Coping with anxiety, stress, and panic – whether it is keeping you up at night, hurting your confidence, or even making you feel physically ill – is a very real issue. Nearly 40 million Americans are in the same boat. Don’t feel that you have to simply weather the storm alone!
Below are some some tried and true techniques to help you, or a loved one, cope with anxiety. Don’t let it control you! You may be surprised how certain activities can impact your anxiety, especially on a daily basis.
At its core, anxiety is a natural human response. It helps us respond properly to dangerous situations like, encountering a bear in the woods. Luckily, today, most of us don’t actually have to outrun bears 🙂 However, despite all of our modern technology, we are still mammals with the same physical and chemical responses to fear, stress, and anxiety. This means that we still experience intense reactions to stressful situations, whether it is an intimidating presentation at work or a challenging assignment at school. These reactions that once saved our ancestors’ lives are now often major disruptors in the quality of life of many anxiety sufferers.
Experts have determined that one of the best ways of coping with anxiety is to try and trigger the relaxation response in the body. This you relax after experiencing the fight-or-flight response of anxiety. It also decreases your heart rate. One of the most popular techniques for this is diaphragmatic breathing. This technique involves breathing from the diaphragm. It is common in many types of yoga and meditation.
Once you’ve triggered that relaxation response, the next step is to encourage yourself.
Challenge Negative Thoughts
For some, the idea of using self-affirmations to create a calm mental state, may seem a bit odd. However, there is scientific evidence showing that vocalizing affirmations and positive statements can be helpful to the mind. It can often be difficult to think of affirmations or positive statements during moments of stress or anxiety. However, one way to help is to imagine that you are talking to a friend or loved one who is dealing with the bout of anxiety.
Some ideas for positive affirmations and statements to challenge negative thoughts, include:
- “I am safe right now.”
- “This will not be permanent.”
- “My body is already beginning to relax, I will be fine.”
- “I am not giving this power over me.”
- “I am in an anxious state, but my body will help me calm down.”
These are just a few examples. Feel free to come up with your own.
Sometimes, working yourself through the logic of a situation can be helpful as well. It can help you determine that your fears are unfounded. Another way is to try and explain your feelings to a close family member or well-trusted friend. Sometimes, outside perspectives can help you understand why you’re anxious, and what you can think of to stop feeling that way.
More Physical Activity
Have you ever heard of someone who likes to take a walk outside after they encounter a stressful situation? The old expression of “getting some fresh air” definitely has some truth to it. While we know that exercise is good for one’s physical health, recent research is showing that a regular workout routine is associated with reduced stress, improved mood, more energy, and more self-esteem.
With that being said, don’t worry! You certainly don’t have to be a major athlete. A workout routine at any level of fitness will work, as long as you stick to it. How exactly? The answer lies in the body’s chemicals.
During exercise, the body releases chemicals called endorphins. These interact with receptors in the brain to cause pleasant emotions, thus helping to combat feelings of stress and anxiety. Even if you’re unable to complete much physical activity, another useful strategy is to do some simple stretches. Stress often causes tension in muscles that we are not even aware of, so stretching can help you release those tensions AND reduce the physical effects of your stress.
Make Simple Lifestyle Changes
Looking for a favorite drink to try and calm you down from an anxious state? You many want to rethink that.
Studies show that fatty foods, refined sugars, caffeine, and alcohol may play a role in exacerbating feelings of anxiety. They may not cause the feelings by themselves, but if you are already feeling anxious, they may make them even worse. Stopping cold turkey on these types of foods may lead to symptoms like restlessness, irritability, or headaches. So, if you are looking to make dietary changes, try to do it slowly rather than forcing it right away.
Secondly, it’s a good idea to start keeping track of your sleep. This is because it can be difficult to determine whether it’s anxiety that is causing your trouble sleeping or vice verse.
Studies show that losing even just a few hours of sleep can lead to added anger, sadness, and exhaustion the following day — all things you don’t want if you’re dealing with anxiety. Here are a few things you can do to help your chances of a successful night’s sleep:
- avoiding naps during the day,
- exercising daily,
- establishing a set sleep schedule,
- and developing a bedtime ritual (e.g., drawing, reading, crosswords) to wind down before sleep.
Acceptance and Rewards
If you accept your anxiety, it can help you maintain control. One way to do this is to take notes of the moments that make you feel anxious. Chances are, you’ll likely to find a pattern. If you find one, it is important to accept that you’re struggling with anxiety. Some people try to avoid it, but this can only make it worse.
Accepting your anxiety helps take some of the mystery out of it! Losing the mystery reduces your fears. Once you know what worries you, set up little rewards for yourself. Complete a task that may give you a little anxiety. Make that phone call you were worried about. Apply to that job you think you might not get.
Then do an activity such as, eating your favorite (healthy 😉 ) snack or watching an episode (or two!) of your favorite television show. Reinforcing success is a great way to start the path of getting control over your anxiety. Even if the person doesn’t pick up the phone. Even if you have one week until you know the job decision, reward yourself! The biggest/hardest step is always the first.
How do you or a loved one cope with anxiety? Please feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions with us in the comments below.