Full disclosure: I am not in the best place right now, mental health-wise.
There are life-event reasons for this, ones that I won’t go into, but I also have at least one mental illness. I have an anxiety disorder. It’s most likely GAD (generalized anxiety disorder), according to the last therapist I saw, but I am still working towards learning what my exact diagnosis is. It’s a process. So when life and mental illness converge, as they so often do, things can get really difficult. Strategies have to be used. Daily life becomes a series of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
To help with this, I’ve been turning to fun, low-stress activities and sources of relaxation. I’m sure some of my readers struggle with anxiety disorders, and those who don’t still experience feelings of anxiety from time to time. I hope that some of these ideas will help others, or maybe inspire readers to think about what soothes/can soothe their anxiety, depression, etc.
Note: This is a list of things that ease my anxiety personally, but they are not meant to substitute treatment. If you have a disorder and are in a financial position to do so, please seek professional help. Also, the items on this list are different from coping mechanisms–they’re activities, not panic attack tips, breathing exercises, or anything of that nature. Those are important in a different way from what’s listed here.
1. Lavender-Scented/Flavored Things
I’ve heard from various homeopathic sources that the scent and flavor of lavender can help with anxiety. Do I think this has medical truth behind it? Not really–a quick Google search doesn’t show me any credible medical sources to back this up, and the sources that do show up tend to criticize pharmaceutical medications for anxiety, which isn’t okay. But do I find the scent/flavor of lavender soothing, anyway? Do I like its association with relaxation, and does that possibly have a placebo effect on me? Yes and yes. Recently, my wonderful fiancé bought me lavender oil, lavender/chamomile tea, and a lavender bath bomb from Lush because they know I’ve been super anxious lately. These lavender products may not actually be doing anything to me chemically, but they make me happy, and that happiness distracts from stress. The tea provides a caffeine-free alternative (caffeine can make my anxiety worse, so when I’m going through a rough period, I avoid it), so I can have my morning tea without worrying. The lavender oil adds a pleasant scent to a relaxing soak in the tub. And the bath bomb…actually made my skin softer for the rest of the night? It was great. Now all I need is a lavender candle and my arsenal will be complete.
This one’s pretty obvious, but it’s important, so it’s worth mentioning. I think most people turn to music in times of need. I turn to it in a lot of situations–when I’m angry, when I’m sad, when I’m anxious, and, most significantly, for writing inspiration. Sometimes, I will turn to said writing inspiration as armor when I’m feeling one or more of the first three things, because I don’t feel like dwelling on my own issues. Different songs will work for different people, of course, but here’s the anxiety playlist I have on my phone.
- The Afternoon Streets from the Kingdom Hearts 2 Soundtrack (instrumental)
- Amy aka Spent Gladiator 1 by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “Make up magic spells / we wear them like protective shells”)
- Après Moi by Regina Spektor (standout lyric: “I must go on standing / I’m not my own, it’s not my choice”)
- Autoclave by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “I am this great, unstable / mass of blood and foam”)
- Be Calm by fun. (standout lyric: “Be calm / I know you feel like you are breaking down”)
- Blackbird by The Beatles (standout lyric: “Take these broken wings and learn to fly”)
- Carry On by fun. (standout lyric: “When I was left for dead / I was found and now I don’t roam these streets / I am not the ghost you want of me”)
- Damn These Vampires by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “Crawl till dawn / on my hands and knees / goddamn these vampires / for what they’ve done to me”)
- Demons by Imagine Dragons (standout lyric: “Don’t want to let you down / but I am hell bound”)
- Future by Paramore (standout lyric: “Think of the future, think of your dreams / you’ll get away from here, you’ll get away eventually”)
- Hello Cold World by Paramore (standout lyric: “We can hope and we can pray that everything will work out fine / but you can’t just stay down on your knees / the revolution is outside / you wanna make a difference / get out and go and get it”)
- Help! by The Beatles (standout lyric: “My independence seems to vanish in the haze”)
- Hey Jude by The Beatles (standout lyric: “So let it out and let it in / hey Jude, begin / you’re waiting for someone to perform with / but don’t you know that it’s just you?”)
- Holding Onto You by twenty one pilots (standout lyric: “Fight it, take the pain, ignite it/ tie a noose around your mind / loose enough to breathe fine and tie it / to a tree, tell it, you belong to me / this ain’t a noose, this is a leash, and I have news for you / you must obey me”)
- I Am Not A Robot by Marina and the Diamonds (standout lyric: “You’re vulnerable, you’re vulnerable / you are not a robot”)
- Last Hope by Paramore (standout lyric: “It’s just a spark / but it’s enough to keep me going / and when it’s dark out, no one’s around / it* keeps glowing”)
- Let the Flames Begin by Paramore (standout lyric: “What a shame we all became / such fragile, broken things”)
- Lullabye by Fall Out Boy (standout lyric: “When you wake up the world will come around”)
- Misguided Ghosts by Paramore (standout lyric: “Well now I’m told that this is life / and pain is just a simple compromise / so we can get what we want out of it”)
- Moon River sung by Audrey Hepburn (standout lyric: “Moon river, wider than a mile / I’m crossing you in style someday”)
- Never Quite Free by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “It’s so good to learn that from right here the view goes on forever / and you’ll never want for comfort / and you’ll never be alone”)
- Part II by Paramore (standout lyric: “I’ll be lost until / you** find me”)
- Pressure by Paramore (standout lyric: “Some things I’ll never know / and I had to let them go”)
- This Year by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “I am gonna make it through this year if it kills me”)
- Turn It Off by Paramore (standout lyric: “And the worst part is before it gets / any better we’re headed for a cliff / but in the free fall I will realize / I’m better off when I hit the bottom”)
- Until I Am Whole by The Mountain Goats (standout lyric: “I think I’ll stay here/ till I feel whole again / I don’t know when”)
* For me, the “it” in question here has always been my writing.
**And the “you” here is my characters.
3. Stardew Valley
If you follow me on Instagram or Tumblr, I’m sorry I won’t shut up about this game, haha. I would just say that I turn to video games to ease my anxiety, but in reality, that’s not true. Video games can be stressful as hell. Have you ever faced a Deathclaw in any of the Fallout games? Then you know what I mean. But games like Stardew Valley are so, so calming. This game starts with your character quitting their office job to take up a life of farming. From there, you’re introduced to an adorable town with compelling world building, appealing characters, a very cute aesthetic, and relaxing music. The setting, Pelican Town, is a well-crafted character itself. There’s no combat unless you seek it out in the mines. You can do whatever you want/ignore tasks without facing many consequences, but whatever you decide to do with each day in Stardew Valley is somehow rewarded. It has all the good things about leading a productive life without the “urgent responsibilities” part. Spend your day interacting with characters? Your relationships with them improve, which can lead to them giving you free stuff, as well as the opportunity to date and even marry some of them (including those who are the same gender as your character). Dedicate the bulk of your time to your farm? You make lots of money. Catch a fish, find a fruit/vegetable in the woods, or happen upon a gem in the mines? You can place them in the community center to build up points towards rewards. The game is what you make of it. Plus, it’s $15, which is so much more affordable than most games. You can get it on Steam for Mac or PC, or on Xbox One or PS4.
4. Tidying Up
Disclaimer: no, I’m not obsessed with cleanliness, despite what anxiety stereotypes may tell you (though to be fair, this stereotype is usually associated with OCD). Many people with anxiety aren’t. But one thing that does make my anxiety worse is clutter. This is why I immediately put away my clothes after doing laundry, always put things back in their designated spot, keep the floor of my apartment clear, etc. This comes naturally to me, so it may be harder for others to do. However, I have found it difficult when I’m feeling depressed, which kind of sucks–anxiety demands tidiness, yet depression saps the effort required to maintain said tidiness. When that happens, I give myself a little break. If I take off my clothes for the night and just leave them on the floor, I give myself a mental pat-on-the-head and say, “Leave it for the morning.” Sometimes the energy still isn’t there the next day, but I put it away, anyway, because I know that if it piles up, my anxiety won’t be able to handle it. Keep in mind, though, that I said “tidying up,” not “cleaning.” I hate cleaning. Scrubbing, swiffering, sweeping, doing dishes. Ugh. That gives me anxiety. Which is why you’ll sooner see me clear off the clutter on my desk than take a sponge to the bathtub, even if the bathtub needs it more. Which it always does.
This one is last because it’s more complicated. Writing does relieve my stress, but it’s also a job. It requires hard work of every kind–mental, emotional, and physical (ask my back pain). During my most anxious days, I don’t turn to writing, because it feels like too much. But writing novels is helpful to my anxiety on a macro scale. It’s more than something that distracts me from my anxiety–it allows me to explore that anxiety through my characters, their emotional arcs, and the obstacles they face. I was writing about my anxiety long before I knew I had a disorder. It’s one reason the fantasy genre is so important to me: putting my characters in dangerous situations gives my anxiety somewhere to go. I can take my overwhelming anxiety over making a trivial phone call and apply it to a character who’s running for her life. I can put my anxiety in a situation where its intensity makes sense. And now that I’m aware of my disorder, I can apply it to my writing more intentionally. Anxiety plays a huge role in the novel I’m revising, and it’s part of what made the book work so well. Writing may not have “cured” my anxiety and it doesn’t always ease it, but it has helped me understand it.
I hope this helped someone! Or if not, I hope it was mildly entertaining?
*Avatar by Charlavail