Coping with anxiety

In recent years I've struggled with raised levels of anxiety and panic attacks and wanted to share some of the techniques that helped me cope and eventually overcome it.

First some background...
In life we all experience various stresses and problems. We also have to make big decisions from time to time. And when we are younger we seem to take these in our stride. Sometimes it's only when we look back that we realise what we've gone through and accomplished. Such as passing exams; graduating from college or university; leaving home; starting our first job; getting married; buying our first house; raising a family; Coping with a medical problem; Losing a job; Mourning the loss of a friend or relative; Being involved in a car accident. The list goes on. To me, these all take their toll on our fragile selves. A toll the body and mind can't cope with. I liken it to the heavyweight boxers I used to watch in awe in the 80s when growing up. Big guys who seemed to be able to take massive hits. But towards the end of their careers, one more punch could kill them. All the others had taken their toll.

A few years ago one such 'punch' took its toll on me, resulting in heightened anxiety and panic attacks . I researched numerous natural remedies. Now follows my top 10 tips to cope with anxiety - I hope they help you too.

1. Seek medical advice

Ok I know it sounds obvious. And it's something I found difficult as I suffer from the dreaded white coat syndrome. But when I plucked up the courage to see my GP, it proved really beneficial. As well as being understanding, he informed me I had a 'form of post traumatic stress'. That made sense of my symptoms, so at least gave it a context. And although I declined the offer of medication, I knew it was there if I couldn't cope. And agreeing to have counselling meant help was at hand.

2. Distraction

Distracting the mind helped me. I realised if I could get my mind not just to focus on something else but be consumed by it, it would leave little room for anxiety. The trick is finding something that works for you. Here's 2 examples.

Travel & Holidays. During the time I was having panic attacks, we had a holiday booked, so off we flew to Barcelona. In just 2 hours from the UK you arrive in a country with a completely different culture, climate and cuisine. Being absorbed with the delights of this Catalan city proved to be a real distraction for me and a great tonic. Wherever I turned there was something of interest to see and enjoy. Warm sunny weather; amazing food; unusual architecture; sea air; boat trips. So good we went back the following year.

The 3's Game. The idea is to find a quiet place and simply think of 3 things you can see; 3 that you can hear; And 3 that you can touch. But really try to look and listen. Take time and don't rush it. And as for the items you can touch - well touch them. Just a simple game again to try and trick the mind to switch off from anxiety by focussing on something else.

3. Breathing techniques

Whenever you search for tips to help reduce anxiety, breathing always features very highly. What works best for me is to listen to an experienced professional talk me through it. It gives the exercise more of a structure and feels reassuring. A simple search on YouTube for 'breathing to reduce anxiety' will reveal lots of good examples. My personal favorite is 'Quick Relaxation to Relieve Stress' by Joanne Damico - she has a soothing voice and I love the idea of not just breathing out but 'sighing it out' - something quite therapeutic about that. Thank you Joanne. Without even knowing, you helped me through a very difficult time. You can find out more about Joanne and her treatments at

4. Nature

I'm fortunate enough to live just 5 minutes walk from a local nature trail. This became my go to escape route when panic set in. Suddenly being immersed in shades of brown and green and hearing the birds singing was very comforting. And walking briskly helped burn off what I assume is some form of adrenaline that floods the body during a panic attack. Walking also gave me time to think, meditate, breathe, and even pray.

5. Music and sound

Music is a passion of mine and I have a fairly wide taste. I have numerous Spotify playlists including ones for when I'm cooking, soaking in the bath, driving or just chilling. But to ease anxiety I turn to different types that I don't normally listen to. I find instrumental classical music and jazz very easy going and calming. So I'll either search Spotify for 'relaxing classical' or ask my Amazon Echo to play 'smooth Jazz'. Alexa always finds something suitable. The relative simplicity of instrumental sounds compared to pop/rock helps to unclutter the mind.

Atmosphere. During the worst spells of anxiety I would regularly wake up in the early hours, get out of bed and go downstairs. Fortunately I found an app - Atmosphere - that lets you play a wide combination of different sounds. My favourites are mixing 'rain' and 'campfire' with a little 'storm'. 'Waves' is another. I still use the app now if I'm struggling to get off to sleep.

You can access the android app here and the Apple one here.

6. Touch

I've always loved being scratched or having my feet rubbed. So relaxing and a big help when anxiety is high. Sarah Menges' article on PlushCare's website sheds more light on this.

Similarly, I can soak in a hot bath for hours. The sensation of the soapy water covering the body to me is pure therapy. Add to that some gentle music, lavender oil, a candle or two and your favourite bubble bath. My favourite are Lush's bath bombs.

7. Time Out

In other words, time out of your normal routine to completely switch off with no interuptions. I wouldn't recommend anything that could stimulate the mind, such as watching tv (there are exceptions!) or playing computer games. And try to eliminate any distractions by turning your phone off for a while. There are many ways to achieve 'time out' - here's a few ideas:

  • Reading a book in a quiet room
  • Drawing or painting
  • Arts & Crafts
  • Letter writing
  • Completing a jigsaw or crossword
  • Soaking in the bath
  • Light gardening - watering, pruning, feeding.
  • Sitting in a darkened room with interesting lighting such a lava lamp.
My personal favourite, similar to breathing techniques, is to allow a trained professional to talk me into being relaxed. Again lots are available on YouTube - I rely on the simple countdown from 100 by Lauren Ostrowski Fenton - it works every time.

8. Nutrition

Lots of online resources recommend a balanced healthy diet to combat anxiety. As well at eating healthily, I take a multi vitamin daily and try to have smoothies as often as possible. They are quick and easy to make and packed with good things. I include protein powder, oat bran and berries in mine. I can't say I've ever felt these reduce anxiety, but at least I'm comforted by the fact that my body has all the nutrients it needs.

9. Humour

They do say 'laughter is the best medicine' and many recognise its positive benefits, like this article on HelpGuide's website. I like the point where it says that 'Laughter shifts perspective'. So again another form of distraction I suppose.

I enjoy all sorts of comedy, but for an instant fix I tend to go for quick fire comedy (anything by Tim Vine is hilarious) or those 'funny' compilation videos easily found on YouTube.

10. Pets

My wife is a dog walker and boarder so I get to meet lots of different dogs. At first I was nervous of the bigger ones but soon got used to them. Now I really look forward to interacting with them, especially my favorites of which there are many. I've heard it said that stroking a dog has a calming effect and can lower blood pressure. Not sure if there's any evidence in this but it is relaxing. And playing ball with them or teasing them is a fun form of distraction which could help reduce anxiety. If you don't have a dog, why not ask a friend or family member who has to bring it over, or join them on a walk?

In conclusion...
So these are the tools I found helpful and still make use of to manage my anxiety. Although I'm panic attack free now, there are occasions when my anxiety levels increase (like now during the pandemic crisis), and I find myself going back to them for relief.

I've summarised them below - feel free to grab a screen shot and print for your own reference.

Top 10 tips to cope with anxiety

What? How?
1. Seek medical advice Consult a GP; Try counselling.
2. Distraction Visit somewhere new; Try the 3's Game.
3. Breathing techniques Breathe in through the nose, hold, sigh it out.
4. Nature Escape to the country - find a local nature trail.
5. Music and sound Try relaxing classical or soft jazz music. And the Atmosphere app.
6. Touch Massage or foot rub. Soak in the bath.
7. Time Out Completely switch off.
8. Nutrition Have a balanced, healthy diet. Try making smoothies.
9. Humour Find something that makes you laugh.
10. Pets Spend time with a pet, such as walking the dog.