You’re feeling anxious. Again. To make things worse, you are a) all by yourself or b) surrounded by complete strangers who wouldn’t be able to help you even if they wanted to. Fret not, I have anxiety too and I know how to contain it before it gets worse. Although anxiety manifests differently for everybody, here are some general tips that will help you go back to your regular anxiety-free state. At the very least, you will be able to manage your anxiety before it escalates to a full-blown panic attack. Without further ado, let’s get to it then, shall we?
1. Take long, deep breaths (because simply telling anyone to calm down never works)
Bet you already knew this one, didn’t you? The thing about anxiety is that it stops you from doing the one thing you have been doing perfectly well since the day you were born: breathing. This is because anxiety affects not just your mind, but also your body. When you feel anxious, you must have noticed that your heart races and you become breathless.
Show anxiety who’s boss by focusing on nothing else other than deeply breathing in and breathing out as slowly as possible. To make this easier, close your eyes and mentally visualize images that make you feel calm and peaceful. I find that deep breathing while picturing the setting sun over a peaceful river brings both my heartbeat and breath back to normal.
2. Self-soothe with a comfort object (because touch is natural and relaxing 😉)
A comfort object is anything that makes you feel safe, secure, and comfortable. Remember that toy you used to carry with you wherever you went? That was your comfort object as a child and hey, who says you can’t have a comfort object as a teenager or adult? But of course, there’s the issue of portability and judgmental stares: one cannot take along their favorite chair or stuffed animal everywhere they go without facing some consequences.
The cure is to have multiple comfort objects: some that you can use exclusively at home and some that you can easily carry around in public spaces. My go-to comfort object for private and public use is a super squishy unicorn stress ball. Whenever I begin to feel more anxious than usual (I have generalized anxiety disorder, so I am constantly in an anxious state), I squeeze the living hell out of my unicorn. I do it over and over again until my anxiety abates. That’s the power of a comfort object – it distracts your mind such that your attention shifts from your anxious thoughts to the object you are repeatedly touching.
3. Step outside yourself to change your point of view (because this is the safest simulation of an out of body experience)
When I say step outside yourself, I do not mean to make light of frightening conditions such as depersonalization and derealization. What I mean to say is that get out of your own head and view the situation that is causing you anxiety as if it is happening to someone else. Doing this will help you see it objectively, thereby reducing your emotional involvement. Once you are less emotionally invested, you will be able to reason your way to a solution. If not that, you will at least be able to give less importance to the anxiety-inducing situation, which in turn will reduce your anxiety.
I use this scientific technique whenever I feel anxious about my ‘divorced and single at 29’ status. Before I start beating myself up about it, I pretend as if it is something a friend is going through. And just like that, I am able to reassure this friend (aka myself) that being single is not the end of the world, it is becoming increasingly common, and it is far better than being in a bad or mediocre relationship. In my experience, objectivity is a coping mechanism that helps manage not only anxiety but also other mental illnesses like depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
This is what I typically do when I am anxious – and I am sure you can come up with personalized techniques to cope with your anxiety. But if you can’t, don’t worry about it because it took lots of time, therapy, and a few panic attacks for me to figure out my coping mechanisms to reduce anxiety. So instead of thinking you are weak (you are not) or this is somehow your fault (it isn’t), go ahead and seek professional help. Believe me, you got this!