Due to anxiety disorders being the most common of all mental health disorders, tips for managing anxiety are a popular topic among the mental health industry.
The mental symptoms of anxiety include worry, a nervous fear, continually thinking about something to the point of distraction, confusion, and feeling as if things are not real. Physical symptoms include muscle tension, diarrhea, dizziness, nausea, racing heart, chest pain or constriction, shortness of breath, trembling, tingling, numbness, and sweating. There are several common types of anxiety disorders including:
- Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD)
- Panic Disorder
- Social Anxiety Disorder
- Specific Phobia
- Medication Induced Anxiety
According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, within the adult population of the United States, the lifetime prevalence for any anxiety disorder was 28.8% (Kessler & Chui, 2005). The population fitting the criteria in any given year was 18 percent (Kessler & Berglund, 2005). Women are 60% more likely than men to experience anxiety disorders (Kessler & Berglund, 2005). Only 37% of individuals with anxiety disorders receive any treatment (Wang, 2005).
In this article, you will find a wide variety of useful techniques and tips for managing anxiety disorders.
23 Tips for Managing Anxiety
1. Take inventory of your anxiety. Learn about the specific types of anxiety and use the checklists in the previous chapter. Learning about something often reduces the stigma and fear surrounding it.
2. Keep a journal and record levels of anxiety symptoms. One rating system, called subjective units of distress, rates symptoms on a scale of 1-100. The lower the number, the less anxiety was experienced. Tracking the progression over time can be helpful. Learning ways to lower the number can put you back in control of your mood.
3. Resist the urge to avoid. When temptation to avoid stressors goes up, so does anxiety. The more anxious and distressed you feel, the more you will want to avoid whatever is causing the stress. In the short run, this may seem a good plan. In the long run, however, it makes anxiety symptoms worse. It is better to learn to face your fears and overcome your anxiety triggers. Taking on small amounts of anxiety and managing or reducing those levels is a better tactic to help control anxiety and stress.
4. Be proactive. Anxiety is often made worse when you feel behind, caught off guard, and unprepared. Do what you can to anticipate challenges and solve problems as they emerge.
5. Limit your worry time. This simple technique works amazingly well. Give yourself permission to obsess, think about, and worry at a later point in the day for a short and structured time period. When worrisome thoughts come to you, remind yourself you will think about those things during your “worry time.” This is a great way to gain control of your own thoughts and limit the mental intrusions.
6. Lower your general level of stress. Imagine having ten major concerns in life causing you worry. These concerns produce a certain amount of stress. Eliminating two or three of these major stressors would, of course, decrease your overall anxiety level. Many people live their lives too close to the symptom line. When that happens, small things trigger anxiety symptoms. If you could reduce your overall stress level, small issues will come and go without producing anxiety symptoms.
7. Practice relaxation techniques in advance. Relaxation techniques include breathing exercises, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation. These techniques must be practiced in advance to be effective; waiting until you are having a panic attack to implement them will be too late. Experiment with them, pick one you like, and practice it intently until you feel you have some mastery of it. Practice your preferred technique several times each day, confident that in the long run it will be useful to you during periods of high anxiety. As you develop expertise, you may find that higher states of anxiety do not occur with the same frequency.
8. Control your breathing. You may have noticed when you are doing some fine or detailed work, or concentrating intently, your breathing stops. In relaxation, and in anxiety management, we want to keep our breathing rate steady and regular. Practice exhaling deeply, forcing the air from your lungs. When people are tense, they often end up taking a breath in, but do not exhale. Most people do not need to be told to breathe, but they may need instruction on exhaling deeply.
9. Recognize negative thoughts. Oftentimes, we have difficulty recognizing our negative thoughts for what they are. As you grow in recovery, you may be more able to recognize pessimistic and destructive thoughts as they come. Recognition of a negative and upsetting thought allows you to take it captive, weight its validity, and accept or reject it.
10. Refute negative thoughts. As you analyze a thought, determine if it is destructive and damaging, and if it is, you can decline and discard it and tell yourself, “That is not true and I will not accept it.” You can kick it to the side and refuse to entertain it as legitimate. Do not believe every thought you think is true, wholesome, and helpful. Determine if it is true and reject it when it is not.
11. Replace negative thoughts. After you have refused a negative thought, find a positive alternative or substitute. Think about things that are true, right, and wholesome. “I can’t do this” becomes “Just a step at a time, I am making progress.”
12. Rehearse positive substitutions. Because the negative thought or the negative line of thinking has been rehearsed so many times in the past, it will be necessary to repeat the positive substitution as well. You can replace negative, biased, and fear-based self-talk with positive, realistic, and empowering statements.
13. Repeat the process as necessary. As you work through the process of recognizing, refuting, and replacing negative thoughts while practicing positive substitutions, it is likely another negative thought is on its way. Repeat the process as often as necessary in order to stay at peace and upbeat. Challenge your worries and fears as often as it takes.
14. Laugh at yourself and your situation. Laughter itself is distracting and soothing. A client of mine once said, “If you learn to laugh at yourself, you’re in for a lifetime of good material.” Clint Eastwood said, “Take your work seriously, but don’t take yourself seriously.” (Eastwood, n.d.). Laughing at your situation allows you to gain psychological distance. Use this tactic to your own advantage. A little distance from your worry is likely a good thing.
15. Encourage yourself for progress made. Like many important things in life, anxiety management follows this important motto: practice makes progress. As you are becoming more adept at managing anxiety, rather than avoiding things that make you anxious, affirm and encourage yourself for progress made. You may want to tell an encouraging and supportive friend about it, or find a way to give yourself a small reward.
16. Cultivate your spiritual life. For many people, strengthening your spiritual life means connecting with a higher power. It is acknowledging there is something or someone bigger than you. For many, connecting with God is a way to release control of the things they are powerless to fix. They are able to turn their unmanageable lives over to God and develop a relationship of love, compassion, and peace with Him. This connection can be the ultimate anti-anxiety tactic, bringing lasting serenity and a peace that passes all understanding.
17. Have margin in your life. Having margin in your life is only accomplished as you eliminate some of the clutter, over-stimulation, demands, and time pressures from life. It means having a little money in the bank, a little personal energy in reserve, and a little extra time in which you can help a friend or handle an emerging problem before it becomes a crisis.
18. Review your gratitude list. Stress is filled with continually reviewing problems and making mental lists of what you do not have. Instead, remind yourself what you are thankful for. Add positive attributes about yourself as well. Remind yourself regularly of what you have, not what you do not have or what you think you need. Thinking through how you have been ripped off, mistreated, overlooked, slighted, and disrespected only makes you bitter and resentful. Reviewing your gratitude list can quickly detoxify bitterness and reduce stress and anxiety.
19. Practice being optimistic. Anxiety is filled with “what if…” thinking. What if I do not get a raise? What if I am overlooked for a promotion? What if everything that could go wrong does go wrong? Anxiety management also needs to be pessimism management. Think about what could go right, what you have, and what wonderful things lie ahead. Pessimists may be slightly more accurate in their appraisal of a situation, but because optimists see more opportunities and take more risks, they get more done and have a better outlook.
20. Actively work against your fears. Living in fear is actually more of a choice than many people believe. You could probably sit in a room and work yourself into a full-blown panic attack. However, you could just as easily work down your fear. Take your thoughts captive and challenge the negative thinking. Cultivate and work your faith rather than choosing to live in constant fear.
21. Exercise regularly. Physical activity and regular exercise can be an integral part of recovery. Exercise can lead to an increased sense of accomplishment, better health, and improved self-esteem. Additionally, exercise increases endorphins, which act as the body’s natural antidepressant. Abusing drugs and alcohol damages the body’s ability to feel pleasure. Increasing activity and exercise can be a way to increase endorphins in the central nervous system, thus helping you feel better, more balanced, and healthier. Exercise can reduce physical stress and tension, and give you a distraction from your anxiety and worry.
22. Eliminate alcohol and limit caffeine. Abusing drugs and alcohol damages the body’s ability to feel pleasure. Alcohol also interacts with prescription medications, interrupts your sleep, and quickly becomes addictive. Because it is a stimulant, caffeine should also be avoided. Anxious people do not need stimulants, they need calm and relaxation.
23. Rest and relax. Set aside some time for relaxation and entertaining activities. Your body and mind are like a finely-tuned motor. If you push the motor too hard, under too great a load, you will burn it out. Your body has a run/rest cycle. It is not designed to run all the time. Regular intervals of downtime, rest, and relaxation will allow you to re-energize, reduce stress, and bring down your overall level of anxiety.
1. Look through the items on the previous list and identify three or more you could use to help reduce your overall level of stress and anxiety.
2. Develop a plan to practice or carry out each of your identified tips for managing anxiety.
3. Who could you use as a coach, sponsor, or accountability partner for your anxiety management plan?
Eastwood, C. Retrieved May 2017 from goodreads.com/quotes/167543-take-your-work-seriously-butdon-t-take-yourself-seriously.
Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.
Kessler RC, Berglund PA, Demler O, Jin R, Walters EE. Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):593-602.
Wang PS, Lane M, Olfson M, Pincus HA, Wells KB, Kessler RC. Twelve month use of mental health services in the United States. Archives of General Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;62(6):629-640.