Short-term anxiety busters?
November 27, 2015 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I know that this question has been asked a gajillion times, but I'm super-anxious right now, am not sure why, and could use some help. I have my fair share of life stressors going on, but I'm usually able to deal; since yesterday, however, it's like my mind decided to flick an internal switch and proclaim "you are hereby anxious!" What can I do in the next few hours so that this anxiety doesn't keep me up tonight? Keeping it at bay tomorrow as well would be a big plus.

Extra info:

1. I'm on meds and in therapy, mainly for social/generalized anxiety and resulting depression.
2. I try to meditate at least a few times a week, but right now I'm anxious to the point where I'm not sure if it's even worth attempting. Maybe I'm mistaken.
3. Weather's rainy and terrible, so no going outside for me.
4. I spent most of the day black friday shopping, then exercised with a friend afterwards. Exercise usually helps, but apparently not today.
5. My anxiety is not panic-attack level, but it's debilitating to the point where it's having a significant effect on my mood and productivity.
6. I don't think it has anything to do with preparing for Thanksgiving; I actually started to notice it last night after the festivities were over.
7. I'm prescribed Ativan to take as-needed, but I took one yesterday so I'd rather abstain today. I've become dependent on them in the past and the subsequent withdrawal was rather unpleasant, so I made it a rule not to take one two days in a row.
8. Alcohol isn't an option at the moment.
9. Even my lap cat isn't helping, so I know it must be serious.

What else could I try? Please help me make the tail end of my Black Friday just a little bit better!
posted by CottonCandyCapers to Health & Fitness (25 answers total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Wash your dishes by hand, slowly, methodically. Feel the weight of the sponge in your hand, pay attention to the warm water as the flows over the dish, watch as each swirl makes the dish cleaner and shinier. Set the dish aside and pick up another.
posted by bluecore at 3:17 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

My psychiatrist recommended some workbooks for me to help with anxiety and panic - maybe they'll be of some use to you, if not right at this very moment, then hopefully generally.

Panic Stations and What, Me Worry?

I know you have said this is not a panic attack situation but the panic workbook is probably the better of the two in breaking down the reasons behind one's anxiety and the connection between thoughts and feelings.
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 3:20 PM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

I've found this yoga video great for stopping anxiety in the past (at least for the short term) - if you have time, do see it through to the end, because it doesn't always work for me to begin with and it's tempting to think it's not working and give up, but by the end it's always made a difference in a way that other exercise doesn't. I think it's the breathing that does it, though I guess the stretching and concentration help too.

There is a shorter version if you've got less time, but I'd recommend the 30 minute one if you can. Good luck.
posted by penguin pie at 3:35 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

- Try a breathing app
- Take some magnesium malate - OR TAKE AN EPSOM SALT BATH :))))
- Try L-theanine
- Vitamin C! Vit D! Almond milk has a lot of Calcium!!

- Are you possibly iron deficient? Maybe as a side effect from your meds? Check and see if anemia is a possibility, that causes anxiety.
posted by jbenben at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I haven't had a panic attack since I came across this suggestion, so I haven't tried it yet, but try counting down from 100 by threes.
posted by MsMolly at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh! And you say you don't know if meditation is even worth attempting - I'd say give it a try. Like the yoga, I always think it's not working while I'm doing it, but once I see it through it's usually made a difference.
posted by penguin pie at 3:38 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Diphenhydramine (Benadryl) is available over-the-counter and has an anti-anxiety effect.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:49 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

My brain won't shut up enough for me to meditate, but it shuts down completely when I'm sweeping. I find repetitive motions very soothing. I also like to untangle yarn when I'm feeling especially anxious.
posted by Ruki at 4:05 PM on November 27, 2015

Fill up a sink (or a bowl) with cold water and dunk your face in it. It will naturally slow your heart rate because it's a reflex that all mammals have.
posted by desjardins at 4:06 PM on November 27, 2015 [9 favorites]

Here's another method to stimulate the same response.
posted by desjardins at 4:07 PM on November 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

Can you just make a list of what you're worrying about, try to identify the biggest trigger, and then take a step or two to address it? Sometimes I spend a heck of a lot of energy trying to quell anxiety caused by... an unopened email, when ripping off the bandaid helps much more.
posted by salvia at 4:13 PM on November 27, 2015

Color! Seriously. Recent studies (on the mobile so can't cite but easy to find per the Google) have found that coloring has a very calming effect.
posted by pearlybob at 4:20 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I swear by the ice-pack method of the dive response (cold sink-dunking screws up my hair, which is then just one more damn thing to deal with).

Cleaning is how I occupy restless limbs and tire myself out. I usually accompany that with an audiobook or podcasts which make it harder for me to thought-cycle too badly.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:21 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

I usually listen to any of the Spotify playlists that are designed for sleeping, since I find it helps suppress my fight or flight. Jazz for Sleep and Deep Sleep works wonders. (I'm actually using Jazz for Sleep right now to quiet down another panic attack.)

Do you have fluffy, comfortable things to hold onto? I try to stay in my bathrobe as often as possible, and hug a pillow and stroke it. Sticking your face/hands/feet into cold water would be a good shock, but you should probably follow up with a hot water soak so it can help relax and warm up your body.

I also like to talk out loud to myself and process what I'm feeling, and let it run through my system. This list of neurolinguistic programming techniques can be really helpful, #2 and #7 is good.
posted by yueliang at 4:29 PM on November 27, 2015 [7 favorites]

This will entirely depend on your personality, but I find laughing at myself to be helpful when I get in that state. An affectionate, "you silly muggle, getting all worked up over literally nothing; don't worry, it will pass soon" is weirdly effective.
posted by metasarah at 4:49 PM on November 27, 2015

Look around. Deliberately notice five things. Do it with me right now. Wood stove. Picture frame. TV remote. Skateboard. Candle.

Do it as often as you need. Pulls you back into the present, the here-and-now.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:15 PM on November 27, 2015 [6 favorites]

2. I try to meditate at least a few times a week, but right now I'm anxious to the point where I'm not sure if it's even worth attempting. Maybe I'm mistaken.

Something that Susan Orsillo and Lizabeth Roemer (authors of Mindfulness and Acceptance-Based Behavioral Therapies in Practice and The Mindful Way Through Anxiety) point out is that the usual mindfulness exercises offered to people for mental health reasons involve paying attention to the breath, but that anxious people may benefit, at least in early days, from adding control of the breath to the meditative exercise. They recommend that while meditating on the breath, we do deep belly-breathing instead of just paying attention to our breath as it is. This gives you both an awareness of what is going on around and in you, as well as deep breathing's anxiety-reducing benefits.

If you're already in therapy, etc., you probably have already done deep breathing exercises, but if not, a useful page can be found here. Very fast and useful!
posted by mittens at 5:30 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Ironing. It's so satisfying seeing the wrinkles and creases get smoothed out with every sweep of your arm. You are in control and you are being useful and productive and you are caring for your home. Listen to the soft shush of the heat over cloth, feel the weight of the iron in your hand. Do this in a quiet place or play music that has a slow rhythm that pulls you along. Things you can iron that aren't clothes: cloth napkins, bed linens (pillow cases are easier to maneuver if you don't mind having wrinkly sheets and smooth pillows), table runners, kitchen towels, fabric shower curtains, scarves made of thinner fabrics, placemats.

My anxiety leads to me picking at my skin and ironing gives me the same feeling of satisfaction without the new scars and scabs.
posted by Mizu at 5:49 PM on November 27, 2015 [3 favorites]

Flowy works surprisingly well when you can't seem to break the spiral and want a quick 1 minute fix.
posted by veery at 5:50 PM on November 27, 2015 [1 favorite]

Box breathing (or some other specific controlled breathing exercise) can be helpful. I've just been doing it as "breathe in for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe out for a count of four, hold for a count of four, breathe in for a count of four...etc."

Also, for me there is a difference between exercise that's slower, like hiking, vs something that really ramps up my heart rate, like running or using the elliptical. I enjoy both, but more intense fast stuff does more to dissipate my anxiety. If you did something slower, try something more intense.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:43 PM on November 27, 2015 [2 favorites]

Chamomile tea to drink, and a few drops of lavender oil essential on your chest so you'll be breathing in the aroma. Then escape into a novel by one of your favourite authors - try to pick something so engrossing that there's no room in your brain for other thoughts to intrude.

In the longer term, quit caffeine if you haven't already. My anxiety is so, so much better now that I don't have my daily coffee (or three).
posted by hazyjane at 9:59 PM on November 27, 2015

How was your night? I hope it was okay. You can put a cold wet washcloth on your face to get the effect, there have been times when I kept a washcloth in my bag or panic attacks. Once home, a long shower is very effective. Playing tetris works for PTSD, it works for my anxiety, and Bejeweled does, too. Binge-watching non-exciting tv works; I've been through Friday Night Lights twice when pervasive thoughts could not be quieted. It's also useful to talk to yourself, out loud or in your head, and remind yourself that it's anxiety, it feels bad, but it's a physical sensation, not an accurate indication of impending danger, that it will pass, and that you will be okay.
posted by theora55 at 6:59 AM on November 28, 2015

I hope you were okay through the night. I wanted to add some of my techniques:

* I find progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) exercises really useful as they address the tension that builds up in your muscles when you're feeling anxious.
* Similarly, I often find that a brisk walk helps
* I use scent to reduce my anxiety, particularly rose oil and lavender. Before bed every night I get cozy, use one of those rollerball oil applicators on my wrist and temples, and then do a PMR exercise.
* I also do a LOT of breathing exercises - mainly really simple in and out breathing. There's an app on the iPhone App Store called Relax that just plays two tones when you should inhale and exhale - I also do this every night before going to bed.
* When I'm having anxious thoughts, I try to remember to observe myself and distance my thoughts from the truth. So I say out loud, "I am feeling that [scary thing here]". Often the thoughts that rattle around in our minds are taken as reality and this helps remind me that I am not my thoughts.

I hope that helps and I hope you are feeling better!
posted by ukdanae at 7:28 PM on November 28, 2015

Just to add - the key with most breathing exercises is to breathe into your stomach, not the top of your chest.
posted by ukdanae at 7:30 PM on November 28, 2015

Coming in late but this magnesium drink (Whole Foods has it) has really reduced my husband and my stress/anxiety levels.
posted by pennypiper at 1:40 PM on December 2, 2015

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