Tips for dealing with anxiety that aren’t medication or therapy

You can’t get rid of anxiety, but you can definitely manage it


Anxiety disorders are extremely subjective and personal, therefore techniques that I find useful for reducing anxiety in my life, may not be useful for other people. I hope they are, but everybody is unique and therefore everybody requires different strategies for helping their mental health conditions.

I also want to mention that these may seem generic or trivial, but they’ve helped me deal with my disorder in the past few years, and for people who don’t have access to medication or therapy, they may be helpful too:

Exercise

I’ve read so many times how amazing exercise is for your mental health. Believe me, it would give me such joy to bitch about how exercise makes my anxiety worse, instead advocating rolling around on the floor with a tub of ice cream in one hand and a bottle of vodka in the other. But, my friends, the truth is, exercise is phenomenal for anxiety. I cannot recommend it enough. For me, it has honestly at times been almost life-saving. When you are exercising, in whatever way you choose (I recommend couch to 5K for some relaxed, gentle paced jogging), your mind is absolutely clear to think about nothing at all. What a glorious thing.

For people struggling with anxiety disorders, the mind is constantly filled with anxious, intrusive or depressing thoughts, therefore a clear mind is a welcome break. Secondly, exercise realises beautiful endorphins that make the world seem a little less dark. Thirdly, exercise gives you a reason for your heart rate to be racing. I know this sounds simple, but for me, this has given me a huge chunk of control over my own body. When I’m running, I feel revitalised and empowered knowing that I am causing my heart to pump blood around my body.

Exercising also releases endorphins, which help to increase level of mood

Diet

Like most other actual real life human beings, I like sugar. It happens to be present in most of the things I enjoy in life (basically tasty food and cider). So you can imagine my distress at being told I should cut it out of my diet. CUT IT OUT. I must add, I do not believe that sugar causes anxiety, but I do believe it can induce some feelings within your body, which can be triggering for panic attacks. Yes, I dabble in the occasional nibblet of Ben and Jerry’s (if its on special offer, come on now) but I can’t say that I have a particularly high sugar diet.  It might sound like I’m being dramatic, but I’m already a vegetarian (unless intoxicated) and so cutting sugar from my diet seemed like a big step. However, apparently there are a lot of beautiful foods for your mouth to enjoy without ‘causing’ you to have a panic attack.

Now, I want to reiterate this point; I don’t necessarily believe sugar causes panic attacks, but I do think a high sugar diet is firstly, flat out unhealthy, and secondly, more likely to induce feelings of disassociation, hyper sensitivity and even heart palpitations. These are all key triggers for panic attacks to begin. Feeling these sensations can be alarming even for people not suffering with anxiety, let alone people susceptible to panic attacks. Previously, I thought this was complete bullshit. But, when revising last week, I ate an entire bag of ‘haribo tangfastics’. Later that night, I had my first panic attack in over a week. Maybe this is just a weird coincidence, but it really allowed me to see how sugar made my body react. Plus, it’s never a bad thing lowering your sugar intake. Foods with high vitamin D levels, like Salmon, are also great for boosting your mood, which in turn, can help reduce your feelings of anxiety and depression.

Swapping sugary snacks for natural sugar can help to reduce panic attacks

Swapping sugary snacks for natural sugar can help to reduce panic attacks

Nature and sun

The most hippy subheading I’ve ever written; but an important one nonetheless. These two are inherently linked to exercise, but are as important. Whenever I feel a panic attack coming on, I take myself outside into the fresh air (unless on a plane, that’s slightly more difficult). Being outside, in a free, open space, enables your body to feel slightly less trapped and clostraphobic. Try focusing on grounding yourself by pushing your feet into the ground – I’m talking soft grass here guys, not concrete. But focus on the ground beneath your feet, and the sensation of the sun shining onto your skin. Focusing on nature can greatly reduce your anxiety, just by making you feel more grounded and present in the moment. Sunlight also contains lots of glorious vitamin D, which is proven to help decrease low mood and feelings of anxiety.

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Knowledge is power

Anyone who has previously experienced a panic attack will know how ridiculously difficult it can be to try to ‘calm’ yourself down. It can feel completely impossible to gain control over your body when adrenaline has just been shot into your bloodstream. However, the most useful tool for me with regards to my anxiety disorders is knowledge. Learning about what actually happens to my body during a panic attack has ironically been the most calming inducing tool.

This is because I am able to tell myself that what I’m experiencing is a completely normal part of my anxiety disorders. I now tell myself that my heart is racing insanely quickly because of adrenaline and perceived threat, and not because of an actual heart attack. I now tell myself that the shortness of my breath is making me feel faint and dizzy, and not because I’m about to have a seizure. Knowing about my body and my conditions has helped me beyond belief.

Understandably, none of these methods are enough to simply eradicate a condition which I have had for over eight years, but it certainly helps me regain a sense of control over my body, which comes as a big relief.