While anxiety disorders can be difficult to fully overcome — especially since they can be chemical in nature, as well as deeply ingrained — that doesn't mean you can't learn coping skills for anxiety, or figure out ways to move past it.
And one of the best places to start is with the knowledge that having a little bit of anxiety is natural — and even helpful. "We are all hard-wired to experience anxiety," psychotherapist Melissa Weinberg, LCPC, owner of Open Lines Counseling, tells Bustle. "It is a totally normal, universal feeling. We need to feel fear, and respond accordingly ... to protect ourselves from threats. Anxiety can feel so difficult to overcome because the way that we typically learn to deal with our anxiety, i.e., by avoiding it [and] situations that provoke it and trying to make it go away, actually makes it worse."
It's much more helpful to learn coping skills, and tackling anxiety head-on, than it is to try to completely banish it from your life. "The process of recovering from anxiety involves making the choice to go towards the discomfort of anxiety, to let it in," Weinberg says. "When we practice letting ourselves feel anxious, we start to learn that we can handle the feeling of anxiety and we can handle some uncertainty. And with repeated practice, this mindset becomes natural and anxiety is no longer such a demon." Here are a few more things people who learn to cope — and even recover — from their anxiety disorder tend to have in common.
1They Create A Support Network
It may be tough to admit to having anxiety. But once you do, it'll be more likely for friends and family to gather around and offer their support — which can certainly make things easier on the road to recovery.
"Those who are open with those around them about their anxiety and make meaningful connections with others who understand — and can be supportive in touchy moments — are more likely to be resilient in the face of anxiety," Weinberg says. "Feeling isolated, on top of feeling anxious, can be a true hinderance to recovery. In addition to finding a therapist who understands anxiety treatment, this could mean simply reaching out to friends and family or finding a therapy group or online support group."
2They Learn All They Can About The Disorder
It's tough to try to overcome an issue you don't fully understand, so the more you can learn about anxiety — what it is, how it works, its symptoms, etc. — the better off you'll be.
Not only will knowledge give you the tools to better handle your symptoms, but knowing the facts can actually undermine the very way anxiety works. "Anxiety is often triggered by uncertainty — feeling out of the loop, not sure what is expected, and/or what will happen next," therapist Laura MacLeod, LMSW tells Bustle. "So being proactive about seeking information is a strong, practical way to fight anxiety ... [Doing so] builds your self-esteem, which also decreases anxiety."
To get more knowledge, gather up books, sit down with your laptop and do some Googling, talk with friends, or set aside time to talk with a therapist. Once you learn more about anxiety disorders and all they can do, you'll be better able to cope.
3They Create A Mindfulness Practice
Whether it's going for a walk in the morning, doing yoga, or simply sitting quietly for five minutes after work, mindfulness practices are where it's at when it comes to coping with anxiety.
"Mindfulness allows you to be in the present moment, observing your thoughts and external experience, without judgment or excessive attachment or interpretation," Weinberg says. "When we can be objective and curious about our anxiety, we don't need to resist it. We can slow down and notice it for what it is: a false alarm, a constellation of thoughts, uncomfortable physiological sensations. We can then decide, more intentionally and accurately, how to respond to that anxiety."
4They Don't Rush Themselves
Learning how to cope with anxiety can take time, which is why those who do so successfully know it's important not to rush the process, or beat themselves up for feeling nervous.
"It is quite easy to take our anxiety very seriously and to also be hard on ourselves when we feel like the anxiety is 'winning,'" Weinberg says. "We can be cruel to ourselves in a way we would never be to someone else. Self-compassion helps us to quiet our inner-critic, which can actually make room for more progress and sustained recovery from anxiety."
5They Actually Allow Themselves To Feel Anxious
Ever notice how anxiety often feels worse when you try to tamp it down, or ignore it? That's why sitting with your anxiety, and acknowledging that you feel really bad, can go a long way in helping you most past it.
"To truly overcome anxiety, a person must practice allowing themselves to feel anxious and uncertain, as often as possible," Weinberg says. "It may seem counterintuitive, but even seemingly helpful approaches to anxiety, e.g., relaxation exercises, can be subtle forms of avoidance. They may offer short-term relief, but they don't give you a chance to learn that your anxiety and uncertainty is not dangerous and that you can handle it."
6They Lean Into Anxiety-Inducing Situations
Since anxiety can get worse when you avoid the situations that make you feel stressed or worried, coping might mean throwing yourself into these situations — sometimes even on purpose.
"The common response is to avoid those situations at all costs," clinical psychologist Crystal I. Lee, PsyD, owner of LA Concierge Psychologist, tells Bustle. "However, the relief you feel from avoiding the anxiety-provoking situation actually feeds your anxiety and reinforces it; it makes your anxiety stronger. To decrease your anxiety, you need to start going into those situations that make you uncomfortable." So, are you afraid of crowds? Go stand in one. Are you petrified of public speaking? Go give a speech. Facing your fears may be tough, but it'll show anxiety who's boss.
7They Keep A Few Coping Skills In Their Back Pocket
While it's important to let anxiety wash over you, and allow yourself to see that it's not that bad, it never hurts to have a few coping skills up your sleeve, either. Take grounding skills, for instance. "These are intended to distract your mind from the anxiety-causing stimulus and/or to focus instead on your immediate surroundings," Jacilyn Bondy, LPC, LCDC tells Bustle.
To do so, you might use your five senses to identify everything around you, as a way of being more mindful and present in the moment. "Breathing techniques are also useful because they stimulate the part of your nervous system that sends out calming signals to your body," Bondy says. "These can include diaphragmatic breathing (intentionally breathing slowly from your diaphragm rather than rapidly through your lungs) or a popular technique called 'box breathing' (inhale four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale four seconds, hold for four seconds; repeat)." When anxiety gets really bad, tricks like these can help see your nervous feelings through.
8They Change Their Inner Dialogue From Negative To Positive
Anxiety has a way of convincing you that everything will go wrong. So overcoming it is often about flipping the script, and changing that negative inner dialogue to something more positive.
"When people get anxious, they usually have a negative commentary running through their head," Lee says. "Instead of buying into those thoughts as irrefutable truths, understand that they're just words; you don't have to give them power over your actions. You can go a step further and even try to replace those unhelpful thoughts with more neutral, helpful, or self-compassionate self-talk."
9They Make Moving Forward A Priority
It's so easy to try to live with anxiety, or accept it as a part of your day. But if you want to try to overcome it, it'll be necessary to make that one of your top priorities. And that might mean carving out time and money to see a therapist — or even get medication.
"Seeing a therapist is one of the most effective ways to treat anxiety, as it treats more than just the symptoms and gets down to the root cause of the issue," Dr. Sal Raichbach PsyD, LCSW, of Ambrosia Treatment Center, tells Bustle. "Techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) work by restructuring the individual's thought process, allowing them to overcome the negative thought patterns they are experiencing."
And when a little help is necessary, medication can come in handy. "Although it doesn’t get down to the root of the problem, it allows someone with severe anxiety to function and take back control of their feelings," Raichbach says. "When used in combination with psychotherapy, medication can open the door for long-term healing."
10They Stay On Top Of The Little Things
When you have anxiety, planning ahead to make sure your life is as streamlined as possible can go a long way in improving symptoms. "While you can’t control everything in life, you can relieve some anxiety that comes from uncertainty by taking charge of the little things in your life that worry you," Jonathan Bennett, certified counselor and co-founder of Double Trust Dating and Relationships, tells Bustle. "For example, try to stay on top of scheduling, resolve outstanding problems (like overdue bills), and tackle projects around the house you’ve been putting off. By taking control where you can, you eliminate possible triggers to your anxiety."
11They Look Up The Facts
It's possible to uproot anxiety by simply throwing facts at it, and disproving that worried voice in your head that's insisting things will go wrong.
"For example, if you are a nervous flyer, it is important to look up the facts about airplanes," New York City-based psychotherapist Mia Rosenberg, LMSW tells Bustle. "Knowing facts versus believing the fear that our automatic thoughts want us to believe, helps us redirect any irrational thoughts back to the facts of the anxiety."
Whether you have mild anxiety, or an intense disorder, it is possible to learn how to better cope with it, possibly by stealing a few of these tips and tricks for yourself. With time, effort, and patience, you can start to uproot anxiety from your brain, cope with your symptoms, and feel less worried as a result.