19 Tips to Live Anxiety Free in 2019
Just over a year ago, my husband and I took a trip out to New York with some friends for a wedding. It was like a college reunion, seeing all of our old friends and I had very high expectations of how fun it was going to be and all of the shenanigans we were likely to get up to.
When we landed in the midst of a heat wave in July, only to stay in an airbnb without air conditioning (also discovering that this is, in fact, the norm for most establishments in Brooklyn) my panic started to set in.
I went from thinking with was going to be the greatest trip of all time to literally counting down the days until we could leave. I was totally devastated.
The first day of our trip, I had a full blown panic attack (although at the time I didn’t really understand what I was feeling) as we sought refuge from the heat at a crowded (although air conditioned) Manhattan restaurant. As we sat waiting for our food, I chugged probably 4 glasses of water and felt completely overcome with nausea, I felt light-headed and my heart was beating too fast. The sound of conversation happening around us was deafening and the lights were too bright. Every sense I had was in over-drive.
I ran to the bathroom (thanking the gods they were individual stalls) and threw up. I splashed water on my face and tried to get it the fuck together.
We sat in that restaurant for over an hour as I tried to calm down and figure out what to do with myself. Our airbnb was back in Brooklyn. The thought of having to face the crowded subways was over-whelming and the last thing I wanted to do was to get in the back of another un-airconditioned uber.
I ended up in the back of a taxi, shaking uncontrollably from what I later learned was just an adrenaline rush, as we made our way to a near-by friends house so I could lay down for a little bit. I was so embarrassed about everything that had happened, I told everyone I had heat stroke.
The moment above all else that made me realize that maybe what I was feeling was anxiety (and not some weird medical issue) was spending the morning of the wedding on the bathroom floor of our airbnb, bawling my eyes out at the thought of having to face the heat once again.
We spent the remainder of our trip laying low during the day, only emerging in the late afternoon once the heat had broken. I didn’t experience another panic attack, but I was so anxious that it might happen again, that I found I could never really be in the moment.
Shortly after that trip, I finally decided it was time to tackle my issues head on and contacted a therapist. I made it my resolution for 2018, that I would put my mental health first and deal with whatever was making me feel so nervous.
It was, hands down, the BEST decision I have ever made for myself. My therapist helped me realize that anxiety is so, SO common! Even if I’m anxious about different situations than someone else, the feelings FEEL the same.
I began really opening up to people and admitting when I felt anxious. I learned that nearly everyone I know is anxious about something! Anxiety can stem from everything from being in crowded spaces, speaking up at meetings, having a difficult conversation with your partner, traveling to new places and so on.
I am by no means an expert, but here some tips that I have learned over the past year that have greatly helped me on my journey to manage my anxiety, and I hope can help you live your best life!
*Note this post is in no way a substitute for professional medical advice*
1. Realize what you’re feeling is Anxiety
This may seem obvious to some, but it took me literal years to understand that “off” feeling I sometimes had was anxiety.
Anxiety can express itself in variety of ways like
Sweating or hot flashes
General fear / panic
Numbness or pins and needles
Light headedness or Dizziness
Shortness of breath
Trembling or shaking
Tightness in the chest
There is also this really great article that talks about other, not so obvious, signs you may be experiencing anxiety.
In this journey of self-realization, I discovered a local self-help guru, Doug Marshall who broke it down like this: “Anxiety is worry that creates physical effects on the body and causes your mind to believe, “this is going to happen but I don’t know how it will happen, so I need to be scared.”
“Anxiety is worry that creates physical effects on the body and causes your mind to believe, “this is going to happen but I don’t know how it will happen, so I need to be scared.”
Listen to those thoughts and feelings and start keeping track of what may be triggering your anxiety. You will eventually start to see a pattern of cause and effect. (When I do this, I feel this)
For example: Maybe you dread going to events, even though you know you have a friend who will be there, and you’ve planned this for weeks. What is really the feeling behind that dread? That maybe you will have to be alone for a while before your friend arrives? Or maybe you hate having to dress up and make small talk with people you don’t know? Or is it more about being worried that you’ll be late, which stresses you out? Maybe you talk yourself out of it because you think it doesn’t really matter to others if you attend.
Take note of your feelings and start to assess them without judgement.
It’s amazing how quickly you can forget to do something as simple as breathe when you’re starting to feel anxious.
There are techniques you can do to re-set how you’re breathing during a panic attack.
Personally, I hated doing these. What worked best for me was to simply slow down and take deeper breaths, but not try to hold it. Slowing your breath can help to slow down your heart rate and give yourself a sense of calm, which worked for me. You can watch some guided animations here.
Whichever method you choose to use, remember to Breathe.
3. Distract Yourself
Part of what makes anxiety or a panic attack so scary is it completely takes over every other thought you have. My therapist would call this a “thought tornado” and she really couldn’t have come up with a more perfect term for how it feels! Here are some tips she gave me if I ever felt like I was trapped in a cyclical conversation with my anxious self.
Try looking around the room and focus on small details that make up the space. Imagine describing the space in great detail to someone who has to paint it from your words alone. What are the colors on the wall? Is there wood trim or natural brick? What about a patterned carpet or rug? Do you notice scuff marks on the floor? Is it natural light or fluorescent? Keep going until you feel yourself start to calm down.
If this method is too overwhelming (especially if you’re someone who has trouble with crowds and you feel over-stimulated) try bringing a small item you can hold in your hand like a stress ball or fidget gadget that you can focus your attention on instead of swirling thoughts.
Perhaps you’re in a situation where you can listen to music or watch a youtube video. Watching your favorite show can be excellent way to get you out of your own head. Don’t have time for that? Never underestimate the power of a good cat video!
Start a tedious task like painting your nails, cleaning out the fridge or doing an adult coloring book. You can zone into the task while your mind begins to quiet down.
Talk with a friend or family member who can change the subject or help calm you down.
Find what works for you in the moment to quiet your mind.
4. Practice Meditation
For me yoga + meditation go hand in hand. I’ve never been very good about just sitting down and meditating on my own. Thankfully, there are so many apps and videos that can help you re-direct your thoughts!
I tried out Headspace for free and totally loved it! There are basic guides you can listen to in 3 minute or 5 minute intervals. This was extremely helpful for me at work when I couldn’t really check out completely but needed a quick reset during the day. Not to mention, the British voice over is just so damn soothing.
With Headspace, you can opt into daily notifications called “Mindful Moments” that pop up on your home screen which prompt you to check in with yourself and how you’re feeling in that moment. I find them helpful and calming, not to mention, you get some pretty damn quotes out of the deal!
“We are not what we do, what we wear or even what we think. Meditation reminds us of this and changes our perspective of life”
-Headspace Mindful Moment
5. Shake Your Groove Thang…
Interpret this section however it works best for you in your body, but get up and get movin’! Go for a walk, ride your bike, do yoga or hit the dance floor. Whatever makes you feel GOOD. Physical exercise is such a wonderful way to work out some of that stress that can lead to anxiety or a panic attack, and channel some of that nervous energy into something positive.
Anxiety has a way of telling us that we are trapped, either mentally or physically. Moving your body can help tell your mind that you are moving forward. You’re not trapped, you’re progressing.
Motion equals Emotion.
6. Avoid Sugar and Caffeine
Let me apologize to all of the sweet tooth’s and frappe’ drinkers out there, but that afternoon coffee run may be doing more harm than good. This was especially difficult for me. I used to joke (not really) that Redbull should sponsor me because I wouldn’t have gotten through college without it.
Highly processed sugars are designed to be addictive. And don’t get me wrong, I still cave occasionally when presented with donuts and mocha’s are my go-to fancy coffee drink, but when I was really struggling on my journey to manage anxiety, that shit had to go. I would experience massive sugar crashes throughout the day and I literally became dependent on always having a snack with me because I was worried I was going to faint without it. TBH, this is something I still struggle with because it became such an engrained behavior for me.
Caffeine can have similar effects on the body, making an already anxious situation worse by adding jitters and head rushes to the mix.
If you plan to cut out sugar and caffeine from your life cold turkey, just know in advance you’re going to feel like shit at first. If you’ve ever done a cleanse or a clean eating program like the Whole30, you’ll know what to expect. Once I had gotten over the hurdle of the first few sugar-free days, I felt AMAZING and clear headed for the first time in a very long time. The sugar crashes were gone and I began to realize that I wasn’t feeling light-headed or anxious about needing snacks - which was unimaginable for me before.
If that is too extreme (which elimination diets are always pretty extreme) try weening yourself off slowly. Replace your coffee with tea, and switch to natural sweeteners like fruit or honey.
Or maybe it’s just situational for you. I drink coffee every day, but when I’m traveling I avoid having any until the plane has landed.
Do what works for you and your body to feel your best.
7. Learn to Say NO
A few years ago, I started a new job that had much longer hours than I was used to and then I would go home and keep working on my never ending side hustles. I had no energy left for social obligations and began turning down invitations left and right, which made me feel like a terrible friend. I knew that I was disappointing people because the dynamic had changed, but I had to do what was best for me and my mental health at the time.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received is, it is not your responsibility to manage other people’s emotions. You may make someone upset by turning them down, but they will deal with it however they know how.
It’s OK to put your mental health first.
“It is not your responsibility to manage other people’s emotions”
8. Set Boundaries
My friends at But Have You Considered Therapy podcast are full of wonderful advice. One thing they said that really resonated with me was, “So many of us feel that setting boundaries means letting people down, shutting them out, and closing them off. In reality, boundaries protect us, and allow us to support people in a healthy way. Additionally, when we set boundaries with people, we empower them to utilize their own strengths and resources, rather than leaning on us.”
I will add that setting boundaries also applies to work place obligations and social media connections. If you are constantly in situations either physically or online that leave you feeling worse than you did before, get the hell out of there!
Walls keep everyone out. Boundaries teach people where the door is.
9. It’s OK to Not Be OK
Here’s the thing. Even with all of these tips and tricks, there will still be times when you have a shit day, or a bad experience. One thing my therapist has told me over and over again is, don’t be so hard on yourself.
It’s OK to not have it all together. Don’t ever be ashamed to admit that you are a work in progress and with that comes slip-ups.
If you have a bad day, forgive yourself and try again tomorrow.
10. Celebrate Small Victories
Everyone experiences different things that make them feel anxious. For me, I get anxious about doing anything physically taxing, especially in a group. I’m worried I’ll be too slow or completely incapable of doing the activity at hand.
Once I was able to let go of the self-induced pressure of trying to keep up with the group and just go at my own pace, I was so much happier! Was I the last person up that damn hill? Yes, yes I was. But I fucking made it and it was still an amazing accomplishment for me, even if I wasn’t as good as my friends.
On really bad anxiety days, sometimes just making it through the hour without avoiding the situation or having a full blown panic attack is a victory in itself. When I first started on my journey of managing my anxiety, I would congratulate myself on the fact that I only felt anxious for 30 minutes instead of a whole hour.
No matter how seemingly small the hurdle is, you can feel proud that you made progress!
11. Expose Yourself to What Makes You Anxious
Exposure therapy is a common technique used by professionally trained therapists. This may not be safe for everyone to try on their own, but depending on what you’re anxious about and how severe it is, this can be a very helpful tool.
The thought is, as you gradually expose yourself to what frightens you, the more relaxed you’ll begin to feel and help you cope with those fears. You sit in those feelings of anxiety until they start to come down naturally.
I’ve had a lot of experience working on this over the past year. I use having water and snacks on me at all times as a coping mechanism for feeling anxious. It became an adaption that I picked up after fainting a few times, but it totally backfired on me when I began to rely so heavily on always having water and a granola bar at all times that I would be very anxious without them. So for me, my exposure therapy started by just showing up to appointments with my therapist (a safe place) without bringing any water. I know it sounds silly, but for me it was a battle.
From there, I worked up to walking around the block without a water bottle or a snack. I know you’re probably reading this like, um, yeah duh you can survive 15 minutes without drinking water… but for me, it was fucking HARD.
And now that I have been doing this for awhile, I’ve come so far! I don’t find myself obsessing over water in the way that I used to. It’s no longer my safety blanket.
Think about the situations that make you anxious. Is there a way you can gradually expose yourself to your fears so that it has less of a hold on you? Start small and see how it makes you feel. Remind yourself that you've felt this way before and survived it. If you got through it that time, know that you can get through it again.
12. Listen to Others
When I first started opening up to my friends and family about feeling anxious, I was amazed to learn about their feelings of anxiety, too. I wanted to know everything there was - what made them anxious, how did it feel, what did they do to feel better? It made me realize that I’m not alone on this dumb anxiety island, we’re all in this together!
I also really enjoy listening to podcasts. Some of my favorites are:
13. Log Off
Social media and work obligations can be a huge source of stress and anxiety. Give your eyes and your mind a break by stepping away from those social pressures.
I literally make my living off a computer and being on social media, but even I know when enough is enough. I make it a point to not answer work emails after 9pm (unless it’s a time sensitive issue) and when I’m on vacation, I set up an out of office and don’t think twice!
My husband recently deleted the Facebook app off of his phone. He still has an account and checks it occasionally, but it’s no longer hey, I’m bored, let me mindlessly look through my feed for the 10th time today.
I took a social media break when the political rivalries got a little too heated during this last election, and it was fantastic. I still have my own political opinions, but I didn’t feel the need to add to the noise online.
I’ve also recently learned that you can turn your phone to black and white to help tone down all of those notifications and combat your social media additions.
14. Get Your Beauty Sleep
Anxiety is exhausting and can leave you feeling drained.
Some people treat themselves by going to the spa or getting a massage. I treat ma’ self by scheduling some time where I can just sleep as long as I want. One of my favorite things is sleeping until I naturally wake up. No alarms, no whining dog. Just blissful, uninterrupted sleep.
Unfortunately I can’t do that everyday, so when I know I have something important the next day I start winding down earlier than usual. I am not a morning person, so I make sure I prep everything I need the night before. It helps to alleviate some stress, not to mention I get to hit the snooze button a little longer, when I know everything is all ready to go.
If you’re having trouble falling asleep, there are some really great apps that can help!
15. Be Kind To Yourself
It's so easy to get down on yourself for what you are feeling, but the fact is your emotions are valid. If something is difficult for you, no matter how large or small, you have the right to your feelings.
I learned the “Golden Rule” in Kindergarden about treating others the way you would like to be treated. But as I’ve gotten older, I think it is equally as important to treat YOURSELF the way you would treat others. You would never tell someone you love that they are dumb, worthless or undeserving - so why would you say that to yourself?
You are AMAZING, and deserve all the good things.
16. Practice Gratitude
“Gratitude turns what you have into enough”
One thing that has really helped me not only with managing anxiety (also, just in life) is remembering to be grateful. Be grateful of the accomplishments you’ve made, no matter how small. Be grateful for the loved ones in your life. Be grateful for the person who just made you the best damn tacos ever.
I started using this gratitude journal that helped me write out all the terrible and all the wonderful things I was thinking. It helped me work on my perspective to see that the grass where I’m standing is pretty fucking green.
17. Laughter is the Best Medicine
Nothing pulls me out of a funk faster than laughing my ass off at some dumb cat video or watching a full stand-up special on Netflix. I also really enjoy listening to stand-ups when I’m working or doing something difficult and need that distraction.
I surround myself with very funny people and I’ve also learned to be able to laugh at myself. One of my favorite things to do is try to make my husband (one of the funniest people I know) wheeze laugh. Usually what happens is I crack myself up and he laughs at how hilariously bad all my jokes are.
Like.. what do you call a pile of kittens? A meoooww-ntain! hahahaha…. you’re welcome.
18. Remove ‘Should’ From Your Vocabulary
One of my best friends asked me, “What would happen if you removed ‘Should’ from your life?” a couple of years ago, and it totally blew my mind.
There are a lot of “Should’s” we put on ourselves, like, “I should be better by now, I should find a job that pays better, I should settle down, I should probably be…” fill in the blank.
The thing is, there is no perfect recipe for life. Just because one way of living works for someone else doesn’t mean it’s right or good for you.
Instead of making the statement, “I should…” try rephrasing it as a question. “Why don’t I feel better about this by now?” or “What is the best way to ask for a raise?” or “Am I even ready to settle down?”
You’ll begin to reflect in a healthier way that relieves societal pressures and it allows you to focus on what’s really best for you.
19. Ask for Help
This may be the most important and, simultaneously, most difficult thing to do, but it’s ok to ask for help! Anxiety can be isolating, but you don’t have to struggle alone.
Be open and honest about how you are feeling to people you trust. I found that when I would just admit when I felt uncomfortable, my friends were amazingly supportive and did their best to put me at ease.
If you’ve read this entire list, you know I am a huge advocate for going to therapy. I would not be where I am today if I hadn’t received some professional advice and support. Having an unbiased opinion was immensely helpful.
Have you been thinking about getting a therapist, but have no idea where to start? That’s OK too. Here are some things to consider in your search.
Think about what you want to work on. For me, I looked for therapists who specialize in anxiety and who were located near my house or work. I knew that I would be more likely for me to go if it was easy.
Ask a friend / teacher / family member for a referral. Maybe they have had success and can share with you what worked for them.
Find a therapist you can be open and honest with. If it’s not a right fit - that’s ok! You don’t have to commit to one person. If after the first session or two it’s really not working, don’t feel obligated to stay. You will not hurt their feelings if you decide they are not the therapist for you.
Don’t give up. It can take a few emails or leaving messages to find the right person. Take a break if you need it, but don’t let it get you completely derailed.
If in-person therapy isn’t right for you, there are also online therapists like TalkSpace where you can remain anonymous and get help from the comfort of your own home.
If you are in crisis and need help now, these resources can help you immediately.
I wish you all a happy, healthy 2019! I hope these tips will be useful to you and if there is something I missed, let me know in the comments!
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*Always consult with your doctor about your personal health and wellness, including any recommendations you find online. This post is for general informational purposes only, and cannot replace professional and individualized medical diagnosis, treatment, or advice.