10 Coping Strategies For Anxiety
Updated July 02, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Laura Angers
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point. While some people only experience anxiety when there is an anticipated change in life circumstances, others feel anxious much more frequently. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines anxiety as “an emotion that is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.” While anxiety can be a healthy emotion, learning coping strategies for dealing with it can help prevent anxiety from becoming uncontrolled and resulting in a medical issue.
If you are dealing with anxiety, it’s important to know that you are not alone. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) reports that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S. and that they affect 40 million adults age 18 and older annually.
Risk Factors For Anxiety
Several risk factors have been identified that increase the likelihood of a person experiencing anxiety. Some of the most common include trauma, stress, other mental health disorders, family history of anxiety disorder, and the use of drugs or alcohol.
- Both children and adults who have endured abuse or trauma or who have witnessed a traumatic event are at higher risk of developing an anxiety-related disorder at some point in their lives.
- Having a physical health condition or serious illness can result in increased worry about issues related to the illness. Further, stress at work or in the home can increase feelings of anxiety. Some examples of this would be work about finances, relationship strain, or a death in the family.
- While not everyone with a mental health disorder is diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, having a history of a mental health disorder does increase the chances of being affected by an anxiety disorder. Additionally, individuals who have a family history of anxiety or ineffective coping skills often experience anxiety, as well.
- Both alcohol and drugs can cause or worsen symptoms of anxiety. The symptoms may be felt while using the substances or when withdrawing from use.
Identifying Causes Of Anxiety
Before strategies to manage anxiety can be effective, it’s helpful to look at possible causes, also known as triggers or stressors, and try to determine which of those is leading to the anxiety you are experiencing. Feelings of anxiety may occur for several different reasons. Medication or drug side effects, physical conditions, environmental factors, and mental conditions can all contribute to anxious feelings.
Physical conditions: Hormone imbalance, heart failure/disease, diabetes, asthma, digestive issues, and sleep apnea are some possible sources of anxiety.
External Factors: External factors for anxiety are any stressor that happens as the result of something that occurs without the presence of a medical cause or mental illness. For example, stress at work or school, financial difficulties, moving to a new home, or a change in a significant relationship can all lead to feelings of anxiety.
Medication Or Drugs Side Effects: Prescription medications and illicit drugs can cause feelings of increased anxiety. Some of the symptoms they may cause include feeling dizzy or having shortness of breath, not being able to stay calm or still, dry mouth, or nausea.
When Anxiety Becomes An Anxiety Disorder
While feeling anxiety for various reasons is normal, when anxiety is not addressed and resolved, it can lead to the development of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders, unlike general anxiety, are classified as a mental illness. When left untreated, the stress they cause can lead to major disruptions in daily life. There are different categories of anxiety disorders. Identifying what type of anxiety you are experiencing and its effect on you is important to begin effective coping. The two most common anxiety disorders are generalized anxiety disorder and panic attacks/panic disorder.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is the most common type of anxiety. It is best described as an ongoing state of physical and mental tension and nervousness, either without the ability to break away from the anxiety or without a specific cause. The person with a generalized anxiety disorder feels worried, anxious, and constantly “on edge” to the point that the emotions disrupt daily life. Symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder include irritation, feeling out of control, lethargy, low energy levels, and obsessing over negative thoughts.
Panic Attacks/Disorder occur when severe feelings of doom cause both physical and mental symptoms. The feelings can be so intense that some people seek emergency medical care because they fear something is seriously wrong with their health. Panic attacks are intense sensations that can be triggered by stress or anxiety. Mental distress is present, as well as physical symptoms such as hot/cold flashes, rapid heart rate, shortness of breath, and nausea.
Coping With Anxiety: 10 Strategies
Although anxiety is a natural emotion, it does not have to become so overwhelming that it creates major interference in your life. Learning to identify when feelings of anxiety begin to emerge, and ways to cope with them can help prevent complications later. Coping with anxiety can be as simple as a change in routine or habits. Let’s look at some coping strategies for dealing with anxiety.
#1: It’s Important To Practice Self-Care
Self-care is simply the practice of actively taking measures to improve or preserve one’s health. Although the concept of self-care is theoretically simple, many people overlook its importance. Self-care is not selfish. Taking care of yourself, both physically and emotionally, can help improve overall health and decrease anxiety.
Self-care measures include recognizing when life seems more difficult that it’s okay to slow down, getting enough sleep, and having a healthy diet and exercise routine. Practicing self-care means that you want to get to know you better. What makes you happy? What hobbies do you enjoy, or would you be interested in trying? Anything you can do to give yourself time to decompress when situations feel stressful is part of self-care and can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety.
Taking the time to slow down can help make you more productive, which can reduce anxiety. Slowing down may mean taking some time each day to have a cup of coffee and read a book or write in a journal, do some yoga or meditate. For some, simply saying “no” to extra commitments that don’t benefit, you can be helpful.
Spend at least 5 minutes each day to stop and meditate. If you’ve never meditated before, there are some great apps to help get you started. The Mindfulness App, Headspace, and Calm are some great resources for tips and tricks to learning the art of meditation.
#3: Take A Bath
Baths are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety. You can create a relaxing detox bath by mixing 1 cup of Epsom salt, ½ cup of baking soda, ½ cup of sea salt, and your favorite essential oil. Light a candle and let the bath do its work!
#4: Get Creative
Whether you like to write, paint, or cook, anything you can do that gets your creativity flowing will help reduce anxiety. Focusing your mind and energy on things you enjoy doing helps give a positive release for some of the weight that anxiety can cause emotionally.
#5: Get Moving
Exercise releases endorphins also referred to as the “happy hormones” of the body. A walk in the park or around the neighborhood, a leisurely bike ride or a workout are all ways to get your body moving and to relieve anxiety. Not to mention, there are great physical health benefits, such as reducing the risk of stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease.
#6: Get Enough Sleep
Lack of adequate sleep can affect both physical and mental well-being. Make it a priority to set aside at least 8 hours for sleep each night. Be intentional about your sleep routine. If you need to set the alarm on your phone to remind you that it’s time to wrap up the activities of the day, do it. When it’s time for bed, turn off any electronic devices such as your phone or television as these can stimulate your brain and make falling asleep more difficult. Make sure your thermostat is set to a comfortable setting and that your room is quiet and calm
#7: Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing exercises, when done correctly, help to regulate breathing, which helps reduce heart rate. Reduced heart rate can help calm anxiety. Breathe in for a count of 4; then breathe out for a count of 4. Do this for 5 minutes. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much more at ease you feel after just a few minutes of deep breathing.
#8: Learn To Control Your Thoughts. Don’t Let Them Control You
Negative thoughts can increase feelings of anxiety. In fact, if they are not controlled, they can cause a situation to become worse and can leave feelings of distorted reality. One way to control your thoughts is to ask yourself: 1.) “Is this true?” and 2.) “Will thinking about this make me feel better or worse?” Anything that does not improve your thought pattern and relieve stress is something you should avoid focusing on as much as possible.
#9: Make Sure You Have A Support System
Dealing with anxiety can feel overwhelming at times. Having a friend or family member that you can talk to about your feelings is a good way to sort through emotions and try to gain perspective. One thing you should consider when deciding who your support system/support person is going to be is whether that person/people can offer you nonjudgmental support. Anxiety is difficult on its own. You need to rely on supportive people who will let you talk about your emotions and offer some positive reinforcement without passing judgement or being overly opinionated, which could lead to increased anxiety.
#10: Knowing When To Ask for Help
Even the strongest people experience times when help is beneficial. If anxiety has become an all-too-often occurrence for you, or if you feel unable to manage the symptoms of anxiety alone, seeking the help of a counselor or therapist could be helpful. Mental health counselors are professionals who are trained to assist with problems, such as anxiety. They can listen to your concerns and suggest options to help resolve the issues and help minimize the symptoms related to anxiety with a plan that is tailored specifically for you.
Whether you choose to see a local counselor, join a support group, or engage in online counseling, it’s important to address any anxiety and try to resolve the issues. If you have a counseling center or therapist in mind, call for a consultation. If you don’t know of someone locally, your primary care provider can offer resources to get you connected with someone to help.
Also, if you prefer, online counseling options are available from several sources. Online counseling, such as that provided by BetterHelp allows individuals to connect with licensed, professional counselors, from the comfort and privacy of your own home.
You Can Reduce Anxiety Symptoms
While experiencing anxiety from time to time is normal, you don’t have to be controlled by the overwhelming presence of anxiety every day. Consider these steps for coping with anxiety and enjoy your best, anxiety-free life!