Rachel Goldman, PhD FTOS, is a licensed psychologist, clinical assistant professor, speaker, wellness expert specializing in eating behaviors, stress management, and health behavior change.
If you or a loved one are struggling with anxiety, contact the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) National Helpline at 1-800-662-4357 for information on support and treatment facilities in your area.
For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.
Anxiety involves feelings of worry, fear, and apprehension. Anxiety is typically experienced on cognitive, emotional, and physical levels. For instance, when feeling anxious a person may have negative or disturbing thoughts.
On an emotional level, one may feel scared or out-of-control. It is also common to experience severe anxiety through somatic sensations, such as sweating, trembling, or shortness of breath.
These symptoms are common for people who have been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. People with panic disorder are typically familiar with the struggle of managing feelings of anxiety. It can feel as if the anxiety is taking over or completely out of one’s control.
Does anxiety have an overwhelming pull in your life? Fortunately, there are some simple steps you can take to manage your anxiety. Listed below are 4 tips to help you cope with your feelings of anxiety.
Stop and Breathe
When anxiety flares, take a time out and think about what it is that is making you so nervous. Anxiety is typically experienced as worrying about a future or past event.
For example, you may be worried that something bad is going to happen in the future. Perhaps you continually feel upset over an event that has already occurred. Regardless of what you are worried about, a big part of the problem is that you are not being mindful of the present moment.
Anxiety loses its grip when you clear your mind of worry and bring your awareness back to the present.
The next time your anxiety starts to take you out of the present, regain control by sitting down and taking a few deep breaths. Simply stopping and breathing can help restore a sense of personal balance and bring you back to the present moment. However, if you have the time, try taking this activity a little further and experiment with a breathing exercise and mantra.
Practice this simple breathing technique:
- Begin by getting into a comfortable seated position.
- Close your eyes and inhale slowly through your nose. Follow this inhalation with a deep exhalation.
- Continue to breathe deeply and fully, in and out of your nose. Allow your breath to be a guide to the present.
- Use the mantra, “Be Present” as you breathe. With each breath in, think to yourself “be” and with each breath out, focus on the word “present.”
Breathing exercises are powerful relaxation techniques that can help ease your body and mind of anxiety while turning your attention towards the present.
Figure Out What’s Bothering You
The physical symptoms of panic and anxiety, such as trembling, chest pain, and rapid heartbeat, are usually more apparent than understanding just what is making you anxious. However, in order to get to the root of your anxiety, you need to figure out what’s bothering you. To get to the bottom of your anxiety, put some time aside to exploring your thoughts and feelings.
Writing in a journal can be a great way to get in touch with your sources of anxiety. If anxious feelings seem to be keeping you up at night, try keeping a journal or notepad next to your bed. Write down all of the things that are bothering you. Talking with a friend can be another way to discover and understand your anxious feelings.
Make it a habit to regularly uncover and express your feelings of anxiety.
Focus On What You Can Change
Many times anxiety stems from fearing things that haven’t even happened and may never occur. For example, even though everything is okay, you may still worry about potential issues, such as losing your job, becoming ill, or the safety of your loved ones.
Life can be unpredictable and no matter how hard you try, you can’t always control what happens. However, you can decide how you are going to deal with the unknown. You can turn your anxiety into a source of strength by letting go of fear and focusing on gratitude.
Replace your fears by changing your attitude about them. For example, stop fearing to lose your job and instead focus on how grateful you are to have a job. Come to work determined to do your best. Instead of fearing your loved one’s safety, spend time with them, or express your appreciation of them. With a little practice, you can learn to dump your anxiety and pick up a more positive outlook.
At times, your anxiety may actually be caused by a real circumstance in your life. Perhaps you’re in a situation where it is realistic to be worried about losing your job due to high company layoffs or talks of downsizing.
When anxiety is identified as being caused by a current problem, then taking action may be the answer to reducing your anxiety. For example, you may need to start job searching or scheduling interviews after work.
By being more proactive, you can feel like you have a bit more control over your situation.
Focus on Something Less Anxiety-Provoking
At times, it may be most helpful to simply redirect yourself to focus on something other than your anxiety. You may want to reach out to others, do some work around your home, or engage in an enjoyable activity or hobby. Here are a few ideas of things you can do to thwart off anxiety:
- Do some chores or organizing around the house.
- Engage in a creative activity, such as drawing, painting, or writing.
- Go for a walk or engage in some other form of physical exercise.
- Listen to music.
- Pray or meditate.
- Read a good book or watch a funny movie.
Most people are familiar with experiencing some anxiety from time-to-time. However, chronic anxiety can be a sign of a diagnosable anxiety disorder.
When anxiety affects one’s relationships, work performance, and other areas of life, there is potential that these anxious feelings are actually an indication of mental health illness.
If you are experiencing anxiety and panic symptoms, talk with your doctor or other professionals who treat panic disorder. They will be able to address any concerns you have, provide information on diagnosis, and discuss your treatment options.
Get Advice From The Verywell Mind Podcast
Hosted by Editor-in-Chief and therapist Amy Morin, LCSW, this episode of The Verywell Mind Podcast shares a strategy to help you cope with anxiety.
We all have anxiety and worries but sometimes they hold us back from living life: traveling, starting relationships, making friends, getting out of house, having peace of mind. I would love to see you get more out of life but maybe panic or anxiety is holding you back. If so, you may not know where to start or what’s that first step. Here’s help. This is a list of small but significant changes you can start today and many take 5 minutes or less. Pick at least one to try today. Change happens because of an accumulation of small victories not a single action.Learn guided imagery. There are tons of videos on YouTube. Here’s one of my favorites: Self-Esteem, A Guided Relaxation Session.
Take a walk. Any kind of exercise burns off stress, lifts the mood, and helps you deal with anxiety and panic.
Meditate. It’s simple and will improve your mood, reduce anxiety, and teach you how to be calm after an anxiety and attack. This is a great video: Guided Meditation for Detachment from Overthinking by Michael Sealey.
Practice Yoga. It’s physically active, it will limber your body, and release your tension. Even just once a week is helpful. Yoga for Complete Beginners is a good video. If it’s not your cup of tea, youtube is teeming with others.
Practice Tai Chi. Tai Chi is a gentle form of movement based on an ancient Chinese practice. It’s easy on the body but focuses the mind and is great for people who struggle to sit still.
Distract yourself. If you’re analyzing how you feel or worrying about whether you’ll have another panic attack, take your mind off it by doing something else: listen to music, watch a movie, read, wash the dishes, go for a walk, talk to a friend. Anything that distracts you.
Take a hot bath or shower. Sometimes, we need physical comfort. A warm shower can lower your blood pressure, relax your muscles, and calm your mind.
Read a self-help book. My best recommendation is David Carbonell’s Panic Attacks Workbook. A simple but comprehensive self-help guide. In the near future, I’ll be publishing my own e-book on the topic.
Talk to a friend. Getting support is helpful but you don’t have to share your deepest struggles. Just talking to a friend about how your day went is helpful. Many studies show that people with more social interaction are healthier and happier.
Go online for help. Join a Facebook group or a forum that can provide support and advice. Psychcentral has several good ones.
Be grateful. Make a list of 3 things that you are grateful for, especially things you take for granted, like having a partner, a supportive family, being free for serious illness, having food and shelter.
Journal. Writing about your feelings can sometimes help you understand yourself and give you a chance to get your feelings out.
Reduce caffeine. You might love coffee or energy drinks but the caffeine can increase stress hormones and disrupt sleep. Stopping cold turkey is hard but try to limit yourself, go decafe, or cut down your intake by half.
Breathe. Learndiaphragmatic breathing (how to breathe using your diaphragm) which you can use during a panic attack or just to relax.
Drink a hot cup of tea. Teas can be relaxing and soothing. Make sure you pick a low or caffeine free tea, like peppermint, chamomile, fruit teas, or decafe teas. Watch out for black teas, which have high levels of caffeine.
Remember your fears are just fears. Panic can make you feel helpless and vulnerable. Try not to buy into the negative cascade of thoughts. See these thoughts as just the panic and not reality.
Do something kind for someone. Just being nice to others lifts our mood as this study I can be simple acts like opening the door open, giving someone a compliment, carrying something for someone, asking if you can help someone who looks lost.
Imagine something positive: your dog licking your face, your cat purring, your kids laughing, your partner hugging you, sitting in a bubbling hot tub, walking on a beautiful beach. . .
Listen to nature. It sounds simple but nature is all around us. Even in the heart of the city, birds are singing, crickets are chirping, and bugs are buzzing. Stop and listen. Appreciate and marvel at what is around you.
Remember you’ve been through this before. How many attacks have you survived? You will make it through this and it will get better. It does every time.
Talk to a professional. Get help if you’re feeling stuck. Therapy can give you new insights and the encouragement you might be lacking.
Think of something positive about yourself. It could be your smile, your intelligence, your athletic ability, or your personality. We all have something positive.
Laugh. Think of your favorite comedian, a hilarious movie, your child doing something ridiculous, your friend’s silly antics.
Write down your worries. Then throw then in the trash. Sometimes, we stew and stew and just don’t process what we feel. This gets them out of your head.
Get a hobby. Drawing, collecting coins, learning a musical instrument, Pokeman Go, rock hunting, star gazing, etc. Studies show even show that knitting can reduce depression and anxiety.