How To Self-Soothe And Manage Your Anxiety & Stress Levels

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How To Self-Soothe When Your Anxiety & Stress Levels Are Out Of Control
Health And Wellness

Anxiety can be a real pain — both physically and mentally — and makes it hard to enjoy things when you aren’t sure when anxiety will show up. That's why it's so important to learn how to self-soothe so you can be prepared whenever it does.

Personally, I have had to deal with anxiety since I was 10 years old. 

I would have anxiety attacks before going to the movies, worried that we would miss the trailers because something in my head made me believe if we missed the trailers we wouldn’t be allowed to sit in the theater. Holiday parties at school would cause me to stay up the night before in worry that something will go wrong, and later on school, in general, would make me have so much stress that my anxiety would accompany me the whole day. 

Even now, anxiety attacks come when I try to have a good time, such as concerts and hanging out with friends. And as a college student, stress is my constant companion.

But now I have found ways to self-soothe and calm myself easily, which helps me look at the bigger picture. 

RELATED: 4 Ways To Stop Worrying About Every Little Thing (And Get Out Of Your Head)

How to Self-Soothe

Calming your anxiety comes in many forms, from prescribing medicine to meditation. But if you want to calm down without having to use medication, here are some ways to self-soothe when your anxiety and stress start to overwhelm you.

1. Relabel what’s happening

During an attack, it is important to remind yourself where you are and how you got there.

Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, told WebMD that when anxiety and panic attack symptoms begin surfacing, it's best to tell yourself, "I’m having a panic attack, but it’s harmless, it’s temporary, and there’s nothing I need to do.”

Keep in mind that you are not dying, this is just your body going into fight-or-flight mode and that this will pass. 

2. Fact-check your thoughts

Anxiety is just your mind fixating on the worst-case scenarios and blocking out any reason you would normally have. What you need to do is think about how all those worst-case scenarios won’t happen and telling yourself that you are okay. This will help you to come up with rational ways to deal with those thoughts. 

3. Breathe in and out

Deep breathing for a minute or so helps you to focus on something that you can control. Talking from experience, breathing helps you to clear your head and telling yourself to breathe in and out gets you into a routine and helps to make you figure out what to do next without fearing anything. 

4. Follow the 3-3-3 rule

This is something that I learned a while back, and every time I have an anxiety attack I easily remember this rule even after years of not seeing the diagram that explained each step.

First, look around and name three things you can see. Then, name three sounds you can hear. Finally, move three parts of your body.

Some call this “grounding,” which gets you to focus on where you are and just like the breathing, gets your mind to focus on what you are doing at the moment instead of thinking about the “what-ifs.” 

5. Do something

This also helps with stress, as staying in the area that caused you to be stressed/have an anxiety attack will keep reminding you why you are feeling this way. Walking away, taking a walk, even getting up to throw away something helps to interrupt your train of thought and regain control. 

6. Stand up straight

Being anxious causes one to hunch over, as it’s our body’s immediate response to protect our heart and lungs Chansky told WebMD. Pulling your shoulders back, standing, or sitting with your feet apart and keeping your arms down to reveal your chest helps your body to sense you are back in control. 

7. Stay away from sugar

Consuming sugar can lead to worsening anxiety and make you feel jittery, a far stretch from calming down. Make sure you eat something with protein and drink lots of water so that you can gain back energy. 

8. Ask for another person’s opinion

Getting another person’s opinion can help you see from the outside and gets you to leave that cloud of stress. It also can help them to see what you’re worried about and they might be able to do stuff so that you can feel safe and in control. 

9. Distract yourself

Watching your favorite TV shows, movies and YouTube videos that you know make you happy can help you to forget for a small moment that you are freaking out Also, laughing away at whatever joke was just said will help to lower your anxiety. 

Anxiety and stress can hurt you and stop you from doing what you love. Instead of giving in, use these ways to gain control over your life again.

RELATED: 10 Ways To Get REAL With Yourself About Stress (So Life Doesn't BURN You Out)

Anxiety and Stress Symptoms to Monitor

Anxiety is an unpleasant state of inner turmoil accompanied by nervous behavior. It usually occurs suddenly without warning or can be triggered by events that are soon to occur. 

Anxiety attacks peak within ten minutes and rarely last more than 30 minutes. During an attack, you might feel like you are losing control over the situation and yourself.

According to Medical News Today, you might be having an anxiety attack if you: 

  • Are easily startled
  • Have chest pain
  • Are dizzy
  • Have dry mouth
  • Have fatigue
  • Are experiencing fear
  • Are experiencing irritability
  • Have a loss of concentration
  • Have muscle pain
  • Have any numbness or tingling in extremities
  • Have a rapid heart rate
  • Are restless
  • Have shortness of breath
  • Have sleep disturbances 
  • Are feeling like you are being choked or smothered
  • Or are feeling worried and distressed

Stress is the response from your body and its way of dealing with tough or demanding situations. It can cause changes in the hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems.

According to WebMD, stress can be broken down into four different types; emotional, physical, behavioral, and cognitive.

Symptoms of emotional stress include:

  • Becoming easily agitated, frustrated and moody
  • Feeling overwhelmed as if you're losing control
  • Having difficulty relaxing your mind
  • Feeling bad about yourself
  • Avoiding others

Symptoms of physical stress include:

  • Low energy
  • Headaches
  • Upset stomach including diarrhea, constipation and nausea
  • Aches, pain and tense muscles
  • Chest pain and a rapid heartbeat
  • Insomnia
  • Frequent colds and infections
  • Loss of sexual drive and/or ability
  • Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear, cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Dry mouth and difficulty swallowing
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth

Symptoms of behavioral stress include:

  • Changes in appetite (eating too much or not eating enough)
  • Procrastinating and avoiding responsibilities
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs and/or cigarettes
  • Exhibiting more nervous behaviors (nail-biting, fidgeting, pacing, etc...)

Symptoms of cognitive stress include:

  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Forgetfulness and disorganization
  • Inability to focus
  • Poor judgment
  • Being pessimistic 

Learning how to self-soothe can help you manage these symptoms of anxiety and stress as they pop up.

RELATED: 10 Best Arts & Crafts To Do When You're Stressed Out (And Need A Break)

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Isabell Tenorio is a YourTango editorial intern.

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