This article contains very slight descriptions that are linked to panic attacks, anxiety and OCD. Though they aren’t graphic, if you’re sensitive or uncomfortable with descriptions pertaining to these topics maybe this article isn’t for you.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults over the age over 18 with an average onset of 11 years old. That being said, anxiety affects 25.1% of teenagers aged from 13-18.
Anxiety disorders aren’t to get confused with the common feeling of anxiety or being anxious. The universal feeling of being anxious is for the most part rational, where it makes sense to be anxious over things that you’re anxious over. With anxiety disorders, the anxious feeling is consistent over irrational thoughts that might seem rational at the time, often with no underlying cause or trigger that’s easy to pinpoint.
I was diagnosed with GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder), Panic Disorder and OCD when I was 13. It came to a point where it began to control my life and everything I was doing I did with anxiety in mind.
Doctors continuously tried to prescribe me medication but I felt I wasn’t in a place where I felt medication was necessary, and personally I tend to stay away from medicine as much as possible out of fears of reliance.
Now at 18, I’ve found what works the best for me to help get my anxiety under control through 5 years of ruthless trial and error while still managing to stay away from medicine. Keep in mind that while these help for me, everyone is different and different things will work for different people. What works for me might not work for you and that’s okay, because eventually you’ll find something that specifically works for you. Just as medication doesn’t sit right with me, it could be helpful to you.
Yes, I know, nobody wants to hear that but exercise truly does make a large difference. Exercise releases endorphins in your brain that create a high and ease anxiety. It also forms as a distraction because you become focused on working out instead of what’s going on in your head. It doesn’t have to be insane, vigorous 11 mile hikes or sprinting on the treadmill at an incline of 50,000, just walking 20-30 minutes a day can help tremendously. Walking outdoors is a bonus, since being outdoors can ease anxiety as well.
Personally, running helps me the most with my anxiety whether indoors or outdoors. Then again, it’s by far my favorite form of exercise in general but like I said, everybody is different.
Another thing nobody wants to hear, I know, but listen it works. After being diagnosed, I visited a nutritionist to work out a meal plan to shape around my anxiety. I’ve noticed when my eating habits are leaning more on the unhealthy and greasy side my anxiety surges up in correlation.
Specifically, my anxiety was worse with diet sodas, greasy foods, caffeine, foods that contain MSG and processed or frozen foods. Aspartame, found in diet sodas and some foods, has been proven to chemically-induce anxiety and panic attacks by mimicking neurotransmitters in the brain. I noticed a difference after cutting these out of my diet along with exercise.
This one is heard a lot and is what almost everyone tells you when you’re trying to figure out how to keep anxiety under control.
I had a guidance counselor in high school teach me a breathing exercise called boxed breathing technique or four-square breathing. She said the main idea is to breath in four counts, hold the breath for four counts, slowly exhale for four counts. She described it as drawing a box in your mind of a perfect square, but often during class I’d draw a box on my paper and breath along with it.
At first I was hesitant about starting yoga, because literally how is stretching supposed to help my mental health? Of course, I was wrong. I started doing yoga every morning and noticed a large mental contrast. Plus, my body is much more flexible now so honestly it’s a win-win situation.
More than anything, I noticed yoga helps with breathing exercises and mirroring action to the breath. This alone is especially helpful in the event of panic attacks when you feel like you don’t have your breathing under control.
Yoga also helps with stress, which can help anxiety by default since stress leads to anxiety and anxiety is triggered by stress. Yoga reduces your heart rate and blood pressure as well as eases the respiratory system, which can cause your body to react to stress with more flexibility than before.
My mother swears on these. Ever since I was little and I’d wake up in the middle of the night with a panic attack she’d jump up and run straight into the kitchen and come back with a banana, every time. For years I didn’t know why but I’d still listen regardless because mothers know best.
Come to find out, bananas are a natural beta blocker for anxiety that block adrenaline from binding with beta receptors. This results in lower blood pressure as it calms down tremors and anxiety.
Bananas are also a great source of vitamin B6. Vitamin B6 is a vitamin that makes the body synthesize serotonin, the chemical responsible for relaxation and happiness. Along with B6, bananas have a good source of the amino acid tryptophan, which also turns into serotonin.
I split my life into two sections: before I found out about lavender and after.
People have used lavender for relaxation and to treat depression and anxiety for centuries. It’s proven to work, both taken orally and used externally.
Lavender pills are a natural anxiety remedy. Though I’ve not personally tried them long enough to see an effect, I have a close friend who uses and swears by them. The only bad thing I’ve heard is that they cause you to burp up the taste of lavender.
However, externally it’s life changing. You can purchase lavender extract in oil for, put a few drops into a hot bath and it’s instantly calming and soothing. Lavender also helps with cases of insomnia, so it causes you to sleep like a baby. For this, some people put lavender on their pillowcases or in a small drawstring bag under their pillow. You can also buy or make your own lavender pillow and linen spray to spray on your bed.
In the midst of a panic attack, or even whenever I’m feeling anxious really, I put a few drops of lavender oil into my palms and massage them together. Then, I cup my hands over my face, slowly breath in for a few counts and take deep breaths for a few minutes. This is the best method and is incredibly calming.
You can also buy lavender in lotions and shower gels that’ll help keep the scent around you. Or, if you aren’t up for rubbing some mysterious oil into your hands and taking obnoxious deep breaths in the middle of class, you can opt out for the lotion.
Coloring and Play-Doh
Coloring for anxiety and stress is a big stress reliever as well as focuses as a calming distraction. Though I’ve tried adult coloring books, it didn’t work out well with my OCD. The small lines made me anxious and color choices were overwhelming, but for many people it does work. Personally, I opt out for children’s coloring books and go to town with those crayons.
Recently I’ve formed an unhealthy relationship with Play-Doh. It’s just fun. It helps by providing a distraction from anxiety and stress, and it’s much like squeezing a stress ball or kneading dough. Plus, making things out of Play-Doh is just… fun.
Music for relaxation is no surprise and it’s usually just a given. I’d recommend making up a relaxation playlist with a bunch of songs that make you feel happy to listen to when you feel anxious. Since anxiety was so present in high school for me, I talked with my teachers and worked out an agreement where I was able to listen to music whenever we did work that wasn’t a lecture, which helped tremendously.
Spotify has pre-made relaxation playlists that you can browse through but here’s my personal playlist if you want to check it out.
Again, these are just tips that I’ve found personally helpful. While I can recommend tips with the intention to help others, not all of them are guaranteed to work for everyone. Take some time to look around at other people with anxiety and tips they have, and soon enough you’ll put together your own list that personally works for you.