Tips for Managing and/or Reducing Anxiety

Here are a few tips that have helped me when I’ve been having high anxiety slash panic attacks.

I use all of these on a regular basis. Some of them are effective right away, some of them I have to try several of them before I find one that is effective, and sometimes none of them work. It really depends on the day, my mood, and any number of other factors. Some of these you can do anywhere, at any time, and some you may have to plan ahead for.

Since anxiety is a body-up experience what helps the most will be whatever brings you into the present moment and out of your body experience.

Start first with your breath. And I know that may seem simplistic but it’s not just inhaling and exhaling, it’s how you inhale and exhale that will be key to bringing your awareness away from your body and into the moment.

  • Take a deep breath in and count to four, and then on the exhale, count to eight. Count to six if eight feels too long. The exhale should be longer than the inhale because this is what triggers the parasympathetic system, this is counter to the sympathetic (fight-flight-freeze) response that comes with anxiety and panic attacks. Take in several deep breaths and let out the exhale as slowly as you can. If it helps, purse your lips as if you were blowing up a balloon or blowing through a straw, this will help to make the exhale longer than the inhale.

So I know that sometimes breathing doesn’t help as much as it could. Either it comes too fast or you just can’t focus on it. No worries, it is a starting point, and is always worth a try.

  • If you’re able to, get up and take a walk, or start pacing if your space is limited, or climb a flight of stairs. This is a physcial way to try and expend some of the energy that comes with the anxiety. It does require several minutes of walking or pacing, and may require a few flights of stairs before you start to reduce the anxiety. You may have to walk or pace faster in order to feel the full effect of the energy being expelled though. If you are able to, do it so that you start breathing hard from exertion. This can be done pretty much anywhere, as long as you have the freedom and space to do so.
  • Shaking out your hands and arms can also help to expend some of the energy. If you’re able to, shake out your whole body–hands, arms, feet, legs etc.
  • If you don’t have the space and freedom to move around then you can still try tensing and relaxing muscle groups. For example, clench and release your fists several times, or tense and shrug your shoulders several times, you can tense and release your thigh muscles, and your calves by stretching and relaxing your feet. This can be done pretty much anywhere, at any time, however, it may take several tries of tensing and relaxing before you start to notice a reduction in your anxiety.
  • If you are near a washroom, at your house, or a close friend or family member’s house, then go to the bathroom and splash cold water on your face. Do this several times, and with the water as cold as you can tolerate it. This will shock the nervous system, and can help reduce the tension and agitation that comes with anxiety. Cold showers also can do this, however, a shower might be best done at home.

Getting outside of the body, we next have naming and/or counting that you can try…

The best thing about naming or counting is you can do this wherever you are, inside or outside, sitting at home, at a friend’s house, or outside travelling on public transit. I can’t speak to whether any of these can work while driving as I don’t drive. However, if you are able to do any of these safely while driving then I hope it helps.

  • Start looking around you and naming things you see. For example, if you’re in a living room, just start naming what is in the room: a couch, a chair, the tv, coffee table, carpet, television, remote control, lamp, bookcase, it doesn’t matter what you name, just name it. In your head or out loud, doesn’t matter.
  • If you’re in a car or on the bus or subway, start naming things around you. For example, that man sitting across from you on the bus has dark hair and is wearing a blue shirt and blue jeans and has on black running shoes, and that woman has dark hair and is wearing a red dress and a black jacket and has red shoes on, she is carrying a red purse over her shoulder, and so on.
  • If you’re not able to focus on one person or it feels too much like staring, then start naming or observing everyone around you. For example, that man has a black coat, that woman has a red coat, that other woman has a blue coat and blue hat, etc.
  • If you don’t want to name things, or you’re unable to focus enough to name things, then start counting. How many people are around you wearing black pants, or how many people have dark hair, or how many people are on their cellphones, or you could look out the window and start counting all the red cars you see, or count how many four door sedans you pass, or start naming the stores you see or count how many people walking, or how many people walking wearing running shoes.
  • If naming and counting seem a little too focused for you in the moment, then try A, B, C-ing. For example, start with A and then start naming countries, or cities, or foods, or boys’ names, or girls’ names. For example: A=apple, or A=Allison, or A=Afghanistan, B=banana, or B=Brenda, or B=Berlin, and so on

It doesn’t matter what you name or count, just keep counting or naming. Do it for a few minutes or more, and you should feel your anxiety at least start to reduce.

There are a few tricks you can try that are usually best to be done at home, mostly because they are not very travel-friendly skills, and may require some alone time to do.

  • An ice pack, placed by your neck or face, is also effective in shocking the system into reducing anxiety. Do this for as long as you can tolerate. Keep a couple of gel ice packs in your freezer, if you can. Frozen vegetables can also work in a pinch, just try not to let them totally thaw.
  • Holding an ice cube in your hand can be a very useful distraction skill. You will need to hold it until it starts to hurt because this is what will shock the system and distract you out of your mind and into your body, specfically whichever hand you are holding the ice cube in.

*If you are sensitive to cold then I wouldn’t suggest using any of the cold water or ice pack methods, and to try some of the other suggestions.

There are several things that you can plan ahead with in order to help manage or reduce anxiety.

  • One way that can help you change your breathing, is to chew gum and blowing bubbles with the gum. This can be very helpful with releasing tension in the jaw. As does sucking on a mint or candy. Unless you’re near a store where you can get some, this you will have to plan ahead to have on hand. I carry both gum and mints with me because I never know what will help.
  • If you don’t like chewing gum, and prefer candies or mints, this can still help, as you can focus on the mint or candy in terms of texture and taste. What does it taste like, what does it feel like, is it smooth or rough in texture, can you smell anything, is it a hard candy or a soft candy? And with a mint or candy you can see how long you can hold it in your mouth without chewing on it or swallowing it. This can help distract you, especially if holding it in your mouth starts to create a physical reaction, like it starts to feel like burning on the inside of your mouth if you hold it one place too long.
  • If you need something more tangible and/or cerebral to distract you and take you out of your body, particularly if you like words or numbers, I recommend crosswords, word seek or sudoku, whichever suits you. There are also kids phonics books you can get that are easy enough to focus on in the moment, but not too hard that it won’t distract you. This would be for the word and numbers people. And it would also require having to bring it with you, so I recommend carrying a pocket size, if you can find one, so you can have it on hand or bringing it with you when you know you’re going somewhere that can raise your anxiety.
  • For the non-word lovers who still need something tangible, there are Rubik’s cube, wooden puzzles, metal puzzles and rings, and yo-yos, fidget spinners, silly putty, play doh, or a slinky can be helpful but they mean carrying with you at all times and that isn’t always feasible. Plus things to fidget with tend to be more to keep anxiety stable and are not always helpful when anxiety spikes or becomes a panic attack. They certainly don’t hurt to have on hand either way if you can.
  • Small plush toys, keychains or pieces of fabrics can be helpful to soothe and distract.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, as there are so many things that can help manage and reduce anxiety, and it can be very personal or specific to the moment. One way to help you find what might work for you, is the next time you are feeling anxious, think about what do you think would help you in this moment? If you could have something or do something in this moment that might help you reduce the anxiety you’re feeling, what would that be? Would you prefer something tangible or do you want something that doesn’t require external stimuli? Would you prefer something you can taste or something you can touch?

It will probably take some time and practice to find what works for you and that’s okay. Listen to yourself and whatever works for you, works for you, and that is all that matters. Be patient and try not to discount anything. Sometimes what works for you can surprise you, or it might seem “weird”. Don’t worry about that, as long as you’re not hurting anyone else, or encroaching on their space, then do what works best for you.

Remember that this may only reduce your anxiety. The goal is to try and at least manage whats going on for you in this moment, until you are able to get home, or wherever you feel safe. Mix and match, test and practice, you never know what will happen or when, and you never know what will work or won’t. Be prepared ahead when you can, and hopefully some of these might help you with your anxiety.


The Hunt for an Identity

I am on a mission. To find me. To find out who I am. I have no idea where to start or even how. I just know I want to find me. I want to find out who I am.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please feel free to share because I’m finding my way blind right now.

Developmental trauma and BPD have left me that I have no idea who I am. I think I catch slivers of the person I am and for the most part it seems positive. Except I’m not sure if it’s me or what has become entrenched in me. And I have no idea how to tease it apart to find out. I guess that’s a question for my psychiatrist.

Note to self…ask psychiatrist.

Otherwise though how does a person find their identity? Is it even able to be “found”? Or do you create it? How do you create an identity? What makes up an identity? Maybe I should start there. What does make up an identity? Your personality? Hm. I hope not because with borderline personality disorder does that mean my personality is really borderline? And if it is, borderline to what?

The borderline in borderline personality disorder is between psychosis and neurosis so that’s not really where I want my identity to be. I don’t think it is. Or maybe it was before, it’s not where I want it to be now.

Honestly, I’m just lost. I have no idea how to find an identity. Is it something that’s already in me? If so, how do I bring it out?

I need to find out what makes an identity….so time lapsed…I actually googled what makes an identity. And depending on which site you believe, from Wikipedia to Psychology Today, an identity can be made up of any of the following: your values, your beliefs, your culture, your ethnicity, your thoughts, your feelings, your actions, your history, and/or your religion.

I’m sure there are probably other things that can make up an identity but this feels like enough. Sigh. I’m not sure if having all of this info helps me or just further muddies the situation for me. Because this feels like it’s one of those things that can be subject to change depending on who you’re talking to and on what day. Like how everyone has their own idea of beauty.

This tells me that what makes up a persons identity is relatively flexible. One thing that was pretty consistent in information was that a person’s identity typically starts to form some time around 14 months to two years of age. So that means most of what becomes your identity is shaped by what you learn, what you see and your surroundings.

Well, if that’s true then no wonder I have no idea who I am. I was surrounded by so much uncertainty and hostility there really was no chance for a proper identity to form. I definitely did not learn to trust myself, or others. I learned that conflict is almost always solved with more conflict and/or rage and violence, and sometimes both.

I learned that problems are solved by freaking out or shutting down, or both. Followed by crying that may or may not end with a nap, and the problem actually being solved may be taken over by someone else who feels sorry for you.

I learned that being curious is a bad thing and you should never EVER ask questions. I learned that whether you’re a good person or not is totally dependent on what everyone else thinks. I learned that being emotional, or having any emotions besides rage, is a very bad thing, and anything other than rage is “too sensitive”.

I learned that crying may result in physical abuse accompanied by the threat of more physical abuse that will supposedly “give me something to cry about”. I learned that taking care of yourself is only for special occasions and holidays. And I learned that love is conditional and cannot be counted on.

All things considered I’m frankly shocked I was able to function on any level for any lengthy period of time. If you’re not given a solid foundation to start with then how can you build anything that will hold on top of it? Without a solid foundation, everything built on top will be doomed to crumble.

I guess that explains why I never really developed an identity. At least not a proper one. And any identity I did try on never stuck. How could it? It had nothing to latch onto. Nothing reliable anyway. My identity became that crumbling structure, doing whatever I could to keep it together, slapping on duct tape and band aid solutions wherever a crack formed, and hoping like hell it would all just stay together in one piece just a little longer.

If who I am was a crumbling structure then right now I am breaking it all down and renovating and rebuilding. Starting with the foundation. That’s where my daily self-care comes in. So maybe when my foundation is more solid I can start on my identity. And maybe this time it will be stronger and healthier because I will be stronger and healthier.

The hunt continues…

*TW* Struggling

Since I am just going to post whatever for now I decided to try and “talk” out what I am currently struggling with. I don’t know if it’s depression because I’m not feeling as dark and stay-in-bed-until-the-end-of-time as I would when my depression gets bad. I guess it could just be a milder form of depression.

I can tell you for sure that anxiety is on the agenda. Big time. This week in particular anxiety has been kicking my ass. So much so that I went on the hunt around my home for the med Lorazepam to try and help calm me down. And then when I finally ransacked every bag I’ve used in the last year, and finally found the bottle only to discover it empty, I just sat down and cried.

Nothing was working. Nothing.

All the skills I’ve come to learn and have mostly been effective when I’m struggling with anxiety were useless. They didn’t even make a dent in my anxiety. Frankly I’m shocked I even remembered them (a testament to how effective practicing them can be but I digress…), but not matter what I tried, it didn’t work. It made me feel like I was losing my mind. It made me want to die.

The weather is not helping me because it’s either been way too cold, minus 40 on one day, or there’s been two feet of snow (not cleared, thank you very much sidewalk clearing people), or freezing rain, turning the sidewalks into long ice rinks. I’m not totally sure I would have gone out, or that I could have gotten past my anxiety to get out, but I like knowing the option is there. And having it taken away makes me feel even more trapped.

I’m trying to be patient and kind with myself and at times, I am. Other times it makes me feel like standing on a ledge. And that’s the other thing. I’m having suicidal thoughts. I haven’t had suicidal thoughts in months and having them come screaming back to me is not something I am liking, nor am I prepared for it.

I know a lot has been going on the last several weeks that unfortunately could not be avoided. Except it all has totally derailed me. It derailed me from plans I had, things I was starting, self-care that was finally starting to take hold, and feeling a little better. And then WHAM! Everything came to a halt.

I don’t blame what happened per se, that’s life. And unfortunately life takes you by surprise sometimes. Sometimes it slaps you in the face. The key is to handle it the best way I can, utilize the tools and support that I do have, try to keep the self-care a priority, and be patient and kind to myself while it happens. Cuz I’m getting nowhere fast if I just constantly berate and abuse myself. Learned that the hard way.

So my problem is, I am struggling to get back on track. I feel hopeless and useless and worthless and at the mercy of whatever crap and abuse life decides to throw at me. I feel like I am totally alone, I don’t matter to anyone and it would probably be best if I wasn’t here.

Last night I thought about harming myself. Like I used to. And with the hopes that maybe it would quiet the suicidal thinking. I didn’t. I don’t know why. I really wanted to. For whatever reason, I didn’t. I’d like to say I’m proud of not harming myself but I’m not. It is what it is. I got through last night. Will I be as lucky tonight?

Creating a Distress Tolerance Kit

As anyone who struggles with anxiety, overwhelming thoughts, and overwhelming emotions, and panic attacks knows, there are many times when it feels like the mind has gone bye-bye and has taken logical, helpful thinking with it. In moments of distress, regardless of what triggered them, it can feel like torture. It can feel like the whole world is falling apart, that nothing is safe, and it’s very possible that you might die.

These feelings and thoughts can be paralyzing. I have a very hard time thinking clearly and being able to cope, self-soothe, or distract, can be challenging.

There are some days where I can use “Cope Ahead” from DBT to try and reduce the anxiety by preparing ahead of certain situations where my anxiety or a panic attack can be triggered. Some days though, coping ahead isn’t as effective as I would like it to be, or I didn’t think the anxiety would be so bad so I didn’t cope ahead at all. And some days the anxiety or panic attack hits with no reason or warning at all.

In order to try and reduce my anxiety, no matter where I am, I created a portable distress tolerance kit. It’s small enough I can carry it in my bag so I have it with me pretty much all of the time. At any given time I know where it is. In fact, I have even created a second kit with most of the same items to put in the other bag I use, just in case I forget to take the first one when I switch using bags.

I highly recommend creating a distress tolerance kit for yourself for when anxiety hits, and keeping it somewhere that you can easily get to it when needed, even carrying it with you for when anxiety hits while on the go. Create several kits if you need them and keep them any- and everywhere you may need to use it. Create one for at home, in your car, at work, in your bag, and even at a family or friends place. If you trust them to tell them what it is and what it’s for, of course.

Creating yourself a kit is super easy and can be low-cost too. I created mine by going to the dollar store and altogether I spent less than $20. There are tons of options that can be used for a distress tolerance kit.

Starting with the pouch, which can be any size and basically anything that can hold your little toys or puzzles or whatever. I found my little red pouch in the craft section of the dollar store. Really anything purse or pouch-like can be used. It all depends on how portable you need it to be and how many items you want to carry. You could use a little purse, a coin/change purse, a pencil case, even a sealable sandwich bag could work. If you keep a kit at home, find a pretty box or container you can use to hold your items. Be creative and check toy stores, dollar stores, clearance sections, housewares, crafts and stationary sections too.

As for the items to go into the kit, it is entirely up to you and your needs. Be creative and whenever you find something that helps you, no matter what it is, add it to the kit. Toy sections are an incredibly rich source for little toys and gadgets you can fidget or play with. Even the baby section can have a great selection of items that you can use to soothe or distract you when feeling anxious. Google ideas, too.

This is my distress tolerance kit, and what is included:
– small drawstring pouch
– mini slinky toy
– two small pointy toys
– squishy ball
– silly putty
– small soft mitten

This is the small drawstring pouch

This is the squishy ball (it’s rubber with water inside, and please ignore the fuzzy stuff that got stuck to it, it’s from the inside of the bag)

This is my mini slinky

These are my two pointy toys that I like to fidget with

This is my silly putty (store inside its egg to keep soft)

This is my mitten (it was, of course, a pair of baby mittens, I like to fidget with them because they are so soft)

This is a mini wooden puzzle. (I got this from a Toy Store called Masterminds. I like to fidget with this when I need something more challenging for my mind than just a pointy toy. But apparently, my skill level does not allow me to figure this stupid thing out so I don’t use it a lot.)

This is a mini Rubik’s cube

This is a mini Word Search book

I got all of these items, except for the wooden puzzle, at a dollar store. The wooden puzzle I got from a toy store called Masterminds. And like I said above, the whole kit, including the toy from the toy store, cost me about $20.

These are just some examples that you can use but whatever you find helps distract you and cope could be totally different. I recommend keeping the items small so you can carry them with you, if needed. Sometimes when I’m going out and I’m not carrying a bag I’ll just take the silly putty with me so if I need to fidget I have it on me.

Just remember whatever items you use are what will help you when you need it. It doesn’t matter if they don’t make sense or are not things that right off the bat seem like they will help. If fidgeting with a pencil helps you, then carry a pencil. If you like the way a fluffy little toy feels and helps to soothe you, then get the toy. If fidgeting with a bottle cap helps, then keep a bottle cap on you. It’s you and your needs you’re looking after.

I also have a rock that I like to fidget with and helps me do observe and describe, so yes, I have a rock in my pocket too.

Remember that whatever you decide to use, whether on their own, or collectively as a kit, should be accessible for when you need them. This means keeping them where you can find them and being able to use them because if you’re experiencing high anxiety or panic attack, you most likely won’t be thinking very clearly, so seeing and accessing the items should be easy and fast.

I add and take away items as needed too, so feel free to explore what helps you and rotate or replace items as you need it. You may be in a panic attack when you discover something that didn’t work, try and think to that moment and how you can have something else on hand to help you the next time. I thought a word search book would work for me but one day it didn’t I preferred something I could just fidget with, and so I discovered the silly putty helped.

Having a distress tolerance kit has helped me on many occasions. I do still have anxiety and panic attacks, and a few times I forgot I had the stuff, so it’s not foolproof nor will it totally take the anxiety away. I wish. It does help though. A lot. My anxiety has been reduced by having toys to fidget with, and I have avoided several panic attacks because of them too. Having several items can also help for days when your never know what can help. Sometimes I’m positive the slinky will help but it doesn’t, the toy helps, and other times the toy doesn’t help but the silly putty does.

Sometimes just knowing I have stuff with me can help.

I highly recommend taking the time, as much as needed, and creating your own distress tolerance (anxiety/panic attack) kit. And when you can, don’t leave home without it!

Good luck!