Here’s a secret: Many of us working behind the scenes at GenTwenty grapple with anxiety.
From college to work to debt the size of Denmark, there’s a whole lot of sludge pressing down on anybody under 30. That’s the normal kind of stress. Everybody’s got that. But when background stress bubbles to the surface and interferes with your daily life on a chronic basis, that’s called anxiety—and anxiety sucks.
Luckily, anxiety is less of a weight than a net. It spreads wide, but it’s thin. So, when you’re filled to the brim with anxious energy, take a look at a few ways to cut through anxiety, both long-term and in the midst of a freak-out. Here are 10 tips to help reduce your anxiety:
1. While Freaking Out: Acknowledge Your Anxiety
The effects of anxiety are bad enough on their own, but the knock-on effects are even worse. Many people with anxiety report shame, guilt, and self-loathing in the midst of an acute flare-up—a sort of internal monologue that tries to crush negative thoughts by denying them or feeling crappy for them (which, of course, only makes you feel crappier).
The first thing you should do when anxiety sets in is take a step back and admit to yourself, “This is anxiety. I am experiencing anxiety, and it’s not my fault. Whatever I am freaking out about is probably not as bad as it feels right now.”
2. Long-Term: Get a Dog
Most anxiety and depression specialists will tell you “get a dog” before prescribing so much as a single pill.
If that sounds like a brush off, it’s not; the research goes deep, and the conclusions are unanimous. Dogs are used in physical and mental therapy regimens the world over because they aid stress-relief and anxiety prevention in a number of ways.
Did you know dogs activate our sympathetic/parental instincts, provide oxytocin-releasing physical contact, decrease social isolation, and most importantly, encourage positive lifestyle changes like regular daily exercise? It’s true! So, as long as you can care for it and give it the love, attention and care it deserves, get a dog!
3. While Freaking Out: The P6 Pressure Point
When it comes to acupuncture, there’s a lot of junk science floating around, and the real science is still out; some studies show nothing more than placebo effect, while others document specific and hard-to-argue cases of proven benefit.
Acupressure (using gentle pushing instead of sharp needles) is one area which is generally granted a little more credence, and the P6 point in particular is a sworn go-to for many chronic sufferers of anxiety.
The P6 point is located about three fingers down from the point where your wrist meets your hand, between the two bones in your forearm. If you’re freaking out, try pressing there with the base of your thumb, rotating in small circles for 20-30 seconds. The P6 is also good for relieving nausea and pain related to carpal tunnel.
4. Long-Term: Explore Your Options
No two cases of anxiety are alike, and no two treatment-regimens are going to look the same. For some, anxiety can be alleviated with just a daily half-hour of decompression. For others, anxiety requires medication and specialist advice.
Self-diagnosis can be difficult here; it’s hard for a broken machine to fix itself. When anxiety presents, take steps to mitigate it. But if it consistently pops up as a day-to-day obstacle making your life more difficult, consider talking to someone.
5. While Freaking Out: Controlled Breathing
One side-effect of acute anxiety is irregular breathing. Some people hold their breath; others hyperventilate. This leads to additional effects, like disorientation and heightened blood-pressure, which create a self-sustaining negative feedback loop called an anxiety attack.
When an attack starts, control your breathing first and foremost. Breathe in slowly through your nose, hold for three seconds, then exhale through your mouth. This also serves as a handy focusing mechanism; it gives your brain something to do besides hammer the panic button.
6. Long-Term: Practice Meditation
Meditation isn’t the fringe hokum it used to be and it doesn’t require incense or yoga mats. Meditation is simply a session of controlled thinking. You sit down, close your eyes, and focus on your thoughts.
Some forms, like Zen, task you with thinking about nothing. Others give you mental mantras to repeat. The goal here is to hone a useful skill: While meditation does have long-term stress-relieving properties, its chief benefit is gaining the ability to regulate your own thoughts. For someone with anxiety, learning how to simply will a thought away is practically a superpower.
7. While Freaking Out: Talk to Someone
Remember when we talked earlier about how the shame and secrecy associated with anxiety can be as bad as the anxiety itself? That applies here as well. It sounds wishy-washy, but when you’re in the midst of a mental crisis, simply telling someone can be a gigantic relief.
If you’ve got a friend at work, try sticking your head in their cubicle to say, “I think I’m having a panic attack.” If that’s not an option, send a friend or significant other a text message. They don’t really need to do anything (and you should probably make that clear, because they’ll want to); it’s just about establishing a quick human connection to yank yourself out of your own mind.
8. Long-Term: Identify Triggers and Limit Your Exposure
Facebook can be a big source of anxiety. So can Twitter. Or the lunch-room. Or a particular song on the radio. The fact is, sources of anxiety are different for everyone—it’s your job to identify your own. Think about the last few times you had a freak-out, and make a shortlist of common factors. Eliminate the ones you can, and cut down your exposure to the rest as much as possible.
9. While Freaking Out: Go for a Walk
In the midst of a spiral, a walk around the block can be an excellent “break glass” measure.
The benefits of exercise on stress-relief are well-known, but there’s also another benefit to a quick jaunt: a much-needed change of scenery. If you’ve been cooped up in your house or stuck at work, taking ten minutes to go outside is a great way to short-circuit an attack before it has a chance to begin.
10. Long-Term: Get Adequate Sleep
The last item on this list is the same item you’ll find first on just about every “10 tips” article on the internet: Get plenty of sleep.
Doctors recommend eight hours a night. That’s not a rough guideline; it’s a prescription, and you are not the exception. If you don’t get eight hours of sleep, a whole host of bad things happen to your body, and increased stress is invariably one of them.
Sleep for eight hours. No less. Get to bed on time, and if your sleep is being impeded by anything, identify it. Then kill it with fire.
Anxiety Is NOT Freaking Out Over Nothing
Contrary to popular belief, anxiety is not baseless worrying: It’s a disproportionate, debilitating response to otherwise-mundane negative stimuli. Combating anxiety, then, is chiefly about learning to regulate the level of your own response.
These tips are a great place to start, but when all else fails, the old standby holds firm: Make an appointment and talk to your doctor.
Do you struggle with anxiety? It’s nothing to be ashamed of.