I've been fortunate enough to have access to therapy and medication, which — while they'll never "cure" me — have definitely made it easier for me to live my life. I truly believe there's no substitute for professional mental healthcare*, and in an ideal world, everyone would have access to these resources. It's incredibly unjust that we still live in a society where getting help is considered a privilege.
Even with these resources, however, I still have off days and times where I'm not feeling my best mentally. So, this week, when Reddit user u/Chimookie asked, "Anxiety sufferers of Reddit, what calms you down?," I knew I needed to scroll through the thread immediately. Here are some things that people with anxiety say help them cope:
Note: None of the following are intended to be substitutes for professional medical advice.
1. "In the moment, a change of scenery helps — getting up and walking away, maybe going outside or to another floor of the building, etc. In general, I stick to a routine as much as possible. I try to ensure a good night’s sleep every night, which typically means no screens before bed (phone, TV, iPad), as well as a solid bedtime routine."
2. "Anything that requires focus that isn't related to my actual problems. For example, games such as Sudoku or Minesweeper. Spending a few minutes on my phone thinking about something else helps me a lot."
"My 9-year-old wanted to download a video game named Subnautica. You basically spend the whole time grinding resources to build better equipment. This has been amazing for my anxiety."
"I enjoy playing Sims and making fake humans who are more functional than I am."
3. "I find that if I notice my anxiety is going up, it's often a signal that I need to exercise. I read in college that the body can confuse feelings. For example, you can be thirsty, but think you're hungry. When you need to exercise, your body can interpret that as tiredness, or anxiety. So, I just try to pay attention to this. If I'm tired, but I know I'm well-rested, it usually means I need to bootstrap myself to the gym."
5. "I’ve found such profound relief from my anxiety through meditation. It’s changed my whole relationship with anxiety. I try to be mindful of what that feeling is, where it is, and just be curious about it. Then, I try to welcome the feeling of anxiety. I often say something like, 'Oh hey, it’s you again. You can stay as long as you need. It’s safe here!'"
6. "It sounds cliché, but 'letting the pain flow through me' is probably the best answer, at least long-term. I have to let myself accept risk and the possibility of failure, but also remember that no matter what happens, I will try to make things better in any given situation. I can always rely myself on at least trying, which is something that is easy to forget when you're anxious. I think a lot of anxiety sticks around way longer than it should because you subconsciously push it down as a way to avoid the pain, but the repressed emotions don't disappear. They just churn in the background, like a slowly growing monster, eating you alive from within."
7. "Breathing exercises. Four seconds in, eight seconds hold, eight seconds out. Usually just the counting helps, but it also clears out your lungs if you blow hard enough."
"I recommend box breathing. I thought it was B.S. until I tried it. I use it at least once a day now, and it has drastically helped reduce my anxiety."
8. "This might sound incredibly childish, but my boyfriend gifted me this red panda plush. It has the sweetest face and we call him Butter. Whenever my boyfriend visits (we're in a long-distance relationship) we usually goof around with it. Some days, it really calms me down to just look at Butter's cute face and think of all the silly things that we declared part of his character."
9. "I sing. It stimulates the vagus nerve and makes me regulate my breathing so I’m not taking shallow breaths, which continue the anxiety spiral. I highly recommended it."
10. "Knitting or running while listening to music or an audiobook. The key for me is to engage in a repetitive movement that doesn’t require much thinking."
11. "Gentler exercise like going for a walk, grocery shopping, or cleaning all work incredibly well. When I was pregnant, I was trying to reduce my Zoloft as much as possible, but also not have completely uncontrolled anxiety. I found that walking in the sunshine every day was worth about 25 mg of Zoloft for me. I’m dealing with some health crap right now that is super scary and is preventing me from exercising, and my anxiety is through the freaking roof. Whenever I can actually get the health stuff to calm down enough to let me just vacuum or scrub the bathroom, I can’t believe how much better I feel for a little while. I miss my active lifestyle so much. Here’s hoping the doctors can figure out answers soon."
12. "Making things helps me. I sculpt with polymer clay and paint, and I listen to TV shows or podcasts while I do it. Engaging my senses in something helps my anxiety levels go down. Cooking is also really helpful for me for the same reason."
13. "If you're having a panic attack, a really good trick is to smell something strong and fragrant. It brings you back to the real-life moment instead of what's going on in your head, and it help calms you down. Personally, when I was at my lowest, I used cinnamon or raspberry extract for that purpose. It only took a deep smell or two to level me out long enough to calm down."
14. "My pet rabbits. I don't even necessarily have to see them in person to calm down — I keep a pretty big folder of pictures and videos of them just being adorable. Seeing their cute faces and adorable behavior just takes me right back to that feeling of petting them, and it really eases me."
15. "In general, I've been using a combination of techniques — including some that are used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy — to gain more control over my mental well-being. I know this might sound cliché, but what worked best for me was studying and engaging in stoicism. It's made such a drastic change in who I am as a person today compared to who I was at the same time last year. What works for me might not work for everyone, and I hope whoever reads this is able to find something that works for them. Anxiety sucks, and I wouldn't wish it on anyone."
16. "Music helps me. I get anxious in quiet rooms, so I sleep with music, and I almost always have music on unless I'm talking to someone."
17. "I generally don’t have too much of an issue with it, but I nearly had a full-on anxiety attack a couple of weekends ago. What ended up working for me — and I fully realize that this isn’t something one could do in the middle of a work day or something — was putting on an old, familiar movie, curling up with some blankets on the couch, and turning the lights off. I looked at some puppy videos, too, because how could that possibly be stressful? After an hour or so, I was pretty much fully back to my normal self."
18. "If I get anxious while I'm at home, my plants help calm me down. Checking them for pests, watering and fertilizing them, repotting, wiping down the foliage, taking cuttings, etc. Plants just have a calming effect on me. My entire apartment is a jungle."
19. "If I'm anxious, I prefer to spend some time alone. I'll play some video games, stick a podcast on, and maybe watch a few comfort shows. Right now I'm making my way through The Simpsons again. I'm the type of person who gets exhausted when interacting with people, so I just need time to recharge my batteries."
20. "Writing! I love putting my ideas on paper, but only if I can do so privately."
21. "Home improvement projects. I saw a meme recently — I can't remember what the actual image was, but the caption was like, 'Me consuming five different forms of media at once to prevent the chance of a thought occurring,' and honestly it's just too perfect. When I get anxious, I pop in some headphones and a podcast and start pressure washing something. I very quickly forget whatever I was anxious about."
22. "I use anime to calm down — really, really intense anime. I like watching Demon Slayer or reading the Promised Neverland."
23. And finally: "If you have an anxiety disorder, the proper medication can be a lifesaver. In some cases, literally. It's not necessarily for people who just get anxious from time to time. But for people for whom anxiety is a real problem in their lives, and calming activities don't help? Medication can really help."
If you have anxiety, what are some strategies you use to help cope with it? Tell us in the comments.
Note: Entries have been edited for length and/or clarity.
Dial 988 in the US to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The Trevor Project, which provides help and suicide-prevention resources for LGBTQ youth, is 1-866-488-7386. Find other international suicide helplines at Befrienders Worldwide (befrienders.org).