By now, we should all know that therapy is essential. Thanks to social media and ongoing efforts to erase the stigma attached to mental illness, taking time for therapy is less about addressing a crisis when it arrives and more about helping us function as (semi) normal human beings on the regular.
For some people, however, therapy isn’t always available. Whether you can’t afford a therapist, don’t have the time, or aren’t able to get to professional help for any other reason, learning to cope with something like anxiety can be incredibly difficult on your own.
Thankfully, there are other options that can help.
Join a Support Group
If you don’t have access to a licensed professional, getting outside support for your anxiety is still an option. Thanks to the internet, there are *countless* opportunities to join a support group for anxiety — whether that’s a Facebook group or joining another community on social media — or checking out a forum or an app (like 7 Cups).
These are free and easy ways to talk to people who are going through different versions of the same issues, and it can be incredibly useful to get advice — or just to have someone listen and understand — when you’re struggling with anxiety.
I’ve found that even having one go-to friend who shares my struggles can be crazy helpful when it comes to coping with my anxiety, and we don’t even have to see each other on the regular (or at all.) In fact, some of my best mental health support comes from internet friends I’ve never met in person.
Tweak Your Lifestyle
When I was first diagnosed with anxiety, I tried everything to get back to ‘normal’. I wasn’t able to find a therapist that I meshed with, and — unluckily for me — I’m sensitive to medication and wasn’t able to take anxiety meds after multiple failed attempts in the past. (Side note: Medication is vital for many people, and it can be awesome.)
Instead, I focused on improving my lifestyle in order to reduce my anxiety overall. For some people, this might involve introducing a practice like yoga or meditation, but I discovered that intense exercise actually helped me the most. (Yay, endorphins!) When my anxiety was at its worse, I also cut out caffeine entirely — for nearly three whole years — until I felt I could handle it without having a panic attack. I also started taking vitamins (vitamin D and valerian root are my favorites), stopped eating as much junk food, and introduced a proactive self-care routine.
These changes gradually helped my anxiety ease, and science backs them up. In fact, a 2018 study suggested that introducing more strenuous exercise and higher levels of vitamin D corresponded with less anxiety and depression in the general population. Yoga is also shown to help reduce anxiety and stress through regular practice.
Biohacking my anxiety definitely isn’t a permanent solution, and it should never be a replacement for professional support and/or medication. However, many of these changes can make a small difference that adds up over time.
Change Your Mindset
I know what you’re thinking. Changing your thoughts regarding anxiety sounds like a bunch of bullshit, and I used to agree. After all, if it was that easy, why would anxiety even be something we struggle with? But hear me out.
The way we speak and think about things often brings about truth. (Self-fulfilling prophecy, anyone?) The more I talk about being anxious and tell people (and myself) that I’m terrified of, well, everything — the more likely I am to feel anxious and terrified of everything.
I’m not saying you have to convince yourself that your anxiety isn’t real. It very much is. However, I’m totally guilty of making something worse than it really is just by the way I talk about it. So, instead of saying how anxious you feel, studies actually suggest that reframing your anxiety into excitement or curiosity can help you cope with it on the regular.
You don’t need to fight with your anxiety to make this work for you. It’s not about denying or rejecting anxiety when it happens. (In fact, I actually find that embracing my anxious feelings, letting them happen, and letting them go is super helpful when I’m in the middle of it.) It’s about changing your perspective of anxiety being ‘the big bad’ in your head.
Remember, while anxiety can be incredibly debilitating — I have first hand experience of that myself — fear is actually a natural instinct that can be beneficial to our survival. The key, and the hardest part for me, is identifying when my fears are rational and deciding whether or not I’m going to let them control my actions. As with many things in life, it’s all about balance.
Get More Sleep
Seven out of ten adults in the U.S. say they experience stress daily, which can wreak havoc on your body. Anxiety isn’t any better, and that emotional load can make it difficult to unwind at the end of the day.
Sleep basically acts as a reset button for our brains, and — when we’re not getting enough sleep — we’re not allowing our brains to rest and recoup from the crazy amount of stress in our lives. In turn? This can make our anxiety way worse.
Getting more sleep isn’t as easy as putting your head to the pillow (although that’s a good start), but practicing good sleep hygiene can help. This means reducing screen time before bed, creating a relaxing sleep environment, and maybe getting a little more sunshine during the day. (Need more help getting sleep? Harvard Med has some great tips.)
While these certainly aren’t a replacement for therapy or professional help, I hope you’re able to use these techniques to learn how to cope with anxiety in your daily life. If you have any tried-and-true methods that work for you, be sure to share them in a comment below!