Anxiety

Anxiety: 25 Things to do When You Have a Fear of the Unknown + a Free Printable!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Anxiety can be a b*tch. It can sneak up on you when you’re least expecting it, it can always be ‘there’ – making you feel like you can never get a break, or, it can rear its ugly head and go full force on you.

I’ve experienced all of those things. And they can all be exhausting, frustrating, annoying, and just plain suck.

And while I’m a huge proponent of medication and therapy if it feels right for you (I do both with the occasional additional appointments with a psychologist), if you’re in the moment of intense anxiety and you are fearing the unknown, you can’t always drop in for an appointment.

For those times, I created my own ‘anxiety checklist’ of items that I can do to bring myself back down. This list by no means should be used in place of getting professional help, just some tools and tricks that may be able to help you in the meantime. I am not a doctor and should not be looked at as such. This list should not be looked at official medical advice. If you need to talk to someone, please contact one of the amazing resources below.



One tip I learned from my therapist was during a time I was NOT overwhelmed with anxiety, write down 7-10 tools to do when I was feeling anxious. Because when you’re in the midst of it, it can be hard to remember.

So that’s what I did – and it really helped.

To help you, I created a free printable where you can do the same! Put it in your nightstand, hang it on your fridge, put it in your purse/bag – anywhere that you can easily access it.

You can find the printable here.

One other thing to note: Not all of these things may be a good fit for you at all, or they may be situational based. I know for me personally, some of the tools would not have worked when I was in the middle of a panic attack, for example. I wouldn’t be able to go from panic attack to sitting still and meditating. Those are too far apart on the ‘anxiety scale’. You may need to take some time to try out these different tools and see which ones fit you and your anxiety situation best!

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Here are 25 things to do when you are dealing with anxiety (aka fear of the unknown).

Nature is the word

Nature has been proven to reduce anxiety and stress, and improve your mood. Even if you can’t get outside, studies show that looking at a nature photograph or listening to sounds of nature can provide the same benefits.

For me personally, if I’m feeling anxious, a walk or run outside (even just around the block) can help ground me back down. It also helps clear my mind of any anxious thoughts (and especially obsessive ones).

If you’re feeling like you need to remove some mental clutter, trying getting outside. If you can’t do that, find some nature sounds (Youtube or Spotify are good options) to listen to, or look at a photograph of nature.

I created my own 2-minute self-guided mindfulness meditations with nature photography to help myself whenever I need a moment to calm down. They are perfect for a quick break, or as an intro to a longer meditation practice. Not only will you receive the benefits of meditating, but you also get the benefits of exposing yourself to nature.


Journal

Journaling is a great way to remove anxious thoughts that won’t seem to go away. And no, I’m not talking about the type of journaling you did when you were 12 years old that started with “dear diary”.

Journaling for mental health/clarity can look like a number of different things such as:

  • Free style writing – where you just write and write. Can also be called a brain dump. This helps gets things out of your head
  • Lists – you can write out a list of things you are anxious about, and then either fact check the anxieties or counteract them
  • Journaling prompts – often come in the form of questions that help you self-discover things about yourself . Pinterest is a great place to find these.
  • Timed – This is where you set a timer for a specific amount of time and write until it goes off. This helps in situations where you may feel stuck and need some help/pressure getting something out


Of course, there are other types of journaling not listed above. The key is to find something that works for you. When I’m in the midst of an anxiety spiral, I usually do a brain dump, do some fact checking/counteracting the thoughts, then I write down mantras, and then gratitude.

One of the great things about journaling when you’re dealing with anxious thoughts is that writing is slower than your brain can think. Therefore, just the act of writing stuff down slows down our mind. Because of this reason, I personally like to hand write my journal. But if typing is better for you, type away!

Do you have to go back and read what you wrote?

I definitely don’t. I figure those thoughts spent enough time in my head that I don’t need to go back to them.

One thing you can do is burn the pages once they’re filled up. It’s therapeutic!

Side note: journals are one of those things that I don’t mind buying and having around in terms of minimalism and sustainability. However, I do try to choose an eco-friendly option when I do buy new ones.

I love this one which has a cork cover and is made with recycled paper.

Or, there are these reusable notebooks that look cool (but I haven’t actually tried).


Color

I wrote about the benefits of coloring in my post on 5 ways to meditate without actually meditating, so I won’t go into deep detail here. Basically, activities such as coloring, gardening, doing puzzles, etc., put your mind into a ‘zone’ which acts similarly to meditating.

The idea is that your mind is so focused on the activity at hand, that it is hard to think about anything else.

A great thing about coloring books, puzzles, and gardening is that they can all be done with minimal waste.

Coloring pages can be recycled when you’re done with them (minus the covers and assuming you didn’t use heavy paint), puzzles can be found at secondhand shops (and donated when you’re done), and gardening can be done in any sized space (plus you get food out of it, save on emissions, etc)!


Challenge your thoughts

Thoughts are just that – thoughts. I can’t tell you how long it took me to realize this. Ok, maybe I can. 32 years.

It seems pretty ingrained in our society to just go along with whatever pops into our brain (within reason, of course). But where is the line of reason?

One of the most freeing things I learned to do to manage my anxiety was to realize that I didn’t have to take my thoughts seriously. In fact, I could challenge them!

This activity for me is best when I can write down my thoughts, see them in front of me on paper, and then challenge them one by one. But maybe you can do it all in your head.


The important thing is to remember that you can challenge them. In the midst of an anxiety spiral, it can be hard to remember. But that’s where your list of tools comes in!

One resource that really helped nail this concept down for me was the podcast Invisibilia – episode one: “The Secret History of Thoughts”.

Give it a listen and see if it doesn’t change your view on thoughts too!

Related Post: 10 Unexpected Things That May Be Triggering Your Anxiety


Surrender to your thoughts

Challenging your thoughts not working for you? That’s OK. Sometimes, my anxiety is too deep, or I’m too tired, or {insert whatever reason here}.

Sometimes, I find that challenging my thoughts ends up fueling my anxiety even more, when I want to calm it down.

In those cases, I find that surrendering to my thoughts can be super helpful.

I spent so many years trying to fight my anxiety, that I would get anxious about surrendering to the anxious thoughts because I thought that meant I ‘lost’ and the anxiety ‘won’.

But in reality, I was just fueling the anxiety spiral by having the anxious thought, getting anxious about ‘giving in’, which in turned fueled the anxiety, and so on.

The moment I was going down an anxiety spiral and said to myself:

“Ugh, fine, let’s just do this”

I honestly felt the anxiety lift.

It. Was. Freeing.

Now, I try and surrender/acknowledge the anxiety before I get anywhere near a spiral or attack. Sometimes it even helps to admit that I’m having anxious thoughts out loud or to a trusted partner/friend.

Even something as simple as:

“Man, I’m having lots of anxious thoughts about x, y, z.”

Can make a huge difference.


Change your view on anxiety

For years I found myself hating my anxiety. Hating it. I felt like it was this huge burden that plagued me and held me down.

However, slowly, as I started to get to know myself more and more, and learn more about anxiety, I started changing how I viewed it.

First, I realized that without the anxiety I dealt with throughout my life (including the really, really low anxiety points), I wouldn’t be where or who I am today. I learned that my anxiety actually helps push me forward in my endeavors. It helps me stay on top of things. It helps me be the detailed oriented person I am today.

Second, I also realized that my anxiety is just an extension of an evolutionary trait known as our fight or flight system. When I realized that, I discovered that the anxiety I experience is just trying to keep me safe.

The wonderful Jess Lively of The Lively Show Podcast described the ego (also known as ‘the mind’, also can be known as ‘anxiety) as a 3-year-old trying to be a parent. There is good intention, but they’re just not that good at it.

Maybe it’s because I have a three year old, and the thought of him trying to parent is pretty funny, but that mindset really stuck with me.

Since then, when I’m feeling anxious, I am able to pinpoint exactly how my mind is trying (and failing) to protect me.


Sleep

I can’t even begin to tell you the number of anxiety spirals and panic attacks I’ve endured because I’ve been overtired. Sleep is sooo important in general, but in my opinion, especially if you deal with mental illnesses.

So much so, that in fact, sometimes, if I’m having an anxious spiral (often at night), the best bet for me is to just go to bed. In order to avoid just laying there with anxious thoughts running through my head, I’ll try meditating, reading, or watching something mindless on Netflix. Usually Parks and Rec.

If you find yourself feeling especially anxious at night, see if you can get some good quality sleep in.


Talk to someone

One thing I found about the particular anxiety I experience is that I like to keep it internal. When I’m obsessing over certain anxious thoughts, I’m always tempted to keep them to myself. However, if I do end up opening up to a trusted partner or friend, I find that they can calmly help me see the logic in the illogical thoughts.

Find someone in your close circle that can be that person for you. Even better, share your tool list with them so that if you’re feeling particularly anxious and not sure what to do, they can help.

This tip also helps with surrendering your thoughts, because by admitting that you’re feeling anxious about x, y, z, you’re also giving in (in a good way) to the anxiety!

19 books to help you reduce

Read

Reading is another one of those activities that can help focus your mind on something  (anything) that isn’t anxious thoughts. I like to keep some easy-to-read fiction books on hand just for this occasion (Harry Potter is usually my go-to). It is something I’ve read before, so I don’t have to worry about missing something, the books easily and quickly suck me in, and I love them!

Sometimes, and this may sound a little strange, but sometimes if I’m feeling anxious I’ll read a book about my anxiety. It helps me to realize that I’m not alone in the anxiety I’m feeling, and, books about anxiety usually contain tips on how to manage anxiety – which can give me a feeling of empowerment and control.

Some anxiety-based books I recommend are:


Another thing that can be helpful to read is stories of others who have dealt with anxiety. This is one of the reasons I started the interview series ‘Anxiety Stories | Normalizing Anxiety in Today’s World’. Connecting with others (even through the interwebs) can be a great way to normalize what you are feeling, which can help ground you. To check out the interviews, click here.

If you’re looking for some additional book recommendations, check out 19 books I read last year that will help you reduce!


Grab an ice cube

If you’re feeling like you are on the verge of an anxiety spiral/panic attack, this tip that came straight from my therapist may help.

Grab an ice cube, and hold on for it for as long as you can.

What?

Here is the theory:

First, the cold temperature switches your brain from fight or flight to focusing on the sensation in your hand. Your body/brain can’t worry about both! In a way, it ‘snaps’ you out of the anxiety spiral.

This is one of my top tips on my tool list it works so well.

Need something more?

Related Post: 8 Lies My Anxiety Tells Me And How I Move Past Them


Take a cold shower

This tip is similar as the one above, but even more intense.

The idea behind this one is again, to snap your brain out of fight or flight. But there is also an added ‘bonus’ to this one. When you submerge yourself into really cold water, what is one of the first things you do?

Take a huge breath.

What is something you aren’t doing well when you’re in the middle of dealing with anxiety?

Breathing.

Research shows that the act of taking a deep breath is another great way reduce the fight or flight response in your body, and thus, reduce anxiety and stress.

Which leads me into…

how to eliminate negative thoughts and emotions

Meditate

You probably guessed that this would show up here. As you likely are aware, meditation can be a great way to calm your nerves and reduce anxiety. I’m not going to go into a ton of detail here, because the research is endless about how beneficial meditation can be, especially for things like stress and anxiety.

Additionally, meditation can be a great preventative measure because it literally rewires your brain. But if you’re in the midst of an anxiety spiral, taking a few meditative breaths can also be beneficial.

I personally use Insight Timer for my meditation. It is a free app, and has tons of options for different types of meditation styles. You can even search for a specific topic and find meditations related to that (like anxiety, for example).

Only have a couple of minutes? Check out my 2-minute self-guided mindfulness meditations.


Watch a show

There have been many times when I feel like I literally can’t make a decision. Where I am too exhausted to think. Sometimes my anxiety has taken such a toll on my mental health that the best thing to do is just lay down and watch something mindless until I fall asleep.

My go to? Parks and Rec. Schitts Creek. Jane the Virgin.

Something funny, light, and something I’ve seen before. The less I have to think about it the better!

It’s OK if you’ve gotten to a point in your day where you have been dealing with so much mental clutter that you just don’t want to think anymore. You know that tomorrow will be better. So just give yourself that break and watch your favorite, silly show.


Exercise

I already talked about getting outside in nature, but this tip specifically focuses on exercising. Working up a sweat. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Exercising can help reduce cortisol – the stress hormone
  • Exercising can release endorphins – aka the ‘feel good hormone’
  • Exercise can help distract your thoughts
  • When you’re in fight or flight mode, your body releases hormones to get itself ready to fight or, well, flight (run). The issue lies in when there isn’t an actual threat that requires physical movement, those hormones are still coursing through your body with no where to go. Exercising can help relieve some of that energy.
  • Remember when we talked about breathing and how it is beneficial when anxious? If you’re breaking a sweat, you’re going to be forced to breathe!


One caveat – some people experience exercise-induced panic attacks. I personally wouldn’t be caught doing strenuous exercise if I was feeling close to an anxiety/panic attack. But again, I’m not a doctor.

Just be aware of how your body is feeling if you do try exercise, and stop if you’re feeling even more anxious.

To learn more about exercise-induced panic attacks, check out this article.


Eat something

Ahh, the ole being hangry. When you’re ‘hangry’, your body is experiencing low blood sugar. Without turning this into a health blog, when your body is dealing with low blood sugar, it goes into a state of stress (source). This could be from too much time passing in between meals, to a sugar crash after eating a sweet treat. The symptoms of low blood sugar/a stressed body mimic those of anxiety. But if you don’t know you’re dealing with blood sugar, your thoughts can start becoming anxious.

If you suspect that you may need to eat a snack, start with something healthy – vegetables and/or fruit. Include protein and a healthy fat if you can. Don’t forget to drink water!


Mindfulness

This is probably another tip you aren’t surprised to see here. Mindfulness is a GREAT way to reduce anxiety, so of course I included it.

When you’re anxious, your thoughts/mind is in the past or the present. Mindfulness helps to bring your mind and thoughts back to the present.

My favorite mindfulness activity is the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 prompt. Here is how it works.

Wherever you are, identify the following:

  • 5 things you see
  • 4 things you hear
  • 3 things you feel
  • 2 things you smell
  • 1 thing you taste


I personally love doing this outside, because it makes it really easy to identify things. However, you can literally do this anywhere, and it will help ground your thoughts and bring them to the present.

The research on mindfulness and the benefits are endless. Seriously, endless. If you’re interested in learning more, you can sign up for my free 7-day mindfulness e-course, which walks you through a new mindfulness activity each day.

You can also sign up for my email list at the end of this post and get my cheat sheet with over 71 ways to incorporate mindfulness in five minutes or less.


Acupressure

Acupressure can be a great way to relieve anxiety, because it acts as a “method of sending a signal to the body (by needle or other means) to “turn on” its own self-healing or regulatory mechanisms.” (source)

I’m a huge fan of acupuncture, but that is not always an option if you are looking for some anxiety relief right away. That’s where acupressure comes in.

Check out this video for acupressure points for when you’re anxious.

Christmas feeling sad

Get spiritual

Finding something higher than myself was really a turning point in my life in relation to anxiety (among other things). And I’m not alone. Research shows that believing in something ‘higher’ than yourself can help ease anxiety. For me, it was really tuning into the intuition, which I believe is part of a higher being. It also consisted of me learning to separate that from my ego (or the mind, or anxiety).

To start learning about this, and to learn how to tell the difference, I started immersing myself in a handful of resources such as:


From there, my journey kind of naturally progressed.

Maybe for you it’s going to church, or reading the bible.

If you’re interested in learning more about the ego/mind/anxiety, and how to tame negative thoughts, check out my post here.


Pay it forward

Like spirituality above, and finding a cause (below), paying it forward is a great way to get us out of our own minds, and shed some perspective on bigger issues. That is definitely not to say that anxiety isn’t a big issue. It’s just that doing something nice for someone else can be bigger.

Research shows that paying it forward or doing a random act of kindness can lower blood pressure, stress, anxiety, and more. The reason is because when you participate, oxytocin is released, which is a good for you hormone.  

So the next time you’re feeling stuck in anxious and/or obsessive thoughts, why not treat yourself to a beverage and pay for the person behind you?

Looking for more ideas on how to pay it forward? Check out this holiday-inspired-but-relevant-for-anytime post with 58 ideas!

decluttering your bathroom


Magnesium

I’m a big proponent of talking to your doctor before starting any type of supplements, but wanted to throw this one out there in time for your next checkup.

Magnesium is a mineral that ‘back in the days’ was found in many food sources, soil, and more. However, modern agriculture practices, stress, caffeine, and sugar have depleted our natural resources. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, 75% of Americans do not get enough magnesium daily.

What does magnesium do for our health?

The benefits are endless, but some include:

  • Anxiety
  • Lowering the stress hormone cortisol
  • Assistance with sleep
  • Good for the nervous system


If you want to read a comprehensive list of benefits for magnesium, you can find more information here.

It is possible to take too much magnesium (you’ll know by really loose stools), but that is why it is important to talk to a doctor before taking it.

I personally take Natural Calm – which is magnesium in powder form (I like the raspberry lemon flavor and the orange flavor). I did a ton of research on different types of magnesium (including talking to my doctor and psychologist), and tried a topical version as well as the powder. I found that the powder in water works best for me, but you may find something else works better.

Daily use has made a difference for me in my anxiety. I find that I feel overall more grounded. And, I do think it helps me sleep.

Interested in learning about more supplements to help with anxiety (and of course to talk to your doctor about before taking)? The book The Chemistry of Calm by Henry Emmons MD has a ton of great suggestions.


CBD Oil

Honestly, I just started incorporating CBD oil into my routine. I mostly use it for sleep, but I know others who have had success with feeling less anxious when regularly taking it.

When I researched how CBD oil works in terms of helping anxiety, the data kind of went over my head. However, the Mayo Clinic stated that there is only one FDA approved version of CBD oil and that is for epilepsy. If you plan on taking CBD oil, as with all other supplements, talk to your doctor.


Declutter

Studies shows that outer clutter can cause inner clutter. And while decluttering can be seen as a preventative measure for anxiety, I find that the act of decluttering gives me a sense of control. Can anyone else relate to getting anxiety from a loss of control?

The next time you feel anxiety creeping up, grab a box or a bag and start decluttering. Need some tips? I have a full category on decluttering on my blog, which you can find here.

Some of the more popular ones include:


Additionally, you can learn more and sign up for my free decluttering challenge e-course here!

how to train your ego

Focus on a cause

I’ve mentioned it before, but when I’m in the middle of anxious thoughts, I tend to turn inward. This in turn changes my thoughts from being anxious, to obsessive. This can easily bring me down an anxiety spiral and/or to a panic attack.

But one thing that can help is to focus on a cause bigger than myself.

For me, that usually involves something environmental moment/zero waste. That could look like writing a letter to a company expressing my interest in more eco-friendly products. It could look like going outside and picking up trash. It could look like deciding what my next zero waste swap is going to be.

This tactic works for a number of reasons.

First, I’m getting out of my own head and looking at something bigger than myself. Sometimes a little bit of perspective is all that is needed.

Second, I’m focusing on something other than anxious thoughts. Again, a little distraction can be very beneficial.

Find something that you are passionate about and put your focus on that if you start to notice anxiety creep up.


Contact your doctor, therapist, psychologist

If you are dealing with pretty intense anxiety and feeling uneasy, it is not a bad idea just to check in with someone on your medical team. If I don’t make an appointment, I will at least make a phone call or send a message. I personally feel better knowing that someone who knows my anxiety history is aware that I’ve been dealing with some heavy anxiety. I think it goes back to taking back some control that I am lacking when my anxiety is at it’s worse.

tips to declutter your bathroom

Medication

And last but not least, if you have medication that helps calm you down (whether it’s on top of your regular medication, or medication for ‘just in case’), sometimes it is best to take it and lay down. I used to be so anti any medication, but I quickly realized that that was silly. It really helps and it much better than sitting around and suffering.

There you have it. 25 things you can do right now to manage your anxiety.

What other things do you do?

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anne-onedeterminedlife
Guest

I find that it’s important to try one at a time to see if it helps. Then, once you find a couple solutions that help reduce your anxiety then it’s important to practice them when you are not anxious.

Alexis
Guest

Super helpful! Things are really stressful right now as we are moving and this gave me some great ideas for things to try to help me through! Thanks