Looking for anxiety self-help strategies before pursuing therapy/meds
August 31, 2015 5:27 PM   Subscribe

I'm pretty sure I have some sort of anxiety problem, and it's been getting worse lately. I've never taken meds or been to therapy, though I know that I probably should. However, I'm about to embark on a month-long vacation, so I'll have to wait until I get back to pursue them. What are some self-help strategies that I can use in the meantime?

I've had some anxiety issues for most of my life, but they've been a lot worse lately, probably due to a mix of job stress and a bad reaction to birth control (which I have now stopped taking). Thankfully I don't tend to get anxious about stuff like flying, but I do deal with some pretty annoying health anxiety, not the greatest when I'm out of the country and I know it'll be a pain to see a doctor! (As a bonus, I have a bedbug phobia and sometimes break out into anxiety-induced hives, which I can imagine leading to some fun times.)

I'm not worried about having a mental breakdown or anything, just about being too anxious and ruining my vacation. What are some good self-help techniques or resources to try to manage it until I'm home and can start going to therapy? I'm willing to look at any good self-help books, websites, try supplements if there's any scientific backing to them, whatever.
posted by vanitas to Health & Fitness (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can get pretty far on CBT (a million books out there but Feeling Good is a good one, and I even got some use from a "for Dummies" book) and mindfulness. Full Catastrophe Living is the go to intro book for the secular version of mindfuless, and the only one I can personally recommend.

You can pick and choose what speaks to you from these practices, start using them on your own, and that may get you a long way toward where you want to be. I found that I still needed to add therapy and meds to my toolbox to really stabilize, but my home brew self taught CBT and mindfulness probably saved my life in the months it took to get that together.

Good luck! I hope you are able to find some relief and enjoy your vacation.
posted by Stacey at 5:35 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

You could read the cbt book feeling good by David Burns and try to do the workbook to reduce your anxiety as you travel.

A half hour brisk walk most days may make your anxiety easier to deal with as well.
posted by Kalmya at 5:36 PM on August 31, 2015

Funnily enough my anxiety seems to dissipate on holiday. YMMV.

Here to chime in about Mindfulness/meditation. I use the Smiling Mind app (it's free, though if you don't like the Aussie accent you may suffer) and have found marked improvements though I've got a bit of a way to go.
posted by WayOutWest at 6:31 PM on August 31, 2015 [2 favorites]

Nthing meditation. I've tried the CBT and haven't really found it helpful, but since I started with Headspace earlier this year I have felt a ton better. In fact, I haven't done it as much the last month or so due to crazy everything and it has made a noticeable difference.
posted by getawaysticks at 6:36 PM on August 31, 2015

Mindfulness. Be present, in this moment. There are a gazillion resources online; you might also find something effective by googling "DBT distress tolerance."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 6:44 PM on August 31, 2015

I have gathered small list of specific self-soothing things (with the help of my therapist) that I know help calm me down in the short term, though what works for you will depend on your personality. I like order and small goals, so certain phone games (like Blendoku) can help me deal with short-term anxiety, as can calming playlists of music, reading calming things (which often means re-reading familiar favorite books if I'm really anxious), watching calm videos, etc. There's also an iPhone app called CalmKeeper I like to use sometimes — it has some distracting games and breathing exercises. having these things queued up and ready to go is reassuring to me. Writing is also helpful, and, as Kalmya mentioned, walking is a HUGE help. It calms my thoughts like nothing else. Can you make a list and gather a few supplies (a couple of apps, a favorite book, some calm music) to make a calming kit to bring with you?

Besides that, taking care of your health as much as possible is important. Travel is stressful no matter what, so make sure you're drinking water, eating as well as you can, sleeping as well as you can (do you need to bring an eye mask, ear plugs, water bottle, etc. to accomplish that?) Gentle yoga used to be great for me, too, though alas I'm not able to practice right now, but a heating pad that physically relaxes my muscles sometimes helps me mentally relax as well. Even just stretching my arms a bit when I'm anxious can help reset my brain a little, too, especially when combined with calm breathing.

The mental strategy that made a difference to me was becoming more aware of my anxiety and the physical symptoms of it so I could catch it earlier and respond gently to it. Observe my mind & body, breathe deeply, relax my shoulders, distract myself from the troubling thoughts for a bit if necessary with a walk, making a cup of tea, playing a round of Blendoku, whatever. So I try to turn my reaction to anxiety from worrying about it (which creates a vicious cycle), to stepping outside it.

Good luck, and have a lovely vacation!
posted by rafaella gabriela sarsaparilla at 6:52 PM on August 31, 2015

This previous AskMe has some nice ideas and resources: How to manage my anxiety until I can get to see a therapist?
posted by Little Dawn at 7:30 PM on August 31, 2015 [1 favorite]

You'll probably find this recommendation in the earlier thread, but the Anxiety and Phobia Workbook was helpful before I started therapy. I don't know that I did many of the exercises, but just having better descriptions to work with helped.
posted by ldthomps at 10:53 AM on September 1, 2015

I did not see this mentioned, so apologies if I am being redundant, but for fairly specific physiologic reasons, during times of heightened predisposition to stress and / or anxiety, I make it a rule (myself included) to stop any stimulants (coffee, of course, but also tea and chocolate) and absolutely no alcohol. Exercise can be a critical component as well. When I talk about anxiety professionally I try to help a patient understand that you are looking for a multitude of modest consistent strategies that when carried out over time reduce one's tendency toward anxiety. Good luck.
posted by docpops at 7:36 AM on September 5, 2015 [1 favorite]

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