“Anxiety” is a word thrown around perhaps a little too cavalierly these days, but it’s a mental health condition that impacts 40 million adults just in the US. Although it manifests itself differently in each person, the biggest symptoms of anxiety include excessive worrying, accelerated heart rate, and an inability to concentrate.
I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety when I was 14, and I was later diagnosed with bipolar II disorder as an adult (formerly known as manic depression), which commonly co-occurs with anxiety disorders, but I’ve experienced anxiety for as long as I can remember.
I never learned how to do a cartwheel for fear of breaking my neck, and I always envisioned our car crashing into a lamppost every time it rained. (I was a super fun kid to be around, if you can’t tell).
Although it’s been seemingly getting worse as I’ve gotten older, I have also been more proactive about learning how to deal with my anxiety and bipolar disorder.
Rather than let it consume my life, here are 5 things I do to manage my anxiety and prevent myself from going on a downward spiral.
Please note this shouldn’t be a substitute for medical advice; if you are suffering from anxiety, tell your doctor and visit a mental health specialist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who can help you find an effective treatment plan.
1. I take medication.
Not everyone needs medication for their anxiety, but I do. I don’t take a benzodiazepine (Xanax, Klonopin, Ativan, etc.), which is fast-acting and supposed to ease symptoms of anxiety as you experience them. Instead, my medication is more long-term and supposed to stop anxiety before it happens.
I take a cocktail of medication for my bipolar II disorder, and when I started the anti-anxiety mood stabilizer at first, it wasn’t nearly enough to be effective. After titrating up with my psychiatrist, I finally found a combination that works for me, and I take it every night with dinner.
2. I have a daily routine.
Not every day is the exact same for me, but I’m someone who does well with boundaries and structure. I like my daily routine: waking up, going to the gym, making my smoothie, going into the office around the same time, leaving around the same time, going home (or sometimes an after-work event), eating dinner, and watching TV or reading a book and then going to bed around the same time.
I also like visiting my favorite coffee shops, restaurants, and fitness studios on a regular basis. Having familiarity helps me stay focused and makes me less likely to worry. When I’m on vacation, for example, I find the lack of routine throws me off and can send me into an anxious spiral.
3. I get enough sleep.
If there’s something I’ve learned over the last few years about handling my mental health, it’s that sleep is key. I used to run on about five hours of sleep a night, and that was detrimental to my health and well-being. Now, I make sure to get about seven hours a night.
If I’m getting up early for a workout, I make sure to go to bed early. If I stay up late, then I skip my workout the next day to sleep in. It’s sometimes hard to fall asleep if I’m feeling anxious, but I do a wind-down routine by taking a bath, using lavender essential oil, and reading a book.
4. I work out regularly.
I may not run seven miles a day or spend hours each morning in the weight room, but I make an effort to move my body almost every day, usually in the mornings before work. I like to take boutique classes such as Spin, HIIT, or a mixed-format treadmill-and-weights class (like Orangetheory Fitness). Or I’ll run in the park or lift some weights at my local gym.
Working out helps give me mental clarity and relieve my depression and anxiety symptoms. I know you can’t cure mental illness with exercise alone, but it deserves a spot in any treatment plan.
5. I take CBD oil.
When I’m feeling particularly anxious and need a quick fix, I reach for CBD oil. I like Charlotte’s Web Extra Strength Hemp Extract Oil ($75), which has 28 milligrams of hemp extract per serving. Usually, two droppers full under my tongue will do the trick. If I need more, I’ll just take another dropper or two. I don’t feel an immediate wave of relief necessarily, but it helps my symptoms of anxiety dissipate.