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My Coping Mechanisms For Anxiety

I’ve spoken a lot about my mental health journey this past year and a half since Major’s accident (and my subsequent Postpartum Depression and PTSD), but I’ve spoken less about my lifelong relationship with anxiety.  I hesitate to call it a “battle”, because it hasn’t felt wholly oppressive at all times in my life, but the truth of the matter is that since I was a small child I have had what people would refer to as Clinical Anxiety.

Over the years, it’s manifested itself in different ways– fear of germs, panic attacks, fear of flying, body dysmorphia, inexplicable dizzy spells, attachment and detachment to people and places, disturbing intrusive thoughts, obsession with safety of my children…the list goes on and on.  I even had a complete stutter at nine years old for a full two years.  I have felt many different permeations of anxiety, and they’ve attached themselves to me for varying periods of time.  But they were all manifestations of a roaming anxiety disorder that I have always had and that I continue to live with daily.

With therapy, I’ve gotten to a MUCH better place with my anxiety– which comes with a better understanding of myself and some of my triggers– and working through the traumas that caused them– but I’m finally willing to admit that my anxiety is probably something I will manage in varying degrees for the rest of my life.  I’m reached a point where I no longer judge myself or my anxiety, and I try to be more accepting in uncomfortable moments.  It’s taken me a long time and a lot of therapy to not have my more anxious moments followed by even longer moments of guilt or shame.  Having Kyle work to understand my anxiety more fully also helped! It’s amazing how much letting go of the shame of having anxiety in the first place really does help to alleviate some of that anxiety! Go figure.

In many ways, I’m grateful to my Postpartum Depression and PTSD for being the catalyst that made me seek out more aggressive therapy (I am a big fan of EMDR) and for finding a therapist who has been a great fit for me.  Getting your hands and heart dirty to do the deep digging can be so overwhelming and scary, but it really is so worth it! I’ve gotten so many messages and emails from my readership sharing their own up and down battles with anxiety– so I wanted to share a few of my medication-free coping mechanisms below, in case they can be helpful to anyone suffering from anxiety disorder.  Above all, it’s so important to get the help YOU need to be the best version of yourself.  If that’s less aggressive treatment, so be it.  If that’s more aggressive treatment, medication, or a holistic approach– so be it.  At the end of the day, it’s all about taking care of yourself and being brave enough to do the work. I also really recommend a piece that my friend Julia wrote about her Postpartum Depression, because it talks really beautifully about the many different faces of anxiety and depression– and can be a nice support for anybody questioning the validity of their feelings!

Eva Amurri Martino wears a puffy jacket and a grey knit hat and stands in the woods in Connecticut

Deep Breathing

If I’m having a very anxious moment, I’ve found that deep breathing can really help to center me and calm me down.  I breathe in deeply for seven seconds, and then breathe out slowly for ten seconds, holding briefly at the top of the breath.  I repeat this for several minutes until I can feel my heart rate calm down.

 

Cold Water

It’s been proven that cold water calms down the nervous system, and I’ve definitely used this trick when I’m in a pinch! Very inconveniently, I developed anxiety-induced dizzy spells when I was acting on a show that we shot in front of a LIVE studio audience (yikes)– and I kept a cold bottle of water hidden on set if I needed to calm myself down if I started to feel panicky!

 

Cat/Cow Pose

This yoga pose helped me with anxiety a lot during my pregnancy with Major, and I’ve continued to use it if I feel anxiety starting to build! Here is a video showing the pose.  When I do it, I use a yoga mat or towel under my knees for extra support, and I continue the pose for about five deep breaths.

 

Exercise

This is one of the biggest changes I’ve made in the past year– really committing to consistent exercise! I was way better about consistent exercise pre-kids (duh) and I notice a real change in my anxiety symptoms if I stay active! If I’m having a really bad anxiety day, I’ll do something that helps me sweat, like hot yoga or spin, and it really makes me feel better almost instantly. Those endorphins are no joke!

 

Outdoor Time

This might sound corny, but spending time outdoors always gives me a reset mentally. I definitely wouldn’t even call myself “outdoorsy” by any means (Just ask Kyle about the time I begged our guide to airlift me off of a 10 day rafting trip down the Grand Canyon), but hiking, walking, or even just sitting in the fresh air for a while really grounds me emotionally.

 

Reaching Out For Connection

In the past, I’ve had a tendency to isolate myself if my anxiety is flaring up, and I’ve realized over time that feeling isolated adds to my anxiety.  Now I try to reach out– either to other friends who I know understand anxiety well, to my therapist, or to my husband.  Just speaking to my anxiety instead of hiding it helps me work through it more easily.

 

Gratitude

The more challenging aspect of anxiety disorder for me personally is not the actual panic attacks or moments of extreme discomfort, but more periods of time where I’ve felt a general disease, or a “roaming anxiety”.  For me these moods are more frustrating because they can make me fear that my anxiety in this state could be a “forever” feeling, or that the struggle of it won’t get better.  This isn’t true, of course! But it’s hard when you’ve been feeling bad for multiple days in a row. Something I like to do is to make a gratitude list every day, mentally.  You can choose whatever time you’d like, but give yourself some physical privacy– I like to make mine as I’m laying in bed at night.  If it’s better for you, you can also write these down! First list 5 things you’re grateful for today.  They can be big, like “My family”, but are actually better if they’re small, like “I’m grateful that got to eat the exact sandwich I was craving for lunch, and it tasted so good!”.  After you’ve done this, make a mental list of 3 things you love about yourself today.  They can be as superficial or deep as you’d like.  For example “I had a great hair day today”, or “I love that I saw somebody I kind of know at the grocery store and I went over to say hello, and that made me feel social and brave”.  It’s SO important to celebrate yourself, your life, your big and little victories.  Don’t forget that!

 

Acts Of Service

This one works every single time. Feeling anxious? Go help somebody else.  Fill a bag with clothes or toys to donate, start a diaper drive, volunteer at a soup kitchen or at the local elderly home.  Getting yourself outside of your own mind, and performing a service for somebody else can really help reconnect with the deeper parts of yourself, and put things in perspective.

 

Watching Bad TV

If I’m feeling anxious, “bad” TV usually helps!  It makes me laugh, gets me out of my head, and makes me invest emotionally in other people’s problems. LOL.

 

Looking At Photos Of My Kids

Sometimes when I feel anxiety building, I pull out my phone and take a trip down memory lane.  I look at photos of my two precious babes, see their smiling faces, and remind myself that ultimately I’m not failing.  I’m far from perfect, but I grew, birthed, and am raising two awesome kids– and that is something I am eternally proud of.  They inspire me every day to keep fighting for the best version of myself, and they give me the courage to work through the hard parts of therapy to get to the light.  I’m so grateful to them for the push they’ve given me these past four years, and I hope when they’re all grown up they’re proud of my fight.

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her struggles with anxiety

Eva Amurri Martino discusses her struggles with anxiety

 

Do you have anxiety? What are some coping mechanisms you use? Please share in the Comments below!

 

Photographs by Julia Dags

 

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34 Comments

  1. Eden Cale says:

    Love this!

    10.03.18Reply
  2. Eva Amurri Martino says:

    Sorry guys, comments should be working now!

    10.03.18Reply
  3. Tara says:

    I love that you are so open about this Eva. I have struggled with anxiety throughout my life too…sometimes more, sometimes less depending on what is going on. Along with so many of your tips, being mindful of my caffeine intake has made a huge difference for me. xx

    10.03.18Reply
  4. Kelly says:

    This was really good to read, I’ve had a simmering level of anxiety most of my life but it peaks during times of stress. At the moment I am studying for a course and my worry for performing well has now shown itself in severe anxiety that my son will get a vomiting bug. I know it relates to my fear of control (or lack of) but I found the article helpful. Anxiety is so personal, and I have yet to find the right treatment/management process for myself but articles like this give me hope. It’s also inspiring to see a mum who is working, striving to achieve but also being honest about the struggles. Thank you x

    10.03.18Reply
    • Lindsey says:

      Hi!
      I have an extreme fear of my kids getting sick 😔 but ultimately throwing up. So debilitating right?! Love this post though..very helpful to know we are not alone!

      10.05.18Reply
  5. Darima Aisarova-lira says:

    I have been suffering from anxiety for the last 3 years since my mother was diagnosed with cancer, my anxiety got worse when my mom passed 2 years ago, and shortly after my 19 year old nephew committed suicide. Best way to deal with anxiety for me is outdoors (I live in Colorado, gorgeous mountains!), music, and my 3 dogs&cat!!! Plus, I do take an anxiety medication when all seems lost. Of course, my husband’s support and help is always there.

    10.03.18Reply
  6. MC says:

    Life long anxiety sufferer right here! It’s crazy because I have has anxiety since I was little but only got diagnosed within the last ten years. For me therapy has been crucial. Also going to the chiropractor regularly. Getting my body in working order and doing some cranial work has allowed me to get off of my medication.

    I agree with the outdoors and exercise tips. My favorite thing is sitting on my balcony. It just really helps sometimes. Evening walks with my husband and dogs are also so healing for my soul.

    I try gratitude lists but it is hard for me when I feel negative to see the positive. Im going to keep working on it!

    Really appreciate this post and your openness about everything ❤️

    10.03.18Reply
  7. I agree and echo everything you wrote about so vulnerably. So wonderful we can use our words partially to cope with this lifelong anxiety. I wanted to say two things. (1) I completely empathize and struggle with the “secondary emotions” (therapist talk) of guilt and shame ON TOP of the generalized anxiety / panic. Especially during an attack, I feel so GUILTY this is happening to me and I’m feeling so crappy but yet I don’t have something as fatal as cancer and I wish I could snap out of it. (2) During a panic attack, if I can’t get outside to walk and walk (#1 recommendation), I get on my hands and knees and clean my wide-plank wooden floors with baby wipes. That’s right. Not great for the enviroment or wallet always, but it takes focus and energy and it’s a great formula to help out of a panic attack. All your tips are fabulous. Keep on, keeping on. Love you!

    Anyway … keep on keeping on!

    10.03.18Reply
  8. I agree and echo everything you wrote about so vulnerably. So wonderful we can use our words partially to cope with this lifelong anxiety. I wanted to say two things. (1) I completely empathize and struggle with the “secondary emotions” (therapist talk) of guilt and shame ON TOP of the generalized anxiety/panic. Especially during an attack, I feel so GUILTY this is happening to me and I’m feeling so crappy but yet I don’t have something as fatal as cancer and I wish I could snap out of it. (2) During a panic attack, if I can’t get outside to walk and walk (#1 recommendation), I get on my hands and knees and clean my wide-plank wooden floors with baby wipes. That’s right. Not great for the environment or wallet always, but it takes focus and energy and it’s a great formula to help out of a panic attack. All your tips are fabulous. Keep on, keeping on. Love you!

    Anyway … keep on keeping on!

    10.03.18Reply
  9. Linda Wrigh says:

    Exercise/running and TV help me the most – just tuning out and not thinking. Thank you for always honestly sharing your struggles and journey!

    Now you’ve dropped a huge carrot … I hope a detailed post or Conversation with Kyle on that rafting trip is in the works! xox

    10.03.18Reply
  10. Loretta says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this! I am curious to know how your anxiety was during your postpartum days. I really struggled with postpartum anxiety (and still do, a year later, to some degree). Before I had my daughter, I knew all about PPD, but didn’t even realize PPA was a thing. It really helps me cope now, knowing that I am not the only one who has gone through this. The hardest thing for me was the completely irrational thoughts that would come into my head in those early days of having her, and the stress that those thoughts caused me. I see a therapist now, and she’s really helping me work through my anxiety. I wish I had listen more to my doctor from the beginning and saw someone sooner, but I was in too much of a fog to really think about doing anything for myself.

    10.03.18Reply
  11. Ally says:

    I’ve struggled with anxiety since I can remember. So bad I can’t drive and still dont(I’m 30). But with loving family I am in a good place. For a long time medication would just numb the anxiety. Now medication free I am accepting my anxiety and not masking it! The tips you share are the real deal! The best lesson I’ve learned is don’t sweat the small stuff, it’s all small stuff! Those few words changed my life! Thanks for sharing your story!

    10.03.18Reply
  12. Barbara Owens-DeWitt says:

    I appreciate your honesty and candor-it’s helpful. I too have struggled with general anxiety, my entire life. My mum tells a ‘cute’ story that when I was a two I asked her to open her hand for a present – it was my fingernails! As a mum myself I recognize that’s not cute, not cute, at all. However, time (ie., age), life experience and outside help have allowed me to function in the world. Everything you suggested works and for me, after exercise, gratitude lists and helping others is key to my serenity.

    Thank you Eva for this and all your content-I adore it all!

    10.03.18Reply
  13. Kari says:

    I’ve been a psychiatric nurse for adults and adolescents for 21 years and I love my job. Thank you for sharing and “normalizing” anxiety for those that struggle. I remember when Brooke Shields appeared on Oprah and shared about her postpartum depression. We definitely saw an increase in women seeking treatment which was amazing. I know you will inspire others to do the same!

    10.03.18Reply
  14. Mary says:

    This post was really helpful. Every time I see another person share about their experience with anxiety it makes me feel a bit more “normal”.

    In case it’s helpdul to anyone, one other quick thing I’ve found to help me in the moment of high anxiety or an impending panic attack is to listen music or something else in a foreign language. Helps my thoughts stop swirling, since my mind is distracted trying to translate and follow along. Chill French music, for example, seems to have a similar effect for me as listening to a meditation app. 🤷‍♀️

    10.03.18Reply
  15. Krista says:

    Love this post! Thank you for sharing so openly about your experience with anxiety. I can relate to everything you mentioned and it’s comforting to know that I’m not alone. I agree that exercise/running helps me a lot.

    10.03.18Reply
  16. Alli says:

    I totally related to the part where you said you felt guilt/shame after an episode of anxiety–I hate that feeling so much and it’s definitely something I struggle with. I also need to give myself time outdoors and time to exercise, get those endorphins boosting, I notice my anxiety much less on days where I exercise or am outside!
    I’ve also come to let myself just do nothing and not feel guilt about taking a minute or an hour to myself to just let my mind wander and not try to fill it with a task or busying myself with looking at my phone, etc. I have found that giving my mind time to think saves me from those times where I feel all of my thoughts crashing in on me. I read about a similar idea in the book Gift from the Sea, awesome read and quick ~100 pages, and decided to try it myself. Definitely gives me some peace! Thanks for sharing Eva!

    10.03.18Reply
  17. Meg says:

    I have anxiety too. Im seeing a new ND and she says it is cause my copper-zinc ratio is off! Not copper toxicity but copper zinc ratio. google it + copper anxiety. She started me on zinc to balance it and says in a few months I will feel less anxious! I’ll let u know if it helps!

    10.03.18Reply
  18. Averill says:

    Exercise is critical for me. And trying to practice “an attitude of gratitude.” I’ve had two major “flare ups” of anxiety in my life. One was first year of law school; the other was when my youngest was a toddler and struggling with a communication delay. Both consumed me. And both required some medication to pull me out. Today, I still struggle, but I try to “lean in” to the tough times; acknowledging that “this too shall pass” and cede control to whatever Higher Power is out there. Because at the end of the day I’ve realized I can’t control my life, but I can control how I react to it.

    10.03.18Reply
  19. Lisa says:

    Thanks so much for this Eva. Being new to this whole anxiety game, there are some great tips there. Some I’ve already tried and some I’m excited to try! What a ride huh?!

    10.03.18Reply
  20. Caroline says:

    Loved this post Eva! I have had anxiety ever since I graduated college and still trying to find different strategies that work best. Exercise always helps but it’s always hard to get there. One thing that I always try to remember is what works for one person may not work for another. I remember people used to tell me over and over again “just do yoga!” and I would want to scream “I HATE YOGA!” Its totally corny but one of my tried and true (is that the phrase?) ways to calm down is listening to Christmas music or watching Elf (or any other Christmas movie for that matter). Its comforting and takes my mind to a happy zen place. I guess Christmas stuff is my “yoga.”

    Thanks and keep up the amazing blog posts! xx

    10.03.18Reply
  21. Susie says:

    One thing I always have on me is an essential oil inhaler with peppermint, spearmint or eucalyptus oil. If I start to get panicky, I grab it and hold on to it….and if just doing that doesn’t help (which it never use to, but now the mere act of physically grabbing it to hold on to now calms me), I breathe in a few deep breaths of the oils. They are calming to me. Having a bottle of water with me at all times helps too. I get incredibly dizzy when my panic hits, and there always isn’t a seat readily available, so I’ve learned to use these tools to soothe me until I can find a seat (if I still need one). Also picking a topic and listing items alphabetically can calm down my mind if a panic attack hits…..example: topic of fruits or vegetables: A for apple, B for banana, C for carrot, etc. It focuses my mind, and stops the panic from worsening.

    10.03.18Reply
  22. Deanna says:

    Thank you for this blog post. I have had anxiety disorder and panic disorder since I was a child. I am now 30 with 2 babies! My anxiety has gotten worse since having baby #2 and I wasn’t prepared for it. Thankful to see I’m not alone.

    What helps me a LOT is Progressive Muscle Relaxation. Lie down, get comfortable, breathe in and out deeply. Tense your muscles starting with your feet. Tighten them for a few seconds, then release. Then move to your shins. Tighten, hold, release. Then keep moving up your body. Knees, butt cheeks, arms, fists, shoulders, etc. It’s incredible what it can do! It really makes you focus, takes your mind off of your anxiety attack, completely relaxes you. I fall asleep almost every time I do this! My mom showed me this when I was a little kid – we had a cassette tape that we listened to which taught us about it.

    Worth a shot for anyone out there struggling!

    10.03.18Reply
  23. Nikki says:

    What a great post! I had a little anxiety before kids, randomly like flying, etc… after the birth of my first daughter and a very complicated pregnancy I developed severe anxiety. It’s taken so many years but I think between a healthy diet, probiotics and quality vitamins I think it’s made a huge difference. I rarely have anxiety now and had a successful 2nd pregnancy. It’s a lot of work and it will never be perfect but diet and gut health have played a huge role in feeling better!

    10.03.18Reply
  24. Diane says:

    Thank you so deeply for your words. We all benefit from raw emotions and sharing that raw truth of this life as a female. I have identified with a PTSD diagnosis for 26 years and anxiety and depression came after the shock wore off. Therapy and community have been essential. So isolating! I thought of you and your readers yesterday when I experienced the opening of @reliefParenting and it was a divine moment. Both alone and with my child. Sending you a ton of compassion!

    10.04.18Reply
  25. Jen says:

    Thank you for this post! I’ve had anxiety since birth; I know that sounds dramatic but I just came into the world full of so much anxiety. There was a year that I spent most of my life at home because it was too hard for me to leave. Then I had two miscarriages and developed severe PTSD from those experiences. I find exercise, clean eating (I’m now WFPB vegan), and spending time “unplugged” help tremendously. I still suffer from anxiety and PTSD but I have a 2 year old and a 4 year old and I try to focus on them and get “outside of my head.” Thanks for bringing awareness to this!

    10.04.18Reply
  26. Jennifer says:

    One morning coming downstairs, I missed the last step and fell carrying my infant son. I was carrying him close to my chest and with blankets and my hand cradling his head. Thanks the stars, he had no injuries from the fall. I ended up with multiple compression fractures in my spine.

    I was already battling and denying the fact that I had postpartum depression. The injury made it so much worse. My personal guilt and anger over what happened and the fact that I felt so helpless during the recovery amplified my depression to new lows.

    I finally sought help and medication around my son’s first birthday. Life improved considerably.

    I may never be totally depression and anxiety free. I still get very nervous around the stairs, ledges, and ladders. However, I am much more aware of my issues and the fact that I am not alone thanks to those who raise their voices online. So, thank you for sharing this post.

    10.04.18Reply
  27. Brigit R says:

    Hi Eva, Thanks for this post. It is helpful to hear what has helped other survivors and thrivers of anxiety disorders. Telling your story inspires others to do the same. Dialectical behavior therapy has helped me. It has four modules including mindfulness, distress tolerance, interpersonal effectiveness and emotion regulation. The mindfulness app has helped me alot. It has a self compassion and many other meditations on kindness to one’s self. We all need to be more kind to ourselves especially, when we feel down. Thank you so much. Your arr doing great. Love to you and God bless you and family always❤❤❤

    10.04.18Reply
  28. Brigit says:

    I forgot to mention exercise is really important to me. One of the most important and critical for me is cardio and yoga. Cardio really gets the endorphins going and sets me on the right track. Yoga helps me to go inward and nurture my well being. Yes exercise is a definite!

    10.04.18Reply
  29. Janelle says:

    Hi Eva, just curious… have you ever experienced rage when you are going through your anxiety spells?? I’ve come to learn that I get very rageful, angry and irritable. I tend to take it out on my kids (yelling at them for the littlest things) and I have been struggling with the idea of seeking therapy. I have just always thought I was stressed but I think now it’s something more, something deeper.

    10.04.18Reply
  30. Mary says:

    Hi Eva! Thanks for being so open and for offering great ideas about dealing with stress.Before I had my son I felt anxious for a long time out of fear that I might never manage to become a mother.Now that I am a mother besides being happy and grateful, I am also stressed and anxious like almost all the time (and mad sometimes 😤) trying to do everything right.The funny thing is that even during the early days of my pregnancy (when of course I could not relax worrying and stressing over everything to go well) something happened regarding my financial situation that I could not control and that could possibly lead to a total financial disaster for me.I realized at that point that if I allowed myself to get over-stressed (and if I were not pregnant I would have been VEERY anxious for a few months) I could harm my pregnancy irreparably during those early stages so I just thought that I’ll be calm and if anything went wrong either regarding my pregnancy or my finances I would cross that bridge when and if I got to it and guess what, finally everything went fine.I mean, anxiety never ends and usually the things we are stressed about go well and then something we dont expect happens and we are stressed all over again! I try (not always successfully) to put things into perspective and remind myself that anxiety is a choice and not innate and inevitable.

    10.04.18Reply
  31. Asi says:

    Thank you for this, the second paragraph could have been written by me (minus the stutter, plus a debilitating nervous vomiting that lasted 8 years!). It feels good to know that other women out there are living their best lives while managing something as “slippery” as anxiety, and knowing that, even if it will never truly go away, it can be managed and lived with!

    10.08.18Reply
  32. Jodie says:

    My dog calms me down. When I’m super stresses out and starting to panic he seems to sense it and plops himself on my lap for a stroke. Also walking helps me a lot , fresh air and deep breathing exercises.

    10.08.18Reply
  33. Erica says:

    Hi Eva,
    This was a great article, thank you for being so open and honest. It’s really great that you are willing to share this with the public. I have also struggled with anxiety my whole life and it escalated after pregnancy. I didn’t entirely realize that it was out of control until I started acupuncture and mentioned my stress. After a few weeks, I felt like a new person. You leave the office with a dream like zen feel. I have just recently had my second child and recognize the same feelings coming forward but now feel like there is help available and a light at the end of the tunnel. I do also exercise and love to get outside but sometimes with a newborn, there isn’t time for that.
    Cheers to feeling good.

    10.10.18Reply