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7 Coping Mechanisms I’ve Used To Deal With My Anxiety In My 20s, & How Much They Cost Me

Anxiety happens to everyone. It’s not a taboo anymore — tweets and memes about dealing with it are now funny and relatable. And it can be triggered by many things: jobs that make us miserable but pay the bill, a dating life gone awry, reading the news, or even just comparing your life to your college friends who seem better off. Feeling anxious is also something we experience daily, even briefly, in this economic climate. However, if you scrape off the dark humor, everyone has their own coping mechanism they don’t want to acknowledge.

As for me, I crave a number of unhealthy instant solutions, like smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, or binge-eating, to move past it. While these seem to work instantly, unconsciously, they start to become a habit — and bad habits die hard. I know these are unhealthy habits that will affect my life and hurt me in the future, both health-wise and financially. In order to be less dependent on these, I’ve tried to replace them with healthy alternatives that I will benefit from in the long run. However, I’ve found that some methods for dealing with anxiety are far more expensive than others (at least where I live in New York City).

Here are my go-to anxiety coping mechanisms, both unhealthy and healthy, and what each of them cost me:

1. Cigarettes

Once you’ve started using smoking as a coping mechanism, it’s hard to get out of the habit. Every slight inconvenience seems to send you a sign that you the need to smoke right now. For New York City, the base price for cigarettes is $13, which is highest in the U.S. As for me, I am truly embarrassed by this habit, and I have tried to consume less and to stop. I prefer to smoke Capri menthol cigarettes because the cigarette taste is not strong and it doesn’t leave me the reeking of smoke — but they are $16 per pack. I used to buy around two packs per month ($32), or three during more difficult months ($48). It’s the worst coping mechanism because it’s addicting, it’s harmful to everyone’s health, and it’s just an emotional band-aid — it doesn’t actually help solve any problem.

2. Alcohol

Alcohol is an (unhealthy) anxiety no-brainer. So many people feel instantly feel less stressed in a few minutes after taking a shot or sipping a cocktail. But like smoking, drinking is just another surface-level solution for dealing with anxiety. And in New York, an average night out costs $82. For a frugal woman in Brooklyn who just wants to get intoxicated quickly, like me, a double bottle of Gato Negro Cabernet Sauvignon for $10.00 in the nearby store would suffice and make me feel instantly relaxed. But while some consider drinking wine to be “healthier” than other forms of alcohol, it’s still alcohol. Moderation is key — I try to limit myself consuming a maximum of two bottles a month.

3. Classpass

Attending a fitness class to release anxiety and stress is a little intimidating, and it sounded a bit bougie to me. But when I tried Classpass, I was shocked by how fun and effective a distraction it was — without any of the guilty feelings of my other indulgences. I’ve tried several classes, including kickboxing, cycling, pilates, and gym passes. Muay Thai Kickboxing worked for me and stopped me from smoking regularly — it is a great way to let out my frustrations and zone out while also learning self-defense. It’s not instant, but it gave me something specific and healthy to look forward to every week. A regular kickboxing class would cost me $27, but I get to attend 2-3 classes per month for only $45 through Classpass. I highly recommend this to people who are still trying out what workout works for them. It’s so much easier to replace bad coping mechanisms with an activity that you truly enjoy, and through Classpass, you get to try many options and find what you like most.

4. Entertainment Subscriptions

It’s pleasant to binge on Netflix, watch TV Shows like Friends, Mad Men, The Good Place and etc., and to distract yourself before your anxieties get exaggerated in the head. A good piece of entertainment diverts my attention away from my anxiety and onto something else. And while my anxieties are still there post-Netflix, I’m usually calmer and more composed dealing with them after having a viewing session. If I wasn’t (luckily) using a friend’s login, Netflix would cost me $13.99 per month.

The same goes for music. Blasting Chance The Rapper, Lorde, Cardi B, or whatever your favorite artist is can help anyone relax, lower their stress level, and elevate their mood. I’ve listened for free on YouTube or through a $9.99 monthly Spotify subscription.

5. Meditation

Stepping out of the office or taking the time to sit down and focus on your breathing at random times of the day helps to proactively react on anxiety triggers. I personally like to take walks to the park, pray (I’m not that religious but it gives me peace of mind), or use meditation apps like Calm, Insight Timer, YogaGlo, or Headspace. It’s like a workout for my mental health — it has no harmful effects, and it’s free.

6. Saving For An Emergency Fund

Sometimes, you just need to keep a job to pay your bills — even if it’s really bad for your mental health. This has personally been a huge motivator for saving up my emergency fund. I’ve started treating my emergency savings the way some might treat a travel fund. Whenever I get anxious or frustrated, I transfer a small amount from my checking account — maybe even just $25, on top of my scheduled monthly transfer — to my emergency fund. This gives me peace of mind and a reminder that I chose this job — it is not a permanent situation, and it is only voluntary. I can leave. This also stops me from spending money on things like alcohol or cigarettes, which is a big win for me and my health.  

7. Therapy

For a major and stressful city, it’s not surprising that almost everyone in New York has a therapist. It’s actually pretty amazing that it’s normalized in this city; there’s hardly a stigma against it. For that reason, I’ve considered going to a therapist, but I was disappointed that the session rates in New York often cost $200 or more, compared to the average session in the U.S., which costs $75 to $150 per 45-minute session. There are other resources online where anyone can look for cheaper places, like youfindtherapy.com or even searching on Yelp. But generally, being able to go to therapy session is such a privilege. I believe visiting a therapist is as important as visiting a physician.

*****

We all have different ways to cope, and there can’t be one solution to counteract all anxieties. It’s totally understandable to impulsively buy and do something that feels like it’s going to immediately improve your mood. However, it’s important to be mindful and to moderate these coping mechanisms, as they become the habits that affect our lives, influence our decisions, and reflect the person we are. At the end of the day, we’re going to face anxieties and we’re going to have our own ways counteracting them. I’m doing my best to acknowledge that I am in control of my reactions and actively choose options that do not include behaviors that directly and indirectly harm my health.

Erika Sabalvoro is a New York-based freelance writer and social and communications consultant from the Philippines. She handles the backend of the social media project Immigrants of America and could be reached at erikasabalvoro@gmail.com.

Image via Unsplash

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