You might be wondering: Dr. Masifi, why write about this when there are billions of other posts about coping skills and stress relief?
Well, as usual, it all comes down to what I see in clinic.
Many of my patients with anxiety tell me that they don't know what to do with their free time, which makes them feel even more anxious.
Other patients tell me they don't know how to calm themselves in healthy ways.
Because these habits started in childhood or their early teens, many people automatically reach for addictive substances, binge on foods, lose themselves in hours of TV/video games, engage in physical self-harming, or sleep through the day in order to distract themselves from distressing emotions.
Can you relate? Know that even during a rough patch in your life, it is still possible for you to stay mindful and connected to the world around you. It's hard at first, but you can find something in this very moment to appreciate. And it gets easier as you go.
I’m serious — take it a day at a time. Don’t be discouraged if you try to calm yourself and it doesn’t work perfectly, or if you go back to the old ways that you know. It can be extremely hard to undo self-destructive patterns. As a child, they were probably the best way you knew to escape a painful reality. Now that you're aware there are other options, it takes time and practice to transition towards more nourishing ways to soothe yourself.
I figured this post might be more relatable to you than a list of generic suggested “coping skills”. Again, I say this when remembering my clinic experiences with patients. When I used to give suggestions, people would often respond with “Tried it, didn’t work for me” or “Nah, I don’t like exercise”.
In this post, I try to make it easy for you to explore different coping skills ideas.
I provide direct links and/or names of sites or apps you can easily search on the Internet.
I also give explanations as to why these activities are helpful for me.
Hopefully some of them will resonate with you!
Now, without further ado…
If you live in an apartment, you can still do this — no jumping!
-It’s so much easier to stay motivated and on a routine when you exercise with someone else.
At the start of the COVID quarantine, one of my friends suggested that we do Youtube workout videos together. We started out by trying random high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. I quickly found that I preferred Heather Robertson’s HIIT videos because there’s great music, no talking, and a trendy, minimalist look to each one. She even has a 12 week workout program!
-Working out with a friend in the morning sets a positive tone for the rest of the day. I find that I’m much more energetic and motivated when I do that.
-If you read the above and thought “I don’t feel like doing ‘high intensity’ anything”, try yoga!
Do you have 15 minutes? Consider trying this calming yoga routine to set the right tone for your day.
Alright, you might not be a “yoga person”. I wasn’t either, trust me. My goal used to be working out purely for weight maintenance and loss, and yoga seemed to be a waste of time.
But after giving it a few tries, I have to say that yoga is great for multiple reasons. It makes you sweat and strengthens your muscles, all while still keeping you relaxed and in the moment. Sarah Beth Yoga is my favorite…she’s like the Heather Robertson of Yoga in my opinion.
-If you’re not much of a “workout” person, walking is a perfect substitute. It’s a nice escape from sitting in front of your phone or computer.
-Walking is a low maintenance way to exercise. You don’t have to put on a bunch of workout gear or go anywhere in particular to do it. You don’t have to power walk and pump your arms like you’re in the Olympics. Just go for a stroll and that alone will do a lot of good!
-The American Heart Association currently recommends 2.5 hours of heart-pumping exercise a week. This includes walking. If you spread that out over the week, that’s walking for 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week. You can break that up however you want, whatever works for you!
-If you get bored of walking around the neighborhood, switch it up and go to the beach or park. Looking at nature is calming. Being away from your work instead of hunched over a desk is refreshing!
-I’ve been wanting a corgi for years. Finally caved and got this little guy in October of last year!
-(He’s a corgi with a fluffy coat, aka a fluffy corgi. The “fluffy” is a recessive trait. He was bred from two regular coated corgis.)
-Leo is like a little toddler who’s always in a great mood and up for eating/playing. He always looks like he’s smiling! Taking him to the dog park is a lot of fun for both of us.
-I highly recommend adopting or buying a dog if you’re wanting a daily dose of instant positivity and an added sense of purpose. For me, it’s well worth the added responsibility.
-Baking is one of my favorite things to do after a long day of sitting in one place (ie in front of a computer for 8 hours). If you have a 9 to 5 office job or work from home, then you can probably relate. Even if you don’t, it’s a great way to briefly put in a bit of work for the reward of a delicious aroma and warm food that you can take pride in having created.
-I admit that you need to be in the mood for this one, because it does take just a bit of prep. You have to get the ingredients out, turn on the oven, and grease the pan. Once you can wrap your head around those 3 steps, you’re golden!
-I don’t have many recipes off the top of my head. I usually think of a couple ingredients I have on hand (for example, bananas and flour), then search Google for simple recipes that include both.
I’ll admit that I’m a person who likes her morning coffee. Tea is more of a soothing, aromatic drink that I’ll have in the late afternoon or evening.
Costco has quality, affordable packets of green tea with matcha.
Amazon is where I get more traditional caffeinated teas, or interesting herbal flavored teas.
One of my recent favorites is this decaf Tazo lemon loaf tea…and I don’t usually go for lemony things, but it tastes just like the real thing somehow!
-Hear me out. I used to be the kind of person who couldn’t keep a little cactus alive. Part of it had to do with being a full-time student, and having other priorities.
-Over time, I worked my way up from cacti to succulents. They survived! Recently, it occurred to me that I have balcony space that isn’t being used. I decided to turn the balcony into a mini oasis, complete with an outdoor rug and a chair.
-Getting a few plants from a nearby nursery was easy enough. You don’t even have to go to a nursery. Home Depot, Walmart, Smart & Final and plenty of other stores have small potted plants for sale too.
-I picked a couple Boston and asparagus ferns, a few succulents, and some herb plants (rosemary, oregano, thyme, mint, and basil). All I needed was a watering can, and a couple minutes every day to give them some love.
-Added bonus: You can make new food and drink recipes if you just do a search for each herb on Google.
-You can try candles, wax melts, or aromatherapy to immediately give yourself a more relaxing experience, no matter where you are.
-Scented candles are available in pretty much every store I can think of. Even the supermarket.
-Wax melts require an electric melter. They’re on Amazon and average about $20-40. The wax cubes are scented and are about $5 a pack.
-Aromatherapy involves using essential oils in water, and then using an aromatherapy machine to mist that water into the air. The machine itself is around $30, the oils are $10-20 for a multipack of different scents like eucalyptus, orange, lavender, and lemongrass.
-I especially like to light a candle or use aromatherapy when I’m trying to get work done. Speaking of work, I also like to to do the next thing at the same time…
This speaks for itself. I just search “chill” or “ambient” and select one of the resulting stations. It puts me into a different zone so that I can focus and get things done. Other times, I put music on just to help me unwind.
Nowadays, there are podcasts for literally anything you can think of. If you’re trying to get chores done, taking a long drive, or going for a walk, I highly recommend searching whatever it is you’re in the mood for.
Stick to podcasts with a 4.5 star reviews rating or higher.
You can literally find whatever topic you’re interested in.
I started with a comedy improv podcast called Comedy Bang Bang in 2011, and still listen to this day! It has gotten me through many a rough day.
-I get asked all the time, “How do you listen to other people’s problems for a living? Don’t you go crazy!?”
-Fortunately, I love what I do and can’t imagine doing anything else. At the same time, I find therapy absolutely crucial so that I can stay mentally fresh and present for my patients.
-Getting to speak with an objective person can help get you out of your head and take your personal bias out of situations. Learning about the things that cause these biases, and ways to be more aware of them, is key to improving your relationships. This can all add up to a healthier, more productive life!
If you’re working with a tight budget:
Most insurance plans will fully cover the cost of therapy once a week, as long as you see someone in the insurance network (ie. only Anthem Blue Cross providers or Aetna providers). All you’ll be responsible for is your regular copay, anywhere from $10-40 per visit.
Disclaimer: The above apps are highly rated by multiple sites. However, I have not yet spoken to anyone who has completed therapy with these programs, so I can’t completely vouch for their quality.
-I don’t use this as much as the other things above, but every now and then, I turn on a 5-minute Headspace meditation. If I’m having trouble falling asleep or having a long day, I’ll usually turn this on and it works like a charm.
Headspace is an app that offers a few free guided meditations, and is my personal favorite. As an added bonus, it’s free for healthcare providers during COVID. At one point they were offering it free to unemployed people as well, but that deal has expired. They still do have a number of free meditations to choose from. You can choose a guy with an Australian accent or a female voice (I’ve never tried the the female voice). You can pick a 3 to 15 minute meditation depending on what you think you can do.
Mindfulness is an app with a lot of different meditation types, lengths, and teachers. A lot more variety, and it’s FREE!
What do all the activities above have in common?
They boost endorphins, increase Vitamin D, and/or help you be mindful. Each of these things lead to a feeling of greater joy, peace, or both.
If you don’t yet have your de-stressing, anxiety coping skills toolkit, I hope this inspires you to start building and adding to your own!
Please comment below if this article was helpful to you, or if you have any coping skills or de-stressing tips you’d like to share!
Note: I have no affiliations or involvement with the above YouTube channels, apps, or websites mentioned in the above post.
Disclaimer: All blog content is intended for information only, and should not be considered a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Using, accessing, or browsing this website does not create a physician-patient relationship between you and Dr. Masifi or any site contributors.