If you were to ask me if I was feeling anxious at any given moment, the answer would most likely be yes. Over time, I've come to recognize this somewhat alienating feeling as three separate things: One, a facet of my personality, two, a reality of adulthood and life itself, and three, a completely normal and serendipitously unifying emotion that connects us all as humans.
Ever since I was first able to properly identify this feeling and link it to a name (a connection that dawned on me in ninth grade health class), I've been taking note of different coping strategies and giving them a try myself. While the below tactics have by no means "cured" me of anxiety, they do help me to get out of my head, brighten my mood, and tackle these feelings in a way that feels productive. Here's exactly what I do when I need a happiness boost.
I take 5 deep breaths.
As New Age as it sounds, deep breathing is actually one of the most scientifically proven anxiety remedies out there, and one of the first strategies a therapist will recommend. "Proper breathing techniques work on anxiety on a physiological level by automatically slowing your heart rate," writes Alice Boyes, PhD, author of The Anxiety Toolkit, for Psychology Today. "The effect on anxiety is almost instant. Because calm breathing is a physiological strategy, this approach is also virtually universally effective for getting anxiety relief. It's hard to go wrong with it!" Whenever I feel anxiety coming on, the first thing I do is commit to five deep, yoga-style breaths. This helps to assuage the heart-beating-against-my-chest feeling that can accompany a moment of worry and allow me to get back into a grounded frame of mind.
I listen to my favorite music.
I first identified music as an anxiety remedy around the age of 13, though I didn't realize that that's what I was doing at the time. I was able to silence the worry loop in my mind and shed a more uplifting light on scary, anxiety-ridden moments by using my favorite songs as a backdrop. Drowning out your thoughts via playlist will not work for everyone, but art as therapy is a proven anxiety remedy. Consider exploring drawing, painting, pottery, and the like.
I write it out.
I filled the pages of my first diary at age seven, and have kept some sort of journal ever since. I often feel that my thoughts are better expressed in writing; it allows me to understand them, analyze them, and come up with a concrete plan to address them. This is another strategy that is often recommended by therapists; it helps us to bring order to the chaos inside of our minds. Getting my thoughts down on paper always improves my mood and makes me feel as if a weight has been lifted off of my shoulders.
I hit the gym
As the Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports, exercise is considered "vital" to maintaining mental fitness and reducing stress. "Exercise and other physical activity produce endorphins—chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers—and also improve the ability to sleep, which in turn reduces stress," they add. For me, exercise is one of the few strategies guaranteed to make me feel better. Even just the act of completing a tough workout, whether it be yoga or Barry's Bootcamp, makes me feel more productive and relieved.
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