If you struggle with anxiety, then you already know it can take a pretty major toll on your life. From the physical symptoms — like a racing heart and sweaty palms — to the way it may prevent you from doing what you want to do, anxiety is not fun. But there are a few ways to deal with anxiety, and get your life back, with some tried and true tips from therapists.
By keeping a few anxiety-reducing tips tucked away in the back of your mind, you can try to self-soothe the next time worrying thoughts are taking control. "It's very important to have some reliable evidence-based tools to manage [anxiety]," psychologist Anna Prudovski, clinical director of Turning Point Psychological Services tells Bustle. "As you practice using those tools, you will learn that anxiety does not have to control your life."
But if it is, you may want to seek help from a therapist if you are comfortable. They can give you even more tools to help manage your symptoms. Anxiety can be difficult to cope with, but if you know how to properly deal with it, you can start to feel better. Here are a few surprising hacks that'll take the edge off your anxiety that psychologists swear by.
1. Doing Your Research
While you don't want to spend your nights Googling symptoms and possibly increasing your anxiety, it can help to do research and become better informed regarding what is causing you to be anxious.
"I can't emphasize enough how simply understanding what anxiety is ... helps in one's ability to manage it," psychologist Fawn McNeil-Haber, PhD tells Bustle. "Anxiety can take a variety of forms. From rumination to gastrointestinal problems to rage, anxiety is a combination of cognitive, physical, and emotional experiences. Learn all you can! Knowing your signs of anxiety and understanding that a huge portion of the experience is a chain reaction happening in the brain can reduce the spiral of anxiety." You may start to feel better if you understand where your anxiety is coming from.
2. Saying It Out Loud
Feeling super nervous for no reason? "Just say, 'Oh, this is my anxiety again' to take the edge off the anxiety," says Prudovski. "This transfers the brain activity from the emotional part of the brain to the thinking part, thus, reducing the anxiety." And once you distance an anxious reaction from the emotion being put behind it, it becomes a bit easier to prevent anxiety from taking control in that moment.
3. Hold An Ice Cube
The next time you're having difficulty quelling anxiety, pop on over to the freezer and grab an ice cube. "By holding the ice cube, your system will want to focus on the coldness in your hand rather than whatever may be causing the panic," San Diego-based psychotherapist Edie Stark, LCSW, MSc, tells Bustle. "The discomfort from the cold will also act as intentional distraction."
4. Take A Step Outside
If you're at work and feeling anxious, it really can help to take a break, step outside, and breathe in some fresh air. "Feeling stuck is a breeding ground for anxiety," says Stark. "The simple task of taking a five minute walk around the block can reengage your brain's ability to focus. If you can’t go outside due to weather or job restrictions, simply walking around your office hallways can help you to reset."
5. Drink Something Hot
Similar to the ice cube trick, sipping on something hot can help refocus your brain and comfort you. "Changing temperatures is a sure fire signal to the nervous system," says Stark. And focusing on the process of making tea or stirring your coffee can help, too. "While you drink, notice the smell of the tea, and feel the warmth on your hands and face as you drink it. You can even pair this one with some long slow breaths in between sips."
6. Sniff A Soothing Scent
If you're prone to anxiety, it's not a bad idea to keep aromatherapy oils in your desk at work, or in your coat pocket for travel emergencies. "Pick a smell that you associate with relaxation," says Stark. "I recommend lavender, eucalyptus, or peppermint. You can grab essential oils at most wellness stores." And the next time you're feeling anxious, simply have a sniff.
7. Set Aside Time To Worry
It may sound counterintuitive, but if you set aside time each day to sit with your worries, it really can help turn their volume down a bit. "Select a time every day that is convenient for you and pick a suitable amount of time to worry (half an hour, one hour). Use this time to think about what makes you anxious and about possible solutions to reduce your anxiety," psychologist Dr. Sarah Allen tells Bustle. "It will take time to train yourself not to dwell on worries at other times of the day or night." But, over time, this trick really can help.
8. Write About Your Anxiety
Allen says it can help to write your worries down, too. "Write down what you are anxious about (be as specific as possible) and then later write down if what you were anxious about actually happened, whether it was as bad as you expected, and what you did to cope with the situation," she says. "This helps you understand your anxiety better, distinguish between worries that are useful and those that are useless, and help you realize that you can cope no matter what happens."
9. Remember To Breathe
Therapists are all about deep breathing techniques. "Your breath is an automatic function of survival; it's also controllable. When you notice yourself being overcome with anxious thoughts, using your breath as self-soothing tool can be highly effective," says Stark. "A super simple intervention is breathing in for a count of five, hold for two counts, and breathe out a count of 10. By doubling your breath out, it sends signals to your nervous system to relax."
10. Bring Yourself Back To Reality
Once you're feeling anxious, it can be difficult to snap your brain out of it. But by using a few "grounding" techniques, you can help to bring yourself back to reality.
"When you're feeling overwhelmed, name five things you see, four things you feel, three things you can hear, two things you smell, and one thing you taste," Dr. Crystal I. Lee, psychologist and owner of LA Concierge Psychologist, tells Bustle. "Grounding yourself takes you out of your head that's swirling with anxious thoughts and brings you back into the present moment."
11. Slow Down
If you have a tendency to speed up and rush around whenever you're feeling anxious, you're definitely not alone. But this habit can put you into anxiety into overdrive, and may make it all feel worse.
So try to slow down. "Help your brain to register relaxation [by] walking a bit slower. Stop rushing and just give yourself a few minutes to sit and do nothing but relax," psychologist Dr. Patricia A. Farrell, PhD tells Bustle. "Once anxiety, like pain, grabs hold of you it's harder to control, so break the cycle before it starts and you're ahead of the game."
These are just a few tools therapists recommend for dealing with anxiety. But the main idea is this: if you're feeling anxious, do what you can to bring yourself back to the present. Whether it's holding an ice cube, or going for a walk outside, you will notice a major difference in how you feel.