Daily routine to beat anxiety?
November 1, 2021 5:44 AM   Subscribe

(YANATherapist, or at any rate you're not my therapist.) I've had treatment for anxiety and I'm on the waiting list for more now that this latest, uh, 'outbreak' has started. In the meantime, I could use your tried-and-true tips for helping me think more positively about myself and just relaxing a bit.

What has worked for you when it comes to stopping yourself obsessing about getting a reply on WhatsApp, reminding yourself that you're attractive, smart and lovable, reminding yourself that the world is a worthwhile place to be and there are still lots of fun things to do?

I used to have to write down 5 good things about myself every day and I'm looking for more ideas like that to build into a routine to hopefully create a calmer, gentler, happier me while I wait for one-to-one help.

I've got the physical side of things under control more or less; I work out regularly and go to yoga class. Mentally, though, things are out of control and I need some help to stop myself checking WhatsApp every 5 minutes, checking Chatwatch to see if my crush has been online (I know!!!), and getting into a spiral of negative self-talk where I say awful things to myself. Any suggestions appreciated.
posted by rubbish bin night to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
What helps me:
1- Deleting unhelpful apps. I don't know what Chatwatch is but using it sounds like a really harmful thing you're doing to yourself.
2- Meditation. Try to join a class or group to learn to do it in a supported way. I used to ruminate, engage in a lot of negative compulsive "checking" behaviour and negative self talk and the only way I have found to slice through it and stop it completely (and as my practice has deepened, before it even properly starts) is meditation.
3- I like the journal prompt "ACE"= achievement, closeness, enjoyment. Every day, what have you done that gives you a sense of achievement, enjoyment and closeness? I like these because it emphasises giving yourself pleasant experiences and connecting with yourself and others.

Best of luck! Hope you get your professional help soon.
posted by Balthamos at 5:59 AM on November 1, 2021 [17 favorites]

One thing I learned to do through my most recent round of therapy was to not try to fight against my feelings too much, because it would lead to the following spiral. Anxiety > Anger at Myself Over Anxiety > More Anxiety About Being Too Anxious > Original Anxiety is worse.

Trying to step away from the feeling after it happens and saying, "I wonder what happened that caused that, and what it did for me," has been really helpful in just letting anxious feelings happen when they happen, and not assigning "good" or "bad" to them, which has been helpful in keeping me less worried about my own worries, if that makes sense.
posted by xingcat at 6:01 AM on November 1, 2021 [8 favorites]

Sometimes, when I feel unbearably anxious, stepping outside and looking at something far away like the horizon, or a cloud formation helps me snap out of a spiral. There seems to be some physiological happening to help calm me, not sure why.
I also find it helps me to listen to calming audio (rain, ocean sounds, or a friendly podcast) and do a familiar, soothing task I enjoy like making the bed, washing dishes, folding laundry, or cooking. I tell myself that those tasks are acts of love as they help the people around me.
I find knitting very calming too.
Listening to the Nothing Much Happens podcast. Riding my bicycle also a great way to calm myself.
I asked a similar question a while ago, where I got some very helpful answers, will try to find the link for you.
posted by Zumbador at 6:02 AM on November 1, 2021 [4 favorites]

Here you go. Link to my question. Hope this helps.
posted by Zumbador at 6:07 AM on November 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

I've found, 30 years into wrestling w/anxiety regularly, that exercise outdoors is a lot more effective than indoors at improving my mood.
posted by ryanshepard at 6:48 AM on November 1, 2021 [9 favorites]

There is a really nice app called Unwinding Anxiety. It has a series of daily lectures plus tiny little exercises that it prompts you to do throughout the day. Free to access the first few week’s content, and I found it useful enough that I payed to get the rest. The lectures in the app are based on a book by the same name, which was also helpful, but I liked the daily nature of the modules from the app.
posted by wyzewoman at 7:15 AM on November 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

My therapist told me something about anxiety that I've never forgotten and it's been my go-to de-escalation tool when I feel things ramping up. She said that one way of looking at anxiety is that your body is slipping into a danger mode - it thinks something is or will be bad and you are in some form of danger. She then said that one of the best things you can do to trick your body and nervous system into thinking that you are "solving" the problem is to move in some way or form - go for a long walk, do some squats at your desk, do a physical task - ANYTHING that involves moving your body in a way that could potentially solve a problem.

I've found that when I do that right when I start to escalate, it has some magic effect on calming my anxiety right down. In your case, every time I felt the urge or anxious pang coming, I'd do something physical to get the bodily response under control if possible. I can't speak to higher level strategies for resolving this type of anxiety, but I can attest to the power of movement.

YMMV, but this has been a fantastic tool for me in the moment.
posted by _DB_ at 7:18 AM on November 1, 2021 [23 favorites]

I found this Shawn Achor Ted Talk on happiness extremely helpful in finding daily positive things to do to move into being a happier and calmer person. The basics are: write down stuff you're grateful for, reach out to people in your life you're thankful for and tell them, meditate and exercise, but it's simple and fun to watch and really integrated the "why" you can do these things which really helped me actually DO them when I was really struggling.
posted by Sweetchrysanthemum at 7:22 AM on November 1, 2021

I do these things:

- Routine of cleaning every morning, dishes, kitty litter, etc.;
- Getting outside at least once a day, walking if possible (easier for me in the cool Fall weather);
- Making lists, to help keep me focused;
- Doing crafts, easy stuff like sun catchers, etc. I keep a bead design board handy, so I can do it off and on;
- Petting the kitties and interacting with them;
- Talking to 1 or 2 girlfriends via email, messaging, if they don't reply right away, understand they are probably busy/dealing w/their own stuff, and will get back to me when they can;
- Watching a pleasant TV show and being cozy under a cuddly blanket;
- Retail therapy, small doo-dads that make me happy (within reason);
- Self-care, like face masks and getting a pedicure once in a while;
- Re-organizing an area of the house, puttering around, putting things away, making a bag for Goodwill, etc.
- Going for a drive and blasting the stereo.

That's about it! I have GAD, so I know it's not always easy, but I have had very bad reactions to meds, so choose not to go that route.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:24 AM on November 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

All the anxious behaviors you list are also dopamine seeking behaviors. Little tiny hits of peace/happiness when they pan out, and a feeling of increased panicked deprivation when they don’t. That’s a kind of self-reinforcing anxiety loop I’m super familiar with. I’ve worked hard to build in some more robust sources of dopamine so that the fast easy volatile hits aren’t as appealing and I am less likely to fall into that jangly rechecking cycle until I get my payoff.

For me, watching sunset, listening to music, creative outlets (even just coloring or simple origami!), talking on the phone while doing chores. and cooking or baking can give me that. You’re looking for things that will need/hold your attention away from the glowing lure of an internet quick peek that never just stays a quick peek.

My panic and anxiety are down from crippling to rare. I am still sometimes overwhelmed by anxiety, especially when I fall into those familiar loops. It also takes conscious effort of will to not choose to gamble on your dopamine. I sometimes think of it like an actual gambling addiction, because I AM seeking an outcome that I have no control over and becomes self reinforcing. I’m just gambling with my dopamine and anxiety instead of money.
posted by Bottlecap at 7:32 AM on November 1, 2021 [6 favorites]

Google how to activate your vagus nerve. It’s the nerve that tells your body to CTFD. For example, long exhalations, or dunking your face in cold water, or short intense exercise (like 3 minute sprint full out).

Your attachment triggers have been activated so connect with a good friend or family member to calm you. Focus on that connection and soak it in.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:38 AM on November 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

Also I’m a big fan of CBD, tryptophan and pharma GABA, all available over the counter at least where I live.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:39 AM on November 1, 2021

I heartily nth everyone who pinpointed either some kind of physical activity/breathing/intensity or getting outdoors.

For me, my PTSD and anxiety are much better to live with with like, 3 things:

1. Get outdoors no matter what. In the ideal world this is a walk on a beautiful path. But lots of days I can't achieve that so I build in what I can. When I worked downtown I would get off 2 subway stops early, or go for a 15-20 min walk around lunch. Right now I drop my son off at his school, stop at a park on the way to my workplace, and take as long as walk as I have time for. I invested in some rain and winter gear.

2. Regular exercise. Starting exercise classes was hard and triggering for me, but long-term for me they have been the best 'cause all I have to do is show up and then someone else does the planning and motivating. But really any exercise will do.

3. When anxious I do pushups or jumping jacks or go in the bathroom and wash my face, or run up and down some stairs. (I used to run up the stairs before stressful meetings too.)

I'll also say that lately I've been trying - not always with success - to not look at my phone first thing in the morning. For work I have to look at it by 9 but even giving myself 20 minutes to read a book rather than my phone (on my Kindle in this case) has made mental space I didn't realize I was missing.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:44 AM on November 1, 2021

Get outdoors no matter what.

This works for me. I know you say you work out and do yoga, but for me the usefulness of a long walk is that it's a time that I'm not staring at a screen, that I'm getting some exercise and that I'm getting sensory input that is novel and interesting. Similar to warriorqueen during the COVID year last year I got some serious boots and outdoor wear so I could go out in any weather, and I do. It's helpful for me to have a routine, useful to have a thing that is MINE (though I would occasionally slot in a dog walk with a friend) and a way to get out of my own head which is deeply wrapped up in the call-and-response of the internet.

The other thing that really helped with my anxiety was bookmarking my days with offline time. So when I wake up I literally set a timer "No online time for 45 minutes" and I'd meditate and drink coffee and read. Same before bed (without the timer). I have a bedtime routine and the phone goes AWAY about 90 min before I go to sleep. It seems to help.
posted by jessamyn at 10:35 AM on November 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

NOT doing something is really hard. Doing something in place of something else is relatively easy. Only you can decide what that other something is.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 11:26 AM on November 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

To distract yourself from waiting for a response from the crush specifically, these things have worked for me:

- send out lots more messages to friends (about something relevant to them), who will eventually get back to you at different times and make you feel less alone / dependent on that one person
- posting selfies / thirst traps on instagram (IG is in the news for harming mental health lately, but when you need a quick boost of likes and praise, it's pretty effective for me)
- dating apps - even just getting some matches can be a quick ego boost and reminder that you're cute, and going on dates with people with no previous emotional investment (unlike the crush) can be a reminder of how awesome you are.

For managing anxiety more generally:
- Outdoor walk every day, for the reasons everyone else has mentioned. Ideally in something that resembles actual nature.
- When in mega anxiety mode, I try to do things that require little brainpower but still contribute to higher quality of life - spend 20 mins doing chores or tidying, or work on upgrading some aspect of your house (my next one will be installing blackout curtains) - good projects for this are achievable, not financially stressful, and contribute to a higher quality of life
- Find a creative or learning pursuit that you can practice like 30m a day - drawing, painting, making music, cooking, learning languages, etc.
- Figure out how much time you need with other humans. It may be more than you think (and of course it varies depending on stress / life circumstances). Coming out of the pandemic everyone is still in the habit of isolating (with good reason) but some of us are more extroverted than that. I found I need 2-3 nights alone per week but need to be with friends / dates / generally out 4-5 days to feel happy and fulfilled. Could be an unforeseen energy drain, esp given that you're fixating on a person.
- Figure out what stuff actually interests you, and do more / learn more about it - it doesn't even need to be a full fledged hobby, could just be an area of interest for learning. Watch documentaries and read books / articles about the topic, keep up to date about recent developments / news in this area, meet other folks who are into it, online or in person. This will make you feel smarter / actually be more informed.
- The overall theme here is finding things that make you happy / engaged with the world. Beyond the basic self care stuff, this is the next most important thing in my experience.
posted by internet of pillows at 11:31 AM on November 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

  • Get up and wash your face and hands, possibly take a shower. Get dressed.
  • This list is really helpful and often open in my browser.
  • Movement, Exercise, Purposeful Action (wash dishes, clean the house, task list, etc.)
  • Outdoors - sunshine and fresh air and sky and trees are helpful to me.
  • Music. Most music lifts your spirits; some music is especially helpful; for me that's dance-able music. My friend is in her 60s and has a dance mix on youtube. If you have a good playlist on a public service, put it in your comments; music is often generational. Dancing is an excellent way to get moving.
  • Call a friend, maybe hang out in MeFi Chat.
  • Do you have a pet? Can you visit a dog or cat for pets and love?
  • Have a cup of tea in a nice cup or mug; it's a way to take 5 - 10 minutes to do a pleasurable task. I associate a cup of tea with relaxing.
  • Remember you're not alone; lots of us experience anxiety.

posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on November 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh also big one I forgot, starting to take care of houseplants has helped a lot w anxiety. It's calming to look at them (plants have natural fractals and seeing those is part of what's relaxing about being in nature), and you get to know them over time as they grow. Also learning how to water them and build an intuition around what they need at any given time (more / less water, a new spot with more sun, etc.) helps train myself into thinking of me as a houseplant and thinking of ways I can tend to my needs / take care of myself slowly over time.
posted by internet of pillows at 12:19 PM on November 1, 2021 [1 favorite]

In addition to the many great suggestions above: cut out or dramatically limit your caffeine. I didn't used to think it had much affect on me but I dropped my multiple-cups-per-day habit to just one in the morning and it has really lowered my baseline level of anxiety (especially in the late afternoons, when it would reliably peak).
posted by contrapositive at 4:18 PM on November 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I put my phone on silent 4 years ago and haven't looked back. I was having some anxiety about getting texts from people I liked (and didn't like), and turning off the sound on my phone put me more in control of the conversations I was having. I no longer let my phone interrupt my life. I feel like it puts me more in control of the interactions I have with people. I also actively try to look at my phone less by doing things that aren't conducive to wasting time mindlessly checking apps. For example, when I go to the gym, I leave my phone in a locker, so I get an hour and a half of phone-free time. I know this isn't exactly a scientific response, but my quality of life has improved substantially since I consciously stopped being controlled by my phone.
posted by DEiBnL13 at 7:44 PM on November 1, 2021 [3 favorites]

I also get caught up on checking apps as an anxiety symptom, it is so unpleasant! I have had good luck setting a timer to keep myself from looking at my phone for 15 or 20 minutes, usually while I do something else relaxing (lots of good suggestions in the thread already). That's usually long enough to take the edge off the worst of the compulsion, but obviously you can experiment with the length of time that works for you.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 7:51 PM on November 1, 2021 [2 favorites]

I use the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique, plus breathing exercises others have mentioned.
Pause and acknowledge (don't analyze or judge, just become aware of):
5 things you can see
4 things you can touch
3 things you can hear
2 things you can smell
1 think you can taste
posted by assenav at 9:10 AM on November 2, 2021 [1 favorite]

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