According to recent statistics, about 40 million American adults live with some type of anxiety (3). While the severity of anxiety can vary from person to person, dealing with these uncomfortable feelings and emotions is a part of life for so many. The good news is that there are healthy ways to deal with anxiety. Let’s see what you can do to calm down and self-soothe when anxiety hits.
In The Moment: Practice Breathing Techniques
“Just breath” can seem like such a simple and unhelpful thing to say when someone tells you that they’re anxious. It’s true, though.
Deep breathing has been shown to help reduce the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies and calm us down when we’re anxious or nervous (1).
Close your eyes and focus on taking deep breaths and exhaling fully and slowly. You can also try to imagine breathing out stress and inhaling calm.
In The Moment: Try Progressive Muscle Relaxation
Another technique that’s effective in helping us feel more relaxed is progressive muscle relaxation (2).
Start by tightening a muscle in your body, then relaxing it. Make a mental note of how it feels when you relax each muscle group in your body from head to toe. Tense and release your muscles in sequence or try a guided relaxation video.
In The Moment: Use Your Five Senses
One of the simplest ways to decrease anxiety is by engaging each of your senses.
When you are feeling anxious, try this:
- Look around you and notice five things you can see.
- Touch something soft like a stuffed animal or a blanket, and really feel the textures in your hand.
- Listen to some soothing music with headphones or in your car.
- Smell something relaxing like lavender, peppermint, vanilla bean– whatever scent you find most calming.
The reason why engaging your senses at the height of your anxiety is so calming is because it brings you back to reality and takes your focus off the stressful thoughts in your mind.
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In The Moment: Focus On What You Can Control
Another thing you can do is pause for a moment and ask yourself, “What am I feeling anxious about?”. Then, try writing down or listing three things that are within your control right now that can help you feel better immediately.
For example, make yourself a cup of tea and take a few sips, call your friend and see how she is doing, sit on the sofa and watch TV for half an hour, among others, and then try again.
This exercise will put you in the habit of focusing on what you can control, which will make you feel less helpless and more in control of your anxiety. This can help tremendously when you are feeling anxious over a situation that has the potential to overwhelm you.
Afterward: Reflect On Your Triggers
Take some time later to think about what you were feeling anxious about before. You might want to try this by writing down your answers in a journal. Often, anxiety arises when we are thinking thoughts like, “what if…?” or “if only…” –so take some time now to write those thoughts down as well.
You might find that you were feeling anxious because your mind was playing out scenarios about something that hasn’t actually happened, or never has, and never will.
This is called catastrophizing, and pretty much means, “making a mountain out of a molehill”. The more you can recognize these kinds of thoughts as they appear, the better chance you have at slowing them down before anxiety takes over.
Long-Term: Keep Yourself Balanced
Stress and anxiety can come about when we are feeling unbalanced in our lives.
You might feel overwhelmed if you are taking on too many responsibilities or doing things that aren’t aligned with your personal values and goals. If this resonates with you, try asking yourself: “what is really important to me in my life right now?”
Take some time to make a list of 5 to 10 things that bring you joy and balance, and then pick one or two to do each day. It doesn’t have to be complicated. Doing something as simple as getting outside for a walk can help tremendously.
Another thing you can do is free up some time in your schedule since busy schedules with no downtime can feed stress and anxiety. Take an honest look at how you spend your time, and then prioritize that list into an “essential” list and a “nice-to-have” list. You might be surprised at how much time you have to do the things you love!
Long Term: Practice Mindfulness
One of the most helpful ways to face your long-term anxiety is with mindfulness practices. This means learning to acknowledge the pattern of your thoughts when they arise, but not letting them define you.
By taking a step back and observing your anxiety in this way, you can choose how to respond instead of automatically reacting to anxious thoughts. It takes practice but is well worth it if you can master it.
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Long-Term: Get Support From Others
It can be hard to face anxiety alone, which is why it is helpful to get support from others. However, seeking help in person isn’t always possible or practical.
If you are feeling overwhelmed with your anxiety, try confiding in someone you love by email or text– sometimes this makes a big difference overnight.
If not, there are many other ways to get support from others, such as:
- Joining a local or online group for people who face similar problems. Finding like-minded individuals can make it easier to share and receive support.
- Seeking therapy or counseling. Professionals can help you identify and challenge your negative thoughts, which can be a key step in overcoming anxiety.
- Volunteering. Doing something for others with a focus on selfless service can help shift your perspective when you are feeling down in the dumps.
The Bottom Line
Dealing with anxiety and stress does take time and effort, but it doesn’t have to be overwhelming. Finding ways to ease this anxiety that work for you is the best place to start and can make all the difference in your day.
This article is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional advice or help and should not be relied on to make decisions of any kind. Any action you take upon the information presented in this article is strictly at your own risk and responsibility!
- Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response (2020, harvard.edu)
- The effect of progressive muscle relaxation on daily cortisol secretion (2015, nih.gov)
- Understand Anxiety and Depression (n.d., adaa.org)