4 Surprising Things That Have Helped Relieve My Anxiety
Coloring isn't the only idiosyncratic strategy that helps with anxiety.
Posted May 23, 2018
If you're a regular reader of Psychology Today, you'll know lots of excellent, evidence-based strategies for coping with anxiety. These include all the usual suspects: physical exercise, cognitive therapy techniques, and mindfulness and acceptance-based tools. As well as all these standard strategies, each individual is likely to have some idiosyncratic methods that work for them personally. Sometimes a quirky strategy (think: coloring for anxiety) will become a craze. You don't have to wait for other people to find or popularize these types of strategies. Find and claim your own!
To get you thinking about your own quirky strategies, I'll share some of mine.
1. Going to a Dirty Playground.
Overcoming anxiety is often about finding something you value more than you value avoiding anxious feelings. For example, there is a great, but dirty, city park a 5 min walk from my house that has five different children's playgrounds, and I visit it with my toddler once to twice per day. My child is always touching all sorts of dirty surfaces there, and then touching me. This frequent exposure to grossness has helped me become much less fussy and anxious about things that provoke my disgust response. I'm only prepared to have this experience because I value holding my child's hand more than I want to avoid holding a hand that just touched something disgusting.
This is the science-backed principle that exposing yourself to things you'd usually avoid will decrease your anxiety about those things. This is a central principle of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, but it's just an ordinary life application of that principle rather than something structured or planned.
What do you value more than you value avoiding anxiety? When you answer this question it'll help you see ways you could go beyond your comfort zone and, consequently, experience natural exposure effects and reduce your anxiety.
2. Getting a Needed Attitude Adjustment.
Anxious people generally love clear boundaries. Ambiguity and uncertainty can be hugely anxiety- provoking. Finding out something you're doing wrong or that's annoying others can, in many cases, provide a clear path to fixing it. Your anxiety will increase initially but then decrease once you realize that correcting whatever issues are present is achievable. Useful feedback about ways you could improve your attitude can come from many different sources e.g., directly or indirectly from others, or from self-help books. A book I particularly like for this is No Ego, by Cy Wakeman. This book personally gave me a wake-up call about some ways I needed to improve my teamwork, and adjust my attitude in some specific ways. The book is about work, but the principles are equally applicable to work and your personal life.
3. Playing Family Photos and Art on my TV (via my Chromecast).
We have a TV but it doesn't receive any TV service. I use it to play videos (e.g., YouTube or Netflix) through my Chromecast. The "screensaver" on the TV that shows when we're not watching it alternates between an album of family photos and paintings from around the world. While you wouldn't think that having a TV on constantly would reduce stress and anxiety, I find it calming to have my family photos or art always surrounding me. I live in a different hemisphere to almost all my relatives, so having photos of my extended family "play" on our TV is a way I maintain a connection to my family (and help my child do the same). If you have a Chromecast or a similar device like an Apple TV, you can easily set up these options. I regularly add new photos from Facebook and other sources to the "TV album" to keep it feeling fresh.
4. Comfort Food.
There's a big difference between comfort eating and comfort overeating. Eating food that feels soothing to you can help you wind down from stress. When you can soothe yourself after stress, you can take on more challenges without feeling completely overwhelmed by anxiety.
What foods feel very comforting to you that aren't just empty calories? Unsurprisingly, carbs will feature heavily on most people's lists of favorite comfort foods. However, this doesn't need to to be a negative. Many times you can make a meal both more delicious and comforting, and more nutritious with small modifications (like adding an avocado to a burrito). Look for opportunities to do this that match your preferences and circumstances.
The take home message of this article is that it's helpful to understand what works for you personally for relieving anxiety and stress. Sometimes the typically recommended strategies (like exercise) can feel just too hard. Understanding your idiosyncratic strategies will give you a greater array of easy options to choose from when you need to calm yourself. It's also useful to understand how life can provide natural opportunities to use science-based principles for relieving anxiety, like exposure. You don't have to wait for other people to popularize strategies. By experimenting and paying attention to what helps you, you can find strategies that are just as valid as the well known ones.