Since I was first diagnosed five years ago, my experience with anxiety has been predictably frustrating and surprisingly enlightening. Every high-stress situation is a ultimately a lesson—often, I don't understand what triggered me until after I've had time to calm down and reflect, and that ultimately helps inform my coping strategy for next time. In turn, as the years have gone by, I've amassed a pretty solid arsenal of tools that work for me, including breathing exercises, necessary wellness rituals, and general paradigm shifts, to name a few.
Of course, these are all highly personal, not to mention situational: One strategy might prove highly effective during an overwhelming day at the office but doesn't necessarily do the trick when I'm having trouble falling asleep later that night, for example. So with that in mind, I decided to ask several readers and Byrdie staffers who also deal with varying degrees of anxiety which tricks they swear by under different circumstances. (As always, check in with your doctor before making any huge changes to your routine—only the two of you can know what works best for you and your mental health.)
From nipping panic attacks in the bud to easing stress-induced insomnia, keep reading to learn how real women curb their anxiety on a daily basis.
If you have anxiety-induced insomnia…
Try a breathing exercise.
"If I'm in the midst of a super-busy patch in my life, sometimes when I lay down to go to sleep my heart starts beating out of my chest so hard I feel like it might explode right out of there. (Dramatic, I know.) During these moments, I try this breathing technique: Inhale for eight, hold for eight, exhale for eight. This slows my breathing down to mimic the breathing pattern of sleep, and within a few minutes, it calms me right down." — Delilah
Set the scene.
"I like to 'set the tone' for bed by using a diffuser with essential oils, and journaling seems to really calm my mind." — Erin
"When my anxiety was causing insomnia, my parents bought me a pink Himalayan salt lamp to put in my bedroom, and I swear my sleep has improved tremendously. I owe so much to that lamp; it really does work. Another thing I did was take pink Himalayan salt baths three times a week, around two hours before bedtime. This also worked!" — Lee
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If your anxiety is triggered by work…
Schedule "me time" every day after work.
"I was diagnosed with anxiety a few years ago, and and it's been really difficult to negotiate that with my workaholic tendencies—for a long time, it was really hard to ever 'shut off' for the day, and I was stressing about tasks and checking emails at all hours and on weekends.
"Over the past year, I've really made an effort to give myself a hard out at the office every day—barring emergencies, I make myself leave at (or before) that time and immediately go do something for myself, whether it's a workout class or even just checking things off my personal to-do list. If it's absolutely necessary, I allow myself to log back on when I get home to answer a few emails and tie up any other loose ends.
"Forcing myself to disconnect was terrifying at first, but my perspective completely shifted when I realized that when I logged off, the office didn't go up in flames—in fact, everything carried on as usual. (Shocking, I know.) It was a huge reality check: Clearly I was projecting a lot of unnecessary stress onto myself. And now that I get that time for self-care every day, I'm so much more relaxed and productive." — Vivian
Invest some time in getting organized.
"If my inbox is bursting at the seams and my mental to-do list is a cluttered mess, sitting down and going though it all piece by piece makes a huge difference. In terms of my email, I don't like to have more than few messages in my immediate inbox at once, so I archive everything else that doesn't need to be addressed within the next few upcoming days.
"As for my mental checklist, putting pen to paper and crossing items off once they're complete has made all the difference in my productivity. (There's something about physically sliding a highlighter over a task I've just finished that makes me feel incredible.) Doing both of these things organizes every task/thought/concern of mine that was previously hanging out in cyberspace or in my headspace." — Laura
If you get anxious about flying…
Skip the coffee, and have a mantra ready.
"I used to experience pretty bad flight anxiety—not to the point that I wouldn't get on an airplane, but to the point that I'd get anxiety attacks before or on flights and dread having to get on the plane. These are things I have learned over the last two years that have made a HUGE difference, and I like to think I am a pretty calm flyer now. First, I take melatonin the night(s) before a flight. Otherwise, I can easily stay up for hours replaying all the things that could go wrong on the flight.
"Next, I avoid coffee on travel days. I love coffee, but I do feel that I am more calm if I don't drink it on a flight or in the morning of a flight. [Staying calm] is worth any potential caffeine headaches. Thirdly, find a mantra to repeat if there is turbulence or you'll start feeling uncomfortable on the plane. I learned this from a therapist, and basically if the flight starts getting bumpy or I feel anxious for whatever reason, I place both feet on the ground, my hands on my knees, and close my eyes and in my head I repeat, 'You are safe; this is temporary; this is normal.' It really, really helps." — Marnie
If you feel a panic attack coming…
"Feel" your breathing.
"I get pretty severe panic attacks, and if I'm feeling panic-y, I'll wash my hands or face with cold water or put a cold compress on the back of my neck. Or I'll just put my hand on my chest to 'feel' my breathing, which can help ward off an attack for me." — Melanie
"When I feel my anxiety start to spike, I try to step away from what I'm doing (I'm usually at my computer or desk), take a few deep breaths, and think about everything in the room—it helps me be as present in the moment as possible. It definitely helps change the track my mind is on, which can usually help me ward off an attack." — Mira
If you wake up feeling overwhelmed…
Schedule a workout.
"My anxiety has gotten pretty bad over the last year and a half, but it's gotten better since I started yoga and has been more manageable since I got consistent about (any!) exercise." — Anna
Start the day with a guided meditation.
"I know I put way too much stress on myself to be better, do more, work faster, etc., and often wind up a big crazed anxious mess. I recently started doing guided meditations in the morning, and I've found that even later in the day, reminding myself how that calmness felt and how it made me 'let go' for a few minutes really helps. I'll stop and take a second to breathe and tell myself that right then and there, I'm okay—my family is okay, and I conquered the day before, so I can definitely take on today!" — Elyse
Names have been changed.
Get more pointers on how to cope with anxiety without medication.