Lately, it’s been a lot of angsty emo, pop-punk, and, well, old Glee covers. If that seems like a weird mix, you’re not wrong, but these genres have something really important in common: They fill me with nostalgia. Everything going on with the pandemic constantly feels huge and uncertain and scary; this music transports me back to a time when the world felt smaller and safer. Your nostalgia playlist might not be filled with old emo classics and songs from one of the most awful trainwrecks in television history, but tapping into something that used to bring you unfettered joy, hope, and release might be just what you’re looking for right now to ground yourself when everything feels Too Much. I highly recommend it.
3. I lie on an acupuncture mat.
A few years ago, this acupuncture mat ($ 20, amazon.com) took my corner of the internet by storm. I am nothing if not weak for viral wellness goods, so I bought one. It’s been sitting at the back of my closet ever since. But a combination of stress-induced muscle tension and touch starvation inspired me to pull it out a few weeks ago.
I can’t say if there is any scientific backup to this mat’s many health claims, but I can say it’s been a useful grounding tool for me in a way something like meditation never has because I can’t shut my brain up. There’s no way not to be present when lying on a vaguely painful bed of plastic needles. It forces me to focus on nothing but the sensations in my body and, against the hurts-so-good pressure that eventually melts into buzzy numbness, anxiety takes a backseat.
4. I play mindless games on my phone.
Please don’t ask me just how much time goes into reaching level 79 on Yahtzee with Buddies. I don’t like to think about how many hours I’ve spent staring at my screen gently tapping the “roll” button to listen to click-clack of imaginary dice. But I can’t deny that the mobile game has distracted me off the edges of many a panic attack. Same goes for games like Candy Crush, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Mystery, 2048, and half a dozen more. The more mindless, the better. When my brain won’t shut up and my thoughts start spiraling toward a catastrophic place, I can turn toward the pointless, repetitive therapy of tapping my phone screen until I’ve calmed down.
5. I talk over myself.
I live by myself, so unless I’m on a Zoom call with coworkers or talking to my cats, a lot of my time these days is spent inside my own head. And as anyone with mental illness knows, too many hours with only your own thoughts for company sometimes isn’t the best. It isn’t surprising that my anxious thoughts are festering under these circumstances.
When that happens—and by that I mean the silence inside my head starts to fill with the sound of a particularly mean swarm of bees—I interrupt myself. Out loud. I wish I could say that I say something soothing or grounding or smart or validating. But honestly, I just start saying, “No, not going there.” Or, “Haha, not right now, no.” Or, “No, thank you.” Or most commonly, “Nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope nope.”
Eventually, I either laugh, feel a little stupid, forget what my anxious stream of consciousness was trying to say, or all of the above. Your mileage may vary, but I trust that you can find your own version of “nope” that works for you.
6. I cuddle my pets.
I mean really, intentionally cuddle with my pets, not just passively pet them while watching TV or working. I often don’t realize how I take advantage of my cats’ presence—they’re always lounging on my bed beside me or curled up on the back of the couch nearby. But if you have a pet and need a reminder like I did, when the symptoms of anxiety start rolling in, there’s nothing quite as relaxing as dropping what you’re doing and taking a 10-minute break to do nothing but pet, snuggle, kiss, and love your fur monsters.
7. I, ugh, exercise.
I don’t share this because I think anyone reading this needs to be told for the first time that exercise is good for mental health (believe me, my biggest pet peeve is when people pretend going for a run will magically cure my depression). Instead, I want to remind you it’s there as an option that might work for you now even if it hasn’t in the past. Like, the fact that I’m even recommending this is a big testament to how effective self-care is an ever-moving and unpredictable target.