Anxiety affects millions of people and can be crippling to some, so Buzzfeed Health spoke to therapists about how to manage the disorder.
- Understand anxiety
There are many misconceptions and misunderstandings about anxiety – even people with anxiety don’t necessarily understand it.
“Anxiety is our mind’s ability to imagine a catastrophic outcome,” clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, PhD, said. “When you’re facing an actual threat right in front of you, fear is a natural reaction to that. When you’re just in your car or lying in your bed in a panic and nothing is threatening you, in that moment that’s anxiety.”
- Know that anxiety and stress are not the same
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed is natural for everyone. Having anxiety is not. When you’re stressed and overwhelemed, you worry about not having time to get everything you need to do done. When you have anxiety, you worry that you won’t get your tasks done, you will get fired, and everyone will think you’re a failure.
Once you can distinguish between stress and anxiety, try to determine the source of your stress so you can try to lessen it.
- Keep a journal to log what makes you feel anxious
Anxiety can feel overwhelming and unmanageable, particularly if it feels like anything can trigger you. In reality, there is usually a theme to what causes you to feel anxious.
A journal log can help you figure out the pattern to your anxiety, which can help you manage it.
“Most people are so avoidant of what makes them anxious,” says Regine Galanti, PhD, director of The Center for Anxiety in Brooklyn. However, avoidance does not help manage the problem. Instead, use your log to help create strategies to properly deal with your anxious feelings.
- Give your anxiety a name
By giving your anxiety a name (Bob, Anne, Charlie, etc.), it’s easier to see it as an external entity, instead of a part of you that you dislike.
“If you can identify something as anxiety, like Oh, there’s my anxiety again, that makes it something that’s other than you,’ says Howes. “It’s not me being worried about stuff – it’s my anxiety again. And I have a way of taming it.”
- Practice grounding
Grounding is a tactic you can use when you start to feel anxious. It’s similar to mindfulness in that it helps you focus on the present.
Howes describes grounding as “using all of your senses to be aware of where you are right now.” Instead of thinking up worst-case scenarios, it brings what you are seeing, hearing, touching, etc. into focus.
- Breathe through your belly
The psychological symptoms of anxiety include racing heartbeat or shortness of breath. When this happens, it’s important to regain control of your breathing to help calm your nervous system.
An effective way to do this is through diaphragmatic breathing. This breathing tactic involves breathing through your belly. By doing this you’re “sending a message to the autonomic nervous system that the coast is clear,” Howes said.
To practice belly breaths, put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. The hands will help you track your breathing. Inhale through your nose and exhale through your nose. Watch the hand on your stomach move while the hand on your chest stays still.
- Accept that certain things – like poor sleep, staying out too late, too much caffeine – will make your anxiety worse
We all do it. We stay up too late, ingest too much caffeine, drink too much, etc. Often these activities make us feel more anxious. If you know this in advance, you can help prepare for feeling anxious later.
“Accept that limitation when you do that,” Galanti said. “Accept that you haven’t set yourself up for success.”
- Talk it out
Isolation makes our anxieties and worries even worse. Although opening up can be scary, it is much healthier than existing in a vacuum since vocalizing how you’re feeling can help you determine the root of your concerns and figure out if your line of thinking is irrational.
- Reassure yourself with a mantra
Anxiety and negative lines of thinking go hand-in-hand. A simple way to change your thought process is to repeat a positive mantra in your head. Something as simple as “I’m okay” could help make you feel better.
- Write down your worries before bed
Sometimes right as we’re getting ready for bed, all of our worries suddenly flood our minds. Keep a notepad by your bed so you can write down what comes into your head before bed such as tasks or concerns. This will help you get it out of your mind so you can get some sleep, while still helping you remember the things you actually need to do.
- Focus on the problem-solving aspect of a situation, not the anxious aspect
When we focus on how we feel, our anxiety grows until it starts to spiral. Instead, focus on how to solve the situation that is making you feel anxious. Are you worried about a flight you need to take? Research ways to deal with flight anxiety. Are you stressed about a work presentation? Practice in front of friends or family.
- Give yourself a break from your anxiety
Anxiety creeps in at unexpected times and disrupts your life. Making a conscious decision to not focus on it can help you navigate that moment, even though the anxiety may still be there later. This will help you keep taking care of your tasks at hand or enjoying your present activities.
- Set aside time for your anxiety
Put your anxiety on a schedule. Ideally, we would all love to never experience anxiety. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work like that so the best solution might be to set aside time to worry when it won’t completely control your day.
- Practice exposure
Exposing yourself to your fears can help you get over them.
“My goal in general with anxiety is to help people feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable,” says Galanti. “The goal is to get them to do it as many times as they can; to face their fears even though it might lead to whatever is in their head happening – over and over and over. One time is not enough.”
If you have a fear of public speaking, find more opportunities to speak in public and take them. If you’re afraid to fly, book a cross-country flight.
- Feel grateful instead of anxious when your schedule is full
“Being busy doesn’t necessarily mean you have to be stressed. A lot of it has to do with the mindset of it all,” Howes said. “If you feel like you are a servant to your calendar then I think you’re going to be stressed out.”
It’s easy to be stressed by this. But instead of that, try to think of it positively. You are busy because your life is full.
- Have resources when you can’t manage on your own
As hard as we may try, sometimes we need to lean on others to help us manage our anxiety. When that happens, it helps to have resources on hand to immediately turn to in times of need.
Have a list of professionals near you that you can go see if you need.