40 Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Stay Calm in Stressful Times
We are not defined by what happens to us, but by how we respond.
Mental health is important in normal times, and yet these are not normal times. Self-care and coping skills are more critical than ever.
With the Coronavirus’ COVID-19 running a mock, it can be hard to think about anything else – but we must.
What we think about grows inside of us…. Let me explain.
A helpful analogy:
Our lives are like the earth and the wind blows all kinds of seeds onto our soil. The good and the bad. We can’t always help what life brings our way.
What we can control, however, is what we choose give extra water and nourishment, and what we choose to weed.
As someone who manages anxiety in myself, I know all to well how stressful times can seem overwhelming. Still, I am choosing to water the parts of my life that bring me joy – like my family and friendships, my art and writing, and my business. I’m being aware of my runaway thoughts and being present and still enough to challenge the panic mentality that can arise without my conscious permission.
How are you coping?
If the answer is “not well,” please reach out for support.
Also, read the list below for 40 ways to manage stress, anxiety, and depression to help you cope and thrive through any life challenges.
I wish you good health and happiness during this health crisis.
Remember: this too shall pass.
40 Ways to Cope with Anxiety and Stay Calm in Stressful Times
Escape into a good book, fiction or a memoir are especially helpful.
Go for a walk – even better in nature. Stretch your legs, breathe deeply, and observe the world around you.
Get your heart pumping and break a sweat – but don’t make it torture. Do an activity you enjoy.
4. Get your Zzz’s
Sleep 8 hours a night and nap if you can.
Keep in touch and connect on a deep level with good friends and close family over the phone or carefully in person.
6. Practice Mindfulness
Learn about and practice mindfulness through kind attention to how you are feeling, what you are thinking, what is happening right now in the present moment. Strive to live here, in the now, and not in the past or the future.
7. Be grateful
Express gratitude through intentional reflection, expressing thanks to others, and writing a daily or weekly list.
Dance to your favorite music – and I mean dance your heart out!
Embrace childlike play… examples: build a fort, day dream, play make-believe.
Paint a picture – anything, even abstract. TIP: If your inner critic tells you you’re not an artist, shut that negativity down and endeavor to make the most ugly painting possible – this will set you free from perfectionism.
11. Enjoy a hobby
Get back into a loved hobby that has fallen by the wayside.
Write in a journal, and feel no pressure to do it every day unless you want to. Write a fictional story. Write anything. Vent. Free write. Pen some poetry.
13. Indulge in the ‘tube’
Binge watch your favorite (or a new) show on Netflix or YouTube series.
Clean out your closet, desk, or kitchen (yes, this sounds like a chore, but it can feel really great when you’re done!).
15. Quality, creative family time
Do anything you enjoy together. One idea: make homemade instruments with your kids and rock it out!
Stretch it out, connect with your body, and get centered.
With COVID-19 out there, you might want to forgo hiring a massage therapist, but there are workarounds. Get a massage from your partner or give yourself a self-massage. Massage your neck and your hands. Use your favorite cream.
Hugs are so good for us. Hug someone else AND hug yourself.
Add Epsom salts or bubble bath, play relaxing music, read a book or simply soak.
20. Drink water
Fill up on this amazing clear liquid and flush yourself out.
21. Snack time
Indulge in your favorite treat. You love it for a reason so enjoy it in an appropriate quantity, savoring every bite.
Put your blanket in the dryer to warm it up, then snuggle up in it like a caterpillar in a cocoon. Read a book, cuddle someone, watch a show, or even sleep surrounded in warmth.
Breathing is natural. There is no right way to do meditative deep breathing. Find what works for you. Stop if you feel lightheaded.
Imagine in pictures and envision yourself living your best life. Put a face to your struggle or anxiety. Name it.
I once struggled a great deal with caring too much about what others thought about me and what I was doing, beyond what was healthy. Now I picture myself as a large stone castle. I have a drawbridge and a mote. I lower the bridge to let in the words and actions of trustworthy people. When something tries to come in that is hurtful or negative, I visualize myself raising my drawbridge. I say to myself, sometimes aloud: “Who controls your joy? I control my joy.”
25. Hold a centering object
A centering object can be anything. A smooth stone. A childhood toy. A favorite pen. A stress ball. Hold the object and use it as a prompt, a reminder to check-out of your anxiety and check-into a more peaceful head space.
26. Create a mantra
A mantra is a guiding, centering statement or a series of words that helps you focus on who you are, what you believe in, and what matters to you most.
In point #24 above I mention the phrase “Who controls your joy?” That is a powerful mantra for me. I spent a good part of my life looking for what would make me happy. One day, not that long ago, my family and I were in our canoe. My daughter was young and complaining about being bored. I got fed up and turned in the canoe, nearly tipping us all, and said in my scary mom voice: “WHO CONTROLS YOUR JOY?”
It hit me then. I had never thought of of my search for ‘happy’ in that way before. That it is in my control. That question is one of my favorite mantras. It helps me remember that joy is an inside job, a choice, and that no external thing can make me happy or take my joy away from me.
27. Powerful sighing
This one seems weird, but it’s not. Try it right now. Take a deep breath in and sigh loudly, powerfully releasing all your air. Do it three times. Feel a little better?
Literally shake your body like a dog who’s just jumped out of the bath, add in your arms and legs too. This gets blood flowing and is almost like a body reset. Do not do this if you are in physical pain for any reason.
29. Have a warm drink
Coffee, tea, hot chocolate. Whatever you like. Hold the mug with your hands, feeling the warmth flow into you through your hands. Slow down and enjoy every sip.
30. Tennis ball massage
Roll a tennis ball under your feet when sitting, or under your back and legs while laying down. Use it to work out knots in specific muscles.
31. Scratch and massage your scalp
There are specific hairbrushes out there that claim to stimulate your scalp. I’ve even seen a strange contraption that looks like a warped egg beater. You can use these, or for the free option: your fingers. Scratch and massage gently starting at your forehead, moving back toward your neck. Think of the scalp massage many hairdressers perform when washing your hair at the salon – and channel that.
32. Sun lamp
As someone with depression aggravated during the winter, I have used a sun lamp for the last 3-4 years. I’m not sure it works – its not like you feel immediately better after use – but having the extra brilliant white light as a part of your self-care routine can’t hurt, though you should read the lamp’s instructions carefully before use.
33. Workout your brain
Do a puzzle, crossword, word search, play cards, or have a game of chess. Engage your brain in critical thinking and creative problem solving.
34. Sniff the smells
Try aromatherapy – or even simply sniff a bag of coffee beans. Your sense of smell is one way to snap into the present and even to remember things more keenly.
Tell jokes with a friend or watch funny videos and laugh out loud. When was the last time you laughed so hard you cried?
36. Snuggle time
Cuddle up with a family member or beloved pet and soak up the closeness and love. Skin to skin time is as important to babies as it is for adults (in my humble opinion).
Learn something new. Take up gardening. Search YouTube for Karate videos and practice along with the instructor. Spend some time researching on your computer on a topic you’ve always found fascinating but do not know much about. During this period of self-isolation, many cultural centers are delivering their content (music, art, etc.) online. Take advantage of this!
38. Go green
Plan something green in your house. Maybe its a tomato plant or a flower or fern. Taking care of the plant and watching it grow will be rewarding and will help to create a healthy – and colorful – environment in your home.
39. Show kindness
Do something nice for another person or for an animal. Caring for others and showing love and kindness makes the world a better place. For others and ourselves.
40. Get help
If you can’t bring your anxiety down to a healthy, manageable level, reach out for professional help. Call a helpline if you cannot leave the house. Make an in-person or by-phone appointment with a mental health professional. You deserve the best care, but often you must be your own advocate for that care. You are worth it.