Anxiety is the most prevalent mental health problem in the United States, affecting one in five people at any given time, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. For these millions (billions if you take the statistic global), the experience of clinical anxiety can range from a perpetual feeling of worry and discomfort, to a full-blown panic attack.
It’s always miserable. It’s often unexpected. And — while it might not feel this way in the moment — anxiety is controllable and ultimately treatable. The key is recognizing its severity, then taking steps toward calm and healing, including:
- Professional care (cognitive behavioral therapy),
- Slow, gradual exposure to specific fears,
- And daily self-care.
Here’s the thing about self care and stress management. You’re going to feel like you’ve heard all the tricks. The thing is . . . they work. So — before you get too wrapped up — let’s explore 20 time-tested, research-backed tips for managing ongoing anxiety. Who knows, one of these might help you see the light at the end of the tunnel!
THE BIG 5
1. Limit alcohol, nicotine and caffeine.
Caffeine may seem benign, but it’s actually a powerful psychoactive compound that aggravates anxiety and can even trigger panic attacks. It might give you a boost in the moment, but self-medicating with caffeine or alcohol is like using a whip to make a tired horse run. Eventually the horse will collapse. Drink water instead!
2. Eat balanced meals.
Eating full, balanced meals, and snacking in between, is a great way to protect yourself from the blood sugar rollercoaster. Feeling hangry? Reaching for quick carbs like chips or a muffin can actually trigger blood sugar imbalance and anxiety. On the reverse, switching to a low sugar diet can drastically lower anxiety in a matter of weeks.
3. Get enough sleep.
I mean, who’s surprised? Some form of sleep disruption is present in nearly all psychiatric disorders, and a “debt” at one end often triggers an imbalance at the other. If you can’t get a full eight hours of sleep due to anxiety, try integrating a few of these techniques into your nighttime routine:
- Write in a journal — get it all out on paper.
- Change locations — get out of bed and try the couch.
- Find routine — follow a boring, 30-minute, pre-sleep routine.
- Try white noise — mentally distract (in a good way).
4. Exercise daily. (Bonus: You’ll sleep better.)
While weight training is one of the best things you can do to keep your body healthy and strong, exercising daily to curb anxiety can be as simple as going for a long walk in the evening or taking a yoga class. Whatever you do, make it a regular thing!
5. Find your community.
It’s so easy to feel like you’re alone in the middle of anxiety. That’s just not true! Looking for solidarity? Join a support group on Facebook (there are plenty to choose from), be vulnerable with family and friends and connect with a counselor who can help you. This support is right at your fingertips.
15 IN-THE-MOMENT REMEDIES TO SAVE FOR LATER
1. Schedule planned breaks throughout your day. Reassess. Reevaluate. And start fresh.
2. Breathe easy. Practice conscious breathing for one minute or more before big moments like an exam or a presentation at work.
3. Call to mind moments when your worries proved false. Just because you dread a particular outcome, does not make it more likely to occur. Make note of this.
4. Interrupt anxious thinking with music. Listening to something fun or calming can redirect your attention to something positive.
5. Identify if your worry is solvable. Is this within your control? Is it out of your control?
6. Reduce over-activity. Make a list of everything on your plate. What can you remove in order to restore balance?
7. Schedule enjoyable activities regularly. Make time for massages, warm baths and hikes in nature.
8. Practice imperfection. Sweep the floor and leave a spot dusty, mess up a numbered list, then move on. This will help you relax by removing your focus from unnecessary details and putting it back on what matters. You handled something!
9. Employ logic. Challenge yourself to think of a less catastrophic, more realistic end to the situation.
10. List your goals. Is fear and avoidance interfering with your dreams? Take this to heart.
11. Try tightening and releasing different muscle groups. Release tension where you find it.
12. Practice shifting your awareness internally and externally. Become more aware of the environment around your body.
13. Worry only once. Use a worry diary to address specific concerns, and when they come up again, remind yourself that you’ve already worried. It’s done.
14. Close your eyes and practice mindfulness in your body. What do you hear? Smell? Feel?
15. Laugh and have fun. Pull up a compilation of funny YouTube videos and enjoy yourself! Laughter is the best medicine.