First things first, ‘self-care’ is very different to hands-on advice about what to do when anxiety hits. Why is it important to differentiate? Because when you are already going full steam into the next panic attack, self-care tips don’t quite cut it. In those moments – depending on the intensity – we need to rely on proven methods such as breathing exercises, sensory distractions or reaching out to our therapist or support network to get us through the anxious episodes.
What I will be talking about here are ways to nurture your mind and body when anxiety has turned into an uninvited-yet-persistent companion in your life, but when it is not in full flow. You know, the moments where anxiety is present but leaves you alone for an hour, a day, a week… That’s when the mind maintenance team, aka you, can step in and make it a little bit harder for anxiety to take over again.
It’s ironic that it’s easier to dedicate time to mental struggles when they are most pressing, but I personally think it’s just as crucial to have a wellbeing routine when you don’t think you need one. It’s a bit like homework (and I often do find it just as annoying) but I am better off spending time on my mind while it is not set on fire by my anxiety. After all, it really is my most precious commodity.
So, what pops up in your head when you think about self-care? Bubble baths and a Netflix binge? Although I admittedly indulge in both frequently (sometimes at the same time), I consider them the kind of stuff anyone should do to unwind and give their mind a proper break, whether they have anxiety or not. The situation is slightly different when our brain is also a professional worry machine that has mastered the art of being uber-alert. Our self-care routine has to match its intensity.
Self-Care When Battling Anxiety: 5 Practical Tips
This is a no-brainer, right?
However, do you schedule rest into your day aside from at night-time? Neither did I but I have learned the hard way that if I try to run on empty, I won’t run very far and certainly not the extra mile that I usually pride myself on going.
Here is the interesting part; have you ever thought about what ‘rest’ genuinely means to you? Because resting does not necessarily have to be sleeping; everyone is slightly different when it comes to finding rest.
For me it is sitting on my terrace without my phone for 30 minutes. If I do that daily, I can feel a big difference. Rest could also mean listening to a calming audiobook. Or cancelling dinner with friends because you don’t feel like it. Anything that brings quiet to your mind and lets the dust settle, works. If it is in fact sleep, then sleep.
Anxiety eats up an enormous amount of energy. There is no shame in needing to recharge a little bit more. Instead, nap with pride – after all you are taking care of your greatest treasure.
My personal check-in is part of my evening routine. I set about 10 minutes aside for this, often while I get ready for bed and look at myself in the mirror. I understand though that for some people it is too uncomfortable to have a conversation with oneself while also staring your reflection in the eye. It’s intense. I get it. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, but check-in with yourself and see how you are feeling.
This isn’t a ground-breaking method but it’s incredibly useful (and in my opinion underrated) because it is so very easy to neglect taking stock of our mind. Making it a habit to evaluate your mental state can make all the difference in preventing a downward spiral.
During this internal dialog I also go through the list of things I worry about. Setting time aside each day to do it means I give myself permission to ‘worry less’ during the other 23 hours and 50 minutes of the day.
A letter to yourself
This might seem whacky but hear me out because this one has saved me so many times from entering that dark space (or helped me come out of the tunnel a little quicker) so I want to offer it to you.
The next time you have a good day, a really brilliant everything-is-rosy kinda day, write a letter to yourself and describe how you are feeling. How beautiful the world around you is and how perfectly you fit into this grand puzzle we call life. List the things you are proud of, the times your kindness made a difference, or describe the mountains you have successfully climbed already. Paint a colourful picture of the life you are enjoying in that very moment. Then acknowledge that the future version of you reading this might not feel as great. Give them a written hug, but most importantly be their cheerleader. Because you know how perfectly well equipped you are to ride this rollercoaster. You’ve done it before, and you will do it again.
And what better person to root for you than yourself? The one who knows it all – the good, the bad and the ugly. If that person knows you can pull through, it must be the truth, right?
What are you feeding your mind?
From adverts to traffic jams, city noises and constant text messages, our minds are bombarded with a never-ending stream of outer stimuli, which we need to process. Feeling overwhelmed often goes hand-in-hand with anxiety and that’s why it is even more important to pay attention to what we feed our mind.
Whilst there are plenty of things we cannot control, it is a useful exercise to closely pay attention to what we can actually influence. For example, your social media intake. It is as simple as asking yourself what platforms or accounts bring you joy as opposed to the ones that feed the Comparison Game. And let’s face it, with the unrealistic standards highlight reels set, it’s a game we can never win.
What goes into your mind shapes the way you perceive the world, so be mindful of what you feed it. The power is yours.
The practice of letting go
I’ve been given the advice of ‘letting go’ so many times and it always made me angry – because where is that magic button that I can press to let everything go? And what on earth does it even mean to let go? Let what go, exactly?
I only started to understand and learn the skill of letting go when I frankly had no other option. At my lowest point where I had no control over anything, and where my energy levels crashed past zero, I did that very thing I always wondered about. I let go. Let go of the worries of what tomorrow will bring, let go of the overthinking of every aspect of my life, of other people’s opinions and of the desperate attempt to control life’s flow.
For me ‘letting go’ meant to acknowledge that I couldn’t change most of these things, and that it was, in fact, far less exhausting to free-fall alongside life. Learning to swim with the current and not against it has been a magic revelation to me. There seems to be a universal equation that if you do throw yourself in fully without blocking anything, life rewards you with falling into place.
So, where’s the catch, you ask? Well, it’s hard to stop getting worked up about things that don’t go the way we want them to. But the trick is to practice letting go with small stuff in your daily life and then gradually tackle the bigger obstacles. It is much easier practicing this when you are not hitting rock bottom and to make it a way of life rather than a forced response to challenges.
This blog article is a part of The Lily-Jo Project’s International Weekend of Self-Care campaign which takes place in August. To learn more about this campaign and access additional self-care resources, visit www.thelilyjoproject.com/internationalweekendofselfcare.
Further Resources on Anxiety
If you found this article helpful, check out these other resources on depression provided by The Lily-Jo Project.
- The Lily-Jo Project’s Anxiety & Stress Resource
- Mastering Anxiety: 6 Simple Steps from Lily-Jo
- How to Cope With Body Anxiety & Covid-19: 6 Practical Tips
- 5 Practical Tips for Managing Post-Lockdown Anxiety
About the Author: Mari Stracke
Mari Stracke is a London-based writer and mental health advocate from Germany. She suffers from PTSD and anxiety, and often shines a light on what life with these mental struggles feels like. She also does stand-up comedy where she explores these issues in a humorous way and speaks at events about the importance of mental health.