How Do You Manage Anxiety? 7 Things No One Ever Told You
Anxiety disorders can be complex, and the treatments and coping skills that work for some people may not necessarily work for you. As a result, landing on the most helpful way to manage your anxiety won't always be easy. But if you step out of the box, and keep a few things in mind, you can figure out what works best for you.
"Anxiety management is different for everyone," Jaclyn Lopez Witmer, a licensed clinical psychologist, tells Bustle. "Of course, we know that movement and physical exercise, as well as breathing practices, help to diminish anxiety." But even with tried and true methods like these, you may need to make a few tweaks. And that's OK.
"While one person might need to do a 20-minute meditation to manage their anxiety every day, someone else might find it more helpful to take one to two minutes a few times a day to practice breathing at their desk," Dr. Lopez Witmer says.
Of course, the frequency and severity of your anxiety can also come into play, therapist James Killian, LPC, tells Bustle. You may need to seek out therapy and medication, while also peppering in a few daily coping skills. As Killian says, "It typically does take practice and trial and error to find what works best. Without a doubt, the more one practices any of these techniques, the more effective they will be." Read on for a few more things to know about managing anxiety, according to experts.
1. Deep Breathing Isn't Just For Anxious Moments
Deep breathing during moments of intense anxiety can help calm you down and make it easier to think clearly. But it's something you may want to do even when you aren't particularly anxious, in order to get the most benefit.
"Breathing when practiced at times you are not stressed will lead to a better ability to mange stress and anxiety when it happens," Dr. Catherine Jackson, licensed psychologist and board-certified neurotherapist, tells Bustle. "It also helps make management of anxiety a habit."
By practicing deep breathing techniques regularly, it'll make anxious moments easier to handle, Dr. Jackson says, which is something to keep in mind if this trick hasn't previously worked for you.
2. It May Help To Challenge Your Thoughts
Anxiety can make you feel out of control, as your mind comes up with worse case scenarios and "what if?" questions. But you can learn how to reel it all in by challenging these anxious thoughts, which is something not everyone tries to do.
As Dr. Jackson says, "Instead of spending countless minutes you can not get back worrying about something that may not happen, ask yourself, 'how likely is it to happen?' or 'is this irrational?'"
Questions like these can help you to pause and see "what if" moments for what they really are: anxiety. And that can help keep it all from spiraling out of control.
3. You Can Set Aside Time To Worry
While it may sound strange, some people literally schedule "worry time" into their day, as a way of managing anxiety. And there are all sorts of benefits to be had.
"This is helpful for a couple of reasons," Killian says. "First, it allows you to be more present throughout the day when you find the anxiety and/or worry creeping up. You can tell yourself, 'I'll get to that today at 2:30 p.m.' Second, often when we really focus on our worries, and really allow ourselves to sit with the discomfort, we realize it's not so bad."
It can take some practice, but if you know that you'll be sitting down to process your worries at a certain time, it can help ease anxiety the rest of the day.
4. Simple Things Can Make A Big Difference
While you may want to see a therapist or take medication, in order to manage anxiety, adding smaller habits into your daily routine can help, too.
For example, "getting fresh air can help manage anxiety in many ways," licensed psychologist Dr. Tamar Blank, tells Bustle. "Walking or engaging in physical activity outside allows [for] the positive experience of endorphins. It also can allow our minds to take a break and think of the big picture, and help us refocus on the positive."
It can also help to stick to one small action. It could be the aforementioned walk, a warm shower, or a phone call to a friend, psychologist Dr. Eugenia Steingold, tells Bustle. "As long as it’s something that you decided you were going to do, and actually doing it," she says.
It's all a way to feel more in control. "You realize that the world is not just spinning around you," Dr. Steingold says. "In contrast, you can decide what you can do now, and follow through."
5. You May Need A New Therapist
"Finding the right therapist is essential to therapy," Dr. Blank says. "Not only do therapists have different training and approaches, but therapy is relational, which means the relationship between the therapist and yourself is most important!"
So if you aren't clicking with your current therapist, don't be afraid to look elsewhere until you find one that makes you feel comfortable and heard, and one with an approach that fits your needs.
6. You Can Try Accepting It
Another way to manage anxiety is to simply let it happen. Because, even though you may be tempted to deny your feelings or tamp them down, fighting them can actually make you more anxious.
"Instead, admit that you are anxious," Dr. Steingold says. "Remind yourself that you felt anxiety before. It was not pleasant. But you survived it in the past, and you will survive it again."
This can lead to a mindset shift that's surprisingly comforting. "This assessment of the situation is both realistic (you are admitting you feel anxiety), and hopeful (you know you survived it before and you will survive it again)," Dr. Steingold says. "Without lying to yourself, you evoke skills and thoughts that helped you in the past. They will help you again."
7. You May Need An "Anxiety Toolbox"
Again, there's rarely a one-size-fits-all fix for anxiety. Usually, "anxiety management requires building a toolbox of techniques to use when you need them," Dr. Lopez Witmer says. It helps to try new things, and come at it from multiple angles, in order to find what works best.
This might include learning a few deep breathing techniques, having a go-to comfort, like a warm shower or a walk, or finding a new therapist. It's important to keep in mind that you have more control than you think, even though treating anxiety can take some time.
Editor's Note: If you or someone you know is seeking help for mental health concerns, visit the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) website, or call 1-800-950-NAMI(6264). For confidential treatment referrals, visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) website, or call the National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP(4357). In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or call 911.