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In a perfect world, everything would come with a trigger warning. Before you walked into that restaurant, there would be a sign saying, “You will be seated next to a family with four screaming toddlers. May cause sensory overload.” In a perfect world, your boss would speak softly to you when you made mistakes, because they care about your struggles and don’t want to cause you anymore undue stress.
Unfortunately, reality doesn’t work like that. Sometimes, the only safe space you have is your bedroom and it’s far, far away.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid anxiety-inducing situations. But, you can manage them in the moment and come out the other side relatively unscathed.
Disclaimer: I’m not a psychologist or mental health professional. This is not and should not be construed as professional advice. These are just tricks I’ve picked up through my own trial-and-error that I hope might be able to help someone else.
One of my most precious possessions is an aroma therapy necklace my mother gave me for Christmas about a decade ago. That thing has gotten some use!
Aromatherapy has been shown to improve mood and aid in relaxation—two very beneficial things when dealing with anxiety. Whenever I’m in a stressful situation, I just lift the necklace and give a sniff. This can be done discreetly by just playing with the pendant and not bringing it all the way to your nose; just pulling it up near your face is usually enough to catch the scent.
Just soak the included pad with essential oil (lavender or vanilla are my favorites) and put it into the locket. When the pad wears out, you don’t need to bother with buying replacements (which can be overpriced); just get some cheap felt from the craft store and cut it to fit.
It also has the added benefit of giving me something to fiddle with when I’m nervous or jittery.
Speaking of fiddling…
We’ve all seen (and probably rolled our eyes at) fidget spinners. But, fidget toys can actually be very helpful for someone dealing with anxiety or with attention problems, which is what they were made for.
I’m definitely a fiddler and need something to keep my fingers moving in stressful situations. Before getting a fidget toy, I picked at my fingernails and cuticles, sometimes until I bled! Not so great. Having something to keep my hands busy makes me feel a little less tense in unavoidably anxious situations (like when I have to speak in class).
I personally use a Fidget Cube.
Deep breathing is my favorite technique for crowded spaces.
Now, I’m not talking about soft, meditative yoga-breathing (although that can help). That advice has been around forever, so you don’t need me to tell you, and honestly, when you’re in the throughs of an anxiety nightmare, the last thing you’re thinking about is, “Okay, breathe in, two, three, four; out, two, three, four…”
What I’m talking about is cornered puma, slightly growling, hiss-breathing. I’m talking about glaring and baring your teeth while you stalk through the crowds.
It seems counter-intuitive, but it works for me. It’s actually a relief to just embrace my own discomfort and stop caring who knows it.
Bonus: If you look like you’re one wrong breath away from snapping, people are generally a lot more apologetic if they bump into you.
This is good if you’re like me and you take public transit or frequently find yourself in other situations where you’re seated in crowded areas for extended periods of time.
You can load up images which you find relaxing onto your phone (I have a varied collection of nature photography, cute animal photos, funny memes, and Domhnall Gleeson’s beautiful face). Then, when you’re stuck on a crowded bus or the child at the next table over just won’t stop screaming over their spaghetti, you can just flip through the pictures to focus on something a little more serene.
These little tricks have helped me immensely over the last few years. Hopefully, they can help you the next time you find yourself stuck in an inescapable pit of anxious hell.
Do you have any tips or tricks which work especially well for you? Let me know in the comments!
I love you all.
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