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7 Practical Ways to Cope With Anxiety

Updated: Apr 25, 2022

What is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of worry, tension and unease, which can be mild or severe. Everyone feels anxious from time to time – it’s a natural reaction to situations that we perceive as threatening, challenging or unpredictable.

In most cases, anxiety will quickly go away once the stressful or worrying situation has passed. In some cases, however, feelings of anxiety persist and can interfere with everyday life – you may find it hard to control anxious thoughts and behavior.

Persistent anxiety is the result of an overactive fight-or-flight response in the body. Your body is preparing for danger, even when one does not exist.

This over stimulation of the body can cause symptoms like:

  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing

  • Increased blood pressure and body temperature

  • Upset stomach or nausea

  • Dizziness or faintness

  • Restlessness

  • Heart palpitations

  • Nausea

  • Trembling

  • Shortness of breath

An estimated 40 million American adults suffer from some form of anxiety disorder, which makes finding ways to cope an important part of maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Fortunately, there are several positive coping strategies available that can help manage symptoms when they arise. Take control of your stress levels with these helpful tools to manage anxiety.

Tools to Manage Anxiety

1. Improve your sleep hygiene

We’ve all had nights where we’ve felt anxious, worried, and unable to sleep. Maybe we were stressing about work or school, or something that was going to happen the next day.

After a night without sleep you feel exhausted the next morning, and probably still anxious about the lack of sleep, as well as what was causing you anxiety the night before. Poor sleep habits are closely linked to anxiety disorders.

Struggling with sleep once in a while isn’t that big of a deal. However, if you don’t sleep well night after night, the sleeplessness creates undue stress on your brain and body.

Try improving your sleep hygiene by:

  • Putting away your screens an hour before sleep

  • Avoiding large meals before bed

  • Creating a calm, clean, dark environment in your bedroom

  • Using a relaxing scent such as lavender or chamomile

  • Limit how much caffeine you drink or eat each day

  • Investing in good quality bedding

Struggling with sleep once in a while isn’t that big of a deal. However, if you don’t sleep well night after night, the sleeplessness creates undue stress on your brain and body.

2. Get some exercise

Exercise is often touted as a kind of magical cure-all for both physical and mental conditions. When it comes to anxiety, it's no different. Numerous studies have shown that exercise can reduce and relieve anxiety. Even gentle forms of exercise, such as walking, yoga, or tai chi, release those feel-good chemicals. If you are not able to do those immediately, do some stretching exercises at your desk, or take a short walk outside during lunch. Look for consistency rather than perfection, by including 20 minutes of exercise into each day.

3. Clean up your diet

Most of us know that healthy eating is important for physical health, but what if eating better also helped our mental health? Recent studies show that diet may play a role in lowering one's anxiety level.

Eating a diet that is well balanced and focused on whole foods versus processed foods is key. Whole grains, vegetables and fruits are higher in complex carbohydrates and fiber that help to slow digestion, thereby avoiding significant shifts in blood sugar levels that can contribute to feeling more anxious.

Other strategies include not skipping meals, staying hydrated by drinking adequate amounts of water, and limiting or avoiding caffeine and alcohol. In addition, some studies have shown that specific foods may help to reduce anxiety.

4. Cut back on alcohol and caffeine

Alcohol and caffeine may seem like the perfect distraction or remedy to anxiety, but in reality, they have both been shown to make the symptoms of anxiety worse. Caffeine, alcohol and other substances like energy drinks or sugary beverages can stimulate the nervous system and increase anxiety and panic attacks.

Both alcohol and caffeine are addictive substances, so cutting back may seem tough – in fact, at the beginning, it may temporarily make you feel even more anxious. Make the transition easier by switching to herbal tea or hot water and lemon in the morning and a tasty mocktail in the evening.

5. Find a mindfulness exercise that works for you

Mindfulness meditation is a practice that helps you regulate your breath, connect with your body, and calm the mind. When you are mindful you are not dwelling on the past or what might happen in the future, which can cause stress and anxiety. Practicing mindfulness is a way to train yourself to become aware of thought patterns without judging them as good or bad, right or wrong. Learning to accept your thoughts in this way can help put the brakes on automatic reactions like stress and worry. Here are some tips to help you in your daily mindful meditation:

  • Breathe in, breathe out- feel the flow of your breath

  • Pay attention to all of your senses- for example the taste and texture of food

  • Empty the mind- take a few moments to be still

  • As soon as the mind wanders, bring it back to your breath

  • Forgive yourself for every negative thought

  • Go easy on yourself- with time you will see the progress

6. Become familiar with your anxiety triggers

In some people, the symptoms of anxiety can crop up seemingly at random. In others, the triggers may be more easy to define. However, in just about everyone, there is usually a specific trigger that causes the feelings of anxiety. Identifying your triggers can help you to understand your anxiety and begin to manage it.

Some triggers may be purely physiological. For instance, caffeine, hunger, or reactions to medications can cause anxiety. Other triggers can be external, such as money concerns, social situations, or even a specific individual.

It is a good idea to write down your triggers. Many people who are over-anxious do not even know what is causing the anxiety. If you write your worries down you can conceptualize what your anxiety is about and it might become easier to manage. After writing down your ‘worry list’, try scrunching up the paper and tossing it away. This is a symbolic gesture that they do not have anything to do with the issues anymore and it can help you feel empowered.

7. Speak to a mental health professional

It is possible to manage an anxiety disorder at home, but in most cases, it is recommended that you seek professional help, too. By speaking with a therapist or psychologist, you'll be able to get a professional opinion on your anxiety disorder and pinpoint the best possible management methods for your unique case.

Remember it’s normal to feel anxious sometimes however, when you feel that way all the time or your anxiety is making it difficult for you to perform daily tasks, it may be time to talk to your doctor or mental health professional.

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