4 Methods for Managing Anxiety
Updated: Sep 3, 2020
If you read our blog post earlier this week, you hopefully have a better understanding of anxiety. That's a great first step, but we assume you're thinking, "Great, but now what?! What can I do about it?" Once you feel empowered with the information about mental health, we're big believers in providing you with actionable steps to make progress. So here you have it, four of our favorite techniques for managing anxiety.
1) Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is one evidence-based practice used for treating anxiety. The idea behind CBT is that our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are all related. In short, anxious thoughts can create anxious feelings. CBT teaches you how to change, challenge, reframe, or redirect an anxious thought in order to reduce or eliminate anxiety.
One simple CBT technique is to take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle of the page. On the left hand side, write down the anxious thoughts. On the right-hand side, you will challenge or combat that anxious thought with something more neutral or calming.
Example (notice how good anxiety is at spiraling):
"I am going to fail this test!"
"If I fail the final, maybe I won't graduate."
"If I don't graduate, people will judge me and I'll feel humiliated."
"I've prepared well this semester."
"I got a B on the midterm, so the final will probably be okay."
"Even if I failed, I have loving and supportive family/friends."
Next time you're feeling anxious you can try this exercise with our printable worksheet:
Another CBT tool is creating an anxiety-decreasing "mantra." That might sound something like:
"I'm in a safe space."
"I'm not in danger."
A fellow therapist once told me that she carries an almond around (to remind her of that almond-shaped amygdala). It reminds her how big her fear center is, that anxiety is surmountable, and that she's stronger than her anxiety.
2) Mindfulness is another good evidence-based practice for combating anxiety. Mindfulness is a non-judgmental awareness of our thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations with a focus on the present moment. The emphasis here is on noticing our thoughts and getting curious about them.
One simple Mindfulness technique is "grounding." When you are anxious, you're often stuck up in your thoughts and tune out the world around you. Grounding brings you out of your head and back into your physical environment (in the present moment). Grounding is a highly portable exercise that can be taken everywhere. To do this exercise, you use your 5 senses to connect with the environment around you. Look around and ask yourself: What can you see, taste, touch, hear, smell?
Guided meditation is another easy way to learn mindfulness techniques. Calm is a fantastic mindful meditation app that you can try for free (though the paid version is worth it, if you're asking us!). If you haven't tried a guided meditation before, start with something nice and short (3 to 5 minutes or less) and go in with the expectation that your mind will probably wander a little bit. If it does, gently (and non-judgmentally) guide it back.
3) Deep relaxation techniques counteract the physical symptoms that anxiety causes.
Whereas the sympathetic nervous system (the "gas") can get our bodies worked up, deep relaxation techniques trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (the "brakes") and calm our bodies back down.
One simple relaxation technique is the triangle breath. To do this technique, you inhale through your nose for 4 counts, hold your breath for 4 counts, and exhale through your mouth (like you're blowing out candles) for 4 counts. I like to visualize drawing a triangle while doing this exercise.
4) Physical exercise is research proven to reduce anxiety. I recommend at least 4 days a week, for a minimum of 20-30 minutes per day. This is typically more of a proactive, preventative approach to managing anxiety levels.
While anxiety can feel overwhelming, it absolutely can be managed with the right skill-set! You don't have to feel like this forever; there is hope. My challenge for you is to practice one (or more!) of these skills sometime this week. You don't even have to wait until you're anxious to try them out. In fact, sometimes it's better to practice them before an "emergency" situation arises, so you're already well-versed in them when the time comes.
Carrie Nicholes is a Maryland Board approved Licensed Certified Social Worker - Clinical (LCSW-C) and the founder of Cedar Counseling & Wellness. Recognized as one of the top therapists in Annapolis, she has a lifelong passion for teaching people tools to improve their lives.