Tag Archives: Creative

Three Unique Techniques I’ve Used to Cope with Anxiety (That Worked)



When you have a mental illness, resourcefulness can be your best company. We can be known for our creativity and innovation because we couldn’t possibly survive a day or overcome hurdles without those traits.

I started seeking therapy for my anxiety in 2012. In therapy, I learned the conventional ways to deal with my anxiety attacks and social anxiety–Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and abdominal breathing exercises to name a few. But I soon realized that to conquer my mental illness, I needed to take some matters into my own hands by finding my own personal DIY therapies. This resulted in finding several non-traditional yet effective ways of overcoming my anxiety disorders. With these stories, you may also consider these ideas to help you conquer your own personal issues.

Rock music helped me to conquer my fear of bridges

It all started with an intense fear of driving.

Learning to drive was what caused me to seek help for my anxiety in the first place. Even though I had passed my driving test, obtained a license, and eventually drove home in my first new (used) car, I was still plagued with obsessive thoughts about having an accident. I would have dreams about it. I would sit at my cubicle at work, thinking of every possible disaster that could happen while driving home from work. At first, I just brushed it off (I was so used to anxiety that I couldn’t notice the fact that it was pathological). And then the panic attacks started.

I remember the first panic attack. It was 5 pm and my workday ended at 5:30. So that meant I would be driving home in thirty minutes. I started to obsess over the thought of getting into an accident. And that’s when I started to have heart palpitations. And trouble breathing. And a sudden headache. And hands that trembled so bad that I could no longer write or type. I remember running to the bathroom and crying in the bathroom stall, waiting for the time, or waiting for a future disaster. It took several minutes to realize what was happening and it took as much time to calm down enough in order to drive home (slowly, but surely).

That was only the first. I had another one the next day. And the next day. And the day after that, all happening around 5 pm. It was as if I had tricked my body into thinking that this was what it was supposed to do, and I was trapped.

This was how I finally gave in and went to see a psychiatrist and a therapist. After my diagnosis and several months of medication and therapy, I was able to drive home or to the grocery store without trembling hands on the steering wheel. However, I still had a long way to go. I was still afraid to drive over a bridge (a sudden phobia–I was able to drive over a bridge before the panic attacks started). No matter how many times I drove over the bridge that lead me to work, I still suffered from heart palpitations and tension headaches during the ordeal.

And then, salvation came. In the form of AC/DC. No, I’m being serious here.

One morning, I was driving to work and practicing my breathing exercises as my body prepared for an anxiety attack at the sight of the approaching bridge. And just before the bridge, while struggling to keep my breathing steady, AC/DC’s “Highway to Hell” started playing on the Classic Rock radio station. What better song to describe the current situation.

And that’s when I noticed something. My fear turned into excitement. The symptoms of an anxiety attack washed away as I sped along the elevated expressway at 60 mph, singing along to the chorus. Once I got off the bridge, I had to stop on the side of the road in order to process what had happened. That song did more for my anxiety than the Cymbalta I was being prescribed.

So I downloaded “Highway to Hell” on my phone, then played it again while driving home. And when it work a second time, I found a plan. I downloaded more AC/DC music and played it while driving over the bridge before graduating to other rock songs on a playlist.

In months I went from avoiding a small bridge to driving on the Greater New Orleans bridge while blaring “Hell’s Bells.”.

And when I told my psychiatrist about my new way of coping with anxiety, he found it amusing–and smart.

“It’s more common than you think actually,” he told me. “I think the music is hyping you up to face your fears. Music like that can do that to a person. In fact, many people in sports say that how they listen to rap or rock music to gear up for a big game.”

This may seem like anecdotal evidence that certain music will help with anxiety–but there’s more to it than that. A recent study for that, contrary to what you might think, rock music actually has a calming effect on people and has been known to be beneficial for anxiety.

So what can you conclude? Can rock music help you with anxiety? Who knows. But it never hurts to try.

Alternative make-up helped me to overcome my social anxiety

My social anxiety was caused by a grocery list of insecurities, and my appearance was just one of many insecurities. I was awkward looking (or so my social anxiety told me), and–to the disappointment of my mother–the perfect pink lipstick and mascara did not transform me into some great beauty. It was another thing to add to my list of personal failures.

I went down a “dark path” (as my mother would probably call it) by accident when I tried on a so-dark-it’s-almost-black brown lipstick. I looked in the mirror. And really liked what I saw.

And that was how it started. Despite my social anxiety, I would walk outside with heavy eyeliner and brown lipstick. Then the next day, I practiced putting on purple lipstick (my trademark). And then the next day–and I couldn’t believe it–I had progressed to wearing blue lipstick while buying green lipstick.

And for some reason, I wasn’t embarrassed or paranoid of what people thought as me as I strutted down the street or the halls at work in deep blue lipstick.

It actually took awhile to connect my fetish for alternative make-up to my anxiety. I remember coming to one major conclusion as I sat in my psychiatrist’s office one morning.

“I think I use alternative lipstick colors in order to cope with my social anxiety.”

He laughed. He said, “Yeah, I wanted to say that it’s pretty cool how your lipstick matches your shirt.” (My shirt was blue). He also mentioned that this was perfectly normal and probably more common than I thought. It made me wonder how many people who sport pink hair, or gothic make-up, or facial piercings are actually hiding behind a mask due to social anxiety.

Because a mask is how I view alternative lipstick colors. When I think of cat-eye eyeliner and purple lip, I think of my two favorite holidays: Halloween and Mardi Gras. And why? Because, as a person with social anxiety disorder, there’s liberation in hiding behind a Mardi Gras mask or a witch costume. That’s the magic of Halloween. For one night, you can abandon your awkward, socially anxious status and become someone else. And someone else was what I was while sporting black lipstick on a Monday. I’m wearing a new identity. Also, by wearing slate gray lipstick, you feel that people are focusing on your make-up rather than you social incompetence. This is one nontraditional way I use to conquer my social anxiety and it may work for you.

I used high heels to treat my social anxiety

I started wearing high heels when I was twelve (yes, twelve. My mother wanted me to be a lady.) But once I reached a certain age, when my social anxiety disorder started to develop, I stopped wearing them. Or at least avoided them unless I had to wear them at certain events.

I never really considered why I gave them up until I purchased black pumps for work. The next day, I walked on white tile to my office…and cringed at the sound of heels tapping on the floor. I was experiencing my worst nightmare: people noticing my presence. Every click-clack from my heels felt like a shout. That’s when I realized that I was avoiding heels in order to avoid attention, and started to reflect on that.

That’s how the idea formed. I could’ve stopped coming to work in heels, but instead, I kept wearing them everyday despite my paranoia caused by my anxiety. I figured I could turn this into desensitization therapy. Heels, just by the look of them alone, command attention–something I wasn’t initially comfortable with. With heels, I was forced to deal with people hearing me before seeing me, and getting used to strangers looking in my direction as I walked into a room. It wasn’t easy at first, but eventually the therapy worked. I was able to walk into a room with heels and, for once, not care what other people were thinking, or worrying that I was bothering people with my noisy shoes. What started as a form of therapy (supported by my psychiatrist), worked and helped me to conquer my fear of being the center of attention.

So what can we conclude from these stories? That AC/DC is more effective than Xanax in eliminating the symptoms of a panic attack? That high heels and make-up that would make Lady Gaga smile is the cure for social anxiety disorder? I can’t say. It’s really all up to you and the type of ways you use to cope with your fears and mental illness, weather it’s brown lipstick or making abstract art to deal with your emotions.

What quirks do you use to help you cope with your anxiety?


What We Had to Do

Sometimes (often)
he was mean. But
Mamma had a bottle 
of SleepRite, and would 
crush the pills, then push the powder
with a knife into a glass a wine.
No one grinned as he gulped;
by then, it wasn’t even a mother-daughter
joke–just quiet. We would wash dishes
together in silence, then wait until 
8 to laugh as he snored. We read books
with the TV on. Then had a full eight
Because we did what we had to do. 

This is Thirty

This life isn’t 
a group of the ladies
in ridiculous stilettos 
on a pointless Tuesday
sipping Cosmopolitans 
while sharing the latest
philosophy about the hottest
holding the glass above
their head-held-high
because this is some kind
of fully-formed thirty,
this imaginary adulthood
they told us about in order
to soften the blow. 
This is the girl who lost 
her debit card the same day
she realized she left her umbrella
at home, forever figuring out
the answer to what and why
in her favorite worn boots,
now until…whatever. 
This is
her friends
when they share the latest hook-up
life lesson with the sexual outcast
as she sips a beer, and takes 
notes about life and the curve balls
from those still finding pennies
between the couch cushions
with her because
wake up, this is the actual thirty. 

That Song

Her song, smoked
and low
at the microphone
sent me into a mood. 
She sent me to
the dark corners of 
barrooms across
small town America,
where the ground 
at the entrance is damp,
inviting a chorus of critters
to translate for the others
that couldn’t make it. 
I want to meet you there,
the one where the cypress 
tree grows and mimics
shade for a room without
AC as the humidity 
and the background guitar
makes me feel easy, ready to
flirt with you like new lust. 
She’s convincing me, between
the lines, to love you like
a one night stand, even when
I’m not even into that sort 
of thing–but she sings
about burning the mattress
with someone she remembers,
and suddenly, during the third
beer, I understand why she thinks
we need to leave this place and find
some quiet, treat the loneliness
but not the disease. These days,
that’s all we can do. That’s why
she sings to us as wine creeps up
on me as I wait to go home, meet you there


*From my poetry collection, All the Words in Between 


The search party found her under

the crunch of autumn oak leaves. Rigor mortis

set in three weeks ago.


she was filed next to Bella in the Witch Elm—

and other mysteries. She’ll adjust to tight spaces

and purgatory silence.

After the autopsy,

even the anchor woman shrugged. Everyone

followed suit, except for the shadow who defaced

brick walls with accusations.

Three months later,

another college student left a party and never

made it across her front lawn. She too entered her

very own cold case as the town buzzed around

her bruises and hammer-stained flesh.

Finally, my daughter was left alone so I could console

her soundlessly. But sometimes,

neighbors remember, and frown:

“I’m so sorry…but you found closure, so it’s better now.”



(No. It’s not.)


On my fathers side,
They ignored the elephant
On the living room couch
And called it toughness.
This was how they turned
Wife and kids
Into therapy. 
This was how my cousin
Turned a belt into a noose
In his closet.
This was how they called 
my aunt the “bitter black woman” 
stereotype and how they saw
her charge to  dim
A room.
And this is how the walls in the living
Room finally started
                      To cave in
from the extra weight
as they sat around and gossiped
about their self-aware sister. 
At least no Prozac among them.
I guess this was toughness.

Two Generations

I was raised by Generation X,
emulating my older sisters
as they slouched and pouted
for the camera
after Kurt Cobain groaned,
“Whatever, never mind,”
to the masses.
I memorized their songs and attitude
while still learning
to read and write my name,
How lucky,
to grow up with lessons from
the last badass decade merged with mine
before I came into the real world,
into my own.