15 Acts of Self Care That Alleviate Anxiety & Stress
It’s World Mental Health Day!
In an effort to normalize mental health issues, I want to talk to you a little bit about my own struggles with anxiety and share a few strategies I have used over the years to help alleviate my own anxiety and stress.
My hope is the information I share here helps you better cope with your own anxiety or serves to enlighten you about those you know who struggle with anxiety and other mental health disorders. I don’t mean for this article to be an end-all-be-all solution for anxiety, because unfortunately that’s just not how it works. But I do hope that it provides you with a few key approaches you can use when you’re feeling anxious, depressed or stressed!
I have struggled with anxiety for years. For me, it shows up as tightness in the chest and shallow breathing. I get very emotional and worried, looking for validation that things are going to be okay. I get in my own head and over-think every situation. Some days I can tell that it is starting to sneak up on me, and other days it seems to hit me out of the blue.
Anxiety can feel vastly different for every individual. It may even feel different depending on the day.
Some people misunderstand anxiety disorders. They compare it with their own anxiety, which can be a normal feeling that occurs and passes, just like being happy or sad or angry.
For those who battle an anxiety disorder, it’s different. It’s not always rooted to a specific reason, or a “cause & effect” type of situation. Often we know that our anxiety is “irrational” or “unfounded,” but it doesn’t simply pass. We can’t wish it away or simply let it go.
Sometimes the ways we cope with anxiety can be detrimental in the long run (even if we don’t mean them to). Our go-to strategies to alleviate the pain can turn into emotional eating, drinking too much, numbing with a netflix binge, and so on.
True self care for those with anxiety can take a lot of effort sometimes.
At the same time, self care has been a trending topic in health and fitness lately (which I wish I could say is always a good thing). Unfortunately, it is often dominated by heavily filtered Instagram images of hot baths and wine, special treats like ice cream or a decadent dinner, face masks and nail polished fingers.
Although some of those things can be absolutely amazing (and do the trick when you’re in need of a pick me up), they can also easily turn into prettied up versions of self care that puts a quick fix on a much deeper rooted problem.
Self care isn’t always pretty. It can seem daunting when you’re in the middle of dealing with a panic attack or looming anxiety. Believe me, I get it.
The best way I have found to determine if I’m practicing true self care is a simple little test: Does it make me feel better after doing it? Or does it leave me feeling worse?
For example: Waking up after drinking a few too many glasses of wine with dinner the night before can lead me to experience even deeper feelings of anxiety in the morning. On the flip side, taking a long walk in my neighborhood (which is actually known to lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone), often leaves me feeling much better after doing it.
Here are some of my go-to strategies for alleviating feelings of anxiety and reduce stress:
- Get out of your own head and into your body by:
- Going for a long walk
- Doing yoga or stretching
- Get a massage
- Feel into your emotions and focus on releasing them by:
- Talking with a friend or family member
- Nourish your body by:
- Drinking lots of water
- Eating whole, minimally processed foods
- Gravitate towards water:
- Take a bath
- Hang out by a nearby lake, river or ocean
- Take one small action step on your to do list (I have found this greatly alleviates my feelings of overwhelm, but don’t force it)
- Do something creative
- Let yourself rest & get plenty of sleep
- Take your prescribed anxiety or depression meds, if you have them!
Coping strategies that you may want to avoid when you’re battling anxiety & stress:
- Drinking caffeine
- Numbing yourself with emotional eating, alcohol or drugs
- Wallowing in your emotions (I’ve found there is a difference between letting myself feel my emotions vs. wallowing in them for too long)
- Eating foods high in sugar (these can over-stimulate your system just like caffeine does)
- Eating highly processed foods (thereby limiting how much nourishment your body is actually getting)
- Numbing with social media (constant scrolling through Instagram can land you into the “comparison trap” – feeling as if everyone’s life is better than your own – and leave you feeling worse off than before)
- Coping with work or by constantly being busy
The strategies you use to deal with anxiety and stress may change depending on the day. In fact, I’d recommend being very flexible with the type of strategies you think may or may not work for you. Try one or two and see how they work for you, and go from there.
You have to be one tough cookie to deal with mental health issues like chronic anxiety. I know it’s hard. I know it sucks. But you can absolutely do this. And if you need to talk about it, know that I’m here for you.
Together, we can do hard things!