How To Deal With Everyday Anxiety & Stress
Anxiousness affects almost all of us at some point in our lives. Whether it's a single extremely stressful situation, or just the daily problems of every day life, there aren't too many of us who couldn't benefit from simple tips to ease anxiety.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) anxiety disorders are the most common type of disorder in the United States, affecting 18 percent of the population (or 40 million adults over the age of 18), and anxiety disorders account for about one-third of the country's total mental health spending.
And it's not necessarily anyone's fault that so many of us can feel so stressed and anxious. According to Psychology Today, the tendency to worry and focus on the negative may very well be what has helped us survive as a species, as an early human who was always on guard for potential threats was likely the one who would survive and have offspring. We're basically programmed to weigh negative input more strongly than positive inputs, so it's no wonder the average person is pretty anxious.
The question then becomes what we do with these anxious feelings that don't really serve a purpose any more. After all, most of us aren't being chased by predators, and instead just need a clear head to get through the big presentation or figure out how to do our taxes. If you've been struggling with anxiety recently, or are just always looking for ways to lead a calmer life, here are seven tips for dealing with day-to-day anxieties that should help.
1. Make A Problem List
In an article for Psychology Today about coping with anxiety, psychiatrist and author Neel Burton, M.D. recommended making a physical list of your problems when you begin to feel overwhelmed. "Then break each problem down into a series of tasks, and rank the tasks in order of difficulty. Attempt the easiest task first and keep on returning to it day after day until you feel fairly comfortable with it," Burton said, noting that making a plan of action also reminds us that we can actively do things to change the circumstances of a situation that is making us anxious.
2. Use Proven Relaxation Techniques
Burton also recommended utilizing relaxation techniques when we feel our anxiety rising. "If a given task or situation is particularly anxiety-provoking, you can use relaxation techniques to manage your anxiety. These relaxation techniques are very similar to those used to manage stress, and can also be used for generalized anxiety, that is, anxiety that is not related to any particular object or situation, but that is free-floating and non-specific." So don't be a afraid to take a minute to yourself in a stressful situation — I myself have definitely taken a few minutes just to breath when feeling overwhelmed, and it always helps me to recenter and move forward.
3. Don't Over Analyze Too Much
In a piece for Real Simple, psychologist Robert L. Leahy recommended to not "fight the crazy" when a seemingly crazy or outlandish thought crosses our minds. "You may occasionally have thoughts that lead you to think you’ll do something terrible ('I’m attracted to him. Does that mean I’ll have an affair?') or that you’re going insane (a client of mine who is an attorney kept imagining herself screaming in court). Remember―our minds are creative. Little synapses are firing away at random, and every now and then a 'crazy' thought jumps out. Everyone has them. Instead of judging yours, describe it to yourself like it’s a curious object on a shelf and move on," Leahy said.
4. Let Yourself Feel Anxious
Leahy also recommended setting time aside to worry when your mind is racing with anxieties. If it's 4:30, give yourself until 4:45 to just let the thoughts and feelings come. "If you are fretting at 10 a.m., jot down the reason and resolve to think it through later. By the time 4:30 comes around, many of your troubles won’t even matter anymore. And you will have spent almost an entire day anxiety-free," he said. This way you're able to focus on the tasks at hand without feeling as though you're ignoring something else that you need to think about.
5. Limit Caffeine
The ADAA recommends that people suffering from chronic anxiety limit their daily caffeine intake, as caffeine can trigger anxiety (think, heart and mind racing because you've had one too many cups), and can even lead to panic attacks. And even if you're a self-proclaimed coffee addict like myself, there are a ton of helpful articles out there about ways to reduce your daily caffeine-intake and not feel like you're missing out.
6. Talk It Out
The ADAA also recommends talking your anxieties out with a friend or trusted person. Often times getting another person's reaction to whatever is making us anxious can help us put everything into perspective. Maybe you're totally stressed about a super busy week at work — all you need is a friend to say, "Get through the next four days, and then it's the weekend and you'll be fine," and you suddenly realize they're right.
In a piece on shrinking anxiety for Psych Central, Maura Mulligan, LICSW and director of the Center for Wellness at Wentworth Institute of Technology, said to engage in physical activities for at least 30 minutes five times a week — even if it's just a brisk walk around the block. Exercise takes us out of our head space and gets us connected with our bodies, which is a great relief to those of us who usually have too much brain activity happening. Mulligan also noted that you likely won't see a change in your anxiety levels over night, but a gradual reduction of symptoms over a period of several weeks as you incorporate more physical activity into your routine.
Anxiety doesn't have to overpower you. There are a ton of simple, highly achievable tips for reducing stress and anxiousness that you can literally do at your desk if needed. And if you ever are just feeling too overwhelmed to cope on your own, there are a ton of great resources specifically for anxiety-related issues. Go to Mental Health America or MentalHealth.gov to find a health care provider in your area.