For most people, daily routine is a matter of autopilot. Interactions with others, commutes, working in an office environment, shopping, hanging out with loved ones: these are the activities that comprise a bog-standard day in somebody’s life.
However, for others, these activities may be the cause of anxiety. Maybe it’s a post-pandemic development or maybe you’ve always had issues managing anxiety: either way, anxiety can be crippling if not managed accordingly and the experience is often very isolating and exhausting. With that in mind, as a person who has dealt with anxiety for over twenty years, these tips are tried-and-tested approaches that have worked for me historically and have proven to help with the recent transition to the “new normal”.
Of course, these aren’t universal “cures” and every person/case is different. Perhaps you’ll try them and find that they’re not so effective for you. Please don’t be disheartened- there’s no clear-cut skeleton key that works for everyone, it’s a very personal journey and there are so many other techniques and activities out there to try. Something will resonate with you, so have patience and faith!
Here are my tried and tested methods of managing my anxiety:
Use gong sound-bath/hypnosis tapes
When I was really poorly, I began to use hypnosis tapes as a means of dedicating part of the day to my recovery. Admittedly, it was difficult to zone into the content when I first started listening, as I was very fragile and prone to panic attacks out of nowhere. However, there are clearly benefits to persistence as two years later, I still use a mixture of sound-baths, binaural beats, affirmations and hypnosis tapes religiously.
I listen to these audio clips predominantly as a bedtime routine, but also sometimes as a relaxation technique during the day. Through practice, these sounds have now become synonymous with stillness, introspection, steady breathing and time away from the outside environment/stressors. I love the convenience of being able to listen while working or commuting, as this means I can practice my breathing or find my focus even when there’s hustle and bustle around, without drawing attention to myself or seeming “out of place” (everyone has earphones in anyway!).
You can download personal favourites to your phone or basically try the plethora of options available on YouTube until you find a voice or channel that resonates best. Some people really enjoy podcasts, of which there is an almost unlimited range available, and that may be a nice accompaniment for those who are trying to avoid screen time. I recently discovered the ASMR Psychologist, who does softly spoken and whispered content for both specific issues like, for instance, insomnia or weight loss, or more generic ASMR videos for easy viewing. There’s something for everyone out there, so don’t be afraid to test out some options and find the sounds that work for you.
Pack your psychological placebos
My handbag is a Mary Poppins accessory, much to the amusement of my family and friends. It goes everywhere with me and contains pretty much everything and anything. I have numerous pill packets (Imodium is the friend of every stress-induced IBS-afflicted individual, I tell you), eye drops, notepads, stationary, books, four lipsticks, two sets of earphones (in case I lose a pair somehow) and much, much more.
There are also certain things that are kept with me habitually, such as Valium and a small plastic bag I picked up on a train in Copenhagen. I’ve never actually had to use either when out and about, but just knowing that they’re an arm’s length away helps me to function when I’m out of the house, particularly when I feel highly anxious or nauseous as a result of anxiety. Like a child needs a blankie, adults also need comfort. As time has gone on and I’ve gained more independence and general confidence, I have, on occasion, even removed the habitual items for the odd trip out as a way of proving to myself that I’m capable of venturing into the world without them on my person.
I have a fidget spinner from my hypnotherapist, chewing gum, Valium and a small, crumpled Danish sick bag for my armour. They’re invisible to the outside world but they make me feel safe and armed for whatever may happen. Find your comfort items and carry them with you for assurance.
Communicate anxieties and trepidations
At one point in my journey with mental health, I internalised everything. I didn’t have the vocabulary or the confidence to express what I was feeling or thinking, so I kept a lid on things until I couldn’t anymore and exploded. In contrast, the present-day me is very communicative as I passionately feel that talking is the most powerful way to eradicate the stigma around mental health. It’s not a natural instinct, by any means, but whenever I feel that I’m starting to spiral or struggle, I’ll tell somebody. Whether it’s face-to-face, over the phone, via message: somebody needs to be aware that I’m not okay. This doesn’t mean I have to highlight in excruciating detail my situation, simply that I may be feeling uncharacteristically stressed or that I need support.
Most often, this is a pre-emptive strike and it automatically makes me feel better when it’s said aloud or written in black and white. Sometimes it makes my feeling/thinking real and easy to identify as irrational, which immediately plucks me out of my own head. Other times, people offer reassuring ears or shoulders and I can purge some deep-seated anxieties. A prime example is my awful stage fright: it is now routine for me to let audiences know that I’m nervous. This puts me in power and not my anxiety, as I get ahead of it and often squash it down before it can take impact. Also, on every occasion that I have done this, with a shaking microphone in hand, I have had the most assuring and lovely response from audiences. It’s a great reminder that the fear and anxiety inside is insidious and that actually, people outside of your mind are generally kind and forgiving.
It doesn’t have to be as extreme as my methods, but even adopting a hand signal to indicate to a friend that you’re not okay in a social situation or sending a text to let people know you’re not feeling great: it’s enough.
Stick to your physical checklist
My brain has tricked me into despair for no good reason on many occasions. As stupid as it may sound, it’s so important to tick off options from a physical body checklist. Sometimes I’m simply hangry, dehydrated or too warm and yet my brain will perceive this as reason enough to go full flight/fight mode, which is a bit of a leap. For this reason, I’ve had to start actively reminding myself to eat/drink water/remove layers accordingly.
Finding an activity that works for you is great but also redundant if you don’t effectively adopt it into your routine. It doesn’t have to be militantly regimented, after all that’s no way to your lead your life, but there should be some solid effort to do the things that bring you relief/joy and prevent burnout. This may sound silly, but it’s often the neglect of routine that causes people to transgress or find themselves poorly. I speak from experience as I am very guilty of feeling safe and therefore failing to stay motivated with the things that work for me. There’s nothing more humbling than feeling low and knowing it’s because you’ve failed to maintain “Me Time” and abandoned the practices that usually help you manage your stress load.
I’d recommend phone reminders, checklists and post-it notes on mirrors/surfaces you’ll see when you first wake up. Also, setting your intentions for the day and journalling can help you to keep track of your routines as well as co-ordinate your recreational tasks alongside your professional. YOUR RECREATIONAL TIME IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS YOUR PROFESSIONAL TIME, NEVER FORGET THIS!
Perhaps the most difficult of all the tips: exercising boundaries requires knowing what your boundaries are in the first place and this is often discovered when somebody toes the line or breaks a boundary, full-stop… Not the nicest of learning experiences, but an experience nonetheless. It’s very hard to say no and especially so when you’re saying no to loved ones, however, without self-preservation and accepting that you can’t do everything without breaking instead of bending, you’re prone to draining yourself dry.
Saying no doesn’t have to be harsh or a negative conversation, by any means. By being transparent and honest, you’re admitting that you’re not in a position to take on extra responsibilities or commit to something when you’re already busy or depleted enough. In this situation, you have to trust in putting yourself first as people-pleasing will only result in further harm to yourself, further down the line.
Choosing which situations to expend energy on is difficult, but a skill worth picking up to avoid over-subscribing. Life is overwhelming enough without false commitments to projects and people we can’t/shouldn’t be working in/with.
Please note that I am speaking from a place of self-awareness but that doesn’t mean I have transcended depression and anxiety. My journey, like most others, is far from linear and I still deal with difficult periods that knock me for six. Nonetheless, I am trying to adopt a cleaner mindset with more emphasis on prevention, so my daily routine revolves heavily around these practices.
I hope these tips help somebody out there, at least with the reassurance that you’re not alone! Take care and be kind to yourself.