Worry & Anxiety: Healthy Coping Skills

April 14, 2023

All versions of the universal emotion fear can be difficult and uncomfortable: unease, discomfort, fright, worry, nervousness, anxiety, panic and terror all stem from fear and can at times be extremely hard to deal with. There’s many ways that people practice coping with these feelings, but coping skills, like therapy, must be individualized and tweaked for each person to work best. So whether you’re ready to face your fear head-on or prefer to fight it from the sidelines, here are some healthy coping skills for worry, anxiety, and fear.

1. When you want to challenge the feeling

If you’re sick of feeling anxious and want to determine why your brain is misbehaving, there are a few tried-and-true tactics that might help you discover the reason.

  • Utilize the RAIN method. RAIN stands for recognize, acknowledge/accept, investigate, and nurture or non-identify. Recognize the feeling, accept it, investigate why you might be feeling that way, and remind yourself that you are not the emotion (you are a person experiencing anxiety, not an anxious person).
  • Do a physical check-in. I like to think of this tactic as being equivalent to a neurotypical person determining if they’re “hangry.” Go through the list: have you eaten and drunk water? Have you slept? Did you take your meds? Do you need to exercise or stretch? Have you had too much of your vice? Make sure to tend to the things your body needs accordingly.
  • Talk back. There are two variations on this: the nice way, or the mean way. The nice way looks like this: “Thank you, brain, for trying to protect me, but there’s nothing to be scared of, so I’m going to let you off duty now.” The mean way is more like, “I’m in control here, brain, so screw off.” Hey, don’t judge what works for you!

2. When you need an escape

People with chronic anxiety are probably familiar with the feeling of constantly wanting to run from their anxious body and brain, which sometimes feel more like they’re trying to sabotage us than protect us. While you can’t outrun yourself, there are ways to feel safer in your skin.

  • Engage in an intense physical pursuit. Anything goes here: a spur-of-the-moment kickboxing competition with yourself, a two-minute sprint around the neighborhood, a date with the stationary bike you never use. Just make sure it’ll get your heart pumping from movement rather than anxiety.
  • Release your fear temporarily. This can also be done in a myriad of ways: screaming (preferably not in public, but no judgement here), ranting about what’s scaring you, creatively letting go, etc. The more embarrassing, the better!
  • Remove yourself from the situation. Too often we tell ourselves, “No, I have to do this, it’s fine, I can stick this out.” Learn to differentiate between the situations you have to pull through and the ones you actually can leave, and act accordingly; you don’t have to suffer through things that scare you.

3. When you’re on the verge of panic

We’ve all been here, so I don’t think this needs any explanation. Basically, trust your instincts–if you feel like you’re about to freak out, or your body is showing signs of panic, act before it gets worse.

  • Shock the body. Take a cold shower or hold a bunch of ice cubes; wax your legs or pluck the hairs in your nose; chew a hot pepper or ginger root (as always, make sure not to hurt yourself).
  • Ground yourself. Your go-to grounding techniques might not work if you’re about to have a panic attack, so you might try staring at an unmoving object for as long as possible; repeating a poem, quote, or mantra in your head, going slower each time; or reciting the first list of things that comes to mind, like US presidents or dog breeds.
  • Breathe. We know you probably hear this a lot, but it can’t be overstated. It’s like the classic “Stop, drop, and roll” if you’re on fire–now, you don’t have to wriggle around on the floor for this; the difference it makes just to stop everything and breathe deeply can be substantial. 
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