Anybody who has experienced anxiety is all too familiar with the unpleasant feelings that complicate day-to-day life, affecting everything from appetite and concentration to quality of sleep and often making itself known by stomach discomfort, headaches or other physical complaints. For some people, anxiety is relatively minor, but for others, the constant stress and worry is overwhelming.
Severe anxiety may require counseling or therapy, but if the problem isn’t debilitating, there are several simple coping techniques you can use when feelings of worry or anxiety become difficult to manage. Here are a few things to try:
- Slow down. Sometimes putting the brakes on everything for a moment can help you connect with your senses, think clearly and prevent spur of the moment decisions. Step away and listen to music, stretch, or take a hot bath. Look up and watch the clouds pass. Listen to the wind rustling the leaves.
- Engage in simple tasks such as writing notes or washing dishes, which can help bring you back into control. Be deliberate and mindful of what you are doing.
- Check in with yourself and challenge your worries. Is your concern really viable, or is it just your anxiety talking? You may realize that many of your worries and fears aren’t based in fact.
- Pay attention to your breathing, as many of us tend to tense up and hold our breath during periods of anxiety. Breathe deeply and exhale slowly. Try counting your breaths.
- Laugh. Take a few moments to get out of your own head by watching a funny video or an old sitcom. Humor often puts things in perspective and helps us acknowledge that we can’t control everything, no matter how hard we try.
- Reach out and be kind to other people. Volunteer or find other ways to be of service to others. At the same time, be nice to yourself and don’t be overly critical. Anxiety is difficult; don’t make it worse.
- Exercise every day to channel excess energy in a productive manner. Work hard enough to get your heart pumping and work up a sweat. If you don’t have time for vigorous exercise, go for a brisk walk in the fresh air.
Often, people turn to drugs, alcohol or food in an attempt to self-medicate severe anxiety, which may result in dependence or addiction that can ultimately make anxiety much worse. If drugs and alcohol or behavioral addictions such as gambling, pornography or shopping have become problematic in your life, consider drug and alcohol treatment or rehab.
If your anxiety is severe, counseling such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy) may help you challenge your anxiety and replace destructive thought patterns with more positive ways of thinking. In some cases, prescribed medications may help with debilitating anxiety.