If you’ve ever lived with anxiety, you know that it’s a daily struggle. We all feel stressed out from time to time, sure, but stress and chronic anxiety are not one and the same. A simple way of explaining anxiety is that it is your body’s response to having too many worries. What makes anxiety different from everyday stress is that it interferes with your daily functioning. If your feelings of anxiety change the way you behave and interfere with your life, it might be time to seek help. You can also think about updating some of your daily habits to help you manage your anxiety.
There are lots of ways to manage anxiety. Some of the popular ones are therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Mental health and medications are still very stigmatized in the US, so know that there’s nothing wrong with taking medicine to manage your anxiety. Lots of folks find relief that they couldn’t find elsewhere due to medication.
Since anxiety is a daily struggle, it makes sense to adopt daily habits to help manage it. Even if you’re already treating your anxiety through other means, mixing up your daily habits to support your mental health is an important act of self-care.
Most people think it takes 28 days to build a habit, but it actually varies from person to person. It could take you a couple of weeks to adopt a habit and it could take a few months. The important thing to remember is not to compare yourself to others.
You probably already have a few habits established.
What do you do every day? You use your current habits to support your new ones. Try stacking habits together to make them easier to remember. For example, you can journal every day as soon as you finish brushing your teeth. You probably brush your teeth habitually, right? Instead of building the habit from scratch, tack it onto one you’ve already done the work for.
A lot of times, our habits reflect a need we need to meet.
Do you have a hard time controlling your anxious thoughts? Are you always worrying over the future? Maybe those feelings are more about a need to be in control than actually worrying about the small details. If that’s the case, you could practice mindfulness regularly and journal about the idea that you can’t control everything. On the other hand, if you experience social anxiety, you might experience that because of a sense of otherness and a need to belong. In that situation, you can look for a sense of community somewhere (online support groups, interest groups, local meetups) or journal on the relationships you have in your life. Are there needs you have that aren’t being met? Try to figure out what habits you have that actually support the way you want to feel, and build from there.
Here are some ideas for habits to try out to help manage your anxiety:
Try to reframe ‘exercise’ as ‘movement’ in your head if that feels better to you. Either way, don’t use movement as a way to punish your body. Your body is the vessel through which you get to experience the world, and there is a lot that it can do that you probably don’t even think about! Movement helps us get in touch with our bodies and it can also be a chance to shake off some excess anxiousness.
Develop a sleep routine
Sleep can be hard to come by when you’re anxious all of the time. Try to establish a strict bedtime routine – not to be no fun, but to give your body + brain a strong signal that it’s time to rest. Try listening to ambient sounds or white noise while you sleep if you get distracted by sounds in the night. Experiment with different bedding if you can to see what helps you sleep. Do a few yoga poses to prepare your body for sleep. Journal a bit. Whatever works for you is fine!
Anxiety usually involves worry about one of two things – what happened in the past, and what’s coming up next. Mindfulness helps you unplug from the past and future focus and teaches you how to tune into the present moment.
Change up your feeds
Does your social media make you feel better or worse after you use it? If you feel worse after scrolling through social media, it may be time to revamp your feeds. Unfollow or mute anyone who no longer makes you feel good about yourself. Do some research and follow some feel-good accounts that align with your interests. Sometimes just switching up what we scroll through can make a big difference.
There’s something about writing down what you think and feel that helps process things. You don’t have to write anything profound or even write in full sentences (if you want to lose a few hours, look up #bulletjournal on any social media platform – you’ll see the limits are endless!). You can write out lists of what you’re thinking, make notes for yourself, and have a safe, private space to work out your thoughts.
If you’re currently living with anxiety, know that you’re not alone. There are a lot of ways to manage anxiety, and if you need help finding one that works for you, checking in with a therapist is always a good place to start.