March 12, 2018

The Top 5 Things That Help Relieve My Anxiety

How I Help Relieve My Anxiety

As I mentioned yesterday, I have been having a rough time with anxiety over the last week or so. Along with bipolar disorder, I have generalized anxiety disorder (again, diagnosed when I was very young). "Generalized" anxiety means that it's not one particular thing that I have anxiety over--it's just a general feeling of dread, or like something bad is going to happen.

In my case, when I'm feeling anxious, I have an overwhelming sense of guilt. For no particular reason at all, I feel like a bad person--bad wife, bad mom, bad daughter, bad sister, bad friend, bad person in general. Logically, I know this isn't true; but I just can't shake it by talking myself out of it.

It literally feels like it's strangling me--I get a "lump" in my throat that makes it hard to swallow. That's the biggest tell-tale symptom, and very bothersome. Also, I feel a "pit" in my stomach. It's that waiting-for-something-to-happen kind of feeling... something that is my fault, even if I didn't do anything wrong. 

I find it really difficult to concentrate on anything, because I go over and over in my head what could be wrong or what I need to get done. This past week, I was feeling so anxious about the thought of writing a blog post, but then NOT writing one made me feel even more anxious. 

Unfortunately, anxiety meds have never really worked for me. I've tried several, and all they do is make me so tired that I fall asleep. So, I try to find other ways to help relieve my anxiety. They don't always work, and they don't take it away completely, but they do help sometimes.

1. Memes. 

I browse memes about anxiety on Pinterest or on Google images. I search "anxiety cat memes" (these are the best!) or "funny anxiety memes" and get caught up for way too long reading and laughing. 

This is absolutely the most effective way that I relieve anxiety, believe it or not! Not only does it keep my mind occupied and make me laugh (literally out loud), it allows me to see that there are tons of other people out there who are experiencing the same things. Memes are the BEST. Except for the inspirational ones--I'm not a fan of those. I prefer funny. Bonus for dark humor.

2. Organizing. 

I find something that needs some serious cleaning or organizing, and I work on that until it's done--sometimes for an entire day. For some reason, the cleaning distracts me like nothing else can; and it helps that I feel productive. By getting a project done, I've been productive and I've occupied my mind in a way that distracts me from my anxiety.

3. To-Do Lists. 

I write out a "To Do" list. Feeling overwhelmed produces a lot of anxiety, and sometimes I just feel like I can't keep up. I love to write lists (any type of list!) but there is something about a "to do" list that makes things more manageable. I am able to stop worrying about what I have to do, because it's written out in front of me and I can work things off the list one by one. 

4. Goals. 

I write down a list of goals. Planning out positive things for the future makes it difficult to think about the current anxiety I feel. Writing goals always fills me with hope and motivation. Even if I never follow through with them, it helps me in the moment. This is a running checklist I made, and totally forgot about when I stopped running last year. I think I'll start working on it again! (I'll type it into a PDF soon, in case anyone else wants to join in.)

5. Photos.

I sort through photos on my computer. Looking at all the pictures (I have over 25,000 on my computer) brings back so many memories. I start to remember all sorts of good times and feel nostalgic. Once in a while, I'll come across a photo where I remember feeling very anxious when the pic was taken; and then I can see that there was no reason for the anxiety. Everything was fine! 

So, there you have it--the things I do to hopefully stop myself from feeling the awful dread of anxiety. Sometimes, if I'm out driving or in a situation where I can't do these things, I just try to remind myself that all the negative thoughts (i.e. my being a bad person) are just the anxiety talking. I try to think of examples of what makes me a bad person, and I can't come up with anything.

In therapy, I learned about "cognitive distortions", and I realized that several of those come into play when my anxiety is high. They are worth reading about, because once you are aware of them, it helps to realize that it's just your brain playing tricks on you when you are feeling certain ways. Here is a site that lists 10 of the most common distortions.

I thought it also might be worth mentioning the things that make me feel worse when I have anxiety:

1. Spending money. 

I'm not sure exactly why, but spending money on anything while I'm anxious just makes me more anxious. (Here is a post that explains how my family paid off $14,000 of credit debt in 14 months!)

2. Alcohol. 

This one is the worst. When I drink, I feel better for a short while; but then I feel the worst anxiety of my life for 24-36 hours afterward. I'm working on going alcohol-free, but haven't gotten there just yet. (Update: I decided to do a "Dry 2019" experiment, which you can read about in these posts)

3. Binge eating. 

Again, in the moment, it helps--it makes me stop thinking about anxiety for a while, and eating makes me feel better. But then afterward, I immediately feel terrible about myself and regret it. This causes me to think of all the other things that make me anxious as well. (I wrote a whole in-depth series about binge eating and how to stop doing it--I suggested reading it if you struggle with binge eating, too!)

4. Reading. 

This may seem like an odd one, because getting lost in a book sounds like it would be very helpful. But I find that when I try to read while I'm feeling anxious, my mind constantly wanders and all I can think about is the anxiety anyway. (Here is a list of my favorite books to read when you're NOT feeling anxious, haha)

5. Talking about it.

Again, this is odd. One would think that talking it over would make us feel better, but I find that I just get upset and worked up when I state my anxieties out loud. Especially to Jerry, because he wants to problem solve everything. When I have anxiety, there is nothing anyone can say to make it go away; so talking about it, for me, doesn't help. Instead, I find distraction to be more effective.

Anyone else deal with anxiety and have a unique way of battling it? Please share!


  1. This post is phenomenal! I absolutely love it. I think many people can benefit from it. That PDF idea is great. Thanks for sharing! JD

  2. Usually my anxiety is only triggered when I'm stressed. Like if I'm worrying about getting something done for a big event or I need to clean the house when company is coming over. I like to look at pictures too! I love looking back on old memories. My husband is always my main force in calming me down though. He just has this zen like quality about him that always manages to make me calm!

  3. Dark humor is the best.
    I am an avid reader, but reading doesn't help my anxiety, either (fellow GAD sufferer here, unite!) Honestly, I just can't focus. This past weekend I had a rather nasty episode during my daughter's volleyball game, so I couldn't really do any of my normal coping mechanisms. ONe of the other parents noticed me quietly freaking out, and sat next to me whispering things like "I want you to slowly touch each of your fingers to your thumb. Now slow it down further, and breath with each touch. Feel your heart slowing with each touch. Ok, now look around the room, and silently notice each color you see. How many different colors do you see?" It was really helpful - I was so grateful.

  4. Katie - you are a treasure and every blog post you write really strikes a chord with me. Thank you for sharing yourself with us. This post is huge. I think we all fight differing levels of anxiety. I definitely can relate to the sense of dread you describe, like something bad is going to happen. Mine tends to paralyze me so that I only want to lay on the couch and look at pinterest. (I have recently discovered watching Choco the Macho Chihuahua videos LOL. He always makes me laugh and it always helps to find some joy.) When I have anxiety, I can't run or even want to do much of anything. My anxiety usually has a trigger but I have to think hard to even be able to identify what is bothering me. (That, or my blood pressure is high. When my blood pressure is high, I think everything bad is about to happen including the end of the world, and have night terrors.) Anxiety is really a huge thing to deal with. You are so strong! Amazing. I love that you have identified things that help you when this is going on - and that you have identified things that don't. I'm going to try this.

    So glad I found your blog. I love your spunk and your realistic attitude for seeing yourself and others. Thanks again!

  5. Katie, when I was your age, I also suffered from significant anxiety. I also found that humor helped and reading was useless. One of the things I would do was just sit back and let the feelings come. I would even talk to the anxiety--"bring it on, show me what you've got." It would wash over me so I felt like I would rather die but I would say to myself: "This is what anxiety feels like. It is very unpleasant but it will not kill me." And the waves would get weaker or I would get immune until the feelings faded way back.

    I will turn 60 next month and my life is less stressful and I no longer have hormonal swings and I mostly only have situation-appropriate anxiety at this stage. Good luck. I appreciate your sharing so very much.

  6. Thanks for sharing. I know it's especially hard while you are in the throes of it.

    I really relate to the anxiety. I get it too. And cleaning helps me too! Even though I don't enjoy cleaning, when my space is really clean I instantly feel calmer. Actually, it's tidy that matters, not clean per se. But tidy surfaces really cheer me up.

    Lists also really help me. Having things swirl around my brain makes me so stressed out. When I write them out I can see that they aren't so insurmountable -- and however long the list, I can start by taking the first step. Plus I am not expending mental energy on trying to remember everything i have to do!

    for me, I'm anxious a LOT right now because I just moved into a new apartment in my old building and I want EVRYTHING to be unpacked, organized and tidy RIGHT NOW. It's hard to be calm because the clutter really stresses me out. And even hiding things behind closet doors only works temporarily.

    And then the other thing is I am planning a move out of the country and I have so many fears about that as well as so many things to do, from downsizing my possessions to figuring out what to bring versus what to put in storage, how to deal with kids' schools etc etc ect.

    But it's not as bad as it used to be. I used to get severe social anxiety that would spiral into depression. Taking meds for a long time and gradually getting myself to a better place in life -- finishing grad school, finding a supportive employer and rewarding work and ultimately, motherhood -- all seemed to have cured that. Fingers crossed!

    Now I try to use as a manta "choose joy" when I find myself spiraling. i try to remember that I can focus on the stress or I can focus on the positive.

    this might not work for everyone but for now, for me, it's working!

  7. That meme can totally describe me some days. I don’t have anxiety very often anymore. It used to hit me every once in a while when I was younger.
    I take the Magnesium supplement Natural Calm, and was just reading that it can help with anxiety since a deficiency can mean your body can’t deal with stress as easy.
    Got me if it’s true, but I think it helps with my leg cramps and when I drink a glass of water with it mixed in before bed, I sleep so good and deep. Sorry if I sounded like an advertisement for this product, it’s just the one that works for me, the pills don’t do anything but this powder is awesome.

  8. I wholeheartedly agree with 4 and 5 as things that make you feel worse. I don't experience anxiety often -- but the few times when I have it was debilitating and I could NOT listen to music with words/lyrics (only instrumental), I couldn't watch movies or shows that were sentimental or dramatic, and talking about it made it SO MUCH WORSE. The only thing I could handle was humor. Humor -- especially dark and edgy humor -- was my saving grace. It redirected my attention and traveled on alternate neurological pathways in my brain and didn't trigger any of the anxiety producing areas of my mind. Life changer!

  9. Great post, Katie. I love seeing that you know what works for you and what doesn’t. Most of my anxiety is work related. I stress out about a weekly meeting to the point by where I don’t sleep well for 2 nights before. A few things that work well for me are taking a walk, listening to my favorite songs, and using essential oil aromatherapy to help me stay grounded and present. I’ve also started using a mini biofeedback device in the mornings and that has been more helpful than I thought! Lastly, yoga and short meditation! Thanks so much for being so open and honest on your blog :)

  10. Katie - this post was so eye-opening for me! I related to just about everything you wrote. I'm 53 and have discovered my anxiety in the last several years of perimenopause although I'm pretty sure it's been lifelong - just not as obvious until this hormonal roller-coaster started. Thanks again for sharing your truths. Lynne.

  11. Ok, forgive my ignorance, but I never realized that I was dealing with anxiety. I like making a list when I have a big task, at work or home, it helps me focus.
    I also feel much better if the house is "clean" and I have done a bit of meal planning.
    I also really related to your meme with Kermit, I do that ALL the time and I still blush when I think about whatever incident it was.
    I honestly never thought it was

    1. Me, too! I have that heavy guilt, 'bad mom', 'bad wife', 'bad employee'...always feeling like I'm going to get 'caught'--but I haven't done anything. It's ridiculous, but I struggle to shake the feeling. I read this post, and I'm like, "Is that anxiety????" I've never even considered that before.


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