Anxiety sometimes feels like my full-time job. Whether I’m making an important presentation or just shopping for groceries, some part of my brain always seems to be hard at work, worrying. Fortunately, just like any job, I’ve learned a few tricks of the trade over the years to still get things done.
These little tips and strategies make my life go more smoothly and keep me grounded when I’m in a situation that makes me nervous, overwhelmed, or stressed out. But please note: I’m a writer, not a mental health professional. There are many types of anxiety (and many different triggers for anxiety.) I tried to make diverse yet practical suggestions, but since your brain is different from mine, your results may vary. So feel free to adapt or change these suggestions to suit your needs!
Here are a few of my favorite anxiety "hacks" that I find most helpful:
Start (and finish) something new
- Not sure how to begin a project? You don’t have to start at the beginning! You can jump around as much as you want and revise it later. Take this list you’re reading right now, for example. This is the first entry on the list, but it was one of the last things I actually wrote.
- If a pristine, blank page stresses you out, try mashing your keyboard. Write curse words, vent your frustration about the project, just get SOMETHING onto the page. Then proceed with your perfectly imperfect word-processing powers. Just remember to delete the nonsense before you turn it in.
- Get your friends to help (or pester) you to follow through on your goals. The peer pressure works to your advantage, creating a little support network to cheer you on.
Manage your time
- Make a to-do list when you’re feeling overwhelmed or lost in your responsibilities. Give yourself 5 minutes to list all the obligations & responsibilities you have that come to mind on a sheet of paper. When your worries are all laid out, it will be easier to see what you really need to focus on. (Then see “Slay your to-do list” below!)
- Keep a calendar and update it regularly. Don’t let important events sneak up on you! Make sure you have enough time each day to get where you need to go without rushing, and don’t forget to make time for meals and relaxation.
- Setting timers on my phone provides me with a goal and motivates me to stay focused on what’s in front of me. Give yourself 20 to 30 minutes to work -- don’t stop until you hear the alarm go off. Then give yourself a well-deserved five-minute to 10-minute break. Repeat as many times as necessary and/or possible.
- Crossing stuff off your to-do list is soooo soothing, so set yourself up for success! When you make a to-do list, include something very easy so you can check it off immediately and bask in the glow of your productivity.
- Start with whatever task is causing you the most stress. When cleaning, I find it really therapeutic to start with the biggest chore or the mess I find most uncomfortable to live with. It’s always a relief when I don’t have to worry about it anymore, and I become energized to knock out the smaller things too.
Make tough decisions with confidence
- Prioritize your own safety and well-being first. If you’re overly worried about what friends, family, or others around you might think about your choice, you may end up doing something that’s not in your best interest. You’re the only you that you’ve got, so take care of yourself.
- Listen to what your body is telling you. At some level, you already know what you want, even if you still feel uncertain. Pay attention to what you feel physically and emotionally as you’re weighing your options. If you’re experiencing physical signs of stress, such as a headache, stomach upset, or tiredness, your body might be trying to tell you to do things differently.
- Agonizing over a choice between two things? Easy -- flip a coin! The result of the coin flip isn’t important, but pay attention to your reaction to the outcome. If you feel disappointed about what the coin picked for you, that can inform your ultimate choice.
Take rejections in stride
- Instead of thinking of rejections as failures, think of them as baby steps out of your comfort zone. Start collecting rejections -- while still respecting others’ individual boundaries, of course. You may even want to set a goal to hear one “no” per day.
- Ask someone you admire to share a story about a time they were rejected. It’s hard to see greatness in ourselves the way we can see it in others, and a mentor or a role-model's experience can help you build confidence in your own abilities.
Take control of your anxiety
- Try to stop overthinking things. Trust me, I know this sounds basically impossible. But when I’m already anxious, thinking more about the source of my anxiety NEVER helps. One way I try to interrupt an anxious train of thought is to say things to myself out loud, then switching my focus to whatever I'm actually doing at the moment-- even if that's just resting, or walking somewhere. For example:
- “It doesn’t matter right now." (What matters is the thing I'm doing.)
- “First I’m going to focus on [what I'm doing], then I’ll think about that later."
- “I’m not in any danger, nobody’s going to hurt me.”
- Be mindful of the kinds of topics/places/media that trigger negative emotions. I enjoy watching a lot of YouTubers who discuss gender, sexuality, and social conflict, but I know the comments on those videos are likely to be a minefield of sexism, queerphobia, and hateful arguing. So, in general, I don’t read the comments!
- If you notice you’re doing something that’s causing you to feel depressed, angry, fearful, or self-destructive, stop for a moment. Take some deep breaths, drink some water, or go outside for a minute -- whatever you have the time or space to do. Then, evaluate how important that task is to you at that moment. If it is important, make a plan for how to get through it using one of the tips above. But if it’s not, do something else!