Subtle self-soothing at work
July 27, 2016 1:59 PM   Subscribe

I am in treatment for severe anxiety. At home, I self-soothe by wringing my hands and rocking, but that's not appropriate for the workplace. I need to be typing so worry stones and spinner rings are out. I need to elevate my legs so foot tapping is out, too. What are some subtle physical things I can do at my desk to calm myself?
posted by Ruki to Health & Fitness (34 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
I tap my fingertips together. It's silent and pretty unobtrusive. I used to play the saxophone, so sometimes I'll run through the fingering patterns of songs I used to know.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Do you need to talk? Would playing with a toothpick in your mouth work?
posted by tchemgrrl at 2:04 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

A sensory seating disk? Maybe a strip of velcro on your keyboard that you could feel with your wrists as you type?

I've also gotten a mini aquarium for my desk, with plants and a betta fish. Looking at fish is soothing to me.
posted by Ostara at 2:13 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

I like to have a set time I can take a tea break - if your office has a kitchenette or something, a box of teabags and a nice (second favorite) mug makes for a nice predictable break. I like to have herbal and regular-old-tea available if I feel like the caffeine is going to get me too pumped.

It's nice to hold the warm mug in your hands and feels nice after typing for extended periods, plus routine is helpful. (It's 3 p.m. and is time for tea.)
posted by the uncomplicated soups of my childhood at 2:16 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

Mints? I find that sometimes being able to suck on a mint or a hard candy is sufficient distraction when I'm having an anxiety episode.
posted by Tamanna at 2:17 PM on July 27, 2016 [4 favorites]

Can you have plants?
posted by aniola at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I know someone who swears by chewing on ice.
posted by aniola at 2:20 PM on July 27, 2016

I don't know if you saw this recent post on the front page of Metafilter. This company does have lots of spin ring type fidgets which I know you can't use when you're typing, but do weighted or chewable objects help?
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 2:24 PM on July 27, 2016

I like to take small scraps of paper and fold them repeatedly. If your worry is about telegraphing your anxiety, I would think that having scraps of paper in your hand would be fairly inconspicuous in an office?
posted by ionnin at 2:31 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Dunno if this will work with your elevated feet requirement, but there are foot pedal type devices you can keep under the desk.
posted by lizbunny at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2016

I've had a betta fish at my desk before, seconding that I found him quite soothing too.
posted by lizbunny at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2016

Coming in to suggest a heated rice pad. Do you have a microwave you can heat it up with? Putting it around your shoulders or neck might be helpful.

This isn't directly related to your question, but for me, good heart-pounding cardio does wonders for the excess energy that manifests itself as anxiety. I like to go to the gym before work. I've heard some people say that exercise exacerbates their anxiety, though, so YMMV.
posted by onecircleaday at 2:40 PM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

Re: heating pads. Perhaps you could wrap your ankles up, instead of draping your neck or shoulders.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2016

I rub my feet together, a bit like wringing them, using my insteps. If you could slip off your shoes unobtrusively under your desk, so much the better. I think you could do this with elevated legs. I find it very comforting when I'm experiencing anxiety.
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 2:54 PM on July 27, 2016 [3 favorites]

You could try square breathing or 4-7-8 breathing. A square breath is breathing in through your nose (and into your belly) for 4 beats, holding for 4 beats, breathing out through your mouth for 4 beats and then holding (no breath) for 4 beats. It's called "square" breathing because a lot of people visualize tracing a square when they do it. I think of the square as like an air meter for my lungs. It's recommended you repeat the sequence 4 times, so 4 total breaths.

4-7-8 is similar but you breathe in for 4, hold for 7 and then breathe out slowly and completely for 8. No visualization that I know of.

If your anxiety is that high, I bet your muscles are really tense all the time. A break where you do some gentle stretching might be helpful and a distraction. I like this routine for at my desk.

Just want to second that I've also found regular heart pounding exercise helpful in reducing my anxiety levels in general. I also gave up caffeine.
posted by purple_bird at 3:18 PM on July 27, 2016 [7 favorites]

Funny that someone else suggests breathing -- but for physiological reasons, I think you might be able to allay your anxiety by breathing more rapidly than normal until your hands and feet start to tingle a little, then stopping, then starting again when the anxiety begins rising again.
posted by jamjam at 3:35 PM on July 27, 2016

A piece of cloth that feels good to you in your pocket.
posted by brujita at 3:38 PM on July 27, 2016 [2 favorites]

I have a Zen egg which feels lovely and has a nice wobble to watch. Also can be used to dig in at painfully tight muscles. Other desk toys could work.
posted by platypus of the universe at 3:51 PM on July 27, 2016

I pull my earlobes gently, or spin my earring around.
posted by terretu at 3:55 PM on July 27, 2016

I listen to white noise on (there's also a phone app). I personally like the "sunset beach" theme -- it's the perfect white noise, really soothing. Also helps block out outside noise.
posted by radioamy at 3:57 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

I take a deep breath in through my nose, then blow it into my mouth to puff up my cheeks, then release slowly through my lips. It's not noticeable if I'm facing the computer at work (although when I do it outside of work I sometimes get funny looks.)
posted by muddgirl at 4:00 PM on July 27, 2016

Chewing on ice is not good for teeth.
posted by amtho at 4:07 PM on July 27, 2016

Looks like Calm has apps that have already been recommended, but if you prefer something browser-based, can you sit at your desk and do nothing for two minutes every now and then?
posted by juliplease at 4:14 PM on July 27, 2016

I'm not sure why, but having something wrapped pretty tightly around one of my fingers helps keep me calmer. I use that small colored wire that's inside ethernet or telephone cables, and then can unwrap and rewrap it when I'm thinking or reading rather than typing.

Instead of rocking, could you put a tennis ball between your shoulder blades and the back of your seat, and rock very gently and slowly (not enough to disturb your typing) side to side against it? If anyone notices, you can say you have back issues, and your physical therapist recommended it.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 4:50 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Grip strengthener? I like this kind where you can isolate individual fingers (more complex motion => more distracting).
posted by orangejenny at 5:22 PM on July 27, 2016

If you're in an office by yourself, or somewhere that you're not facing other people, I have several chewing necklaces from Stimtastic and can't rec them enough. The dulcimer one, in particular, is attractive enough that it looks like a necklace, and fits easily and pleasingly (and subtly) into my mouth.
posted by mishafletch at 5:25 PM on July 27, 2016

Toe socks are comforting for me, much like hand-wringing or the tightly wrapped wire around the finger above. And you can sort of flex your feet in your shoes to feel them there.
posted by Lady Li at 5:43 PM on July 27, 2016

You can probably get away with using one of those squishy things for squeezing with your hands from time to time. People do need to take a break from typing occasionally. You can say it's to take good care of your hands and prevent overuse injuries.

Goggle "active seating" and you will find products that can be placed on top of a regular chair. Often they are used for general health benefits, so people wouldn't know that it was helpful for anxiety as well.
posted by yohko at 6:16 PM on July 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

High Anxiety person here. This is what I do.

Breathing for calmness:
breathe in for 4 seconds through nose, hold for 4 seconds, release for 4 seconds through mouth, repeat.

And I have a tiny jar of a favorite scent (sandalwood) at my desk, and I close my eyes and take a nice whiff and it grounds me.

Ginger ale and/or ice water.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 6:43 PM on July 27, 2016

If you're someone who's most soothed by touch: rub the back of your neck or briefly massage your shoulders (crossing each arm across your chest, one at a time, to knead the opposite shoulder). Gently knead your temples, run your fingers through your hair, or give yourself a quick head scratch/scalp massage.

If you find visual stimuli to be most effective in calming you down: if you've got a smartphone/laptop, keep a small album with pictures of loved ones, calming nature scenes, funny comic strips, or whatever else you find calming and/or grounding. Scroll through them when you need a quick pick-me-up. Maybe buy one of those tiny Zen gardens that you can keep at your desk and give the sand a quick rake from time to time?

If sounds are really calming for you: make a playlist of audio that you enjoy and pop in a pair of earbuds. If you like a certain Youtube clip, there are sites that can convert those links to MP3 files and you can bring them with you that way. It doesn't have to be classical music or guided meditations, either - if there's something totally silly or odd that relaxes or comforts you, don't be afraid to bring it with you. Who's going to know what you're listening to? Maybe you prefer standup comedy routines or a certain song that you loved as a child - put that on your iPod/phone instead.
posted by second banana at 3:50 AM on July 28, 2016

Try the website

Since you have to be typing anyway, take a break every so often to write about how you're feeling. Just get it all out on the screen so that you can understand the feeling.

You could also try taking a piece of paper and drawing a horizontal line down the middle. The left hand side column is for 'negative thoights' or ' anxious thoights' and the right hand side column is for 'fair, realistic thoughts '.

You can use the 'fair realistic thought' column to write affirmations, self soothing thoughts (ie, I have to treat myself with compassion and care because my body and mind are completely overwhelmed right now, or 'the only thing that matters is my health and well-being' or 'i deserve to feel happy, safe, well and good' or ' my emotions are torturing me right now and it's really unfair)

Another thing I've tried lately is talking back to the anxiety with phrases like 'LET ME LIVE!!!!'

Take good care of yourself:)
posted by winterportage at 8:16 AM on July 28, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use breathing patterns, and I do a tongue-thing that's hard to explain but anyways you can't see it from the outside (it involves tapping my teeth in a specific order that I find calming). I've also used silent mantras and that is helpful too.

I once saw a Tumblr where they were collecting types of stims from people with ASD and the variety was astonishing. I can't find it right now but I'm sure if you could, you could get some ideas that might be worth trying. A lot of people have stims that are very subtle.

Oh, and if you have the right anatomy, maybe you could try kegels. Then you can get fit and keep yourself distracted at the same time!
posted by epanalepsis at 8:39 AM on July 28, 2016

I have some scented oils in tiny vials with a rollerball, like this one. You can keep them in your desk drawer and run them on your pulse points. I don't think they are perfume-y enough to bother people nearby.
posted by BibiRose at 8:45 AM on July 28, 2016

Response by poster: I made a glitter bottle. It's not physical, but it gives me something to focus on and clear my mind. I have one for work and one for home. It is amazingly comforting.
posted by Ruki at 5:06 PM on September 17, 2016

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