50 Things To Do When You're Anxious
Partnerships Team •
When anxiety strikes, it can feel like the world stops spinning. As your mind starts to race and your heart is beating out of your chest, you feel powerless to stop it.
While these physical and emotional sensations are intense in the moment, the good news is that it’s only temporary. And there are anxiety management techniques to help you take back control and calm your mind. Here are 50 of them.
1. Practice presence
Being present is one of the most effective ways to keep anxiety at bay. “We tend to become anxious when projecting in the future or ruminating on the past. Instead, come back to here and now, paying attention to the simple and ordinary around you,” says Rev. Connie L. Habash, marriage and family therapist, yoga and meditation teacher.
2. Put your thoughts on trial
Be curious about your thoughts. Trish Glynn Carey, licensed mental health therapist, says to “ask ‘is this true, or could is there be something else I’m missing?’ Reflect on whether your thoughts are extreme. Are you perhaps missing other alternative possibilities. Could you be catastrophizing, or jumping to worst case scenario instead of being more realistic?”
3. Get into your body
Move out of the head where anxiety takes root and into your body through mindful movement of any kind. Habash recommends yoga, dancing, walking meditation, kickboxing, even jumping on your bed.
4. Make positive affirmation flash cards
Write out encouraging, calming phrases on flash cards (or make a list on your phone) and break out your cards when anxiety hits. “You can include phrases like ‘I have the ability to get through this,’ ‘I may be feeling anxious, but I can choose to make myself calm,” and “I am going to be okay, and I can feel myself relaxing,’” says Carey.
5. Ground to the earth
Trees are strong and stable because they are rooted deep into the Earth.“Give yourself that senses of stability by feeling your feet on the ground and imagining you have roots growing downward into the steady, firm soil beneath you,” Habash states.
6. Think about what you’ve had to eat or drink
Might be time to cut down on the morning coffee. “Caffeine can make us nervous and irritable. Realize that might be to blame, and maybe plan to gradually reduce your intake going forward,” Carey explains.
7. Find your center
Anxiety can make you feel like you are moving in a million different directions at once. “The eye of the hurricane is always quiet and still while the winds of the storm howl around it,” Habash explains. “Imagine that you have that serene and silent center within you and picture yourself sitting in it, no matter what is whirling around your life.”
8. Accept it
Don’t have the expectation that you’re going to get rid of anxiety. “Feeling anxious is part of being human,” Carey states. “This doesn’t mean you can make an effort to be calmer, but appreciate that anxiety happens and it’s OK. You’ll be OK.”
Don’t be so hard on yourself. Anxiety often stems from perfectionism. “Stop for a few minutes to express caring and kindness towards yourself,” says Habash. “You deserve some compassion, too.”
10. Go step on a rock
This one might have you thinking “huh, do what?” “Go outside and find some rocks. Stand on them and move around. Why? Reflexology!
Points on the bottom of your feet will stimulate your body and mind. Also, this activity is distracting and weirdly fun (fun enough to at least bring a smile to your face),” Carey explains.
11. Calming breath
This is one of the most simple yet effective techniques to calm your mind. “Place one hand on your heart and the other on your belly, and breathe deeply in to the stomach first and then the heart center,” says Habash. “Breathe in peace, and breath out relaxation.”
12. Get another opinion
We can get flooded with all sorts of crazed thoughts when we’re overcome with anxiety. “It can be hard to see a situation clearly. Recruit some help and get their genuine feedback on things,” Carey states.
13. Mindful touch
Engage your sense of touch and explore with your fingertips, shifting you out of your thoughts into tactile awareness. Habash suggests touching a wooden table, the bark of a tree, blades of grass, a soft throw blanket, the rind of an orange.
14. Get your art on
Arts and crafts are great for lowering stress and taking our minds off whatever is making us anxious, Carey explains.
This may seem strange, but it works! “Humming (like the 'mm' at the end of chanting 'om') is calming for the nervous system. Find somewhere you feel comfortable doing so and hum for a couple minutes—plug your ears for even greater effect,” Habash states.
16. Befriend your house plants
Plants decorate your space and can calm you down, too, Carey explains. According to one study, stressed participants had a bigger drop in blood pressure when they went into a room full of plants as compared to their stressed counterparts who didn’t see plants.
17. Silly faces
Laughter and levity go a long way towards releasing anxiety. “Use your cell phone and record a selfie video of silly faces, and enjoy watching how ridiculous you are. Go on, be as silly as you can be!” says Habash.
18. Massage your hands
Grab some lotion and give your hands a massage. “We can carry a ton of tension in our hands,” Carey states. “This is an easy way to self-apply some reflexology. Start with the large muscle below your thumb and massage in a circular motion. This will help release stress in your shoulders and neck.”
19. Read a good book
Sometimes you just need a distraction. “I read a book that will hold my attention until my eyes are heavy, to allow the anxiety to move to the background while I more easily fall asleep,” says Sharon Gilchrest O’Neill, Ed.S., licensed marriage and family therapist.
20. Reality check
When you’re having anxious thoughts, they usually aren’t about what’s actually happening, right here and now. “Reality check your surroundings and yourself with facts, not your imagination. Chances are good that things are OK,” Habash explains.
21. Phone a friend
“Call a good friend who is able to have me talk though why I am anxious—having a good listener allows one to get some of that physical angst to dissipate,” says Gilchrest O’Neill.
22. Connect to nature
Gilchrest O’Neill suggests getting outside for a fast walk for an hour and take in the scenery, finding something you’ve never noticed before.
23. Listen to music
“Finding a song or playlist that you like and can listen to can be a great way to distract your mind, as well as boost your mood,” says Dr. Nicole Lacherza-Drew, Psy.D., Licensed Psychologist in NJ and owner of Vici Psychological Care, LLC. “Try calming or upbeat music, depending on your preference.”
24. Organize your living space
This will help you feel productive while also managing your anxiety. Gilchrest O’Neill recommends organizing a closet or my desk, or some area of the kitchen or basement.
25. Get some sleep
Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep. “Sleep can assist in restoring homeostasis and our brain’s ability to regulate our emotions,” says
Dr. Lacherza-Drew. “If you are able to get to sleep, even if it’s just a short cat nap, try it out!”
26. Make a large cup of tea
Nothing soothes the soul quite like sipping a cup of tea. “This brings back the calmness that I always had with my mother when she would suggest, ‘let’s make tea and sit and talk,’" Gilchrest O’Neill explains.
27. Take a shower or bath
Anxiety may increase blood pressure so cooler temperatures like getting in the bath or shower can help bring blood pressure down.
“Cold showers/baths are also another way to release endorphins,” Dr. Lacherza-Drew states. “On the opposite end, taking a warm shower or bath can produce relaxing properties in the body through the parasympathetic nervous system, which is our body’s calm down system.”
“I jot down any thoughts I’m having, that might help to think through the problem, the issue, whatever is causing the anxiety—and be able to go back to and review and think through further,” says Gilchrest O’Neill.
29. Bake or cook
Bring out those oven mitts! “Baking incorporates all of our senses and it’s a great grounding technique to be more present and in the moment,” Dr. Lacherza-Drew explains. “You can’t be in the moment and worry about something that happened yesterday or that might happen tomorrow. Plus, you get to eat something yummy!”
30. Limit alcohol intake
“Alcohol can exacerbate anxiety symptoms while drinking or even in the following days after a night of drink,” says Jordan Brown, licensed professional mental health counselor.
31. Pay mindful attention to everyday tasks
This can be something as simple as cooking or cleaning. “While making a meal, you can notice the way the ingredients feel while preparing them, when it’s time to eat, take extra care to savor your food and enjoy how it smells. While doing the dishes, set the water to a warm temperature and give some mindful attention to the way the soapy water feels on your skin,” Saba Harouni Lurie, LMFT, ATR-BC, Owner + Founder of Take Root Therapy, explains.
32. Take time each night to actively set yourself up for success the next day
If you experience anxiety related to work or school, this is a great way to manage that stress. “Make your lunch in advance, pick out your clothes, and ensure that all of your essentials are packed and ready the night before will only help to make your day go smoother and will most certainly alleviate some of your work or school related stress,” says Harouni Lurie.
33. Sensorial stimulation
All you need is a few ice cubes or textured rocks on hand! “In the midst of an anxious moment, it can be helpful to grasp something,” Harouni Lurie explains. “Some might enjoy an ice-cold sensation in their hands to bring them back to the present moment, and others may enjoy simply having rocks with an interesting texture to run their fingers over.”
34. Soothing self-talk
When we are feeling anxious, it can be helpful to intentionally speak to ourselves kindly and calmly. “When we do this, we’re not bypassing our negative emotions – that would be engaging in ‘toxic positivity’—but rather, communicating to ourselves that it’s okay to experience our feelings. We can also use soothing self-talk to communicate to ourselves that our feelings are real and that they will pass,” Harouni Lurie states.
35. 4-7-8 breathing
Oftentimes when we’re experiencing heightened anxiety, we can develop the unintentional habit of holding our breath. It may seem self-explanatory but erratic breathing that can be triggered by stress tends to only make feelings of anxiety spike!
“4-7-8 breathing helps to calm and refocus your breathing in these moments. With your tongue lightly pressed against the back of your front teeth, breathe in deeply through your nose for a count of four. Then, with your tongue still touching your teeth, hold the breath for a count of seven. Finally, slowly release that full breath out through your mouth for a count of eight. Repeat these steps until your mind starts to feel a bit clearer and your stress levels begin to recede,” Harouni Lurie explains.
36. The 5-4-3-2-1 method
“This grounding method involves naming five things you can see, four things you can hear, three things you can touch, two things you can smell, and either something you can taste or a positive affirmation,” says Harouni Lurie.
37. Remove yourself from the anxiety provoking situation if possible
Sometimes all we need is a quick change of scenery to calm ourselves down, Keischa Pruden, LCMHCS, LCAS, CCS, owner/therapist, Pruden Counseling Concepts, explains.
38. Ask yourself a simple question
Sometimes it’s about just taking a step back and figuring out what’s causing your stress. Ask yourself, “Why am I so anxious?” “Oftentimes, the answer is deep seeded in our subconscious feeling of failing or other unseen danger. Then you can follow up with, ‘What’s the worst that can happen?’ We should always remember that if we are breathing, we have survived our worst days. If something happens we don’t like, we will make it to see another day,” Pruden states.
39. Remember thoughts are not facts
Just because you think something, does not make it true, Jennifer Ashley, LCSW explains.
40. Understand your panic attacks cannot hurt you
“You are safe in your body,” says Ashley.
41. Don’t forget your thoughts, feelings and behaviors are all linked
For example, “if you think ‘that person does not like me’ you will most likely feel upset, hurt, disappointed and behave in a way that makes those thoughts a reality (e.g. walk away, avoid the person). If you can change the thought, you can change the feeling and behavior,” Ashley states.
42. Replace the dysfunctional thought
Once you identify the facts, replace that thought with a thought based on reality (fact, evidence or data), Dr. Robin Buckley, CPC, Founder of Insights Group Psychological & Coaching Services, explains.
For example, anxious thought: "I'm going to fail at this project and they're going to fire me." Replacement thought: "I have never failed at projects or tasks assigned to me and I was hired because this company likes my work."
43. Come up with a plan
“Often anxiety is created in situations where we don't feel like we have the ability to control the situation,” says Dr. Buckley. “Determine what you can control and make a plan to manage those things.”
44. Give yourself some grace
Stop being so hard on yourself! “You are human and sometimes we experience feelings we don't like,” Dr. Buckley states. “Attempt the strategies and keep applying them until you feel more in control. If it takes some time, that's okay.”
45. Play it through
Anxiety almost always comes with racing thoughts.
“Once we identify the physical feeling, the reasons behind the anxiety and the fear that drives it, play out possible solutions of what you could do should the fear come true,” Habiba Jessica Zaman, therapist, explains.
For example, “in a presentation, you could have notecards or a slideshow to keep you on topic, or have a co presenter, or break up the presentation with questions after each section to pace yourself and give yourself a moment to redirect attention off of you and onto someone else while you bring your heartrate back down,” Zaman adds.
46. Recognize the valid reason for why your anxiety is present right at this moment
“Anxiety serves as a gentle if not outright slap across the face reminder that there is a perceived or actual threat,” says Zaman. “Acknowledge and accept the message behind it as though it is a friend calling to check in on you. It could be test anxiety because of our fear of failure. It could be performance anxiety because of our fear of being seen as an imposter. It could be anxiety of starting something new because we don’t believe that we deserve the opportunity and someone else would be better at it.”
Recognize the fear and acknowledge what’s actually causing it.
47. Practice self-care
Anxiety becomes worse when we are overworked and overwhelmed with all the other factors of daily life. Practice coping with HALT; Hungry, Angry, Lone, Tired.
“When there is more than one of these elements that are depleted, we fall victim to our subconscious fears. Therefore, try to take care of these needs as much as you can and regularly throughout the day,” Zaman states.
If you’re hungry but can’t take a break, make sure you always have snacks with you. If you are lonely, reach out to a confidant who is always there to listen and empathize and let them know that you need to share something without input on a possible solution. If you are angry, give yourself a 5-minute time out to process 5 different emotions with 5 different reasonings (one for each of the 5 emotions) that are contributing to the ange, Zaman adds.
“When feeling anxious the first step is to stop and be aware of your emotions,” says Dr. Ryan C. Warner, Ph.D., CRC with 1AND1 LIFE. “Pay attention to your physical sensations (e.g., racing heart, sweaty palms, etc.) and the thoughts you may be having.”
49. Slow down
When you’re in an anxious state, it’s important to slow down your mind and body.
“You can count slowly from 1 to 10 and intentionally attempt to yawn for 6 times, which will ultimately ‘cool down’ your brain,” Dr. Warner explains.
50. Monitor your feelings
Continue to track how you think and feel in a journal. “Check in with yourself daily (e.g., ‘How do I feel this morning?’). This will ultimately improve your emotional intelligence and enhance your well-being,” says Dr. Warner.
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