I’ve dealt with anxiety since I was a child. Coming from a Hispanic background, there’s always been a strong stigma behind seeking help for mental health disorders, or even considering it. I recall mentioning my anxiety to family a few years ago and being asked, “What do you have to be anxious about?” It’s frustrating when people assume you can’t be anxious when you’re young, or that there’s nothing to be anxious about because “at least you’re alive.” There are varying degrees of anxiety, and of every mental health disorder. What works for me may not apply to others, especially if the anxiety is rooted in higher levels of trauma or triggered by certain settings. Here are my tips based on what I’ve picked up over the years.
Remember: everyone’s mental health journey is different. Just like anything else, what works for one may not work for another. Sometimes, it’s not as simple as telling yourself you’ll be okay and taking a deep breath. It’s not always as simple as drinking more water. If you can afford it, consider visiting a therapist at least once to see if your mental health would benefit from the sessions.
When in doubt, get some fresh air.
My biggest struggle when I have when my anxiety really kicks in is difficulty breathing. There have been times when I start hyperventilating, which makes me more anxious and leads me to either start crying or feel nauseated. Whenever I feel myself start to hyperventilate, I find the time to go outside or at least open a window (depending on where I am) to get as much fresh air as I can. I close my eyes, focus on my breath, and let the fresh air help me feel less restricted. If time allows, I go for a walk and really let myself take in the fresh air for at least 20 minutes.
Reach out to friends who will let you vent.
If you have friends who you trust and will provide a safe space to talk about how you feel, reach out to them. Being able to talk to my closest friends over the years helped me not only get things off my chest, but also get their perspectives and suggestions on how I can help myself. When I feel overwhelmed or feel like I’m not doing something to perfection, my immediate reaction is to give up. My brain immediately thinks, “Well, if it’s not perfect, what’s the point?” My friends help keep me grounded when I’m not thinking clearly.
Write it out.
If you’d rather not reach out to anyone in the moment, consider writing things down. Write down how you feel, what you’re thinking, what triggered these feelings/thoughts. Writing everything down can help you process how you’re feeling, and you can always look back on what you wrote.
Create a sleep routine that works for you.
Maybe you get bored and scroll through Instagram till 2AM. Maybe you just lay in bed staring at your ceiling till the next morning. Either way, a lack of sleep can worsen your mental health so it can be beneficial to find a routine that helps you sleep. In my case, not getting enough sleep just makes me more anxious. As a child, I would sleep with noise machines that played sounds of nature, like a waterfall or animals of the rainforest. I still use those nature sounds to help me sleep, along with ASMR videos. I was also given some advice last year by one of my fave baristas to rub cedarwood oil on my feet and drink some tea to fully relax before going to bed. While I still struggle with falling/staying asleep, I’m at least trying to find a routine that works for me.
Set some time aside to reflect on your progress.
I tend to go straight into destructive thinking and spiral into a long process of distorted thought. Setting time aside to remind myself of how far I’ve come has been really helpful lately.
I recently had an unexpected academic setback that made me think, “Great. I’ll just drop out now because I’m already mentally hanging by a thread. There’s no way I could get through another semester because I’m fried. No degree for me.” After two hours of overwhelmed crying and a readiness to quit everything, I eventually sat down and reflected on how I felt. I jumped into an extreme reaction because of an inconvenience that was (seemingly) minor but honestly felt like I was knocked back to square one.
I had to remind myself that:
(1) I have the ability to pass these final few classes because I’ve done it for a previous 4 years.
(2) My reaction was based on the academic standards of perfection I placed on myself as a child that led to my anxiety in the first place.
(3) I have a support system that is willing to help me when I need it.
There’s power in reminding yourself that you’re capable of getting through this because you’ve done it before and you can do it again.
These are just starting points that helped me create a routine that works for my mental health journey. Finding what works takes a lot of trial and error.
What are your tips for improving your mental health? Let us know!