Worry and stress are a normal, even healthy, part of life by helping us prepare ahead of situations, keep us safe, or even to do our best work. However, when those worries grow and start to dominate your life, sometimes with little to no reason, this may be clinical anxiety. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders, with estimates at up to 30% of adults qualifying for this diagnosis at some point in their lives. Read more about Anxiety here. Fortunately, anxiety is treatable with the right help and tools.
Here are a few simple strategies to help you manage worries and anxiety to help you find some relief.
Visualization is the act of imagining yourself in a safe place that brings you peace. This is both a preventative strategy and something to be used in the moment when experiencing anxiety. When practiced, mental visualization is a very powerful tool. It can help calm your nervous system and feel better in the moment, as well as bring an overall sense of calm and peace when practiced regularly. Practice is the key to this strategy, as you need to experience and become familiar with how your body feels in this calm state in order to return to it on command. It also takes practice to overcome feelings of silliness and self-consciousness that may be present when first practicing visualization. This isn’t a cure for anxiety, but it can help you regain some sense of control over anxiety.
Exercise may not be on the top of your list when you are weighed down by worry and fear, but it is an effective way to manage the pent-up anxious energy in your body. Think about what you need in the moment, whether that’s to burn off jittery energy or to find soothing relief and use that to guide what types of exercise or movement to try.
If you feel more of that jittery, shaky energy in your body, you may need something that will tire you out, such as running or another form of cardio. If running is not your thing, try dancing to your favorite upbeat music, going for a bike ride, swimming, or chasing after your kids or dog at the park.
If you are feeling overstimulated and needing to relax, try a softer approach to movement such as going for a long walk or yoga. Even cleaning your house and gardening count! The gentle movement and a change of scenery may act as a mental reset and distraction from the anxious thoughts.
Exercise also helps to release feel-good hormones in your body that are great mood-boosters.
Sometimes the simplest of approaches makes all the difference. Before you dismiss this simple strategy, know that most people are not doing it right! The purpose of taking deep breaths to combat anxiety is that it helps slow down your heartrate and increase your intake of oxygen, helping to counteract some of the physical symptoms of anxiety, including chest pain and rapid heartbeat.
Much like visualization, deep breathing takes practice for it to be most effective. There are a variety of methods to practice deep breathing for anxiety, but the simplest is to sit up straight and notice your breath while focusing on watching your belly move in and out. Avoid chest breathing, which is a sign of shallow breathing and can cause hyperventilation. One way that helps you to see if you are doing deep, belly breathing is to gently place one hand on your chest and one on your belly. Notice which hand is moving more, with the goal being that your chest is not moving much while your belly moves out with the deep in-breaths and in with the out-breaths. After spending some time noticing your breath, check in with yourself to see if it has helped. Sometimes you may need more than a few breaths to slow things down, and this is perfectly ok and normal, don’t rush through it! Deep breathing may not feel very natural or relaxing at first, but with practice you can learn to quickly manage your breath and give you a quick break from a high anxiety or stress situation.
Managing your anxiety takes time and practice, but it can help improve your quality of life. There are many other strategies, including improving sleep and avoiding caffeine, that can also be effective. Sometimes simple strategies can help keep anxiety and worry under control, but it may not be enough. Talk to your health care provider or licensed mental health provider before your anxiety worsens, as it is easier to manage the sooner you seek help.
Jessica is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist based in Gilbert, AZ. She has over 10 years of experience working with people in all walks of life and has a passion for helping couples and families create deep and fulfilling relationships.