My 6 Favorite Anxiety Busters
There’s no escaping the fact that we’re all extra stressed these days. Whether you’re self-quarantined, under a “stay at home” order, or still going to work every day like nothing’s changed (that’s me), everyone’s anxiety levels are climbing. As autistic adults, we live with more anxiety than other people to begin with, and now our routines are getting disrupted and we can feel everyone else getting panicked around us and that just makes it worse for us. So there’s no better time to give you a round-up of my favorite anxiety busters! These are the things that are getting me through this stressful time and keeping me (mostly) sane. I hope some of these prove helpful to you as well, not only now but any time you’re dealing with anxiety.
My Weighted Blanket
Omg, I can’t say enough about my weighted blanket! I wouldn’t have thought it possible, but just pulling that thing on top of me makes me breathe easier. When my anxiety keeps me awake and even my meds can’t make me sleepy, snuggling under the weight of that blanket helps me drop off to sleep in minutes. It’s so simple and so effective, a weighted blanket tops all my recommendation lists now!
Anxiety is a built-in mechanism that is supposed to spur us to action. It evolved in us to make us run from anything that might be a predator, even if it turned out to be just the wind. So if you’re sitting still while your anxiety is steadily cranking along, you end up with a ton of pent up energy that makes you feel helpless. I hate that feeling of vibrating with all that anxious energy and not knowing what to do with it.
I’ve found a good answer is to just get up and move. Burn off that excess energy that your brain is building up! Go take a sensory break – walk, jog, play hopscotch on the sidewalk, skip rope. If you’d prefer to stay inside, try some yoga (I highly recommend Yoga with Adriene) or tai chi, or just put on your favorite music and dance like nobody’s watching (because they aren’t)!
I find that *doing something* is a big help for me, too. Not just moving, but accomplishing something. People joke about “anxiety cleaning”, but it’s good therapy as far as I’m concerned. There’s a lot to be said for scrubbing out the tub on your hands and knees or clearing out your closet and taking bag after bag of trash or donations out of your house.
I also love gardening. Even with just a few pots on my balcony, getting my hands in the dirt and smelling good, rich potting soil calms my brain. After everything’s planted, taking some time every day or two to water each little leafy baby and check them for wilted leaves or spots is a good bit of mindfulness. And yes, I talk to my plants.
If your house is clean and you don’t care for gardening, there’s always laundry. Laundry never ends. Do ALL of it! Clothes, towels, sheets and bedding, even drapes and blankets if you know how. Folding laundry can be very meditative as well (except fitted sheets, just do your best with those).
You can make a mess instead of cleaning, too. Bake several batches of cookies or some homemade bread, or cook a big pot of stew or gumbo. Practice making cocktails or perfect your own recipe for a Pan-Galactic Gargle Blaster.
Sometimes I just want to watch some stimmy videos or listen to something soothing. But I still need something to fidget with to deal with that excess energy and give myself some regulation. This is when I grab my hand work.
Lately, I’m on knitting. I’ve done several shawls for myself, everyone got fingerless gloves for the holidays, and now I’m trying to learn to do lace patterns and maybe get ahead for this Christmas. I’m going to be knitting anyway, so other people might as well get gifts out of it! My favorite thing about knitting is that it’s very rhythmic, so it has an extra soothing layer to it that goes very well with calming music or TV.
I used to do a lot of cross-stitch and embroidery. Needlework doesn’t quite have the same rhythmic appeal of knitting and it requires a little more attention (nothing pulls your focus like a sewing needle in your fingertip), but as long as the pattern isn’t too complicated, it can be very calming and mindful. Stitching is also great for adding a calming layer while you’re watching TV.
For a while, I was also into adult coloring books. Because of my dysgraphia, I have to go slowly and carefully and I’m still not good at staying inside the lines, but it creates a good mindful space for me. It doesn’t give me as much to show for my fidgeting, so I don’t feel as productive as I do with stitching or knitting. But other people love it and it does help, so I recommend you try it if you haven’t.
Stimmy and Soothing Videos and TV
As an autistic adult, there’s a fine line between “stimmy” things and “soothing” things – they’re pretty much the same for me – so the same videos, TV, movies, and music I would put on for stimming regulation are the same ones I use to de-stress and calm my nerves. My list includes a lot of British stuff: Red Dwarf, QI, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Dirk Gently, Harry Potter, as well as some engrossing sci-fi like Star Trek, Firefly, and Warehouse 13.
If you’re looking for a cuteness overload with a “No Sads” policy, I highly recommend Kitten Academy on Youtube. Yes, that’s a 24/7/365 livestream of kittens, plus close-up streams almost daily and mailbag segments on Saturday mornings. You’re welcome!
If you’d prefer something comforting from childhood, Reading Rainbow and Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood are both on Amazon Prime. You can also check out LeVar Burton Reads if you’re looking for more adult stories in the same familiar voice.
One more thing that has been great for me is following Trauma Geek – Trauma and Neurodiversity Support. I don’t know who runs the page, but they post really good information about processing anxiety, why certain circumstances might bring up trauma responses, and a whole host of mental health topics that have been invaluable to me the last few weeks. I suggest anyone who lives with anxiety, whether you’re autistic, otherwise neurodiverse, or neurotypical, check out that page.
Anxiety is a real problem for most autistic adults, and right now it’s worse for everyone. But if you can handle your anxiety through something as scary as a global pandemic, you’ll have some serious coping skills! I believe in all of us – we got this!
What are your favorite anxiety busters? Do you have any songs or videos that are instantly calming for you? How are you and your family staying active and focused these days? Bonus question: Today I listened to an Animaniacs playlist while I worked, and for a few days I’ve been listening to Sesame Street songs because they’re comforting – what’s your favorite comforting show, movie, or song from your childhood? I promise, no judgment!