Anxiety disorders are the top health concern in the United States. When left untreated, anxiety can take over every area of your life, from work to relationships. Thankfully, there are proven methods available for recovery and maintenance. These 8 things helped me to get on top of anxiety, and hopefully, they help you too.
- Deep breathing The single most helpful thing I ever did for my anxiety was learning diaphragmatic breathing (or belly breathing). If you only do one thing to help your anxiety, make it this! Deep breathing physically calms your body down, which helps to show your brain that you’re not in danger. This is particularly helpful during panic attacks but can ease general anxiety as well. High levels of anxiety can lead to hyperventilation, which then puts the body into a deeper state of stress, so deep breaths are super important when you’re trying to calm yourself down. Follow some belly breathing tutorials on YouTube and practice the technique until you get the hang of it!
- Noticing my thoughts Feelings of anxiety are often powered by anxious thoughts. These thoughts typically start with “What if …” What if I get fired? What if he breaks up with me? It’s easy to see how you can start to feel anxious after being bombarded with a stream of thoughts like that! It’s difficult to control your thoughts, but what you can do is notice them. Pay attention to how often you experience unhelpful thoughts and remind yourself that you don’t need to take them as fact.
- Keeping a worry list A worry list is immensely helpful if you have a tendency to worry about everything under the sun. When you feel like you have so many problems to stress about that you don’t know where to start, take out some paper. Write all your worries down. Separate those that you can do something about, like an impending deadline, from those that you have no control over, like a relative getting sick. Plan to tend to those worries that you can control. And as for the rest? Make a pact to only worry about them during a set time every day. Allocate five minutes to worrying only. Then, when those worries pop up outside that time, push them to the back of your mind until your next worry session. This will stop you from wasting your whole day on pointless stress.
- Stopping catastrophizing Catastrophizing is like a fancy way of describing when someone makes a mountain out of a molehill. It’s essentially thinking of the worst possible thing that could happen and then taking that thought seriously. This is especially true when you have no actual evidence to believe that the worst is going to happen. Learn to recognize when you’re catastrophizing, and then ask yourself three questions. One: What’s the worst thing that could happen? Two: What’s the likelihood of that happening? (Be honest. If you’re like most anxious people, you were probably anticipating the worst when the likelihood is close to zero). Three: What is likely actually going to happen? To get an idea of what is likely to happen, think of what’s happened in the past. Think of what would usually happen. The third question will show you how much you’re catastrophizing since the reality is probably very boring compared to what you were thinking.
- Cutting out caffeine A lot of the work that you have to do to combat anxiety has to do with thinking and self-talk. But some also come down to lifestyle choices. Caffeine is a known stimulant that can increase the effects of anxiety. It can also worsen symptoms, such as heart palpitations and restlessness. Switching to decaf is a life-saver.
- Chatting to a therapist Talking to a therapist is instrumental when you’re struggling with severe anxiety. A therapist, or counselor, can help you implement powerful techniques, such as belly breathing, that will make coping with the effects of anxiety easier. They’ll also be able to explore with you the reasons behind your anxiety and tackle past issues and beliefs that are manifesting in your current life.
- Accepting uncomfortable feelings Anxiety isn’t pleasant. Many of the symptoms, like a racing heart, nausea, or feeling like you’re going to die, are terrible to experience. But the good news is anxiety by itself doesn’t actually put you in immediate danger. For example, it may feel like you’re having a heart attack, but you’re not really. When you accept those uncomfortable symptoms, rather than struggling with them, they tend to fade away faster. Fighting them or ignoring them often makes them worse. But accepting them, even though you don’t like them, can relieve them.
- Being honest and open about anxiety with friends Lots of people suffer from anxiety, particularly in our troubled world. So it’s nothing to be ashamed of! When you realize that, you’ll feel more comfortable opening up about those feelings with people you trust. And talking about it rather than hiding it can help you to heal faster. You might find solidarity in someone you had no idea also experienced anxiety. Or, you might just find a support person who makes the scary journey of anxiety feel a little safer.