Disclaimer: I am not a professional by any means. I am merely stating what has helped me in the past in terms of dealing with my own anxiety. If you are struggling, please feel free to reach out to a loved one, your doctor or psychiatrist, or call the Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-8255.
You can’t breathe properly. You’re shaking. Your palms are sweaty. You can’t comprehend what exactly is happening to you. You want to speak, but nothing comes out. You feel weak, confused, and afraid.
Anxiety attacks are very common amongst people across the globe. In fact, a recent study has stated that about 40 million adults in America between the ages of 18 to 54 struggle with anxiety (source).
Though it is absolutely best to talk to a healthcare professional about your personal mental health issues, I believe that it’s possible to cope with any bout of anxiety you may have in the future. Whether your anxiety attacks last from 5 minutes to 20 minutes, the following tips have helped me cope during times when I didn’t feel mentally strong.
- Avoid people, places, or situations that may trigger your anxiety.
If you notice that your heart starts pounding really fast when you’re at a specific location over and over again, it’s probably because that particular area triggers your anxiety. The same concept goes for people – if you cannot bear to be around a specific person, then by all means, don’t surround yourself with him/her.
Prevention is key, and I think the best way to nip your anxiety in the bud rather than struggle to rip it out from its roots is to avoid situations that may trigger your anxiety altogether.
Don’t feel guilty if a certain person triggers your anxiety and you can no longer be around him/her. It is perfectly okay to say a simple “No” or “Sorry, I can’t be here right now.” Your mental health is of utmost importance, so he/she should be understanding and compassionate toward your needs.
If you’ve never tried meditating before, you’re probably thinking, “Meditation is so boring!” But the benefits that come out of it are worth much more than the boredom you may feel during your meditation session.
Studies have shown that meditation regulates mood disorders and anxiety, decreases your blood pressure, helps you sleep better, reduces stress, slows down the aging process, and boosts your happiness tenfold (source). By incorporating meditation into your daily lifestyle, imagine how much this will help not only with your anxiety, but also with your overall health!
If you’re a beginner at meditation, I highly recommend downloading the free Headspace app on your smartphone. It’s absolutely incredible – you receive 10 free guided meditation sessions that only last for 10 minutes! Who can’t squeeze that into their schedule?
Another option for meditation newbies is to utilize guided meditation videos on YouTube (and trust me, there are hundreds to choose from!). There are many amazing YouTubers who offer guided meditation sessions for 5 minutes, or even up to an hour! For beginners, however, I suggest sticking to 10-minute sessions and working your way up from there.
- Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique.
Personally, my favorite way to deal with my anxiety is to breathe using the 4-7-8 technique. To do this, follow the directions below:
• Inhale for 4 seconds.
• Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
• Exhale for 8 seconds.
• Repeat at least 5 times, or until you feel your heart rate slowing down.
This breathing technique has saved me from times when I feel my anxiety on the verge of bursting, or when I am actually in the middle of a severe panic attack. I recommend having this written down in your Notes app somewhere just in case you forget!
- Find what works for you.
Some people prefer having a friend or two with them during a panic attack for comfort, whereas people (like me) feel overwhelmed when tons of people are surrounding me. Some people like to step outside for a breath of fresh air, while others are fine sitting perfectly still. Some people need privacy to cry their emotions out, and others don’t.
I suggest finding what coping mechanism(s) works best for you when you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack. If you need peace and quiet, don’t be afraid to step outdoors for a few minutes. If you want to talk to someone about what’s been weighing down your thoughts, politely ask one of your friends (preferably someone you trust) if he/she can accompany you outside. Whatever helps you stay calm is what you need to implement as early as the onset of a panic attack. Be sure to memorize your coping mechanisms and tell a trusted friend or adult what they are so they can remind you of them in case you forget in the midst of your anxiety.
- Get enough sleep every night.
Story time: I used to have horrible anxiety during my sophomore year. It was absolutely unbearable – I would wake up to a panic attack, panic during my classes, panic while I was doing homework, panic while I was at home… you name the time of day, I most likely panicked during that time.
In retrospect, I had the least amount of anxiety when I got at least 7-8 hours of sleep the night before. And it’s actually scientifically proven that sleep significantly helps with your anxiety levels (source).
So if your anxiety is awful, I suggest aiming for about 7-8 hours of sleep every single night. Be sure to turn off your phone at least 1 hour prior to going to bed and make your room as dark as possible. However, if your anxiety is interfering with your sleep schedule, consider talking with your doctor about possible solutions for this.
- Avoid consuming too much caffeine.
This may come as a surprise, but coffee may be exacerbating your anxiety levels! If you consume too much caffeine at once, your body may feel excessively “jittery,” which may worsen your panic attacks.
Speaking from personal experience, my anxiety during my sophomore year was terrible, partly due to the fact that I was drinking a grande iced coffee from Starbucks every morning. (I’m not implying that Starbucks is bad for you – I am just stating what hasn’t worked for me.)
To prevent this from occurring to you, I would definitely consider decreasing your caffeine intake (if you do drink coffee regularly). For example, if you’re accustomed to drinking two cups of espresso every morning, start drinking one cup. I would avoid energy drinks at all costs, but if you do drink them, be sure to use them for high-energy activities (such as running, dancing, weight-lifting, etc.) that you will be doing immediately after consumption.
- Don’t put too much on your plate.
If you’re anything like me, it can be tempting to be involved in hundreds of extracurricular activities, work several jobs, and volunteer on a weekly basis at ten different locations. However, only chew what you can swallow! In other words, only say “Yes” to the activities for which you have sufficient time, and don’t feel bad when you have to say “No” to an event for which you simply do not have time in your schedule.
By adding a billion items on your plate, you run the risk of feeling overwhelmed, stressed, incompetent, and therefore more anxious. Wherever possible, try crossing off any extracurricular activities that may interfere with your day-to-day life. For instance, I quit about 7 clubs and organizations that I thought were vital to put on my college applications/résumé. But when I realized that my mental health was more important than how I looked on paper, I left without a trace of doubt. It may be difficult to explain yourself to your coach/advisor/teammates, but they should understand that it is ultimately for the best.
Of course, you cannot say “No” to your education, family life, and personal life, so prioritize these factors first. However, you can always say “No” to your social life, extraneous extracurriculars, and distractions (such as your cell phone, TV, Netflix, etc.).
And those are all the tips I have for dealing with anxiety! If you’ve tried any or all of the above and your anxiety is still dominating your life, you can always contact your doctor or therapist if you need additional help.
As a matter of fact, you can even reach out to me! I’ve been there before and have struggled with really horrible panic attacks for nearly 3 years, but I haven’t had another one since almost a year ago. If you want more personal advice, I am always here if you need anything whatsoever.
As always, I will write again very soon! Good luck, and remember to breathe slowly and think positively ♡