If you have an anxiety disorder like me, you’re probably familiar with restless, anxious energy. You know, the kind that gives you stomach aches and makes you sweat?
In these times, I feel like I need to do something – but I don’t know what to do with myself.
This is actually a physiological response to anxiety. Anxiety triggers a ‘flight-or-fight’ response in the body. This response is something our bodies have due to evolution: in a dangerous situation, we’d either fight the danger or run away from it. The ‘fight-or-flight’ response triggers the release of hormones like adrenalin, increasing our heart rate and blood pressure so that we can physically move or fight.
Of course, the thing about anxiety is that we seldom have to fight or flee from anything, as the fear and panic is usually disproportionate to whatever is causing it. As a result, our bodies are ready to spring into action, without having any action to perform.
Personally, anxiety always makes me feel restless. It makes me feel like I should be doing something, even if my anxiety is caused by something out of my control. This feeling of restlessness wells up inside me, making me feel even more panicky and upset. Normal methods of self-care like soaking in a bath or journaling don’t distract me: in fact, it makes me think about my stressors even more!
I’ve found that the best way to deal with anxiety is to get busy and channel your anxious energy into something positive. I have a number of fun activities to do whenever I’m anxious.
I keep a mental note of these activities so that I know what to do when that anxiety arrives.
1. I clean things
Household chores might seem boring, but there are many reasons why cleaning can be super relaxing. One reason is that decluttering your space means it looks less overwhelming. Taking cleaning off your ‘to-do’ list can also help you feel productive and in control of your environment.
For me, it’s something more than that. Cleaning can feel meditative. The repetitive strokes of scrubbing, or concentrating while washing dishes, can lull you into a calm state. I’m not alone in my feelings: a recent study shows that when approached with a meditative mindset, washing the dishes can relieve stress.
Getting chores done while you relax? That’s a win-win for me!
2. I do arts and crafts
Crafting is one of my favorite ways to unwind. I knit, I bead things, I color and draw, I sew, to name a few of my favorite hobbies. Whenever I craft, I get so absorbed in it that I temporarily forget my anxiety. It gets me to be creative and thoughtful while distracting me from my worries. Research suggests that arts and crafts have a number of positive psychological benefits, including a destressing effect.
If you’re a perfectionist, you might find that it makes you anxious to craft if you don’t think you’re good at it. Try to remember that the value of the craft is not how it looks, but how it makes you feel!
3. I move my body
When your body is in flight-or-fight mode, it’s the ideal time to take advantage of that energy by moving your body. Time to exercise!
You might prefer conventional exercises like running, going to the gym, or floor exercises. If that’s not your thing, you might try other fun movements like dancing around your room, hula-hooping, or even doing a bunch of jumping-jacks just to take advantage of that increased heart rate.
4. I do engrossing puzzles or play games
The most ironic thing about anxiety is that you sometimes can’t solve the issue at hand because you’re too damn anxious. If you’ve ever struggled to study before a big test because you’re too worried about the test, you know what I’m talking about.
When this happens, I try to temporarily distract myself ‘til my body feels a little calmer. One way to do this is engaging your brain. I like to focus on sudoku, puzzles, or games like Tetris or Candy Crush. Crosswords, word searches, puzzles – when I think hard about something else, my racing thoughts stop.
5. I play with tactile sensations
As a child, I loved playing with interesting textures. I particularly loved clay. Nowadays, I tap into my love of fun textures by playing with slime, clay or kinetic sand when I’m stressed. These sensations are mesmerizing and super relaxing.
Again, this is one of those things that absorbs me so much that I temporarily forget all the causes of my anxiety.
If you sometimes feel anxious, but you’re too exhausted to do anything productive, I get you. If you have no energy to do anything, try relaxing activities like watching ASMR videos, reading, or mindfully drinking a cup of tea. This can force your body out of ‘flight-or-fight’ mode and into a relaxed, normal state by reminding your body you’re not in danger.
Anxiety gives us a lot of energy, which, when channeled positively, can truly benefit you.
The key is harnessing this energy and learning how to take care of yourself.