I am an old man and have known many troubles, most of which never happened.—Mark Twain
When Scarlett Johansson talked about her anxiety, she claimed that red carpet events are her triggers. As soon as she gets on the red carpet, she flops sweat and her heart races. She also avoided Broadway for years due to overpowering performance anxiety, commonly known as “stage fright.” For someone as amazingly gorgeous as her, you would probably think, “no way!” Shouldn’t beautiful and successful women be confident in their own skins?
She is not the only one, though, a number of celebrities have openly admitted suffering from panic attacks, agoraphobia, severe depression, social phobia, suicidal ideation, and other anxiety disorders. Now think about how many people are hiding their anxious thoughts? People who look perfectly fine on the outside, but in reality, are falling apart at the seams. How do they manage to keep their anxiety under control?
Relieving anxiety symptoms
Since anxiety is the main symptom of several psychiatric conditions, including phobia, panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, many physicians and therapists fall into a habit of giving catchall solutions to their patients. But there is no panacea for anxiety. Each patient requires a tailor-made treatment plan. Since it’s impossible to design a treatment that works for everyone, the experts in the field rely on both literature and real-world data of what works and what fails. But that’s a topic for another day, here we will talk about how anxious people like you try to keep their symptoms at bay. These strategies do not replace treatment recommendations from medical professionals. Every individual is unique. Your knowledge of yourself will help you to choose the methods that best suit your needs.
Lower your emotional temperature
Seth Swirsky, a clinical psychotherapist who has also struggled with “depression and anxiety-filled moments,” uses small simple tasks to alleviate her symptoms. When deep-breathing exercises didn’t help her panic attacks, she came up with a simple technique. Using two cold, wrung-out, and folded washcloths placed on the forehead and the back of the neck seems to calm her anxiety. She reasoned that high anxiety is like a high fever, which you need to bring down… even if it means wetting your pillow. Try this for at least 20 minutes, then repeat as many times as you want.
Reduce your stress bucket
Another way of calming your anxiety is by reducing your stress bucket. In their book Release your Worries, Dr. Howell and Dr. Murphy use stress bucket as a metaphor to illustrate how stress can build up and spill over with emotions and actions that are far from the person you want to be. So how do you empty your stress bucket? You can do this through various relaxation techniques. Many therapists suggest mindfulness exercises such as breathing exercises, meditation or yoga. But it can also be as simple as listening to or playing music, reading a book, having a warm or cold bath, and engaging in a hobby. While stress is not always a bad thing, you need to keep it at a level comfortable to you. Stress can boost performance but too much stress or overstimulation can also diminish it significantly.
Boost mind-body connection
We know that exercise is good for the body, but its impact on mental health is definitely worth exploring. Some patients who were taking prescription medication or undergoing psychotherapy for years have significantly reduced their symptoms after committing to a workout routine. Many health professionals are already prescribing exercise as an add-on to standard treatments when consulted by emotionally distressed patients. Studies have shown that depressed patients have low levels of the phenylethylamine (PEA)–a naturally occurring amphetamine. This mood-boosting compound found in chocolate is also released by the brain following moderate exercise. It is also dubbed as the “love chemical” because it increases the levels of the feel-good hormone dopamine and the opioid peptide b-endorphin, that leads to feelings of euphoria and release of sex hormones.
Use positive self-talk
Self-talk could be an antidote to anxiety. Sh*t happens to all of us, but how you respond to these events is more important than what actually happens to you. When you hear stories of people who were able to overcome insurmountable odds to succeed, people who didn’t let their weaknesses get the better of them, what do you think makes the difference in their lives? How did they find a way out of an imagined world full of nagging thoughts of “you are not good enough” or “you will die of cancer”? Most of the time, it’s in their self-talk. Positive self-talk heals while negative self-talk defeats and steals energy. Human behavior coach, Beverly Flaxington, suggests building a “self-talk toolbox.” Then, use these commitments or positive affirmations to counter your negative thoughts the next time anxiety sneaks up on you.
Durand, V.M., & Barlow, S. (2018) Essentials of Abnormal Psychology. Australia: Cengage
Howell, C., & Murphy, M. (2011) Release your Worries: a guide to letting go of stress and anxiety. Australia: Exiscle Publishing Limited
Swirsky, S. (2017) 21 ways to a happier depression: a creative guide to getting unstuck from anxiety, setbacks, and stress. Illinois: Sourcebooks
Johnston, J., & Bienvenue, J. (2014) Idiot’s Guide: Overcoming Anxiety. New York: Penguin Group Inc.
Flaxington, B. (2013) Self-talk for a calmer you: learn how to use positive self-talk to control anxiety and live a happier, more relaxed life. Massachusetts: Adams Media