It's no secret that 2020 and all of its super fun qualities have sparked a global mental health crisis. If you're like me and you struggled with anxiety even before there was a global pandemic to worry about, chances are things have been rough. Even if you don't struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, the collective trauma of the pandemic has raised the bar for "normal" levels of anxiety. That means scores of humans are out here without the carefully selected arsenal of anti-anxiety tricks that the clinically anxious have spent the majority their lives perfecting and repeating. I'm here to share what helps me in the hopes that it might help you.
1. Run away (literally)
Running has been my go-to for stress and anxiety relief since I was 12. There's something therapeutic about literally running away from your problems. Not to mention, running produces endorphins that can improve your mood, relieve stress, and produce a euphoria known as a "runner's high." Running has even shown to produce natural endocannabinoids in the bloodstream, which is basically cannabis, except made the human body. Like cannabis, endocannabinoids ease anxiety by creating an immediate sense of calm.
2. Paint with watercolors
The best thing about watercolors is that they can look pretty even when, like me, you have very little painting skill. Creativity is scientifically proven to relieve stress. If you can't remember the last time you made something of your own, it could be contributing to your anxiety. Minimalist art is in right now, and pretty much anyone can paint shapes in soft, neutral tones, so get at it!
3. Grow something
When our brains feel like they may explode, it can help to invest care and energy into other living things. This could mean checking in on a friend or spending a few hours volunteering in the community, but the pandemic has severely limited our access to human interaction. Buying a houseplant our some seeds and watching the plant grow because you're taking good care of it is a game-changer. Adding natural elements to a living space is scientifically proven to lower stress levels and purify the air. For bonus stress relief, try painting clay pots with your favorite colors and designs. Over quarantine, I painted stripes, faces, and the "Glossier" logo on some of my plant pots. If you're avoiding public places, check out an online nursery like Costa Farms to have plants delivered to your door!
As a very tall, very self-conscious human, I have aggressively avoided dancing in all forms for the better part of my life. Most of my workouts are ~serious~, but my sorority sister recently held a Zoom dance workout and, let me tell you, dance workouts are insanely fun. Multiple studies on the neuroscience of dance have shown that dancing is engrained in the human body and brain as an act of celebration and joy. Dancing can improve our mental and physical health as well as our ability to connect with others. Who cares what you look like when the only witness is your computer screen? My personal favorite is this 15-minute 2000s dance party workout from MadFIt.
5. Create a playlist that makes you feel like a bad*ss
Music can drastically impact our mood, and different genres make us feel differently. For me, a particularly bad*ss Lizzo-inspired girl power playlist can take my mind off of a particularly anxious or frustrating day. Curate different playlists for different needs and pop your earbuds in while you go for a walk or dance around your room to blow off steam.
6. Clean (no, really)
I am by no means suggesting you attempt to keep your space looking like the inside of Ikea because that is both boring and unrealistic, especially in times of distress. However, when you feel helpless and screen-fatigued, tidying up gives you a sense of control over your environment . Pay attention to your brain and get to know its "warning signs" that might signal an oncoming anxiety attack or drive you into a mental fog. When you notice something off, stop what you're doing and rearrange your desk, do your dishes, make your bed, or fold your laundry. Cleaning is a grounding activity that can help remind the brain that you are safe and in control.
Mindfulness has been practiced for thousands of years all over the world as a way to gain control over one's thoughts, emotions, and reactions to the environment. Meditation can relieve anxiety and improve your health by allowing you to notice and comprehend how your brain reacts to positive and negative stimuli and, over time, regulate your involuntary negative reactions (i.e. anxiety). Headspace is my personal favorite meditation app because it provides a "beginner's course" in meditation and allows you to change the lengths of your meditations as you train your mind.
Because anxiety is a complicated mental illness and human experience, it can often feel like we're constantly and hopelessly trying trend after trend to manage it. The truth is, there is no ultimate secret or "cure" for anxiety, so the only way to live with it is to continue searching for what works for us, no matter how strange or ridiculous it makes us feel. We're capable of surviving more than we think — while it feels endless, 2020 will be over before we can perfect another bread recipe.