We sometimes picture anxiety and self-care as ourselves huddled up under the sofa wrapped in blankets, hiding in bed, or lounging in a bath with our favourite products. But the reality is that anxiety and panic attacks can hit you at any point of the day: when you’re at work, at the gym, driving, out socialising with friends and family, or when you’re about to head into a meeting. Fighting off a wave of panic can be nigh on impossible in some of those situations, particularly if you’re in a social setting, and most of the time we just grit our teeth and get through it as well as we can.
But there are small things we can do on our own, in any setting, to help feel more in control whenever a panic or anxiety attack looms. Disclaimer: I’m not sitting here on an anxiety-free pedestal telling you all about what worked to cure mine forever. I have good and bad days, and am going through a bit of a rough patch right now. So the things I’m listing are things I’ve either tried and tested or want to try to do more of.
An emergency kit – what’s in this depends on what causes you anxiety. I carry hand gel, a mini pack of face wipes/baby wipes, spare deodorant, moisturiser, mints and dental floss.
A healthy snack. Low blood sugar can cause a drop in energy and in some people that causes a spike in anxiety. A banana or a granola/cereal bar (my current favourite here) are good options.
So here’s my list of things you can either do immediately, or plan to do when you get home or in the next few days. Let me know if anything in particular stands out and if you have any extra tips!
Stand up. Wherever you are, stand up and stretch to get yourself moving and the blood flowing. Go for a walk if you can, even if it’s just to the next room.
Drink a glass of water. Stuck for somewhere to walk to? Try the kitchen, pour yourself a glass of cold water and drink it all. Hydration is vital to good health and a large percentage of us do not drink enough on a daily basis. Keep an eco-friendly water bottle on you at all times: I have this pretty glass one from myequa.com, but if you’re buying a plastic one remember to get a BPA-free one.
Turn on some music. Use your headphones if you need to; if you’re at school or work, check with your teacher or boss to see if they mind and share that you aren’t feeling too well if they ask why. Most people will say yes unless they need you to concentrate on something. I have a short playlist which I turn to whenever I start to feel tense with my all-time favourite mellow songs on. Think Mumford and Sons, The Mountain Goats, and Sia.
Temperature control. If we’re too cold our muscles tense up and we can lose feeling in our extremities. Too warm and our heart rate goes up: not ideal when experiencing panic already. Take a layer off, put one on, or adjust the temperature in the room/car if you can.
Get some fresh air as often as you can. Go for a walk during your lunch hour, try to walk instead of taking the car, and open the nearest window. If you’re driving and it’s not absolutely freezing outside, crack a window open – or open it fully if it’s warm enough.
Meditation or deep breathing. Yes, this is possible at work or school if you have somewhere to excuse yourself to such as an empty classroom or the break room. Two minutes of deep breathing and meditation can help refocus and recentre you. Not recommended while driving.
Control your caffeine intake. Six coffees a day might keep you awake but it isn’t good for you, especially if you’re having one or two sugars in it. Limit it to one or two cups a day (take note, self).
Exercise – book onto a class at the gym, go for a run or walk (see my R.E.D January post if you want a challenge to sign up to), or just do a home workout. Any form of exercise gets the blood moving and produces endorphins.
Write down a short list of the things that are immediately worrying or pressuring you. Put them into categories depending on how soon you need to do them and how much time they will take up.
Do something creative. Write, draw, use a colouring book app, sew, do whatever makes you happy and channel that anxious energy into something worthwhile.
Do something you’ve been putting off for a while. Whether it’s hoovering your bedroom, cleaning the kitchen, organising your in-tray, or making a homework plan, tick something off that to-do list.
Catch up with your friends. Reply to texts, check-in with people you know might be struggling, arrange a lunchtime meet up or coffee with people who live or work close.
Eat something, if you can. If not, chew some mints or gum.
Log off social media, unfollow people who cause you to question and doubt yourself, and set a timer for when you’re allowed to log back on. You don’t need negativity in your life and we all know how dangerous social media can be in adding to feelings of failure and imposter syndrome.
Find yourself an inspirational quote and set it as your desktop or phone wallpaper.
Excuse yourself if you need to. Don’t feel bad about needing to take five. If you’re with supportive people, tell them what’s going on and they may be able to help.
Prepare something nice for dinner this evening. My honest-to-god go-to meal on a lousy day is macaroni cheese, orange juice and a hot chocolate before bed.
Read a book (you knew I was going to say this). Pick up something that you’ve read before that may not require as much concentration as a new story, something that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy. I love the Harry Potter books for this, and the Sophie Kinsella novels are always good for lighthearted escapism.
Do something that doesn’t involve a screen for half an hour. Sort our paperwork, clean the bathroom, make a round of drinks for everyone at work, just try and sign off for a short period of time.
Do the things you know you’ve been putting off: booking doctor’s and dentist’s appointments are always on my list.
Change your clothes, even if it’s putting on a new sweater or pair of leggings or throwing on a cosy cardigan. It will make you feel refreshed, especially if you’re getting out of your work clothes and into your evening scruffs.
These next few are intended for the end of the day: Take your bra off (don’t do this in a social situation, though). It feels fantastic.
Tie your hair up or take it down if it’s been scraped back all day. Again, it feels great.
Take out your contact lenses and opt for glasses.
Cuddle with your pets. Nothing ends my day better than curling up on the sofa with my dog and cat, especially in front of the Christmas tree.
Louise Hudson is a Yorkshire-based writer sharing ideas on creativity, mental health, ethical living, and literature.
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“People look for retreats for themselves, in the country, by the coast, or in the hills . . . There is nowhere that a person can find a more peaceful and trouble-free retreat than in his own mind. . . . So constantly give yourself this retreat, and renew yourself.”
- MARCUS AURELIUS