Even mental health pros need help sometimes. Here are the useful tools experts rely on in those moments.
Dealing with anxiety can be overwhelming, and sometimes it may seem like you’re the only one going through it. According to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America, anxiety is actually one of the most common mental disorders in the country, affecting 40 million adults — including the very people we turn to for guidance.
Yes, we’re talking about your therapists. Take, for example, Mahlet Endale, a licensed psychologist based in Atlanta whose anxiety mostly manifests in sleep disturbances. There’s also Sara Weand, a relationship and anxiety therapist in Annville, Pennsylvania, who often feels pain in her upper back and shoulders when she’s feeling anxious.
So what tools do the experts use when they’re feeling anxious? Below are a few they swear by. Here’s hoping they’ll help you, too.
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Most folks use ice rollers to reduce puffiness on their face and around their eyes. But for Sara Tick, a licensed marriage and family therapist in South Carolina, ice rollers play a different role in her self-care routine.
“I use it on my pressure points when I feel a panic attack mounting,” she told HuffPost. “I hold it on the back of my neck or on my wrists to help my body calm itself down.”
This is particularly helpful because “ice can be an effective tool for people experiencing panic attacks.” Tick recommended using the roller along your cheekbones while holding your breath and then breathing deeply.
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Tick also enjoys channeling any anxious energy into the pages of an adult coloring book. “By using beautiful colored pencils and staying in the moment while coloring in the tiny, intricate designs, my mind has to stay in the moment and not ruminate on anxious thoughts,” she said.
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Jamie Steiner, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Brooklyn, New York, said she uses a weighted blanket when she’s experiencing stress or anxiety before bed.
“It’s incredibly helpful when you’re feeling anxious and trying to go to sleep,” she said. “Mine weighs about 20 pounds, but it doesn’t feel uncomfortably heavy or get hot, and the weighted pressure feels comforting and grounding.”
Get the 20-pound weighted blanket from Casper for $189.
Meredith Prescott, a psychotherapist in New York, said she personally uses a massager when stress or anxiety starts to physically take a toll on her.
“I find that the Hypervolt helps loosen up my body by releasing tension and increasing blood circulation to my muscles,” she said. “Working from home at a desk all the time has put tremendous stress on our bodies, requiring us to do more to help our bodies heal.”
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If you’re the kind of person who finds themselves in a relaxed state while engaging in creative work, then Weand’s suggestion might be exactly what you’re looking for. She said she makes it a priority every day to “just create” in order to relieve stress. And her tool of choice? Gelly Roll pens.
“[Doing this] keeps me grounded and balanced,” she said, noting that these particular pens show up on black paper. “I love using them to tap into creativity through the mindful art of ‘zentangles,'” aka doodling in a pattern.
Get a 12-pack variety box from Amazon for $27.55 .
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In an attempt to eliminate her anxiety, Endale reaches for the Headspace App, which was initially recommended by her own therapist during the heights of the pandemic.
“Headspace has great courses on meditation in general as well as special training on using meditation to manage different things like stress, anxiety, chronic pain, anger, staying balanced and many more,” she said. “They also have all kinds of meditations, wind downs and stories designed to help you fall and stay asleep.”
“I usually will use a wind-down or one of their Sleepcasts (45-minute gentle stories to fall asleep to) when I first climb into bed,” she continued. “During peak anxiety times I use the Nighttime SOS options to help quiet my mind and fall back asleep quickly if I wake up in the middle of the night. I have yet to find anything as effective as the Nighttime SOS meditations to help with my night wakings.”
Alexa Pinsker, an art therapist and licensed counselor in Colorado, also relies on meditation apps. Pinsker said Ten Percent Happier is usually her go-to “because they have specific guided meditations on stress as well as a section for guided sleep meditations. They also have many free talks, courses and guided meditations. During the pandemic, they offered free subscriptions to health care providers, which was awesome.”
Whether you’re using one of the mediation apps on this list or trying to quiet your mind with one of your favorite playlists, these sleep headphones could be exactly what you’re looking for.
Pinsker said these headphones were specifically “designed for sleep so they are wireless and extra comfortable.” Drown out all of those stressful thoughts and drift off.
Get them from Amazon for $19.99.
After dealing with high levels of anxiety during the 2020 election and the pandemic, Andrea Dindinger, a San Francisco-based licensed marriage and family therapist, turned to this bright popsicle jigsaw puzzle. She found that staring at the colors and putting the pieces together was comforting.
“I’d shut down all devices, turn on music and focus my mind on the puzzle,” she said. “I don’t have very much free time, and a 500-piece puzzle is both complicated enough to keep my attention and not so difficult that it takes too long for me to complete. It is the perfect way to soothe the stress of the day both out of my mind and my body.”
Get it from Amazon for $13.99.
Sticking to a routine or ritual can be super helpful when dealing with anxious energy. For Bethany Nickerson, a licensed clinical social worker in New York, that comes in the form making a cup of hot cinnamon spice tea.
“I love the ritual of making tea and feeling the warm cup in my hands,” she said. “This stuff is amazing and also comes in decaf (sometimes caffeine makes my anxiety worse). I would often take a work break and go to the Harney and Sons store in SoHo, so the taste and smell of this tea reminds me of those relaxing middle of the day breaks.”
Get a set from Amazon for $8.35.
Brown noise is basically a deeper than what you’ve come to expect from a white noise machine (think sounds like a heavy waterfall or thunder). This may help promote deeper sleep or relaxation.
Dian Grier, a licensed clinical social worker in California, swears by the magic of this brown noise machine from LectoFan.
“I could not live without my brown noise machine,” she said. “The brown noise machine is a much lower pitch and calms me better than the white noise. The one I use is called LectroFan, and it is advertised as white noise, but has the brown noise included. It keeps me asleep because it blocks out any sudden noises, and I am a light sleeper, so the constant low tone helps.”
Get it from Amazon for $42.40.
Of course, when it comes to stress and anxiety, tools like these only go so far. Lifestyle habits like adequate sleep and exercise can work wonders. And perhaps the best way to manage anything wreaking havoc on your mental health is seeing a therapist, Endale said. (Here’s a guide on where to start, and here’s a list of affordable resources if therapy doesn’t fit into your budget.)
“I also recommend people seek professional help if they find the stress is so much that they can’t even get themselves to use their usual healthy anxiety management strategies,” she added.
“Sometimes when we are experiencing chronic anxiety, our body succumbs to the stress of it all and the anxiety develops into depression. This is also a key indicator that it is past time to get professional support.”