10 Ways to Manage Anxiety Successfully
Updated: Nov 25, 2022
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Below are some ideas I have found personally useful along my journey dealing with anxiety; my client’s have found useful and all are evidenced based if you wish to look into them further. I hope you find them useful even as a starting point. If you feel you need more one-to-one assistance please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
There are various ways of Journaling, but the two I like are a gratitude journal (listing things you are grateful for in the past day/week) and a more “general” feelings journal on how the day or week has gone. This can be the positive and not so positive aspects of the day/week. In writing how you feel in an unedited way, it allows you to process emotion or make sense of what was going on. There is something about physically writing it with pen and paper that seems to be particularly helpful. Remember the diary is just for you, it’s not an essay, and it doesn’t have to be perfect. You don’t have to re-read it if you don’t want to. It’s merely a method to get thoughts/feelings down on paper and to assist you in processing them. Writing it down means you are able to take a “step-back” from what was going on, in a way maybe you couldn’t in the heat of the moment. This allows time for reflection and processing.
My favoured method for doing this is what’s called a “guided meditation”. This is where you listen to someone (often surrounded by soothing music) talking you through a process of letting go your thoughts, relaxing your muscles and being “present” (some of these can be found free on YouTube). This means present focused, rather than future or past focused (a common symptom when it comes to anxiety). Often you are instructed to take notice of your breath or let your feelings and thoughts be observed then let go. A metaphor I have heard for doing this is it is like watching clouds pass you by in the sky. It takes practice but it’s an effective tool to stop over thinking and to calm oneself.
3. Challenging your Thinking
When we are anxious we will often think the worst, or think ahead to events that haven’t happened yet. We may dwell on the past, obsess about a conversation we once had, how embarrassing it was, and how we could have handled it differently. Several clients have told me they know these thoughts are irrational, yet they still feel affected by them. Challenging your thoughts is not about fighting with them, it’s about both accepting, and then letting them go (much like you learn to do with meditation), or finding a realistic alternative. I often ask clients to ask themselves: Is it true? Is there evidence to prove it? And does thinking that way gets you more of what you want? If the answer is no to all or some of these, it’s time to change that thinking! This website includes a series of Cognitive Behavioural based worksheets about challenging your thinking: Just a Thought
4. Graded Exposure
This is about creating a series of “behavioural experiments” ranging from the least anxiety provoking to the most anxiety provoking. An example would be, I may want to enter the supermarket but I’m too anxious to do so. Tasks are then broken down into small pieces. I might drive there go in for 10mins, and then leave. The next time I may stay a little longer buy something or even say hello to the cashier. The third time I may hold a small conversation with the cashier. The idea being you work your way up to what are the most anxiety provoking and the more you do it, the less anxiety provoking each step becomes.
5. Relaxed Breathing
While anxious, our breathing can become short, sharp and shallow. Increased heart rate, a tight chest or tightness in the throat, neck and shoulders are symptoms I often hear about anxiety. Learning to breathe fully can calm you down as well as give you something else to focus on other than the anxiety you are experiencing. It’s a good skill to learn and often a good starting point to manage anxiety. I recommend practicing this way of breathing when not in an anxiety provoking situation and getting good at that first, otherwise it can be hard to remember how to do it if you happen to feel flustered or panicked.
Exercise has a range of benefits for your overall health but can be particularly useful in managing anxiety. When anxious our levels of cortisol increase (the stress hormone). One way to help manage that stress response is exercise, as it will “burn up” cortisol and often leave you feeling more calm and relaxed. It can also be useful in reducing muscle tension. An added bonus is its good for your waistline, heart and muscles too!
Research suggests eating a healthy diet can be beneficial for mental health and for managing anxiety. If for example I eat a lot of sugar, this creates a sharp “spike” in glucose levels. But soon after, there is a sharp drop which can then lead to irritability and changes in mood (often low mood as your sugar levels drop). Coffee can also have an impact. One or two a day may be fine (depending on the individual’s sensitivity to caffeine) but five a day, for example, would have a large impact on anxiety. It also then has an impact on sleep and this has a correlation with anxiety levels (discussed in the next section) It is useful to eat a healthy diet as another “tool” in helping give yourself the best chance to manage anxiety well. You’ll also likely have more energy and be better able to focus.
If you’d like to learn more about mental health and nutrition see this TED talk:
8. Sleep Hygiene
Getting adequate sleep is hugely important for both a stable mood and in managing anxiety. Consider how your anxiety feels after a “good” night’s sleep versus a broken night’s sleep. 8 hours is commonly touted as the “gold standard” but it can be different from person to person. Mood is often lower if we are tired and it tends to be harder to manage anxiety as we have less “brain power” and energy to do so effectively. A poor sleep will often lead to heightened anxiety the next day while an adequate sleep will leave us feeling more positive and more likely to have a lower level of anxiety. Do yourself a favour and create a regular sleep schedule.
I often hear clients tell me they are “people pleasers” or that they avoid conflict. This commonly is in regards to authority figures whether it be a boss, someone of standing in the community, a demanding friend or even a family member with a more dominant personality. Assertiveness can help one feel more confident, in control of their life, and feel their needs are being respected. This can help lower anxiety and create a sense of security. Assertiveness is not about being aggressive as it is sometimes confused; and it is not something you can get good at overnight. It tends to take consistent practice until it feels more comfortable.
I have already mentioned this in my previous post 5 Keys to Men’s Mental Wellbeing (timrobinsoncounsellor.com). However, it can also be good practice when managing anxiety. If you add routine to your day, it can add a sense of security and predictability, the opposite of what many anxious clients commonly feel.
Here is a link covering a range of these topics with more detailed information sheets: Looking After Someone with Mental Health Problems - Information Sheets and Resources
For more helpful blog posts or to book an appointment visit: www.timrobinsoncounsellor.com