1. Blow some bubbles.
I carry a small bottle of liquid bubble soap in my purse with me. If I start having a panic attack in public, I find a private place (bathroom stall, outside the back door, etc.) and blow bubbles. It helps me slow down my breathing, forces me to take deep breaths, and gives me something to focus on.
2. Make a to-do list.
I make lists. Breaking things to do down into small, completely surmountable tasks really helps. For example, instead of “clean my room” I’ll have “sort and wash clothes, pick up trash, put away miscellaneous items, and clean off surfaces.”
3. Go for a walk.
I like going for a walk. It clears my mind and helps me put anything I need to do in perspective as well as it wakes me up.
4. Refocus your attention.
Something that helps me overcome anxiety attacks, especially in public places where I can’t find a private place to calm down, is to play this game in my head. The game involves breaking down the sensations, smells, and sounds around me while practicing breathing exercises. For example, in a classroom I will isolate (one at a time) the sound of pencils dragging across paper, the air conditioner humming, the footsteps of a classmate, and the rustling of someone searching through their backpack. I will pay attention to the coolness of my desk, and note the fragrance of the perfume I am wearing. Isolating each aspect of my surroundings one by one is soothing, allowing me to take my mind off of a stressful situation and focus on the tiny details in my life.
5. Tidy up.
Honestly, I clean. I am a firm believer a cluttered physical space can lead to a cluttered mental space. It’s also a great distraction where you can either sort through your thoughts and feelings or be mindlessly distracted by dust bunnies and shower buildup. At the end of all of it you have accomplished something you may not have otherwise (or had been putting off) and often feel a calming and empowering sense of relief.
6. Acknowledge your feelings.
Before things start to escalate, I’ll say to myself, “You are feeling anxious.” Just acknowledging that this is a feeling that I feel just like happiness or sadness, brings me back to reality.
7. Pet a furry friend.
I pet my dogs and cat, letting their unconditional love remind me of all I have to be grateful for.
8. Remind yourself that you’ve been here before.
When I feel myself getting really anxious, I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and tell myself that I’ve felt this way before and survived it. If I got through it that time, I know I can get through it again. It’s a comforting thought 🙂
9. Channel your breathing.
I use a breathing technique called “tactical breathing” that is taught in the military. Breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold the breath for a count of four, and exhale through your mouth for a count of four. My anxiety can flare up out of nowhere, and this is one of the only ways I can gain control over it.
10. Tell yourself that you’re safe.
I close my eyes, take deep breaths, and say “I’m OK/fine/safe” out loud. It sounds so silly but it works really well.
11. Solve a puzzle.
I put things in order — anything from reorganizing the books on my bookshelf to filling in the boxes of a crossword puzzle. I find anything that’s out of order and fix it. It can even be something as simple as playing a secret game of Tetris while I’m at work, or carefully coloring in a doodle in a notebook. Jigsaw puzzles and cross-stitching are great stress relief on the weekends — I turn on some music or a funny TV show, and let my hands do the work. Putting things where they belong helps me remember I’m not completely out of control.
12. Be kind to yourself.
For the love of god be kind to yourself. It’s so easy to blame yourself for what you are feeling, but the fact is your emotions are valid and you’re not to blame. In fact, you’re pretty freaking amazing and you will get through this.
13. Use an app.
I *highly* recommend the app called “Self-help Anxiety Management” or “SAM.” This is a great free app for both Android and iPhone users for tracking, understanding, and overcoming anxiety. The easy-to-use program will help you examine the sources of your anxiety, and give you tips and exercises to overcome those anxieties. There are also discreet activities and games in-app that can pull you out of an anxiety attack during times when you can’t find a quiet place to relax.
You may also want to check out these apps, which can all help you calm down.
14. Treat your anxiety like it’s separate from you.
I treat my anxiety as if it’s a separate being. In my head I do my best to calm it down and reassure it — if I’m alone I’ll even occasionally talk to it aloud if I’m feeling scared enough — and somehow this helps me calm myself down at the same time.
15. Doodle in a notebook.
I started carrying a small sketchbook around with me. I have a terrible habit of biting the skin around my nails whenever my anxiety hits, so in order to stop both things (my anxiety and biting my skin), I keep my hands busy by doodling in it or writing down whatever’s on my mind (either a short poem or about whatever is giving me anxiety).
By the time I put down my pencil my heart rate’s slowed down and my mind clears up. And my anxiety goes away — or at least most of it.
16. Take care of your physical needs.
Don’t focus on what’s freaking you out. Take care of your physical needs first. Haven’t showered/shaved? Do it. Dishes? Done. Laundry? Folded and put away. Small real-world accomplishments help bring me out of my head and back to reality. It’s also really uplifting to feel clean and sexy once in a while. Feel free to pamper yourself when cleaning. Bath bomb away. Homemade spa days are the greatest.
17. Schedule your worry.
A therapist once told me to schedule my worrying. I know a lot of people with anxiety disorders tend to overthink everything. We’re experts at contingency plans, but this process often becomes obsessive and only makes you more anxious. She told me to schedule a time during the week (say Tuesday and Friday at 7 p.m. for 30 minutes) where I allow myself to worry and think to my heart’s content. Knowing I have a specific time to do that helped me let it go the rest of the week.
18. Lie on your stomach, or give yourself a hug.
If I’m home, I Iie down flat on my front side. I don’t know why, but it soothes me having my chest/torso compressed. If I’m not at home and can’t lie down, I just sit down and sort of crouch over and hug myself.
19. Focus on your safe space.
I’ve had a therapist help me create a “safe place.” It’s a place you think of that’s real or imaginary where you feel safe and content. Once you have this place established you mentally place yourself there whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed. I also use my bed as a safe place. It’s where I go at the end of the day and pretend that everything that’s making me anxious can’t reach me there.
Here are some tips for how to make your bed the coziest place on Earth, if it helps.
20. Drink a glass of water.
I drink water to calm myself down from anxiety. It forces me to regulate my breathing if I’m hyperventilating. Just after one sip I immediately feel a little better.
21. Go for a run.
I run. I run hard, and I run fast. I can actually feel myself escaping the grip anxiety can have on me, sometimes. It’s very liberating, empowering, and excellent at putting my mind at ease. Positive self-talk throughout the run also helps. “You are bigger than this. You are stronger than this. YOU WILL BE OK.”
22. Try guided meditation.
There’s a guided meditation Youtube channel that helped me a lot.
Here are some other guided meditations to help you get started.
23. Find a scent that soothes you.
I love using my lavender pillow. I pop it into the microwave before bed and I feel calm and safe.
24. Read a wonderful book.
Reading! I’ve been an anxious person for 15 years and this is what has been most useful to me. It helps me to focus on something other than what I’m anxious about. With books I can submerge myself into a different world, even just briefly, to help relax my overwhelmed train of thought. When I come back up from a book, I feel centered and refreshed.
25. Listen to music you love.
Whenever I feel my anxiety acting up, I listen to music. […] Music is one of the best things for me. I can relax and breathe and forget about what was causing me to feel anxious in the first place and shut off the chaos of what we call life.
26. Get outside in nature.
Going for long walks, especially at night; the night air is so refreshing, the sounds of nature drown out everything around me, and the exercise is good and helps me get to sleep at night. Also remember to just go outside. Fresh air can help loosen those barbed wire knots keeping you locked within yourself.
27. Call a friend.
I’ll call a friend. Most of the people in my life are aware of my anxiety, so when I feel panic coming on, I know that I can call someone and have them talk me down out of the attack.
28. Use Pinterest.
I use Pinterest to calm my anxiety. I have a private board where I pin quotes that inspire me, that make me feel safe, and that make me feel grateful. […] I’ll either go look at my board at what I’ve already pinned, or look for new pins. […] It soothes me to know that these pins are being shared and other people are reading these pins and being inspired and comforted by them, and that makes me feel less alone in dealing with anxiety.
We created a Gratitude and Calm Pinterest board, if you’d like some suggestions.
29. Get some exercise.
Working out. Especially when I notice that my anxiety is keeping me up at night, I make sure to get to the gym after work, before I go to sleep. An intense interval workout takes all my concentration and requires that I focus on the here and now — not all those hypothetical stressful situations going through my mind. Tuning in to my body, my muscles, and the movements makes me feel grounded, rational, and less panicky. Plus, I feel like a strong, endorphin-filled badass afterward.
Here are some body-weight workouts and treadmill/running workouts, if you don’t know where to start.
30. Do some math.
Simple, manual math. When I’m having a panic attack, I get a pencil and paper and start doing, like, fourth-grade math. Adding 193,424 and 33,123. Subtracting 14 from 52. Stuff I know I can figure, and stuff that distracts my brain from the panic.
31. Learn to knit.
I have panic disorder pretty bad, and I find that the repetitive action of knitting is very soothing during a panic attack. It keeps my hands busy, which releases some of the physical tension. And constantly counting and switching stitches kind of numbs my brain; it forces me to focus on something external instead of focusing on my panic and all the physical symptoms that come along with it. Saying the stitches out loud as I do them is almost like a mantra: “knit, knit, purl, knit, knit, purl.” I’m not even that good at it, but you don’t have to be good for it to help. Seriously, try it!
Here is an essay called Knitting Myself Back Together that talks about knitting and anxiety, if you want to read more.
32. Find a therapist.
I used to suffer from severe anxiety and panic disorder. I still have general anxiety disorder but I don’t even notice it most of the time. The reason why I have made huge strides from where I used to be is all thanks to therapy. Finding the right therapist can take awhile but once you do, it is the best thing in the world.
Therapy helps you change your perspective from negative to positive. You also figure out why you have these problems, which helps you get to the root of them in order to fix them. I went from not being able to leave my room without feeling fear to randomly going on roadtrips with my friends and not having any panic attacks or major fear.
Of course I still have “what if” thoughts and experience some fear/worry, but I use it as fuel to prove to myself that I can do it. It doesn’t happen overnight, but its been about eight months since I started and the difference is night and day. I’m so glad that I made the choice to go because I could not live my life the way I used to be.
33. Get crafty.
I make lucky stars. It prevents me from fixating in my anxiety and helps me come down from an attack. It gives you something small to accomplish and focus on, it makes something pretty…and it’s really easy to carry around a little pack of papers.
34. Talk to your doctor about medication.
I tried managing my anxiety on my own, but one of my doctors suggested I talk to my [primary care physician] about anti-anxiety meds. I’ve been on Zoloft for three years and it’s really helped me a lot.
35. Play with Silly Putty or Play-Doh.
I started carrying Silly Putty around with me and play with that a bit if I’m feeling anxious or overwhelmed. It gives my hands something to do (I used to bite and pinch myself when I was anxious) and seems to help me focus on what’s going on.
36. Have an orgasm.
Orgasms. Seriously. All of my muscles loosen, and my mind and body relax. For once.