Unfortunately, there’s no hack or quick fix when it comes to overcoming anxiety. Getting a real handle on persistent feelings of angst generally takes time and effort. And therapy can provide a helpful venue for the work of digging beneath the symptoms of anxiety and identifying the core issues that may be driving it.
But let’s face it, sometimes we just need a down-and-dirty way to cope with anxiety in the moment. A way to minimize restlessness in the here-and-now. A way to quiet all the racing thoughts when we need to be our most focused and productive. A way to get some sleep at night so we can wake up feeling rested and recharged.
In this post, I’m going to share 15 of my favorite tools for managing anxiety. These are tools I often share with clients in therapy, and I find that they can be helpful for dealing with a wide range of difficult emotions, not just anxiety.
Some of the tools are more mindset-oriented while others are more action-oriented. Some may work for you; others won’t. Simply take what works for you and leave the rest.
Also, keep in mind that you don’t need 100 different tools for managing anxiety. Having even a couple go-to techniques can make a world of difference.
And remember, these tools are not intended to resolve or cure your anxiety; they’re ways to manage anxiety. They’re for coping with anxiety. Think of them as tools for helping you go from a “7” or “8” on the anxiety scale to a “4” or a “5.”
Okay, enough talk about managing anxiety. Let’s get to the tools.
1. Talk about your anxiety
Constantly having to hide your anxiety from others can be exhausting. Try talking to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. Just talking about your anxiety with someone else can bring considerable—and often instantaneous—relief. Plus, talking about your anxiety with others has the added benefit of helping you to feel less alone in your struggles with anxiety.
2. Focus on the present
Anxiety tends to coincide with dwelling on the past or worrying about future events that have yet to take place. As cliché as it may sound, living in the present really can help when it comes to decreasing anxiety. Many of the tips below describe more specific techniques you can use to bring yourself more fully into the present moment.
3. Focus on your breath
Again, anxiety tends to live in the past and the future. When you focus on your breath, you bring yourself more fully into the present—and away from anxiety. As you inhale, just notice yourself inhaling. And when you exhale, be aware of yourself exhaling. Try focusing on your breathing for 10 complete inhales and exhales. Then, notice any changes in your level of anxiety. Repeat as necessary.
4. Practice saying ‘no’
Anxiety and people-pleasing often go hand in hand. Oftentimes, we develop people-pleasing tendencies to minimize feelings of anxiety. The more we appease others, the less we have to worry about being judged or disliked. Unfortunately, this strategy can come at a cost, as people-pleasing can quickly become a major driver of anxiety. Giving yourself permission to say “no” can help you reduce the stress and exhaustion that come with the need to please others.
5. Record your thoughts
Chances are that, much of the time, you may not even know why you’re feeling anxious. Monitoring your thoughts in writing can bring increased awareness to what’s causing your anxiety. And the more aware you are of what’s driving your anxiety, the better you can respond to your anxiety in the moment.
6. Challenge negative thoughts
In addition to writing down your thoughts, it can be helpful to consider the facts that either support of disprove those thoughts. Start by writing down any of the anxious thoughts you’re able to notice. Then, for each specific thought you write, ask yourself, “Where’s the evidence for this thought/belief?”
7. Name the distortion
Cognitive behavioral therapy, more commonly known as CBT, involves identifying different types of cognitive distortions as a way of managing anxiety. Common cognitive distortions include “should” statements, catastrophizing, mindreading and overgeneralizing. Naming the specific cognitive distortions that show up in your daily thinking patterns can help to quiet the automatic thoughts that may be contributing to your anxiety.
8. Surf the waves
Anxiety tends to come in waves. And many times, we operate on the belief that we should be able to make these waves stop. Unfortunately, the perceived failure that results when the waves don’t stop only makes the anxiety worse. Rather than trying to make the waves stop, try to accept that the waves are going to come and focus on “surfing” the waves.
9. Remember evolution
When you find yourself feeling anxious, remind yourself that anxiety is the body’s innate response to perceived threat (fight or flight). As humans, we experience anxiety when our mind perceives present danger. When your anxiety acts up, try gently reminding yourself that what you’re experiencing is a basic biological function—one that’s key to human survival. When it comes to managing anxiety, this perspective alone can help to quiet the negative self-beliefs that so often accompany anxiety, like “something’s wrong with me” or “I’m a weak person.”
10. Name your anxieties
When your internal alarm goes off, just notice what’s happening in your body. See if you can identify the perceived (or actual) threat your body is gearing up to fight or run from. Are you in physical danger? Is some part of you afraid that others may be judging you? Is there something of importance in your life that needs your attention? Identifying the stimulus of our anxiety allows us to take appropriate action and, in most cases, experience significant relief.
11. Practice emotional granularity
Research has shown that the more precise we are when it comes to identifying our emotions, the better able we are to cope with those emotions. It’s a phenomenon known as emotional granularity. The basic idea is this: don’t just settle for “anxious” when identifying and communicating how you feel. Instead, look for feeling words with more granularity. In other words, see if you can find a word that more accurately captures the specific qualities of your anxiety (afraid, distressed, jittery, restless, fidgety, uneasy…).
12. Externalize your anxiety
Sometimes frequent feelings of anxiety can begin to shape your sense of identity. You might begin to see yourself as the “anxious person” or “a worrier,” for example. Internalizing anxiety in this way can easily arouse strong feelings of shame and embarrassment. Finding ways to remind yourself that anxiety is just a part of you is the key to separating yourself from your anxiety. When you notice yourself feeling anxious, you might say to yourself something like, “My anxious part is hanging around right now.” Drawing a picture of your anxious part or writing a brief biography for your Inner Worrier can further help to externalize your anxiety.
13. Control the
Some things you can control; others you can’t. Being intentional about distinguishing between those things in life you have control over versus those you can’t control, the less stress and anxiety you’re likely to experience. A quick and easy way to clarify your “controllables” is to draw a line down the center of a piece of paper and list what you can control on one side and what you can’t control on the other.
14. Do a body scan
Though anxiety originates in the mind, the experience often involves intense physical sensations, like a pounding chest, sweaty palms, or that pit in your stomach. Taking the time to observe what’s happening in our physical bodies when we’re feeling anxious can help to lessen intense physical sensations. Body scans are an excellent tool for finding increased calmness and relaxation when your body feels amped up or on edge. Begin at your feet and slowly move upwards throughout the rest of your body—your calves, knees, thighs, etc. Just notice the different sensations in each part of your body.
15. Describe the sensations of anxiety
When doing a body scan (see above), you can also add the step of describing your felt sensations. Simply bring your attention to any of the sensations in your body. Notice how intense the sensation is. Then, take a few moments to describe the sensation. Is it heavy? Tight? Hot or warm? Does it have a texture? Any sense of movement? See if you can notice and describe all the subtle qualities of the sensation. Finally, check again to see how intense the sensation is, making note of any changes.
Is anxiety interfering in your life? Contact Modern Era Counseling today to learn more about how we can help you manage anxiety and get back to enjoying life again.