Strategies To Help Cope With Anxiety

Medically reviewed by Paige Henry, LMSW, J.D.
Updated March 26, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Most of us experience anxiety occasionally. It’s a normal response to stressful events, major life changes, and other challenging situations. For some, though, anxiety can become a severe and consistent presence, affecting their emotional well-being, physical health, and ability to function.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, anxiety disorders are the most common type of mental illness in the US, affecting approximately 40 million adults annually.

Because of this prevalence, the significant impacts anxiety can produce, and the varied circumstances in which it can arise, developing a repertoire of coping strategies can be important. To that end, we’ve compiled a list of ten techniques you can use to help manage the symptoms of anxiety in your life.   

Looking to find techniques for managing anxiety that work?

Anxiety disorders – an overview

The American Psychological Association defines anxiety as “an emotion that is characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes.” While a certain amount of anxiety is normal, excessive nervousness, worry, panic, or similar feelings may signal the existence of an anxiety disorder. Anxiety and anxiety-related disorders may include panic disorder, social phobia, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder, among others.  

Anxiety disorders can cause significant disruptions in daily life, including challenges related to work, relationships, and physical illness. These conditions can also develop alongside depression or other mental health disorders. Symptoms of anxiety disorders will depend on the specific type of anxiety disorder but may include persistent negative thoughts, feeling overwhelmed in social situations, panic attacks, and feeling anxious about day-to-day life, 

The primary treatment options for anxiety are typically psychotherapy and medication. In addition to these modalities, experts have identified a variety of practices and activities that can help reduce symptoms, which we’ll discuss below.  

Coping with an anxiety disorder – 10 strategies

Techniques for alleviating anxiety are easy to implement and can be invaluable if you’re living with an anxiety disorder. It may be helpful to develop strategies that are aimed at both reducing the risk of anxiety in the future and limiting its severity as it occurs. You might also consider trying complementary and alternative therapies in addition to support from a therapist. 

Depending on your symptoms, some of the following tips may work better than others. Continue reading for ten strategies to manage anxiety. 

1. Practice self-care

Self-care refers to the act of improving or safeguarding one’s mental, physical, and emotional health. Research suggests that self-care can reduce stress levels, improve physical health, and lead to an overall higher quality of life. 

While some self-care measures are common stress management techniques—including getting enough sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and exercising regularly—your practice can include almost anything that nourishes your body and soul. Self-care can include journaling, meditating, drinking a cup of coffee, playing the guitar, or reading. In addition to reducing stress, self-care can help take your mind off of ruminative thoughts that may contribute to anxiety.

2. Be mindful

Racing thoughts, physical tension, and worry are common markers of anxiety disorders, so strategies that address these symptoms may be particularly useful. Mindfulness—a practice based on an increased awareness of one’s thoughts, feelings, and surroundings—can do this by helping you quiet your mind, relax, and cultivate a sense of presence. The results of a growing number of studies show that mindfulness is an effective method of improving anxiety symptoms

By helping you focus on the present, mindfulness can lead to less worry about the future and rumination about the past. It can also help you slow down, calm your body, and control your breathing. 

To practice mindfulness, find a quiet place to sit or lie down. While breathing deeply, bring your attention to your feelings and the sensations you’re experiencing. Are you happy? Tired? Warm? Focus on your environment, including the way it smells, looks, and feels. If your mind starts to wander, try to bring it back to the present. Mindfulness is a versatile technique that you can use in numerous settings.  

3. Take a bath

There is evidence that soaking in warm water can have several benefits for our mental and physical health, including reduced anxiety symptoms. Taking a bath can help ease tension in your body, relieve pain that may exacerbate stress, and decrease feelings of irritability or anger. You can make your bath even more relaxing by mixing in a calming essential oil like lavender or sandalwood. 

4. Get creative

Through widely varying mediums, artists have long channeled their feelings into poems, drawings, and songs. Engaging in creative pursuits can help you take your mind off anxiety-inducing thoughts and provide an outlet for you to express your emotions. Recent research suggests there is a link between mental wellness and creative activities like arts and crafts. 

5. Exercise

There is a large body of evidence pointing to the benefits of physical activity for anxiety. Exercise can alleviate stress, lessen physical health concerns, and improve your mood, all of which may reduce anxiety symptoms. When we exercise, our bodies produce endorphins, which can decrease pain and create feelings of happiness. Physical activity can also reduce the risk of stress-related illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease. Consider starting a workout routine that you can easily adhere to even when you’re away from home. 

6. Rest

A lack of adequate sleep can affect both your physical and mental well-being. Make it a priority to set aside at least 8 hours of sleep each night. Creating a regular nighttime routine is one way of promoting consistent sleep. This can include drinking herbal tea, meditating, stretching, reading, journaling, or other activities that help you wind down. When it’s time for bed, try to avoid using your phone, computer, or TV, as these can stimulate your brain and make falling asleep more difficult. It can also help to create a restful environment by making sure your thermostat is in a comfortable setting and your room is quiet and dark.

7. Breathe

Deep breathing exercises can stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, helping to alleviate certain physical symptoms of anxiety, such as rapid heart rate. One common deep breathing exercise is box breathing, where you inhale and exhale slowly, following a rhythmic pattern. You can do a quick box breathing exercise by breathing in for a four-count, holding your breath for a four-count, then breathing out for a four-count, and holding your breath again for a four-count. Repeat this process three to four times. Deep breathing is another practice that you can implement almost anywhere to help ease anxiety.

8. Limit alcohol 

Many people use alcohol to cope with anxiety (there is a strong link between alcohol use disorder and anxiety disorders), but this can exacerbate the condition in the long term. While alcohol may briefly relax you, it usually causes a rebound effect that worsens physical and mental symptoms of anxiety as it exits your system. Drinking can also lead to poor sleep and contribute to physical illnesses that may cause stress. To avoid these negative effects, consider cutting back on alcohol consumption, particularly late at night, or abstaining altogether. 

9. Develop your support system

Social support is considered a vital aspect of our mental wellness. Having loved ones whom you can talk to about your feelings can help you sort through emotions and gain perspective. In addition to emotional support, friends and family can provide you with advice on managing stress and insights into the sources of your anxiety. Different perspectives on your situation can be especially helpful if anxiety is skewing your beliefs about yourself. In addition to friends and family, co-workers, mentors, and mental health professionals can be helpful parts of your support system. Lastly, consider seeking out anxiety support groups, which can connect you with people who are experiencing similar challenges. 

10. Talk to a professional

Working with a mental health provider can help you work through the emotional challenges of anxiety, learn about potential sources of your feelings, and address comorbid conditions. A therapist can also help you implement the above coping strategies, providing guidance about which techniques will work best for your symptoms. Many mental health professionals specialize in challenges like stress and anxiety. They can listen to your concerns and suggest a treatment plan that is tailored specifically for you.

Looking to find techniques for managing anxiety that work?

Managing anxiety or mental health disorders with online therapy

Research suggests that online therapy is as efficacious as in-person treatment for anxiety disorders. In a broad-based review of 37 studies, researchers concluded that online cognitive behavioral therapy is as effective as face-to-face therapy when addressing symptoms of various anxiety disorders. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a widely utilized modality that can help participants reframe negative thought processes that may be underlying symptoms of anxiety. 

Online therapy can help you find techniques for managing anxiety that work for you. With an online therapy platform like BetterHelp, you can work with a qualified mental health professional remotely, which can be helpful if you’re not comfortable discussing anxiety in person. Your therapist can also connect you to useful resources, such as at-home exercises geared toward helping you develop healthy strategies for coping with anxiety.

Takeaway

While experiencing anxiety from time to time is normal, it can have significant effects if it isn’t kept in check. Luckily, there are many safe and effective solutions for managing anxiety that you can incorporate into your daily life. With the above coping strategies and, possibly, the help of a therapist, you can reduce the impact anxiety has on your life and take the next steps on your mental health journey.
Regulate anxiety in a compassionate environment
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