If you've ever been to therapy, then you already know there are several things therapists want everyone to know about anxiety. Not only do they go into all the possible causes of your stress, worry, and/or panic, but they also dish out ways to better cope with your symptoms. And since anxiety can truly impact your life, the more wisdom they can share, the better.
"Anxiety can feel extremely overwhelming and unpredictable," psychotherapist Whitney Hawkins, LMFT, owner of The Collaborative Counseling Center, tells Bustle. "If you are not sure what events or situations lead to your anxiety, its unpredictable nature can be frightening. Imagine not knowing when or where you are going to feel this way; it can be devastating to your daily functioning."
There is good news, though. If you're truly willing to put in the time, energy, and effort — and possibly even talk to a therapist, either by sitting on their comfy couch or reaching out via text — there are plenty of ways to feel better. You might begin by practicing mindfulness, or starting a self-care routine, and then taking it from there. Whatever route you go, there are some things all therapists will tell you to keep in mind along the way.
1. It's OK To Feel Your Anxiety
While your first instinct might be to tamp down your anxiety, therapists say doing so can make it feel worse. "This tends to increase anxiety instead of making it better," licensed marriage and family therapist Jim Siebold, PhD tells Bustle. "It is like gas on a fire." So go ahead and feel your feelings; it'll allow them to pass.
2. It Can Help To Name The Feeling
One way to better cope with anxiety is to call it out, and give it a name. "Naming a feeling helps reduce the impact of the (previously unnamed) feeling," says Dan Goodman, MD, of The Midtown Practice for Psychotherapy and Psychiatry, in New York. "From a psychological perspective, you can think of this as increasing your understanding and acceptance of the feeling, which calms it. So naming feelings (and also writing about them) can be very calming."
3. Deep Breathing Actually Works
Even though it sounds a little simple, taking a few deep breaths really can make a difference when you're experiencing anxiety. "Try diaphragmatic breathing, where your belly expands on the in-breath and contracts on the out-breath," says licensed psychologist Alexis Conason, PsyD. "When we feel anxious, everything gets sped up, both our thoughts and our bodies. Sometimes if we can slow ourselves down physiologically the mind follows suit."
4. Grounding Techniques Will Bring You Back To Reality
If you haven't heard of a grounding technique, it's basically a way to bring your anxious brain back to reality, often by taking notice of your surroundings or paying attention to tactile sensations. "I recommend to clients that they stroke something furry or rough — even touching the carpet on the floor can switch your brain's concentration enough for you to then begin working on the core source of anxiety," says Deborah Duley, MSW, LGSW, owner of Empowered Connections, LLC.
5. Mindfulness Is Where It's At
Yes, you want to acknowledge your thoughts, but it also helps to let them float on by. "Think of them as trains and don’t get on any that won’t take you to where you want to go, i.e., being relaxed. Don’t attach to any thoughts that will take you to the wrong destination, i.e., anxiety," therapist Karen R. Koenig, MEd, LCSW tells Bustle. "Understand that you don’t have to connect to anxious thoughts, but can let them pass by."
6. Worrying Has Its Limits
Worrying can be constructive, to a degree. But beyond that, endlessly fretting over the future is just going to cause needless stress, which is why it's important to remember that worrying as its limits. "Recognize that we worry because it makes us feel as if we’re not helpless and are reducing anxiety, when it actually increases it," Koenig says. "We worry to make things turn out right in the future — a vacation, marriage, job interview, which car to buy, etc. Since we can’t actually be in the future, worrying is the next best thing because it makes us feel as if we can control it."
7. Know What Triggers Your Anxiety
If you know what sets off your anxiety, you can better avoid it. "Some people experience specific phobias or social anxiety, and others experience generalized anxiety, meaning their baseline stress level is usually pretty high. When you know what situations spike your anxiety levels, even a small amount, you are better prepared to handle them," says Kelsey Torgerson, an anxiety and anger management specialist.
8. Try To Keep A Healthy Perspective
When you have anxiety, it's common to think it'll never go away or it'll never get better. But this type of catastrophic thinking only makes things worse. "Anxiety ebbs and flows," Torgerson says. "So even when your anxiety feels too big to handle, remind yourself that it won't be like this forever." This is a healthier way to approach things, and can help keep everything in perspective.
9. Self-Care Is So Important
If you do nothing else for your anxiety, you'll at least want to practice self-care, in whatever way feels soothing to you. "Start a meditation practice (free apps are available on your phone, such as 10% Happier), take a long shower or bubble bath, cook yourself your favorite meal, or get your favorite meal delivered," says NYC-based therapist Kimberly Hershenson, LMSW. "Taking time for yourself will help center you."
10. Find Your Go-To Coping Technique
The key is figuring out which of the many coping techniques works best for you. "Everyone's body respond to different relaxation strategies in different ways," Torgerson says. "Some people find that a regular yoga practice is crucial to managing their anxiety. Other people connect a little bit more with deep breathing exercises in the moment. Be open to trying out a lot of new things and finding out what's best for you and your anxiety."
11. Keep A Daily Routine
Much like depression, anxiety can really mess with your daily routine. And yet, one of the best things you can do for your mental health is to stick to one anyway. "Shower, get dressed, and eat breakfast everyday — even if you have no other plans but to stay at home," says Hershenson. It'll make a huge difference in how you feel.
12. Some Things Can Make Anxiety Worse
Pay attention to when you feel anxious, and then note what you were doing right before hand. As Samantha Drazin, a licensed mental health counselor tells me, some people feel more anxious after drinking coffee, or alcohol. If that seems to be the case, limit these things in your life, and you should start to feel a bit better.
13. Awareness Is Key
If you're aware of your anxiety, as well as what makes it better and what makes it worse, you'll be off to a good start. As Torgerson says, "Awareness is the first huge step in dealing with anxiety. So just start to take note of what happens and how you respond, emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally. And then look and see what control you have on all three areas."
14. Exercise Can Make A Huge Difference
If you don't already find a way to fit exercise into your life, it may be worth it to start. "Exercise has a multitude of benefits both physically and mentally," says Hawkins. "When feeling anxious, it provides you with a distraction and endorphins." So get out there and get moving.
15. Signing Up For Therapy Is A Good Idea
When the above tips and tricks aren't cutting it, that's your cue to sign up for therapy. ""Anxiety can be extremely overwhelming when you do not know how it is happening, why your are feeling it, and when it will happen," says Hawkins. "Working with a therapist allows you to discover the answers to these questions, while also learning new tools to manage anxiety."
It may feel overwhelming at times, but there are plenty of ways to better manage your anxiety. Whether it's following these tips and trying deep breathing, exercising, or mindfulness, or signing up for therapy, you can get it under control.
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