Many people who experience anxiety are not familiar with effective strategies to reduce it. When you’re so focused on whatever is stressing you out, whether it’s worrying about a final exam or when you’re in the midst of a panic attack, it can be challenging to focus on anything other than what you are feeling in that moment. I spent a lot of my time focusing on my physical symptoms, worrying that they would get worse, and believing that whatever test I had coming up I would certainly fail. So I would suffer through these episodes, wishing them away, rather than being proactive.
Part of the reason I would become enveloped by these moments was because I didn’t have a clear idea of what would really help me, or I would have a few ideas of what to do but didn’t know where to begin. When I asked my doctor about ways to control my anxiety, they would either recommend medication (fast-acting benzodiazepines), or they gave me very general, non-helpful pieces of advice like, “Don’t be stressed!” or, “You need to find time to relax.” While I’m sure they thought they were being helpful, I was frustrated that no one was offering a specific solution. I am a pragmatic person – I like having a list of things to do, and I always break down my goals into steps that I can accomplish easily. I needed direction. When I had panic attacks, I could not think clearly and I felt like I needed someone to just tell me what to do.
My psychologist recommended that I come up with an anxiety tool kit. I think that this strategy could be useful in any type of situation, even if you don’t have an anxiety disorder. What does this tool kit consist of? It is a box that you can keep in your room that is filled with ideas and objects that can help you when you are in stressful situation and are unsure about what to do. During a moment of emotional stress, go to the box and pull out one thing and do what it says. Here are some ideas to help you get started.
1) You can place objects inside the box. Some things may include:
- A packet of your favourite tea or another comfort food
- A small book that you like to read
- Essential oils such as peppermint or lavender
- Scented candle
2) Simply write ideas down on a post-it note, such as:
- Do a 2 minute deep breathing exercise
- Take a walk
- Take a hot bath or shower
- Write in your journal
The box could be something simple like a shoebox if you want, but it should be something that you make your own. It may sound kind of silly, but make it pretty! I chose a purple velvet box that came with a perfume I received as a gift. I am a very visual person, so even seeing something visually appealing helps me.
Some helpful tips:
- Remember that some common stress reduction techniques may not be useful for everyone. For example, while deep breathing helps some people relax, I actually end up hyperventilating. So think about things that help you stay calm. It may take time to find strategies that work best for you, so take time to experiment.
- I personally find that trying to physically relax myself helps me a lot, because if you can physically relax and feel more comfortable. If you can relax your body, you can relax your mind. Things like stretching, going for a walk or taking a hot bath may be good initial strategies.
- Make sure to come up with a wide variety of options. They should appeal to your different senses – maybe you put in a certain tea because you really like the taste, or maybe you prefer taking a hot bath because the temperature helps you physically relax. Be creative! Think about things that you enjoy doing and what works best for you.
I hope this has been somewhat helpful – this is something that anyone can make, and it’s not expensive.
Feel free to comment and share some of your suggestions. What would you put in your tool kit?
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.