I like having control in my life.

It’s why I color-code my daily planner, whether it’s with colored pens or highlighters. It’s why I have a separate notebook at work only for my daily to-do lists. It’s why I plan out the next day in my head as I’m falling asleep and when I’m riding the L into work. It’s why I create itineraries, in my head or in a Google doc, when people visit.

Life is messy and unexpected, but I control my life in any way that I can.

But what I can’t control is my anxiety.

It creeps up when I’m least expecting it, like when I drank about 20 oz. of coffee in less than 90 minutes one morning at work or when I’m out getting drinks with friends. It creeps up even when I am expecting it, like when I get an email about an error in a story I edited or when I’m not sure if my roommate is mad with me. A couple of times, it’s woken me up in the middle of the night.

Sam King | givememountaindew (Tumblr)
Graphic by Sam King

The first sign is always my throat tightening, as if the collar on my shirt is too tight around my neck. Then my mind devotes all my thoughts to why this is happening, which only accelerates the anxiety. This feeling can last an hour or it can last for more than a day. I never know.

So what does a control freak like me do? Here are some of my tricks to calm my anxiety.

Step away from whatever you’re doing.

This isn’t always possible, so step away at the first possible moment. I take slow, deep breaths and try to figure out what might be causing it. Was it something someone said? Was it that time I got in a fight with my college roommate? Was it that time I got a D in sixth grade health because the teacher had misplaced some of my assignments?

Turn on your calming playlist.

I have a Spotify playlist with songs that are relaxing and ease my mind. It features “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy, “Die Sonate vom Guten Menschen” from Das Leben der Anderen (The Lives of Others), “Latika’s Theme” from Slumdog Millionaire, and “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter (of course). This playlist is on repeat, especially when I’m at work. If I’m at home, sometimes I play the Celtic music on my iTunes.

If the music isn’t helping, turn to relaxation tracks.

anxiety disorder recovery
everybody has a brain

Dartmouth has a great webpage with various tracks. My personal favorite is Lullaby #2, which is 23 minutes long. You might prefer another track.

Grab the nearest stuffed animal, pillow or pet and hug it until you fall asleep.

I don’t know how many times I went straight into my room, grabbed my pillow pet Winston and hugged him tight. Sometimes, it was only for a short nap. Other times, it was to fall asleep at night. Now, I’ll grab my roommate’s cat Cosmo if he’s in napping mode before I choose Winston.

None of my ways are fail-safe, not even for me. I can fall asleep hugging Winston all I want but I can still wake up with that anxious, tight feeling in my throat and my mind going a hundred miles per minute. I, of course, am not a doctor, nor do I pretend to be, so take my advice with a grain of salt.

If you want more information about anxiety, there is a wonderful anxiety masterpost that came across my Tumblr dashboard a few months ago. That, along with the Dartmouth relaxation webpage, is bookmarked in my browser. If you’re able to, I do recommend visiting with a therapist. Anxiety (any mental illness, really) is not something you can or should try to cure on your own.

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5 thoughts on “Anxiety: Controlling the Uncontrollable

  1. I feel your pain :( I suffer from anxiety just the same. If I do not have complete control over everything in my life. I panic. Although, nothing calms me down.. At all.. I usually need to be shaken or go into a complete melt down till I drain myself out and pass out. That’s the point mine are at :(

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      1. I’m not comfortable taking medicine either, so I see where you’re coming from. I keep hoping the anxiety will magically fix itself.

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  2. I know this is going to sound strange, but have you ever considered feeling the anxiety sensations, no matter how scary, without trying to find a distraction? I spent 5 years distracting myself, deep breathing, and looking up what could be wrong with me before I found a program that recommended that I do not run from my anxiety. The key to my, I guess, success story is that I was told that anxiety is fueled by fear. Running from the anxiety just tells your anxiety that there really is something to fear, but there is not. The thoughts and sensations that run through your body seem real, and your distraction techniques just tell those sensations that they need to be taken care of. It is like trying to grab a handful of air. Just because you can feel it does not mean you can do anything about it.

    Check this out…..It will probably do a better job explaining my thoughts than I can. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zHkAqhVGfyc

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