Anxiety is that feeling you get when you’re about to give a big presentation or make a tough decision. Even though feeling super nervous or uneasy about something that hasn’t even happened yet is not pleasant is completely normal, it is important to have the tools to help reduce anxiety when it arises. That includes some physical reactions like rapid breathing, sweating, or shaking.
In more severe cases anxiety can feel like it’s taking over your life and stopping you from doing things you enjoy. Feeling really anxious all the time can make it hard to work, study, or hang out with your friends and family. You might even start avoiding certain situations altogether, which can leave you feeling really isolated and alone.
When that happens, it is important to try and find the right balance between feeling worried enough to take things seriously, but not so much that it takes over your life.
With that in mind, it is also helpful to know the symptoms of anxiety and learn different strategies that may help you calm yourself and move through this feeling.
There are many ways to manage anxiety. What works for you might not work for someone else. Here are five ways to help you cope with your anxiety when it arises.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques are usually the first defense to reducing stress and anxiety. Whether you’re looking to relax after a stressful incident or to calm your nerves before a big presentation, here are a few different techniques you may want to try to help you cope with anxiety.
Deep breathing is one of the simplest techniques to help you cope with anxiety. It can help to slow down your heart rate and lower your blood pressure, which can lead to a state of relaxation. It will also help you to reduce tension in the muscles and increase oxygen flow to the brain. This in turn can help to clear your mind and reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.
Additionally, when you breathe deeply and slowly, your body sends a signal to your brain to relax, which can help to activate the body’s relaxation response and reduce the production of stress hormones. Deep breathing can be done easily and quickly, making it a convenient relaxation technique.
A few different breathing techniques include Box Breathing and Finger Breathing. These are especially effective with younger children. Both of these techniques can be done anywhere and at any time you feel the need to relax.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is a technique that involves tensing and relaxing different muscle groups in the body in order to become more aware of physical sensations and reduce muscle tension. The idea behind PMR is that muscle tension can contribute to feelings of anxiety, and by learning to recognize and release this tension, you can reduce feelings of anxiety.
By practicing PMR regularly, you can learn to reduce muscle tension and increase feelings of relaxation throughout your body, making it a very effective way to cope with anxiety.
Meditation involves sitting quietly and focusing your attention on your breath or a mantra, with the goal of achieving a state of deep relaxation and inner peace. It aids to reduce anxiety by helping to minimize the activity in the part of the brain responsible for the “fight or flight” response, which is often activated in anxious individuals.
When you meditate, you are training your mind to focus on the present moment, and to not dwell on the past or worry about the future. By doing this, you can learn to let go of thoughts that contribute to feelings of anxiety and to cultivate a sense of inner peace and calm.
Several studies have shown the benefits of meditation for reducing symptoms of anxiety. For example, a study published in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology found that a mindfulness-based stress reduction program, which included meditation, led to significant reductions in symptoms of anxiety and depression in a group of individuals with anxiety disorders.
Visualization can help with anxiety by allowing the individual to imagine a peaceful and calming scene or situation. This is a great technique as it helps you cope with anxiety by distracting you from anxious thoughts and promoting relaxation.Visualization can also be used to practice coping strategies for dealing with anxiety-provoking situations.
There have been several studies that have examined the effects of visualization on anxiety. One study published by Queensland University concluded that nature-based guided visualization was an effective anxiety intervention.
If you’re looking to try this relaxation method, The Honest Guys on YouTube provide a wide variety of guided visualizations.
Practicing yoga also has a positive impact on reducing anxiety. A study conducted in 2011 showed that yoga helps to relax both your body and your mind. The physical aspect of yoga helps to reduce tension and promote relaxation in the muscles. On the other hand, controlled breathing practices, such as deep breathing and pranayama, have a calming effect on the nervous system and can help to slow down a racing mind.
Also, the focus and mindfulness required during yoga practice help shift your mind away from anxious thoughts and into the present moment. This simple change can provide a temporary relief from anxiety.
Tai-Chi is a traditional Chinese martial art that has been practiced for centuries. It can help reduce anxiety by promoting relaxation and stress reduction. The slow and gentle movements of Tai-Chi stimulate the production of endorphins, which are natural mood-enhancing chemicals in the body. An article published in BMC Complementary Medicine and Therapies Journal explains the amazing effects of Tai-Chi on reduction of stress, anxiety, depression and improvement of confidence in the participants.
The deep breathing and meditation-like focus required during Tai-Chi practice helps to calm the mind and reduce stress levels as well as boost confidence and self-esteem. The physical activity component of Tai-Chi also helps to improve an overall physical health and fitness of an individual.
Finally, practicing Tai-Chi in a group setting can also provide a sense of community and support. This adds an entirely new dimension to combating stress and anxiety.
The physical touch and relaxation that come with massage therapy help to activate the body’s natural relaxation response. This in turn reduces the levels of stress hormones such as cortisol and promotes feelings of calm and relaxation.
If you’re short on time or money, you can always practice self-massage which takes significantly less time and can help you target specific areas of your body.
Just rub your hands together to generate heat. Then apply gentle pressure and rub the area of your choice in a circular motion. It is important to remember that doing so should not cause pain.
Face massage is a very simple, yet effective way to relieve stress. Simply use your fingertips to gently massage your temples, forehead, cheekbones, jawline, and the muscles around your mouth and eyes.
Some other common areas for self-massage that help relieve anxiety include your arms, forearms, wrists, and fingers as well as neck, shoulders, and lower back.
Aromatherapy is a complementary therapy that uses essential oils to improve physical and emotional well-being. It is very effective for anxiety as the sense of smell is closely linked to the emotional part of the brain, and essential oils can have a direct effect on the nervous system.
Some of the best essential oils for anxiety include lavender, chamomile, or bergamot. These oils help your body experience a calming and relaxing effect that helps to reduce symptoms of anxiety.
As hard as it is to motivate ourselves to exercise when we are anxious and stressed, physical activity has been proven to be one of the best ways to reduce those feelings.
It provides a much-needed distraction from worries and negative thoughts, helping to shift focus and improve overall well-being.
The biggest benefit of exercise is the fact that during a physical activity your body reduces cortisol and releases endorphins. These chemicals contribute to easing your anxiety through impact on several areas of your body. Endorphins promote relaxation and act as natural painkillers. In addition they boost your mood naturally helping rid your mind of negative thoughts and feelings. On the other hand, exercise also reduces cortisol further allowing you to relax.
There are many different types of exercise that you may want to try. Something as simple as a walk around the block can make a big difference.
Working towards a fitness goal can also provide you with more motivation to actually exercise regularly. You may consider joining a workout class, signing up for a walking group or maybe even trying to complete a marathon in a month.
In addition to your improved mental health, exercise also improves your physical condition. It helps to relax tense muscles and reduce the general feeling of physical tension in your body. Furthermore, the increase of your overall energy expenditure, leads to increased fatigue and a greater need for rest. This in turn helps your body regulate the circadian rhythm and allows for a better night’s sleep.
Regardless, if your physical exercise is lifting weights, running on a treadmill or going for a walk in the woods, the physical exertion will help you ease your anxiety and feel significantly better.
Get Plenty of Sleep
Sleep plays a critical role in maintaining mental and emotional health, and it is important for both physical and emotional well-being.
When we sleep, your bodies and minds rest and repair themselves. In fact, research shows that people who get enough sleep are generally more resilient to stress and anxiety than those who don’t get enough sleep.
On the other hand, lack of sleep can contribute to anxiety in several ways. Firstly, when you don’t get enough sleep, your body produce more stress hormones, which can increase feelings of anxiety. Secondly, lack of sleep can impair your cognitive abilities, making it more difficult to process and cope with stress. Finally, lack of sleep can also disrupt your daily routines and make it more difficult to handle the demands of daily life, which can further contribute to anxiety.
One trick to improving your sleep is to get up at the same time everyday, regardless of the time you go to sleep. Many psychologists agree that people who have consistent wake-up time are less likely to feel depressed and anxious throughout the day.
Eat a Healthy Diet
It is a well known fact that a diet high in processed foods, sugar, and unhealthy fats may be associated with an increased risk of anxiety. So opting for healthier choices like diets rich in simple carbs and proteins may be a better choice.
There have been several studies and papers written that discuss the correlation between diet and anxiety. Diet and Anxiety: A Scoping Review states that “there is evidence of an association between healthy eating patterns and reduced anxiety symptoms”. Another study suggests that people who follow a Mediterranean-style diet, which is rich in plant-based foods, fish, and healthy fats, may have a lower risk of anxiety and other mood disorders.
Long term, choosing a healthy diet can have a significant impact on your stress and anxiety.
Reduce Negative Thinking
That is easier said than done. But there are several strategies that can help reduce negative thinking, which in turn can alleviate anxiety.
Mindfulness is really a fancy word for concentrating on the present moment. It can help you focus on what’s happening right now, rather than worrying about the future or dwelling on the past.
Some of the most beneficial and effective ways to practice mindfulness is to concentrate on your senses. A great exercise to try is the 5 senses exercise. You can do it while on a walk or while sitting comfortably.
Take a few deep breaths and answer the following questions using colorful and descriptive language.
- What do I see?
- What do I hear?
- What do I smell?
- How, whatever I’m sitting on or touching feels?
- What do I taste?
As you’re answering those questions, one by one, sit with them for a while and allow your body to just process them without judgment.
This little mindfulness exercise often allows your body to relax and to give you a respite from the tension that has been building inside you due to anxiety.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
When we are stressed, negative thoughts tend to overtake our brain and induce even more anxiety. In order to reduce those feelings, it is important to first, notice negative thoughts, then try to identify the evidence that supports or refutes them, and finally to look for a positive or at least a neutral alternative thought. This can help you see things in a more balanced and realistic way.
One way to challenge negative thoughts is to consider the worst case scenario, how likely it is to happen and what are the real consequences of that scenario. Looking at it from this perspective often allows you to see the situation in a more logical way and alleviates the anxiety in the process.
If you’re looking for an actual list of questions to ask yourself, Anxiety Canada has a short but practical list that goes along with a printable table to help you challenge and question your negative thoughts.
Use Positive Self-Talk
It’s easy to tell someone to use positive talk, but it seems useless unless you actually believe in the positive statements that you are saying to yourself.
The trick is to start with neutral statements that are true and slowly ramp it up to more positive affirmations.
For example, when you fail a test, instead of saying “I’m a failure,” start by saying:
“Everyone has a bad day and that’s exactly what happened to me today.”
“Maybe I didn’t do great today, but I’ve done better in the past, so I know I can do better in the future.”
“I may not have done the greatest on this test, but I have done well on other tests.”
“In fact, I have done much better on many tests. Overall, I’ve done well more often than not.”
“Even though I didn’t do as well as I hoped, I still did my best and I’m proud of myself for that.”
“Now that I know that this is one of the more difficult subjects for me, I will spend more time studying for it in the future and I’m confident that I will be able to improve my knowledge and my grade.”
The reality is, that jumping from “I’m a failure” to “I’m awesome and proud of myself anyway” is neither realistic, nor effective. So when reframing your thinking and using positive language, make sure that it is something realistic and true to you.
Talk to a Therapist
Sometimes the above mentioned methods work well for mild or occasional cases of anxiety. But when your case is severe and it leads to panic attacks or disrupts your daily life, contacting a mental health professional may be your best option.
A mental health professional can help you to identify the causes of your anxiety and develop coping strategies to manage it beyond those mentioned in this post.