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How I learned to finally deal with my anxiety

I left my first therapy appointment armed with probably a dozen pages worth of cognitive behavioral therapy exercises to help me reverse anxious thoughts. Over the next few weeks and months I practiced those suggested techniques whenever I sensed an anxiety attack coming on. Some exercises worked better than others, but the more abstract methods failed me when times got rough. (You want me to stop and evaluate my thought process while I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack? No thanks!)

I have a hard time regaining control over my mind when it’s running away from me, so I longed for more concrete tools that would force me to slow down. In the years since my initial anxiety diagnosis, I’ve learned that the easiest way for me to conquer anxiety is to find some unrelated activity to occupy my time when I feel the anxiety setting in. Then, after I’ve calmed my racing thoughts, I can go back to evaluate what happened.

If you’re looking for a way to better handle panic or anxiety attacks, here are a handful of effective coping tools you can use when your mind is getting away from you:

Look for fractals.
A fractal is some sort of recurring geometric pattern that can show up in nature or art—think flowers, seashells, or even certain architecture. Just looking at fractals has been proven to reduce stress levels up to 60%. The great thing about this tool is that you can find it nearly anywhere if you look hard enough. So next time you feel yourself spinning out, pull up photos of fractals on your phone and spend five minutes staring at the soothing images. Can’t access the internet? No sweat. Just look for fractals in your immediate surroundings—a brick wall, for example.

Carry a book of crossword puzzles or Sudoku.
You might expect that giving your mind more work to do or think about would actually increase your anxiety levels—but, in reality, a demanding mental activity like problem-solving can help you slow down those wild thoughts and regain control of your emotions. A study at UC Berkeley found that anxious individuals might benefit from having to focus on challenging tasks because the mental stimulation helps block out other distractions.

Watch ASMR videos.
You know that warm, tingly feeling you get when someone plays with your hair? There’s a whole YouTube community dedicated to this experience, known as ASMR—or autonomous sensory meridian response. ASMR refers to an almost hypnotic feeling triggered by sounds like someone whispering in your ear or rummaging through a plastic makeup bag. Not everyone experiences ASMR to the same extent, but give it a shot.

You might find that watching one of these videos or using ASMR principles will help you find peace in stressful moments. Plus, many people use ASMR to help them fall asleep, which is especially useful because sleep deprivation can actually exacerbate anxiety, creating a spiral of stressful feelings.

Tidy your space.
As much as this tip sounds like a trick to get you to finish your chores, studies show that cleaning and organizing reduce stress. If you look around and notice your desk covered in candy wrappers or your car littered with receipts and soda cans, take five minutes to declutter. You can even set a timer on your phone, and for those five minutes, focus only on cleaning the space around you. I know from personal experience that a clean physical environment lends itself to a calmer mental state.

What works for me might not work for you—and certainly there are countless other methods you could use to cope in your most stressful moments. If you don’t know where to start, give these ideas a try, and from there you will start to see a clearer picture of which coping tools best suit your needs.

How do *you* handle your own anxiety? Share below! 

Photo credit: Pinterest.

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by Kelsey Down | 7/12/2017
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