The Emergency Kit for Anxiety, Worry, and Stress

Happier with Gretchen Rubin, Episode 240: Very Special Episode: Use the Emergency Kit for Anxiety, Worry, and Stress.

This is an Emergency Kit—the kind of thing to keep in your basement or the trunk of your car! Actions that will help in the short term—not long-term solutions or deep work. But these are some solutions that may help you get through a tough time, right now. Some people can have a level of anxiety that requires professional help to manage, so if you need it, it's important to get help.

1. Reframing: Instead of seeing stress as a bad thing, and a source of worry itself (stress causes heart disease; stress causes insomnia; stress is bad for you), think about how stress is actually helpful. The psychologist and professor Kelly McGonigal wrote a fascinating book called The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It. She argues that stress has many benefits.

Also, to re-frame, watch your language—not  “I panicked” but “I got rattled,” not “I’m stressed” but “I’m excited” or “I’m pumped."

Of course, sometimes stress does become harmful. Every medicine can become poison.

In a lecture given by Dr. Michael Sweeney, he points out that a certain level of anxiety helps children do well.

On other hand, perfectionism is about anxiety, not standards. So if you’re feeling “perfectionist,” a remedy isn't a matter of lowering your standards, but managing your anxiety. If you’re anxious about failure, try re-framing it not as “I failed,” but “I had the courage to try.” “I didn’t get the promotion, but I had the courage to throw my hat in the ring.” A helpful reminder: "If I’m not failing, I’m not trying hard enough.”

2. Calm your breathing. There are many practices and apps to help with breathing.

3. Reach out to others. Talk to someone to get both social support and helpful information.

4. Proximity: This one is a bit tricky. Often we feel less anxious when we're close to someone else, but while it's comforting, it thwarts independence.

5. Distraction: This tool gets a bad rap, but it can be helpful. Give yourself a mental break to get temporary relief from anxiety. This break can help restore energy and perspective.

6. Planning: What can you do to make a challenging situation easier or more comfortable?

7. Preparation: Push yourself to take just that first step; once we begin, we often feel much calmer and able to move forward. Action is an antidote to anxiety.

8. Take action in the world: “Be the change you want to see in the world” is a quotation often attributed to Gandhi, but not verified—in any event, the idea is an important one. If you’re worried about something, try to take action to fix or change it.

9. Make a list: When thoughts are racing in your mind, put them down on paper.

10. Energy: Work on your sleep; exercise; don’t inundate yourself with upsetting news. In particular, exercise can really help to release anxiety.

11. Identify the problem: Don’t just get worked up; try to pinpoint and take action. Not “I’m anxious about the move,” but “I’m worried that I’m not far enough along in packing, and we won’t be ready when the movers come.” By identifying the problem, it helps us see a concrete problem for which we can seek solutions.

12. Schedule time to worry. Surprising but effective!

13. Seek more information on something that’s worrying you. Sometimes, knowledge can be very helpful. (But beware of googling for medical information!)

Or maybe you know someone who could give you some perspective or information. Ask yourself, “Is there someone who could give me some insight on what I'm worried about?”

14. Start tracking. If you’re worried about a physical symptom, or a pattern of behavior, start keeping a record. Our memories can be very faulty.

15. Beware of catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when we magnify negative consequences, assume they’re certain to happen, "If I fail this test, I will never pass school, and I will be a total failure in life." "If my sweetheart breaks up with me, I’ll be alone forever, I will never be happy again." Remind yourself that these thoughts aren’t reasonable.

16. Treat yourself to a healthy treat. This is a fun one! But remember to give yourself healthy treats: we don't want to do something to make ourselves feel better that ends up making us feel worse.

17. Do good deeds for other people. One of the best ways to make ourselves happier is to make other people happier. (This is one of Gretchen Rubin's Eight Splendid Truths of Happiness.)

18. When you’re super-stressed about a mistake you’ve made, remind yourself, “We’ve all done it.”

We can use the Emergency Kit strategies to help face anxiety with as much composure as possible. In the end, we face difficult situations better when we take steps to help ourselves feel calm, energized, and active. Also, because anxiety is very catching, when we manage our own anxiety better, we probably help others to feel calmer as well.

Listen to the whole episode of Happier with Gretchen Rubin on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

    The Emergency Kit for Anxiety, Worry, and Stress