By Sabrina Bullock

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America site, “Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting…18.1% of the population every year.” I’m one of those affected, maybe you are too. If you are, the good news is we know we’re not alone. 

I’ve struggled with anxiety, generalized and social, for most of my life. Over the years, I’ve learned some things, which have seemed to ease my anxiety. I tuck these away to create a kind of mental toolkit for times when I find myself feeling anxious. 

Build Your Mental Toolkit…

Start noticing the things that help ease your anxiety. Tuck them away in your mind. Create your own mental toolkit! You’ll become more prepared to deal with your anxiety. Read further to find some possible tools to use… 

Power of Recognition and Positive Self Talk

One of the first steps you can take in dealing with anxiety is being self-aware. As the popular saying goes, “Knowledge is power”. It’s hard to deal with something if you don’t recognize it. Take note of how your body feels. Are your muscles tense? Is your heart racing? Are you breathing too fast? Also, notice triggers that cause you to feel more anxious. 

Those times you recognize you’re anxious, admit it. Sometimes I tell myself I’m having a really anxious day today. Being self-aware, you’ll know you may need to take extra steps to decrease your anxiety. Be gentle with yourself. Positive self-talk is good too. Sometimes I even say aloud, “I’ve got this.” or “I’m going to be okay.” or “I feel this way, because I’m anxious, but it won’t last forever.” 

Deep Breathing

When I’ve realized I’m anxious, I stop and take a deep breath, several in fact. Try it now. Take a deep breath in through your nose and slowly exhale through your mouth. Focusing on your breathing distracts you from focusing on whatever is causing you to feel anxious. You can even imagine yourself blowing out the stress and anxiety. 

Aromatherapy… Lavender Essential Oil

Lavender essential oil is one of my favorites for anxiety. Historically, it’s known for being calming. I tend to keep a bottle in my purse. When I’m anxious, I’ll take the top off the bottle and just inhale. It still seems to get mixed reviews in medical literature as to if it’s effective or not, but overall it seems to be worth trying. Here’s a good post, ‘Does lavender really help with anxiety?’, by Catharine Paddock, Ph.D. on the Medical News Today site.

Reduce Stimuli

Sometimes the world is such a busy and loud place. You’ve probably found certain things seem to make your anxiety worse. One thing I’ve found, I get more anxious when the volume of sound is louder in a room or store and there is too much going on. Try to find what works for you to reduce the stimuli. 

Through the years, from trial and error, I’ve learned some things that have worked for me. I tend to prefer going to stores early in the morning or later in the evening, depending on the store. Those are times I’ve found some stores are not so crowded. This means fewer people and less noise.

Another thing I do, and you could too, is to find a space you can temporarily take a time out. Somewhere the stimuli is reduced and you can let the anxiety calm down. Some examples I’ve used in the past: sitting in an uncrowded tire waiting area in a superstore or stepping outside for a few minutes. Look for a place with less noise and less activity.  

There’s a great post, ‘What is Sensory Overload’ by Kathryn Watson on Healthline, which deals with overstimulation in our environment. She states,“Mental health conditions such as generalized anxiety disorder and PTSD can also trigger sensory overload”. Do what you need to do to bring more calm to your surroundings.

Focus on the Five

Another tip I’ve read in many places is to focus on the five senses when your anxiety is acting up. It’s a new concept for me, but I’ve been trying it out. It can be very grounding and shifts your focus. Instead of focusing on how anxious you’re feeling, you’ll be focusing on searching for things in your immediate surroundings. 

It’s an easy practice to start. Feeling anxious? Stop, look around your environment. Find one thing for each of the five senses. In essence, it can be a kind of proactive treasure hunt. You can even practice now.

Look around. Locate one thing you can touch…feel the texture of a sweater or the cool wood of a table. Anything! Smell the air. What is one scent you can identify? Maybe you catch a whiff of coffee or the scent of your hand lotion. Listen…find one sound you can focus on…a child’s laughter or a wind chime tinkling. What do you see? Maybe the different shades of red on apples in the grocery store or the bright blue on a pillow. Taste something…maybe take a sip of coffee or put a mint in your mouth. Refocus, don’t let your anxiety win.

Yoga and Meditation

Yoga and meditation can be useful if you’re feeling anxious. Briefly, many years ago, I used to attend yoga classes at a local YMCA. I started going when my blood pressure was out of control from stress and anxiety. In class, I felt the hardest pose for me to do was Savasana, which is also called corpse pose. Basically you lie on your back, with your arms comfortably spread out to your side and palms up, and your legs comfortably stretched out just a bit spread out. 

I thought it would’ve been the easiest pose. I mean, no bending up like a pretzel or major stretching involved. Easy right? No. I’d lie there tensed up and a multitude of thoughts running through my head. Practice helps though, and with time, I can finally do it comfortably relaxed and calm myself as I focus on my breathing. Give it a try.

Another great position is lotus pose. I have to do a modified version, which you can find here, because I have some discomfort doing full lotus. Just experiment and find what’s comfortable for you. I’m a newbie at meditation, but you can find lots of guided meditation by simply doing a search online. 

Hopefully, you’ve found some tools to add to your mental toolkit. I encourage you to keep trying. Find what works for you best to help ease your anxiety. Do you have any tips you’ve found helpful for decreasing your anxiety? Please share in the comments below.

Sabrina Bullock BSN, RN is a home care nurse, freelance writer, and blogger. Her latest blogging posts can be read at She is a free-spirited, creative, and caring person on the journey to recovering from anxiety, depression, and burnout. She hopes through sharing her journey, you may find something helpful for you on your journey to finding some sun in life too.