I’ve used a variety of techniques to manage the anxiety that comes with having Asperger’s. But stress and anxiety is never going to vanish from my life completely. And it shouldn’t. Without anxiety I’d have no fear: there would be nothing stopping me from walking straight off the edge of a cliff. Without stress I’d have no motivation, I’d never get any work done or develop as a human being. A little anxiety is helpful, not harmful. However, it’s easy for things to get out of control and overwhelm us completely.
The following is my PERSONAL top ten remedies for everyday anxiety. I’ve emphasised the word ‘personal’ because what works for me might not work for somebody else. Equally, some remedies that others have found really useful have been completely useless, or even harmful to me. Our minds are just like our bodies. They’re unique, and respond to different things in different ways. For example: if I’m given Penicillin for a minor infection then I’ll be feeling better pretty soon. But if my sister is given Penicillin for a minor infection it will make her critically ill. It’s easy for Doctors to hand out pills or meditation cds as a “one size fits all” cure. But the truth is, if you suffer from stress and anxiety you’re going to have to try a lot of different coping strategies before you find the one that works for you.
I haven’t done this in at least two years. However, I felt it was important to put it on the list as cutting myself was one of the first things I tried when I realised my mental health was starting to get out of hand. And it was a big mistake. Sure, sticking a scalpel or a shard of broken glass into my flesh did quell the anxiety at first. It allowed me to relax and get on with my day. But in the long term this habit just replaced my old issues with a bunch of new ones. How was I going to hide the scalpel? I couldn’t go swimming because people would see the scars. I’d have to wear a long sleeved jumper even though it was summer. Mum and Dad might find out. What if something happened and I couldn’t get away to cut? if that wound got infected? I couldn’t go back to the hospital. I couldn’t have sex, someone might ask about the marks… Before long I was self-harming to quell the anxiety I had about self-harming. NEVER use cutting as a remedy for anxiety. It just doesn’t work.
Final score: 0/10
Meditation and Other Hippy Bullshit
My choice of the word ‘bullshit’ probably indicates what score I’m going to give this anxiety remedy. And it’s not a very high one. Don’t get me wrong, meditation, EFT and relaxation therapy are incredibly helpful for some people. I recently learned about a patient with severe agoraphobia who was able to overcome their fear and leave the house simply by listening to a relaxation CD for thirty minutes a day. I’ve listened to the same CD four times a week for five weeks, and it did nothing for me. I just felt stupid clenching and unclenching my muscles when I was told to. Far from relaxing me, listening to that CD just made me want to find the man who made it and punch his lights out. I did have a slightly more positive experience with EFT (an emotional freedom technique commonly known as tapping). This cost me £40 a session, which I paid because at the time it was my only option in terms of therapy. Knowing that I had someone professional to talk to did help to reduce my anxiety. But the tapping itself just made me look very conspicuous on public transport, and my inability to remember the right order of the taps proved to be yet another source of stress.
Final Score: 1/10
I realise including binge eating on this list is a bit unethical, and some people might argue that I’m promoting eating disorders. But stuffing tonnes of junk food down my throat can help calm me. And while regular binge eating can have negative effects on your long term health, it’s not quite as unhealthy as some of the coping methods I’ve used before (such as self-harm and heavy drinking). Weight gain is probably the most obvious side effect of long term binge eating. But recently I discovered that eating lots of unhealthy food all at once causes a spike in your blood sugar. If you’re blood sugar spikes regularly over several years, you might develop type two diabetes. I see my binge eating as the lesser of three evils. And while it has got me through some difficult times, it is something I’m trying to cut down on.
Final Score: 3/10
In my opinion anti-depressant medication is handed out far too easily at the moment. I suspect this is because of the appalling state the NHS is in. With something like a six month wait for therapy, if you go to a doctor with an issue like stress, anxiety or depression all they can offer you immediately is drugs. Like the therapies I mentioned earlier, medication also tends to be seen as a one size fits all cure. It’s not. I have found anti-depressants extremely helpful in reducing day to day anxiety, but I had to experiment with lots of different types and strengths before I found what really worked for me. At first I was prescribed with Prozac. I was a lot less anxious, but the side effects made me feel exhausted and dizzy all the time, plus it completely messed up my sex drive. I’m doing much better on 20mg of citalopram a day. However, citalopram is not a miracle cure, and only works if I use it alongside other anxiety reducing techniques such as talking therapy and regular exercise.
Final score: 5/10
Anti- psychotics almost didn’t make it onto this list. Although they are an incredibly effective way of diminishing anxiety, their side effects make it almost impossible for you to live a normal, heathy life. I was prescribed with 25mg of quetiapine, and told to take it at night, or in anticipation of stressful situations. This was without doubt the most ridiculous advice I have ever been given. Firstly, how does someone anticipate when they’re going to be stressed? It’s easy to predict that you might be nervous in situations like an exam, or a first date, but most of life’s stressful situations are thrust upon us without a moment’s notice. Secondly, around forty minutes after taking quetiapine I just fall asleep, and I’m not likely to wake up for at least twelve hours. When I do wake I am blissfully calm, but I’m also clumsy and drooling. Imagine if I had taken the doctor’s advice, and used quetiapine to get me through something stressful like a first date or an exam. Forty minutes into the date I’d start drooling, my head would hit the table and my date would storm off in disgust. Forty minutes into the exam I’d start drooling, my head would hit the table and I’d undoubtedly fail. If you’re going to use quetiapine, I’d suggest you save it for those moments when your anxiety is so great it causes harm to yourself and others. Anti-psychotics will make you feel wonderful. But that wonderful feeling just isn’t compatible with day to day life.
Final score: 5/10
It’s highly un-ethical for me to say this, but wine is a wonderful remedy for everyday anxiety. I love wine. Wine has always been there for me, it makes me feel warm inside and has never let me down (apart from the occasional twinge in my kidneys). It’s perfectly acceptable to have a couple of glasses of Shiraz after a stressful day at work. But if you know you have a predisposition to addiction or a pathological need for routine, I’d avoid using alcohol as an anxiety remedy at all costs. I’m already aware that I drink too much…. Which causes me a great deal of anxiety… which just makes me drink even more. Heavy drinking can be seriously detrimental to your physical health. Plus I think we’ll all agree that nobody is mentally sound or very productive when they’ve got a bad hangover. You can use wine as a remedy for everyday anxiety. But use it in moderation.
Final score: 6/10
The Talking Cure
The talking cure has to be the most effective form of therapy I’ve found. Maybe I’m a narcissist. Maybe I’m selfish. Maybe I’m a self-indulgent prick who loves the sound of her own voice, but talking through my issues with an unbiased professional has really helped me to deal with my anxiety and maintain a healthy self-esteem. This kind of therapy is one of the most difficult, draining things you will ever experience, but it’s also one of the most effective. Seeing a regular Therapist was very important for me when my mental health was going severely downhill. Since I’d never experienced a breakdown, I wasn’t aware that I was having one. But my therapist was, and she was able to direct me to the services I needed to recuperate and improve my health.
Final score: 7/10
At last- a coping strategy that benefits your physical health as well as your mental health. I no longer exercise as often as I should, but it’s a great way to keep calm and get your body relaxed enough to go to sleep. When my anxiety was at its worst I cut down my food intake and would often go to the gym for a couple of hours a day, then go walking for a couple of hours a night. I was trying to keep myself as exhausted as possible so I would be less prone to panic attacks. This technique was very effective, but it’s just too time consuming for everyday use. That exercise was pretty much all I did, and I would have crumbled like rivita if I’d tried to fit it around a part time job or a busy university schedule. If you’re feeling stressed and you’ve got lots of other commitments, I would suggest doing a thirty minute home workout up to five days a week. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to exercise longer or get big muscles. This technique is for reducing stress, not adding to it.
Final Score: 8/10
I’m not going into too much detail on this point, because my Mum reads all my articles. Just remember: orgasms are a great way to relieve stress. Unlike most of the techniques I’ve suggested, masturbation is not particularly time consuming, expensive or detrimental to your physical health.
Final score: 9/10
Watching Lord of the Rings
Ok… this is a very personal remedy for anxiety and probably won’t work for most of you. But having a Lord of the Rings marathon is my perfect ten. They’re wonderful films, and Tolkien’s universe provides me with the escapism I desperately need when things get tough. The trilogy came out at the cinema when I was just a kid, and watching it again allows me to return to the happy, care free hours of my childhood, before I realised I had autism and was irrevocably different from everyone else around me. Of course, there are downsides to this coping strategy. The extended edition of The Fellowship of the Ring is 228 minutes long, and I often end up watching it when I should be working… or cleaning… or exercising… or doing just about anything else. My Mum’s gotten so fed up of soundtrack that she’s actually banned me from watching the film outside my bedroom. But it works. It calms me. Lord of the Rings might not work for you. But I’m sure everyone has at least one film they remember enjoying during their childhood. The next you feel a panic attack coming on, watch that film. Remember what it was like to feel young and care free.
Final score: 10/10