5 Ways to Manage Anxiety
Your heart is thumping. Your mind is racing. You feel your anxiety building – how do you get it to stop?
There’s no one-size-fits all approach for managing anxiety. If you struggle with anxiety symptoms, only a mental health professional can diagnose and recommend treatment options for you based on the full picture of your physical and mental health needs.
However, there are some common techniques that may help people manage feelings of anxiety in the moment. Here are five expert-backed strategies.
Grounding techniques are designed to help you find calm when you start to feel overwhelmed with anxious thoughts. These techniques help you turn your attention back to the here and now.
“Grounding basically means to bring your focus to what is happening to you physically, either in your body or in your surroundings, instead of being trapped by the thoughts in your mind that are causing you to feel anxious,” explains psychologist Dr. Sarah Allen, on her website.
“It helps you stay in the present moment instead of worrying about things that may happen in the future or events that have already happened but you still find yourself going over and over them in your head,” she writes.
The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique
One strategy is known as the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. It involves taking a quiet moment to settle into and appreciate your surroundings using all five of your senses.
“Before starting this exercise, pay attention to your breathing. Slow, deep, long breaths can help you maintain a sense of calm or help you return to a calmer state,” according to the University of Rochester Medical Center website. The website describes the technique as follows:
“Once you find your breath, go through the following steps to help ground yourself:
5. Acknowledge FIVE things you see around you. It could be a pen, a spot on the ceiling, anything in your surroundings.
4. Acknowledge FOUR things you can touch around you. It could be your hair, a pillow, or the ground under your feet.
3. Acknowledge THREE things you hear. This could be any external sound. If you can hear your belly rumbling that counts! Focus on things you can hear outside of your body.
2. Acknowledge TWO things you can smell. Maybe you are in your office and smell pencil, or maybe you are in your bedroom and smell a pillow. If you need to take a brief walk to find a scent you could smell soap in your bathroom, or nature outside.
1. Acknowledge ONE thing you can taste. What does the inside of your mouth taste like – gum, coffee, or the sandwich from lunch?”
Once you’ve completed the exercise, take a deep breath to end the technique, Dr. Allen recommends.
Intentional or guided breathing
Many anti-anxiety techniques involve taking deep breaths because the way you breathe can affect many of your body’s systems, including those involved in the physical symptoms of anxiety.
“Turns out how you breathe can affect your heart rate, blood pressure, and nervous system, all of which play a role in your body’s anxiety and stress levels,” according to clinical psychologist Rachel L. Goldman, Ph.D., who is also a clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, in a Women’s Health article.
One difference is “shallow” versus “deep” breathing. Shallow breathing involves taking shorter, faster breaths using only the upper chest.
“Engaging in this type of breathing can typically cause stress, panic, anxiety, tension, and pain, as it signals to your body that it’s in its ‘flight’ response,” according to the article.
“Deep breathing, on the other hand, usually draws air deep into your lungs through your nose, and uses your chest to bring air into your diaphragm. The result? You’re able to get more oxygen into your brain and reduce your blood pressure and heart rate. Plus, it signals to your body that you can relax, that you’re safe, which is what makes it great for relieving anxiety,” Goldman says.
One intentional breathing technique explained in the Women’s Health article is triangle breathing, which focuses on counting and timing your breaths. The article describes the process as follows:
- “Sit in a comfortable position.
- Breathe in through your nose for three counts.
- Hold your breath for three counts.
- Breathe out through your mouth for three counts.
- Optional: Close your eyes and envision building and breaking down a one-dimensional triangle as you go.”
Goldman advises practicing breathing techniques regularly, not just in anxious moments, according to the article.
Talking with a friend
Another anti-anxiety technique may come in the form of phoning a friend. While talking with a friend could provide many benefits, studies support the idea that even the act of saying your worries out loud may be useful.
“This is easier to do when you’re sharing your feelings with others,” notes psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, on the Cleveland Clinic website.
Strengthening relationships with friends might be helpful because research suggests that feeling a sense of social connection is important for physical and mental health.
“People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression,” according to an article on the Stanford Medicine website. “Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and, as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them. In other words, social connectedness generates a positive feedback loop of social, emotional and physical well-being.”
The importance of diet and exercise
Many daily habits, in fact – like diet and exercise – may impact how you respond to anxiety in the moment.
“Nutrition, exercise, and stress can have a major impact on your feelings of anxiety. Research has found that one’s diet, fitness level, and amount of stress can affect their experience with panic disorder, panic attacks, and agoraphobia,” according to a Verywell Mind article, for instance.
You might relate to one diet example the article shares if you’ve ever had one too many cups of coffee.
“Caffeine is one of the most common dietary triggers [that] may affect people with anxiety disorders. Many people start the day off with a cup of coffee to help them feel more alert and energized. Unfortunately, caffeine can aggravate panic and anxiety symptoms. For instance, caffeine has been found to potentially trigger panic attacks and increase feelings of nervousness and irritability. It is also known to contribute to many physical symptoms, such as trembling and shaking, which are common among people with anxiety disorders. Caffeine has even been associated with increased feelings of anxiety for people who do not have an anxiety disorder,” according to the article.
The choice to get some exercise could help some people see positive mental health benefits.
“Physical exercise for panic and anxiety can assist in reducing the body’s physical reaction to anxiety. In some cases, exercise can even help to reduce the frequency and intensity of panic attacks. Exercise can also be a powerful way to release built-up physical and mental tension while reducing feelings of fear and worry,” according to the Verywell Mind article.
The benefits of walking
Even a short walk may help manage anxiety, experts say, perhaps offering a bit of quick-acting relief.
“Psychologists studying how exercise relieves anxiety and depression suggest that a 10-minute walk may be just as good as a 45-minute workout,” according to the Anxiety & Depression Association of America (ADAA) website.
“Some studies show that exercise can work quickly to elevate depressed mood in many people. Although the effects may be temporary, they demonstrate that a brisk walk or other simple activity can deliver several hours of relief, similar to taking an aspirin for a headache,” according to the website.
In some cases, relaxation techniques like these may help people manage anxiety in the moment and calm negative thoughts. However, they’re not a sure-fire solution – and they’re not meant to treat an anxiety disorder.
If anxiety is interfering with your ability to get through your day, reach out for help. A medical professional may recommend treatment, including talk therapy, medication or other strategies to help.
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