By Evy Gallagher
Each day, individuals are faced with their own daily struggles that can cause anxiety, but with today’s issues, mental health has taken a hit across the world. The pandemic, the racial unrest and the tension throughout America, are causing more stress in this unstable atmosphere. In times like these, it’s not uncommon to feel anxiety creeping in.
As a seasoned veteran of a normally anxious life, my coping mechanisms have changed throughout the years. Personally, dramatic changes to my accustomed routine can be a major trigger for my anxiety. For instance, when the pandemic hit, I felt so hopeless for the first two months of quarantine. I eventually figured out that it was the perfect opportunity to find ways I could improve my mindset and carry my new practices into everyday normal life.
Here are a few practices that I’ve ingrained into my daily lifestyle. As much as I love the taste and smell of coffee, I had to stop drinking it. According to an article by Psycom, the caffeine in coffee, energy drinks and black tea can “trigger our fight or flight response.” When individuals already suffer from anxiety, caffeine can make that fight or flight response worse. Cutting it out of my daily diet made me feel much more relaxed than before. When I drank coffee, it increased my heart rate which led me to worry about possibly having a panic attack, therefore eventually leading to a panic attack. Overall, taking coffee out of my diet was an easy lifestyle change. Feeling less anxious was worth giving up my daily iced coconut milk latte. If you really can’t give up coffee but struggle with anxiety, decaf is the way to go.
Next up, movement. Incorporating some sort of activity into my daily routine was a game-changer. When you work out, natural endorphins are released. Endorphins are pain relievers and “result in a feeling of well-being,” according to Stress to Strength, a stress management website created by John and Judy Hinwood. When I first started incorporating physical activity, it was nothing too strenuous. Daily walks were my go-to during quarantine. I did online Zumba workouts, I jumped rope, I did 15-minute HIIT workouts and of course and a million TikTok dances with my sister. When I was moving my body, I was genuinely feeling better. My mind felt clear, and I felt like I was in control again. I’m now a religious Sydney Cummings cult follower (she’s a free fitness instructor on YouTube). Even though I’m busy during school, I set aside time for a workout or a walk because I know how much better I feel mentally when I’m active. The physical benefits are just a bonus! If you’re ever feeling anxious or stressed, maybe taking a walk around campus, it might just do the trick.
Another way to battle anxious thoughts is journaling. When I need to completely unload my thoughts, I write them down in my journal. It’s a way to get thoughts out of my brain without complaining to other people about them. Whenever I journal, the weight of whatever anxious thoughts I had been feeling lifted off my chest. Though it doesn’t cure my uneasy mind, it is a practice that helps whenever I can’t sleep at night or just need to decompress from the day. This also works great if you’re ever angry and need to vent without using that saved money to see a therapist.
Contrary to journaling, talking to friends and family is one of my favorite ways to instantly feel much better in my own mind. For me, it doesn’t always mean unloading on my mom or naming a list of reasons why I’m feeling anxious to my sister. Whenever I FaceTime my family or call my boyfriend, it allows me to focus on something other than myself for that time. Anxiety can feel like being trapped in your own head but people you trust can remind you to get out of it occasionally. According to John’s Hopkins, validation is one of the key ways to help a loved one with anxious thoughts. The people you love most can often create a safe, comfortable environment to share what’s on your mind.
I know anxiety can be a difficult topic to talk about and even more difficult to open up about. I understand that these are some practices that will not necessarily work for everyone. If you’re struggling with your mental health, the University of Alabama has a great counseling center available to both undergraduate and graduate students. For more information, please visit the Counseling Center.