Fear and anxiety, how to deal
August 15, 2019 1:24 PM   Subscribe

For the past couple of months I’ve been experiencing near-constant anxiety and fear, not of anything in particular, just a strange uneasy feeling that blankets everything and makes me feel like I’m unsafe (even though I’m totally safe) or like something terrible is about to happen. I need some new coping mechanisms.

I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and depression a decade ago and have experienced these episodes before, usually triggered, as this one was, by a panic attack. The strange thing is that it was preceded by a dramatic improvement in mood, probably due to a new medication, and a renewed interest in life, which I still, weirdly, have, underneath the anxiety. I’m hoping the anxiety will go away eventually; in the meantime I’m seeing a therapist, working with a psychiatrist on finding medication that works, and generally trying to live my life as normal. Socializing with friends helps but sometimes it makes me feel trapped. Intense exercise helps a little. I’ve never gotten the hang of meditation but am open to trying it again if anyone has cheap resources to recommend (I’ve tried Headspace).

Has anyone else experienced this? And if so, what helped you deal with it? I’m not expecting to find anything that will take the fear away completely, I would just like to mitigate it or distract myself from it a little bit. Open to any kind of suggestion, from comforting books/tv shows to overcoming-anxiety memoirs to distracting phone games to specific exercises (physical, mental), hobbies, you name it. I’m so exhausted from dealing with this. Thank you!!!
posted by aaadddaaa to Health & Fitness (20 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Really absorbing computer games do this for me. They take up enough of my brain that I'm able to forget the anxiety for a while. Stardew Valley and Rimworld (if you play on a low difficulty) are great for this.
posted by showbiz_liz at 1:49 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

Yoga is really good for helping with anxiety. The focus on the breath and the present moment, concentrating on the poses and moving from one to the other, is a great calming distraction at the time, but also helps train you to focus on your breath the rest of the time. When you breathe calmly and deeply you activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is what you want to do when fear/panic/anxiety has triggered the sympathetic system and is causing rapid heartbeat, nervous stomach, sweaty palms, etc. There’s lots of research out there if you want to look into it, and loads of free videos on YouTube, although I’d recommend at least a few classes first if you haven’t practiced before to make sure you’re getting the alignment right.
posted by billiebee at 2:06 PM on August 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I have experienced it. A lot. First I cut off my constant influx of news. The news right now is terrible, and we only get hyperbolic takes on every bad thing. I can stay informed by a daily news info dump via email (What the fuck happened today) or by reading the Sunday paper at the library. The library is very relaxing and it's hard to stress when I'm walking the blocks there, sweating, maybe getting an iced coffee and then sitting in the library.

Journaling helps. Exercise. A game that lets you hit a state of flow will be very good... for some people that is a game like Stardew Valley where you farm and give gifts to cute people. Or a harder/practice oriented game like Dead Cells does it for me, those type of games would be roguelikes and I could recommend a lot of them on varying levels of difficulty if it sounds like it would work for you. It could be puzzles like sudoku. When your mind is submerged in the flow state, you will feel calm because your only thoughts will be for the activity.

What didn't help my anxiety... my temporary anti-depressant doseage of Wellbutrin I think was too high. Not getting enough sleep. Not eating enough. Drinking with either of the aforementioned activities. Putting pressure on myself to perform. Reading too much news. Intentionally going where people would say mean things on the internet. Avoid all of those.

Overall, I really recommend taking time to yourself. Go for a walk. Sit somewhere with a notebook and a book. Maybe you'll write a bit or read or just stare at nature. It is very helpful to me. Get enough sleep. GET ENOUGH SLEEP.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 2:09 PM on August 15, 2019 [8 favorites]

I do a lot of "doing things anyway", when I notice I'm having an anxiety spike. Sometimes it's just obviously not "me" thinking/feeling that way, like, I'll notice I'm experiencing a sensation of dread but at the same time I can tell that's just a thing happening in my chemicals and isn't actually rooted in the world. So I try to treat it like I would treat any other unrelated-to-my-behaviors ache or pain, namely, ignoring it as much as possible and doing what I want to do anyway. Suppressing the feeling under a layer of video games works too, but it's just temporary - if the feeling itself is painful, it can be a way to hide from it, but if the thing that's painful is "this feeling is keeping me from doing what I want", sometimes it helps to just decide to do the thing and damn the sense of impending doom.
posted by Lady Li at 2:10 PM on August 15, 2019 [5 favorites]

The other thing that helps me is hugs/cuddles. People or pets. It hits that same yoga sort of "focusing on breath / quietness".
posted by Lady Li at 2:11 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Yep, experienced it a bunch and still do occasionally.

Sounds like you're already trying what I'd recommend: yoga, exercise in general, going for long walks, canoeing, avoiding social media and the news. Sex, unless that's something that makes you anxious.

I wouldn't want to recommend anyone pick up drinking, but a nice cocktail often really does help me chill.
posted by aspersioncast at 2:14 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Exercise and meditation for the long-term. I’ve been dealing with this recently too, the physical anxiety, and have cut massively down on caffeine/traded coffee for green tea, and also experimented with diet a little bit. It’s helping. (Less sugar/grains, more fresh fruits and vegetables. But I know from experience that that’s a good diet for me). I think this is a thing CBD is great for, and I’ll take it at times I feel very unsettled.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 2:37 PM on August 15, 2019 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That's a long time to feel that way, please make sure your health professionals know the length and intensity of this feeling. I have what is probably GAD and I have medicine specifically to break that feeling off, if at all possible, because of course it spirals. That said, when I am stuck in it for a while, I usually do this.

- treat myself like I am sick. Me and my partner will say "I have the jits today" and try to take it easy (anxious people can be crap at taking it easy so seriously like just watch a TV or a bird house or a loaf of bred bake)
- agree with others, stay off the news if you can
- talk to real live humans, it's distracting and it's often good to know people understand, and care. Connecting with others whether it's writing postcards or petting a cat or calling a relative
- Less coffee and more sleep. Whatever you need to do to get more sleep, try that. CBD, benadryl. I've had mixed luck with edibles.
- I get a lot out of meditation. I use Insight Timer (free) and have a few little music meditations that I do, just to give me six minutes of NOT MY BRAIN (if possible, I am not great at it but I do try)
- just a walk outside even if it's not long or not rigorous, gets your mind looking at stuff that changes and you can notice more things
- make future plans. There will be a time when you are less anxious.
- check ins with friends. I don't know if this is you but I HATE ANXIOUS ME so I often don't really engage with people. But having a check-in buddy even if it's not someone you know that well, not to bitch and moan but just "hey how is it today?" can be good, sometimes they can notice improvements you might not.
- read engrossing (some might say trashy) fiction of a kind you like. I read mysteries or some kinds of thrillers and I find it helps take my mind somewhere else for a while
posted by jessamyn at 3:00 PM on August 15, 2019 [10 favorites]

Hope you won't mind me recycling this answer from previous threads, it's one of my perennials...

The audiobook of Hope and Help for your Nerves by Claire Weekes has made a difference to my anxiety. It's definitely dated - written in the mid-sixties so she talks about 'nerves' rather than anxiety, and lots of chat about housewives suffering agoraphobia and men suffering stress in the workplace.

However... it's really worth seeing through that for the underlying advice. She was decades ahead of her time in predicting aspects of a lot of contemporary advice on anxiety. Having it as an audiobook has made it more accessible for me and I can drop in on favourite passages while commuting etc. She reads it herself and sounds like a strict-but-kindly Australian GP, which I also enjoy, though YMMV.

That and meds and running, and maybe yoga that involves work on your breathing.
posted by penguin pie at 3:07 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

Have you had your heart checked? Get your heart checked.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 3:15 PM on August 15, 2019 [4 favorites]

I also have GAD and would agree with so many of the answers already shared - I especially second jessamyn's point about treating yourself like you're sick when you're in that overwhelmed state. If you're a caffeine drinker I would also pay close attention to the way that affects your mood - I'm trying to cut way back right now because I've realized my body reacts to the heightened pulse I get from caffeine as if I were going into fight or flight mode, which in turn has been sending me into anxiety loops (especially when I'm already feeling a little emotionally fragile).

If you like workbooks, I would also add that at my therapist's recommendation I'm currently going through Mind Over Mood, which has worksheets and pointers from a cognitive-behavioral therapy perspective that I think/hope have been helping.
posted by DingoMutt at 3:33 PM on August 15, 2019 [2 favorites]

For me, meditation works very well immediately after the intense exercise. I can feel myself being more receptive, and things shifting around. I have gotten little epiphanies in this state, and resolved some things that I wasn't understanding. It doesn't happen every time, but I find it very different to doing morning meditations or at any random time.
posted by xo at 5:02 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The thing about meditation is that just sitting there and letting the fear happen, just watching it go, lets your body practice the idea that this sensation doesn't actually equal real danger. You understand that fact very well but your whole being needs to practice as a group so to speak. That's what I try to do when this is happening to me. Of course there's only so much of that a person can take so it's not like, "oh it's good for you just let yourself be scared all the time"; it's more like use a few moments of it like a vaccine and also do the other stuff.

As a bonus, I was in a situation where I was really scared - I was on a boat with my family on a lake, none of us knew anything about boating and a bunch of stuff went wrong and we had no business being out there at all - anyway because I had spent a lot of time communing with my body's constant, pointless anxiety fountain, I was just like ok so, I hear you, body, you don't like this and neither do I but here we are, I hear what you're saying that you want to freak the fuck out and run around screaming and panicking but that's actually not what would be good right now. It makes it easier to hear your instincts without letting them control your actions.
posted by bleep at 5:27 PM on August 15, 2019 [6 favorites]

I went through a phase of intense and constant fight/flight response when there was nothing threatening going on. In working with a therapist, one tool they helped me develop was self-talk to remind myself that I am safe right now and to breathe deeply and ground myself in my body that is totally safe because nothing threatening is actually occurring. My brain would just get triggered into a very primal response, but self-talk could get me back into a more measured and intentional response.
posted by kokaku at 6:23 PM on August 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

I’ve been struggling with a ton of anxiety recently. Things that have helped me: meditation, long sunny sweaty walks, giving and receiving kindness, and really engaging work. The best respite was a work conference: lots of interesting stuff and no brain for rumination. (Had to put up with some flight anxiety to get there, but it was a net win for sure.)
posted by eirias at 7:37 PM on August 15, 2019

I like this Calm magnesium supplement (it’s a natural muscle relaxer) and a weighted sequin toy to stroke like this.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:46 PM on August 15, 2019

comforting books/tv shows

Comedy sketch shows and stand-up I enjoy have always really done it for me... the kind of thing you can watch a few minutes of whenever needed, to sort of reset your mood.
posted by XMLicious at 8:49 PM on August 15, 2019

This is kind of what Great British Bake-Off was invented for. But do talk to your psych docs about this. As far as anxiety goes, "coping" is okay if you just need to get through a short-term challenge with a defined time frame. Over the long term, though, coping mechanisms can lose their effectiveness as we acclimate to them, which can get counterproductive.

Re: meditation, I would not expect it to make you calmer in the moment, so if it isn't "working" in that sense then that's just normal. It's more mental training to be able to stop automatically reacting to bodily sensations or thoughts or feelings. So even if you feel scattered and anxious the whole time you're meditating, and you're just trying your best to do the mindfulness thing of focusing on your breath or whatever in the present moment, but you still get lost in thought a bunch and don't feel calm afterwards -- that's okay and it still counts as "doing meditation." You can have nice pleasant experiences also, of course, but the main benefits of meditation are more medium-to-long-term. I know I recommend him a lot but Mark Freeman has a lot of very good free videos on YouTube (and now also has a non-expensive book that is very comprehensive).
posted by en forme de poire at 12:17 AM on August 16, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Headspace is kinda great for finding a daily meditation practice, but I agree it’s not an immediate salve. Comforting shows can help, I love British panel shows like Would I Lie To You and QI, something about very smart people being a little silly really works for me, like, hey, these people are real smart, and they are calm and jovial! It’s ok for me to be calm and jovial too!

Also history documentaries, about far history, recent history is less good. Old ass history helps me remember that people have been peopling, for better or for worse, through crazy wild times, for a loooong time.

Repetitive games are good, but they have to be immersive and challenging, otherwise they just become a virtual worry stone. So super meditative mobile games like candy crush that make you zone out are NOT good. But pleasant loop games like star dew valley, or action at your own pace open world games like breath of the wild are aces. Also love music games to calm down, particularly Amplitude, but I can only take that in short doses.

Speaking of music, putting on some really danceable familiar music and dancing out my anxieties, or familiar music to sing along to while baking or doing some other type of focus task also works great. Baking and cooking can be therapeutic as hell. Just... don’t eat it all, give it away so you don’t get ill from eating a whole German chocolate cake in 3 days. Not that I have done that, with a fork.

Last thought, my doc put me on beta blockers for migraine prevention. Amazing side effect is that it stopped my anxiety spiral. I still had/have the anxious thoughts, and all that anxiety is still there, but my adrenal fight/flight response is at least not creating NEW ones.
posted by pazazygeek at 4:00 AM on August 16, 2019

Things I have found useful in this circumstance:
-quitting caffeine entirely
-quitting the news
-a little "narrate your life" exercise. It involves naming your feelings and then naming what you are doing anyway as well as drawing your attention to any other senses. So, it goes like this "I am feeling anxious and I am going to work. I can feel the sidewalk beneath my feet. The air is cool on my face. I am feeling anxious and I am continuing the walk to work. That gravel under my feet felt different than the sidewalk. My bag is kind of heavy on my shoulder. I like the softness of my scarf. I am feeling scared and getting on the bus anyway. I smell diesel. This plastic seat is slippery." etc.
posted by purple_bird at 2:34 PM on August 16, 2019 [2 favorites]

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