Everyone experiences some level of anxiety from time to time, but if you're someone who is always anxious AF, you're likely always on the hunt for ways to reduce those unpleasant symptoms. If you're already focused on self-care, you might also be interested in some clever life hacks that can help alleviate anxiety in the moment. These little tricks may not completely rid your anxiety altogether, but they can help you feel better in the moment and even potentially prevent you from feeling more anxious in the future.
"As anyone who has ever struggled with anxiety will tell you, it’s not comfortable," says therapist Miriam Kirmayer over email. "That’s why having an arsenal of coping strategies or small 'hacks' can help. It’s important to come up with a list of possible strategies or hacks when you are feeling calm and relaxed, as it can be a lot harder to think of or remember the strategies you find helpful when you’re feeling anxious or panicked. Write them down in your phone or on a cue card that you keep in your wallet."
Not every strategy works for every person, but knowing your options can help you figure out what works best for you. Here are 11 clever life hacks anyone who is anxious needs to know.
1. Have A Go-To App
It's hard to focus on coping mechanisms when you're in the midst of your panic, which is why it can be useful to have an app that helps guide you through relaxation strategies when you are having a hard time thinking straight. "Apps like Breethe, Simply Being, Headspace, and Calm combine deep breathing with a quick (or not so quick, depending on your availability) meditation exercise," says Kirmayer.
2. Create A Mantra
Creating a mantra is a quick way to meditate that doesn't involve sitting cross-legged for hours on the floor. "Focusing on a mantra essentially teaches your mind to redirect itself from stressful thoughts that often accompany anxious physical symptoms," says Crawford. "Part of practicing daily meditations rewires the brain to learn how to refocus on a soothing mantra or saying. "Some examples are, 'Everything will be ok, This too shall pass, or I am calm and capable.'"
3. Try A Breathing Exercise
It's advice that comes up time and time again, but that's because breathing actually works to calm down your body's physical response. "Anxiety will generally cause the body to flood with chemicals, like adrenaline, that put us in the fight or flight mode," says Dorian Crawford, PsyD over email. "As a result, the body starts to take shorter, shallow breaths to oxygenate the muscles in preparation for combat or fleeing. When the initial sensation of adrenaline kicks in, notice it and immediately attempt to reduce your heart rate and counteract shallow breathing with deep and slow breaths."
4. Find A Distraction
Dwelling on your anxiety usually makes it worse, so have some go-to distractions ready for when the negative feelings strike. "Find positive, simple distractions during the day to allow mental focus on something other than anxiety," says Dyer. "If you have a few minutes, sit quietly at home or in the office to play a quick game that is a brain teaser, unwrap and chew a piece of gum, start counting backwards from 100 by 3s, or listen to music."
5. Create Structure
Anxiety often happens when you feel like you don't have control, so it can help to come up with ways you can take hold of the situation. "Work some structure into your life with the calendar in your phone," says Crawford. "Set up reminders so you can stop perseverating on an important task, type out lists that are titled for 'personal,' 'work,' 'professional' and 'miscellaneous.' This will free up your mental energy and reduce anxious symptoms."
6. Focus On Your Surroundings
Mindfulness can be more than just closed eye meditation. Since anxiety is often a function of worrying about something either in the past or future, reigning in your emotional energy to present on the focus has great potential to reduce anxiety. "Think about your five senses and engage them in the physical space you are in right now," says Dyer. "Focus on feeling the pressure of the floor under your feet or the chair on your behind. Pick a focal point — a specific color in the room or tree outside — and focus on the detail of the object. Notice how many people in room are wearing a certain color. Smell the air around you — what's there?"
7. Take A Walk
There's a reason everyone suggests exercise as a way to boost mental health: It can help boost the level of feel-good hormones in your body in the long-term. "What most people don't know is that the regular exercise also increases the levels of serotonin in your brain which is one of the primary neurochemicals involved in mood," says psychologist Deborah E. Dyer, Ph.D. over email. "You actually do feel calmer and better after exercise, and it's not all endorphins."
8. Turn To Something Funny
Whether you find the humor in a dire situation or you turn to a funny video to elicit some laughter, humor can help you cope, even if it's just a fleeting distraction. Research from West Chester University in Pennsylvania found that students who used humor as a coping mechanism were more likely to be in a positive mood. Laughter also has physiological effects that can counter anxiety, including stimulation of endorphins as well as lowering of blood pressure and heart rate, according to Psychology Today.
9. Write It Down
Letting all that anxiety sit bottled up in your head is no good, and the very least you can do it is get it out onto paper. Multiple studies show that not writing down your feelings help improve your wellbeing, and help you cope with your negative thoughts, and even make you less impacted by them. If you don't have a journal with you at all times, you can make a note in your phone or even use the voice record function to get your emotions out.
10. Phone A Friend
Social social is super important in managing anxiety, so don't be afraid to seek out a listening ear. "Sometimes, calling a friend to talk about things that have nothing to do with what it is you’re worrying about can also be a helpful and welcome distraction," says Kirmayer. "Reaching out to someone you know and trust can help you feel safe and less anxious. Just make sure the relationship is balanced and that you’re returning the support when they are going through a tough time."
11. Focus On The Good
Let's be honest: It can be super difficult to focus on the good when you're feeling so crummy, but finding anything to be grateful for can help counteract those negative feelings you're experiencing. Multiple studies show that gratitude is a great defense against anxiety. Start by thinking of the small things you're thankful for, even if they're trivial or minute. Expressing gratitude can improve your wellbeing even after you're done thinking about what you're thankful for.