When you are struggling with anxious thoughts, it can be challenging to find ways to deal with these feelings that don’t involve withdrawing, drinking, smoking, or other unhealthy coping mechanisms. However, there are many healthy habits that you can adopt that will help you to ease your anxiety and take control of your thoughts. Here are ten tips on how to reduce anxiety:
1. Identify your triggers
Anxiety disorders are often triggered by specific events or situations. If you can identify what these triggers are, you can start to avoid them or be better prepared to deal with them.
What is a trigger?
A trigger is anything – a person, place, thing, or situation – that sets off a chain of events that can lead to anxiety.
For some people, the mere thought of having to speak in public or go on a first date can be enough to trigger an anxious response. For others, it might be more specific, like a significant date, a location, driving a car, or something in the daily news.
What to do when you are triggered?
There are a few things you can do when you find yourself in a triggering situation:
- Take some deep breaths and focus on your breath
- Repeat a mantra or affirmations to yourself
- Distract yourself with something else
How to identify a trigger?
There are a few ways to identify your triggers:
- Keep a journal of when you feel anxious or have an anxiety attack. Note down any possible triggers that you can think of.
- Talk to a therapist or counselor about your anxiety symptoms. They will be able to help you identify and work through any triggers.
What to do once you’ve identified a trigger?
Once you know what your triggers are, you can start to work on avoiding them or preparing for them.
If your trigger is a specific situation, like public speaking, try to gradually expose yourself to that situation. This process, called desensitization or exposure therapy, can help lessen your anxiety response.
If your trigger is a person, place, or thing, you might need to distance yourself from it. This isn’t always possible, but it can be helpful when it is. In time, you might find that the person, place, or thing does not trigger you anymore. This usually happens after you’ve worked through your unprocessed thoughts and emotions with a therapist, journaling, and other self-care practices.
2. Limit your alcohol and caffeine intake
Alcohol and caffeine are two of the most common triggers for anxiety – especially if you have a specific or generalized anxiety disorder. If you find that you’re struggling with anxiety, it might be a good idea to cut back on your consumption of these substances.
How much is too much alcohol or caffeine?
There is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It depends on the individual and their unique reaction to alcohol and caffeine.
Some people find that even a small amount of alcohol or caffeine can trigger anxiety, while others can consume more without any problems. If you’re unsure, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and cut back.
What are the benefits of cutting back on alcohol and caffeine?
Cutting back on alcohol and caffeine can have a number of benefits for your mental health, including:
- Reduced anxiety
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased energy levels
- Improved concentration
3. Get regular exercise
Exercise is a great way to relieve anxiety and stress. It helps to release endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. Exercise also helps to reduce the levels of stress hormones in your body, like cortisol.
How much exercise do you need?
The amount of exercise you need depends on a few factors, including your age, fitness level, and health. Generally speaking, most people should aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.
Some examples of moderate-intensity exercises include:
What are the benefits of exercise?
In addition to reducing the frequency of stress and panic attacks associated with panic disorder, exercise has a number of other benefits for your mental and physical health, including:
- Improved sleep quality
- Increased energy levels
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduced risk of chronic diseases
4. Challenge your negative thoughts
Anxiety disorders can cause you to have negative and intrusive thoughts. These thoughts can make anxiety worse and lead to a spiral of negative thinking.
One way to challenge your negative thoughts is to ask yourself a series of questions, like:
- Is this thought based on fact or opinion?
- What evidence do I have for this thought?
- How likely is it that this will happen?
- What are the consequences of this thought?
- Is there another way to look at this situation?
- What would I tell a friend in this situation?
Asking yourself these questions can help you to see your thoughts in a more realistic light and challenge any negative thinking patterns. Note: it’s important to be through the worst of your panic attack before trying to rationalize with yourself. Use a grounding technique and wait for your breathing to regulate and your heart rate to slow before trying to challenge your thoughts.
Sometimes it is helpful to write down the negative thoughts and then write through your questioning process. Then, across from the negative thought, write the truth in a different color – a color that relaxes you. Then, say the negative thought to yourself, and then speak the truth to yourself. Your feelings of anxiety may take a while to fade, but if you repeat the two thoughts to yourself several times, eventually, you will come to terms with the facts.
5. Practice relaxation techniques
Relaxation techniques can be a helpful way to relieve anxiety disorder symptoms. There are a number of different techniques that you can try, including:
Progressive muscle relaxation
Progressive muscle relaxation is the process of focusing all of your attention on one specific area of your body and releasing all of the muscle tension in that area. After you’ve relaxed that area, you move on to the next. Make sure to breathe deeply and exhale slowly during this practice, and work your way up your body until you have relaxed all of your muscles.
Breathing deeply can help lower anxiety almost immediately. One specific breathing technique that is practiced everywhere from yoga classes to battlefields is called Square Breathing. In this technique, a person breathes in for 8 seconds, holds their breath for 8 seconds, breathes out for 8 seconds, and holds their breath for 8 seconds again. You should be able to complete two full cycles of square breathing per minute.
Mindfulness meditation is a relaxation technique that involved exploring your anxiety from an objective perspective. When you start to experience anxious feelings, try to close your eyes and become curious about what you are experiencing. Try to think about where exactly in your body you are feeling stress and anxiety. Try to exist outside of your most severe symptoms and look at them from a top-down perspective.
Mindfulness meditation will likely take some practice but has been shown to combat anxiety, assist in emotional regulation, mitigate excessive worry, and improve overall wellbeing.
Yoga is a practice that comes with a stigma, but research shows that performing just a few minutes of yoga per day can have a large impact on stress levels and symptoms of anxiety. Yoga has been practiced for thousands of years and can ease anxiety and many common physical symptoms of anxiety.
Yoga is a physical activity and in addition to reducing cortisol levels and excessive worry, when practiced consistently, yoga can help make significant improvements to your overall physical and mental health.
These four techniques are only some of the ways that you can manage anxiety. Progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, mindfulness meditation, and yoga can help to reduce your heart rate, calm your mind, and make it easier to cope with anxiety and depression.
6. Connect with others
Isolation can make chronic anxiety worse. When you’re feeling anxious, it can be tempting to want to withdraw from others and take refuge in your own thoughts. However, this can actually make anxiety worse.
Instead, try to connect with others, even if it’s just for a short period of time. This can help to take your mind off of your anxiety and give you a sense of support.
Some ways to connect with others include:
- Calling a friend or family member
- Attending a social event
- Joining a support group
Journaling is an essential tool used to calm anxiety. It can help you to track your symptoms, identify triggers, and see patterns over time in your daily life. This can be a helpful way to understand your anxiety or other health conditions and find ways to manage them more effectively.
In addition to tracking your anxiety, journaling can also be a great way to express yourself and get some of the negative thoughts and feelings out of your head. Writing can be therapeutic and help you to feel calmer and more in control.
8. Get enough sleep
Receiving a good night’s sleep is essential for both physical and mental health. When you’re dealing with a lot of stress, you may find it hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This can have a negative effect on your anxiety and lead to a cycle of poor sleep.
Getting enough sleep is crucial for managing anxiety and depression. Aim to get 7-9 hours of sleep every night. If you’re having trouble sleeping, there are a number of things you can try, including:
- Establishing a bedtime routine
- Limiting screen time before bed
- Avoiding caffeine in the evening
- Aim for a consistent sleep/wake time every day, including weekends
- Exercising during the day
9. Take care of yourself
When you’re anxious, it’s important to take care of yourself. This includes both physical and mental self-care.
Some things you can do to take care of yourself include:
- Eating a healthy diet
- Exercising regularly
- Getting enough sleep
- Limiting alcohol and drug use
- Practicing relaxation techniques
- Taking breaks when you’re feeling overwhelmed
It’s also important to find healthy ways to cope with anxiety and stress. This may include things like journaling, talking to a friend or therapist, or participating in a hobby you enjoy. Taking care of yourself is crucial for managing anxiety and preventing it from getting worse.
10. Seek professional help
If your anxiety symptoms are interfering with your day-to-day life, including your work, self-care or relationships, it’s important to seek professional help. A mental health professional can help you to understand and manage your anxiety. They can also provide you with tools and strategies for dealing with anxiety, or help you seek out treatments to alleviate symptoms.
How to know when it’s time to seek help:
- If your anxiety is preventing you from doing things you enjoy or going to places you normally go
- If your anxiety is interfering with work, school, or other aspects of your life
- If you’re using alcohol or drugs to cope with anxiety
- If you’re feeling suicidal
Seeking professional help is an important step in managing anxiety. If you’re not sure where to start with your anxiety, talk to your doctor.
These are just a few of the many mental health habits that can help to reduce anxiety. If you’re struggling with anxiety, try implementing some of these habits into your daily routine. You may be surprised at how much they help. Remember, anxiety is a real, treatable illness, and seeking timely and appropriate care can make a big difference.