How to Cope with Anxiety

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.

Lauren Louise rachel ritlop

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.

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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.

Group Counseling

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.

Biofeedback

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.

Exercise

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).

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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. 

Spiritual Healers

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.

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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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49 thoughts on “How to Cope with Anxiety”

  1. This is such a powerful (& personal) post, and I appreciate it so much because this year has brought me more anxiety and depression than I’ve ever known in my life. I’m trying to find ways to feel like myself again, but it’s a daily battle. Exercise used to be such a huge therapy for me, but I didn’t even realize it until I completely lost all motivation to work out. I’m slowly trying to work that back into my lifestyle while making a point to understand what’s going on when I’m having harder days. I think acknowledging the fact that I was facing these obstacles was half the challenge, so now I’m trying to find what works best for me.

  2. Anxiety is so common and more people should realized that there are ways to make it better. I don’t suffer from it in particular. But I know someone who would love reading this.

  3. Um I am so mad I was unaware of having counselor sessions included in my tuition. I really screwed that up. I am experiencing anxiety more and more now as an adult and this is so helpful to read.

  4. This is such a powerful message! Depression and anxiety run in my family and I dealt with a lot of it in middle and high school. Working out helps me a TON and I almost never go a day without some kind of physical activity since it keeps me so grounded. Love this post!

  5. Thanks for talking about this! I feel like it’s spoken about, but not at a personal level with someone that’s had a journey with dealing with mental health and gotten through it.

  6. This was wonderfully written. And I’m so happy that you felt comfortable to share this experience. I promise you are helping a ton of people–far more than you realize. I also appreciate the insights you shared on what has worked for you.

  7. I have a close friend that really suffers. It comes and goes but it is such a struggle for him. It took him a long time to open up about it, but I think now it helps to have someone to talk to about it.

  8. The biofeedback lab is so interesting; i’ve never heard of anything like it. I have anxiety as well, and I know how tough it can be sometimes. I’m glad you’ve been able to get help and find coping mechanisms that work for you.

  9. Anxiety can be soooo tricky! I experience a lot of anxiety, but it tends to be very facilitating for me. I really try to turn that anxiety into something useful for myself and it really helps. I know some people can’t, but I feel blessed to be able to manage it that way!

  10. I’ve never been to a counseling session, but see how it could be beneficial! My sister is getting her masters in Psychology!

  11. Powerful post, Rachel! I like how you mentioned to take advantage of the on-campus counseling services because my friend did that and it helped her a whole lot!

  12. I think it’s so amazing that college’s offer free counseling. For my brief time in college, I totally took advantage of that. For me group therapy increases my anxiety and I’ve had more than one panic attacks so I’ve tabled it and just do one on one therapy for now.

  13. I loved this post. Any tips on dealing with feeling overwhelmed? I have so much going on in my life and if it’s not all done I get anxiety even if it can wait a few days to get completed

  14. Such a great post! I love how open you are. I come from a background of anxiety and manic depression. I got really depressed after my mom passed…but working out pretty much kept me out of the darkness and definitely have a supportive partner.

  15. It’s so great that your counselors in college advocated for you so that you could continue to see them. This has such helpful information for people who are dealing with anxiety. Yoga can be so helpful, I think. The movement and taking that time to breathe and stretch is so beneficial. Awhile back I went through a tough period and took some belly dance classes with a friend. My friend ended up dropping out, but I continued. My teacher really enjoyed working with me, because I pick up choreography quickly, so she ended up giving me private lessons. Once the session that I had signed up for ended, I’d meet her at her house a couple times a week and we’d work through different things. That was so much fun and it really helped me get through that period.

  16. this was an amazing post. I don’t struggle with the same problem ongoing, but i think everyone deals with anxiety in one way or another. thanks for sharing this

  17. I love therapy but I’ve never gone to group therapy. I have a friend who swears group therapy was SO powerful and really life changing for her. It makes me want to try it at some point in my life.

  18. Thanks for sharing. I’ve been experimenting with different ways to cope with my anxiety as well. I used to think it sounded so overrated to say “learn how to breathe” but it really does make a huge difference. I just started yoga back up again last week, so I hope that helps.

  19. I have anxiety & depression. My doctor told me at first to practice meditation when it comes to coping with anxiety. I also did yoga but after a few months of doing that it didn’t help so I decided to get medicated. I have no shame on it.

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