If you caught this post, you learned about my lifelong struggle with anxiety and depression. In the comments someone asked me “how to cope with anxiety?”, so I decided to do a post on how I've coped with anxiety over the years. These are all the healing and treatments that I've done and what has worked for me. I can't guarantee they will help heal your anxiety too; but they took me from panic attacks on the floor to spending most days totally free of anxiety.
How to Cope with Anxiety
Psychiatrist and counselor
The first two things I tried were therapy and medication at the age of 17. I think for where I was at during that time, the medication was the biggest thing that helped. I was struggling with PTSD and kind of a zombie on so many levels that as a senior in high school, therapy was more about showing up and making sure I wasn't going to commit suicide, then actually developing lasting coping skills.
On campus counseling center
When I went to college I started seeing a counselor through the counseling center on campus.
*If you are a college student, I strongly recommend taking advantage of those therapy sessions!
You usually get around 8 per semester as part of your tuition, but most students don't take advantage of this* My counselor(s) at the University of Florida (I had two individuals counselors over the course of my education there) advocated for me with the school to waive the cap on my sessions, so I could see them every week. It was during that time that I really started to shift the way I saw things.
[RELATED] Advice To My 18-Year-Old Self
I started to notice my internal dialogue, the signs I was on the verge of a panic attack, and began learning about positive self talk.
My counselor recommended I begin going to group counseling during our second year together. This was extremely powerful for me for a lot of reasons, most notably because I've had horrible anxiety in group settings since elementary school and it really negatively impacted my ability to build friendships. Entering into a closed group created a safe place for me to start healing.
A closed therapy group has a finite start and end date. The members are the same every week. If you missed more then twice, you were out of the group and no new members were added.
I still saw my individual counselor at the same time; which was important as I worked through a lot of my social anxiety and thoughts.
Once group therapy completed, I began going to the biofeedback lab in the counseling center. Basically electrodes were attached to my skin and I wore a finger sensor which would monitor my physical response (heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, sweating, muscle activity, etc.) as I would go through modules on this computer system specifically designed to help people relieve stress.
I would do things like have to breathe “normally” to get the balloon across the screen without popping it (if I breathed to heavy it would burst, if not enough it would fall to the ground). During these exercises I finally started to realize that I did not breathe like other people. Due to the trauma as a child and young adult, I began to either hold my breath or hyperventilate. To this day I have difficulty sometimes, but I understand what is happening which helps.
At some point during college I began going to the gym with a friend which was really helpful in teaching me how to work out “normally” (I have an addictive personality and would go to extremes with working out in high school), she would take me around the gym to work on different muscle groups and get 30 minutes of cardio in. I started to feel the benefits of a healthy workout as I began taking care of my mind and body.
At some point I tried yoga, boy I could probably do an entirely different post on mental health and yoga alone! Over the years I've learned so much about the pros and cons of yoga on our mental health and how different types of yoga can affect our nervous system and mental health in different ways. In short, if you are someone with anxiety or trauma, stay the hell away from hot yoga and bikram yoga for sure (in my opinion… science backs it up too; but you will have people that swear by it which is usually because it's tapping into a trauma response).
Other forms of yoga can either be really helpful, or hurtful if you don't know what's going on. Sometimes certain poses when held for long periods of time (in Hatha, Yin, or Restorative yoga) can lead our bodies to having very primal and emotional responses. This is okay (and even good for you to work through the response), it's just weird if you don't know what's happening then you start crying or having flashbacks to trauma in yoga.
In short, you probably should look for a yoga class that has moderate activity, and constantly has the teacher talking to anchor you into the present, here and now. Remember the most important thing with yoga and anxiety, is to connect every movement to the breath. Do not push yourself into uncomfortable places to land every pose perfectly.
A combination of using all of the above, while earning my Master's Degree in Mental Health Counseling helped me more than words can say. I was able to go off my medication and feel better.
At a certain point I was led away from therapy and towards a more spiritual path. Now the above steps were life changing and helped me so much. If they are all you do, I'm sure they will help you to some degree too. But at a certain point, I felt a call for more.
I began working with shamans, astrologers, mediums, and learning about Human Design. This opened up an entirely new world. A world that pulled back even more layers than I could've ever seen or done with a therapist. If you're interested in that sort of thing, check out my podcast where I interview a lot of the healers I've worked with.
I think having an understanding and awareness of what is happening or coming up for ourselves during anxious or depressed spells if very important.
When we have that awareness we can talk ourselves through the experience as well as communicate it more effectively to those around us. For example, do you like or dislike to be rubbed, held, or left alone during a panic attack? When you are starting to get worked up what positive statements can be made to bring you back to the present rather than projecting and spiraling the situation? How do you feel supported during tough times?
Remember that while anxiety and depression often have a chemical imbalance associated with them, they are often symptoms of other things happening in our lives which we can develop the skills and tools to work through.
Do you have any questions or experiences about coping with anxiety? Drop me a comment!
And if you want even more tips on how to live with anxiety and manage it, check out this post!
Want to learn more about positive self talk? Grab the worksheet!
Photo Cred: Lauren Louise
Originally published 12/14/16; Updated on 2/3/2020
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