How To Reduce Your Anxiety In 30 Days, According To Experts
Day-to-day life can be seriously anxiety-inducing. Being an adult is a constant grind, and if you have persistent stressful situations, like high-pressure jobs or a precarious work-life balance, you're likely to experience higher levels of anxiety. And handling it isn't, unfortunately, something that can be tackled with a quick fix — slow and steady wins this particular race. But doing these nine things consistently can help reduce anxiety in 30 days, experts tell Bustle, but it does take a bit of work.
Psychotherapist Dr. Lisa Larsen tells Bustle that anxiety "often comes from a sense that whatever comes up in life, the person is incapable of handling it." One of the biggest mistakes you can make about anxiety, she adds, is treating the symptoms — higher pulse rate, frantic breathing, the sensation of being on edge — with techniques like deep breathing or meditation, without addressing the root causes. If you'd like to really lower your anxiety levels over the next 30 days, says Larsen, "it's important to examine the way you think about yourself and how you handle situations in order to have a sustained calmness in the face of stressful events."
Here's a road map to changing your anxiety from overpowering to manageable, in 30 days.
1. Track Your Anxieties
It's important to start paying attention: what's actually setting your anxiety off? "Start with paying attention to the sign and signals your body is sending you throughout the day when you’re feeling anxious," therapist Heidi McBain tells Bustle. "Where do you usually start to feel this anxiety internally? What happens when it starts to raise? Who are you with? What are you doing?"
This also involves tracking the activities where you feel calmer, McBain says. "It can help to track and write down your insights from day-to-day reading when you do and don’t feel anxious." Does walking your dog, cooking, or working on emails make you calmer? Writing it down could help.
2. Try Not To Fight Anxious Thoughts
Sometimes it can feel like the best thing to do when you're experiencing anxiety is to stop it in its tracks, to plug your ears and not listen to it. But experts say that that can have the opposite effect.
"Don’t argue with your anxiety," Karen R. Koenig, licensed clinical social worker and expert on eating disorders, tells Bustle. If you find this difficult, Koenig suggests a thought experiment. "Think about anxious thoughts like trains," she says. "In a train station, you watch lots of trains go by that aren’t heading to your destination and only get on the one that’s going where you want to go. It's the same with thoughts. If a thought about an upcoming wedding, relocation, major surgery, etc. makes you anxious, don’t engage with it. Just mindfully notice that you’re having it and let it pass." Ignoring these thoughts can create more friction and discomfort, but mindfully letting them pass — and consciously engaging with thoughts that don't give you anxiety — can help you retrain your brain to ignore the anxious thoughts, even when they're there.
3. Be Careful About Over-Sharing
Venting about anxiety helps — right? Not necessarily, say experts. "A bit of sharing is fine, but doing more only encodes thoughts more deeply in your brain and becomes a habit," Koenig says. "Moreover, when we express anxiety to others, they generally try to talk us out of it, which perpetuates discussion and focus on it." If you do want to share anxiety with somebody for support, make sure you're clear that you don't want to talk about it endlessly.
4. Learn To Say No
Look back on your anxiety tracking. Is it connected to particular tasks, requests or circumstances? Reducing your anxiety may mean de-cluttering your schedule, if possible. "How many times do you take on projects or requests that are nonessential to your goals and priorities in life?" says Dr. Larsen. "Learning how to say no to excessive demands of others reduce anxiety. Learn how to say no once in a while, and make your life less complicated and busy." This can be tricky, particularly for women, but it's an important skill in the workplace and at home.
5. Stay In The Moment
Focusing on the moment rather than the future or the past is a great anxiety-buster. "Anxiety is about trying to control things that we cannot control — other people, what will happen down the road, or consequences of previous actions," Koenig says. Seek out activities that help you to stay in the moment. McBain suggests meditation, exercise, journaling, mindfulness and anxiety workbooks as "anxiety interventions" that can derail your anxiety thoughts and prevent them from taking you somewhere unhelpful.
6. Try To Turn Your Focus Away From Anxiety-Inducing Things
Instead of centering the thing that's causing you anxiety, try to simply look somewhere else. "Focus on the relief you’ll feel when it’s over — surgery, a pivotal presentation, a job interview, or your child starting school," says Koenig. "This process is called leap-frogging, and it's my favorite. For example, if you need to have an MRI, don’t think about how awful you’ll feel in the machine, but how relieved you’ll feel when it’s over."
7. Remember That You're Capable
Often, the source of everyday anxiety is the feeling that you can't cope with everything that's happening around you. Fostering self-confidence can help. "Boosting one's confidence in oneself can help feel more competent," Dr. Larsen tells Bustle. "Think of difficult situations that have caused stress or anxiety in your past and how you've survived them. Even if you needed help from someone else in order to get through that difficult time you still managed to survive it. You can handle what life sends your way in most instances." Write these occurrences down if you need to be reminded of the stress-inducing things you've survived in your past, and celebrate your own resilience.
8. Target Underlying Beliefs That Cause You Worry
Worries are often driven by underlying thoughts and ideas about yourself and your situation. Anxiety can be defused if you target these thoughts and challenge them. "One of the best techniques for managing anxiety is changing your cognitions because thoughts generate emotions," says Koenig.
What are the underlying beliefs behind your worries? Listen to your own self-talk, and try to figure them out. You may find that you're thinking thoughts that can be easily challenged, like the idea that you'll be bad at your new job because you're a failure. "Examine your fears and change irrational to rational beliefs," Koenig tells Bustle.
9. Seek Expert Help
Ultimately, 30 days may change some of your thought patterns, but it's also important to realize that if you're continuing to have difficulty with anxiety, a therapist or other mental health support can help. "If your anxiety isn’t getting better, or it’s getting worse, find a therapist who specializes in anxiety to help you feel better and back to yourself again," says McBain.
These techniques can be good practice to manage anxiety in the moment and help retrain your brain in the long-term. The long game is the important one when it comes to anxiety.
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.