If you struggle with anxiety, you’re certainly not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health issue in our country, affecting an estimated 40 million adults in the U.S. (source: National Institute of Mental Health). Given that the NIMH also says that average onset is age 11, you might have struggled with anxiety for a long time. Maybe you have even started to believe that being a “worry wart” is just the way you are. While there’s some truth to that, there are lots of strategies for managing anxiety so that it doesn’t take a toll on your emotional and physical well-being (because yes, anxiety has a significant impact on your body!). Whether it’s generalized anxiety, panic attacks, OCD, or some other form of anxiety, here are 4 tips to help manage those emotions.
#1. Do some breathing exercises. Our bodies and minds (i.e., emotions) are highly interrelated and we can use that to our advantage. I’m not getting all new-agey on you; there is real science behind why deep breathing works. A quick explanation is that anxiety puts your body in fight-or-flight mode (remember that fun little phrase from high school biology?), and flooding your brain with oxygen basically tells it that everything is fine so that your sympathetic nervous system can calm back down.
#2. Stop the stinkin’ thinkin’. Though not always, our emotions are often triggered by our thoughts. Do you convince yourself that something is a catastrophe when it really isn’t? Do you worry about all the possible outcomes of a situation—usually all the negative ways something could turn out? Do you assume people are judging you unfavorably? Do you tell yourself you just won’t be able to handle if ____ (fill in the blank)? All of these are examples of what we call cognitive distortions because they are irrational thoughts that inevitably lead to anxiety and depression. Practicing more positive, realistic thinking can lead to healthier, more positive emotions.
#3. Get distracted. Ruminating—thinking obsessively about something—is rarely productive. It’s not the same as problem-solving and just ends up wasting a lot of time and energy. One of the best ways to break out of that circling-the-drain trap is to simply do something else, preferably something you enjoy! Get outside to soak up nature for a bit or call a friend. Do something kind for someone else. Engage in your favorite hobby. Wrap up in a soft blanket and sip your favorite drink. Whatever is going to soothe your spirit and refocus your mind in that moment, try that.
#4. If all else fails, try just accepting it. Accepting the anxiety sounds counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But in certain circumstances, accepting rather than fighting something is a better route because the process of fighting can sometimes give that thing more power and control over you. It’s like being in quicksand… the more you struggle against it, the faster and deeper you sink. Anxiety is usually about self-protection, so acknowledge that and thank your anxiety for what it’s trying to do to help. Try saying something like this to yourself: “I actually have the skills I need to handle whatever might happen so I don’t need to focus on the anxiety so much anymore. It’s still there and that’s fine, but I’m moving on to thinking about and doing other things.” And then do!
There are other tips I can give about dealing with anxiety and I could even expand on some of these, but this is probably enough for today. If you have questions, though, please don’t hesitate to contact me!
Cherie Miller, MS is owner of Dare 2 Hope Coaching and a virtual Health and Wellness Life Coach who helps clients all over the country improve their lives. Her specialty is helping people get free from their food, weight, and self-confidence struggles. Contact her here.