.

Don’t Assume or Personalize: This one seems pretty obvious to most people, but for me, it isn’t. I’ve always taken everything very personally (how can you not?) so even the slightest twinge of emotion from someone else is very taxing for me (the joys of being a highly sensitive person.) I recently discovered Tanya Hennessey thanks to her hilarious true makeup tutorial, and started digging in to her older videos. “Ways to know you’re an overthinker” hit very close to home and at the end, she shares this advice: “don’t expect, and don’t assume things.” Assumptions have always been a big source that fuels my anxiety fire, so hearing that (as simple as it is) is helping me begin to reframe things in a different way. I’m also reading the book The Four Agreements after seeing one of the Tone It Up girls recommend it, and I’m really liking it a lot as well. The second agreement is “don’t take anything personally” – if someone feels a particular way, it’s because of them, not because of you. This has helped change how I internalize other people’s emotions a lot.

Calligraphy: Writing things down in a planner can be a huge help for anxiety sufferers, as can things like journaling and coloring. I’m also starting to get into calligraphy as another outlet. Things like printable worksheets to trace for practice can be really relaxing – since you can simply trace over the letters, it’s a good way to relax without having to exert a lot of focus or brainpower.

Moodica: A new-to-me app, Moodica plays videos based on your “mood,” and they even have apps for Apple TV and Amazon Firestick. I really like this endless galaxy to sort of zone out and feel like I’m floating (in a good way.)

Compression Sleeves: One of the anti-depressants I tried at the beginning of the year gave me terrible restless leg syndrome. Getting off the med helped a bit, but I’m still feeling many of the symptoms. Sleeping in my Zensah leg compression sleeves has helped out a lot, and there’s research that supports compression as anxiety relief.

Weighted Blankets: Similar to compression sleeves, the feeling of having weight draped over some part of your body can help you feel safe and maybe relieve some of your stress.

Penguin Watch: If you’re a person who finds calm in doing work (like me), this might be the thing for you. Penguin Watch is a project of scientists that you can help out with by looking at pictures, and clicking if there’s a penguin in the photo. That’s it. Super simple, and you’re helping out with important research. Plus, you’ll occasionally get to see photos of other animals, like elephants!

Go to the Water: I grew up in Michigan, so I feel most at ease when near a large body of water. When I moved to landlocked cities, I really struggled. Finding a pool to swim laps in or a lake to go hiking at helped to clear my head.

Audiobooks: Sometimes I know that getting engrossed in a story will help me stop my racing thoughts, but I can’t suppress them long enough to get through even one page of a book. I love audiobooks in these times – I put in my earbuds so no other sound can sneak in and fire up an app like Hoopla or Overdrive to check out a book from the library. (Audible also has two free books right now) This way it’s a little easier to get involved in someone else’s story and get out of my own.

Noise: This one doesn’t always work for me because sometimes extra sound can just exacerbate my panic, but I’ve found having constant background noise to (usually) be really helpful. Whether it’s having some TV on in the background while I work through the day or as I fall asleep, or listening to podcasts in the car or at the gym, having something else to shift my focus to if I want can help to stave off the thoughts. Sometimes when those kinds of sound seems too much, Rainymood is my best friend. They have mobile apps as well as a desktop website with the quiet, soothing sounds of a thunderstorm. I’ve been using Rain Rain as well – I like that they have different sounds. Their ocean bonfire is my favorite thing to fall asleep to.

Do you use any non-traditional methods to cope with your anxiety? What have you found works best for you?