How To Calm Down: Anxiety Management Skills And Strategies

Updated October 6, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety and stress are a normal response to various life situations, but when they are chronic, it can be detrimental to one's health and well-being. Thankfully, they can be managed, and there are multiple ways to calm anxiety. This article will show you different anxiety coping skills, techniques,  and activities that you can start using right away to reduce anxiety and tension.

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Learn How To Breathe Properly

In response to stressful situations, it is common for one's breathing to become quick and shallow, which can build-up, create more anxiety, and lead to health issues if it becomes a long-term problem.

One way to solve this is by practicing deep breathing techniques, which will help you become more relaxed.

By breathing through your nose and allowing your lungs and stomach to fill up with air, then slowly releasing it through your mouth or nose, you can create the relaxation response in your body. This is one of the simplest and easily applied anxiety coping skills.

By doing this, your body is receiving the full amount of oxygen that it needs, whereas with shallow breathing prevents this, and can make you feel shortness of breath and consequently, more anxious. [1] Deep breathing also helps to slow down your heart rate and regulate your body temperature, which mitigates other anxiety symptoms as well.

It takes some practice getting used to, but by finding a quiet place to practice deep breathing and being mindful, you can learn how to calm your anxiety.

Participate In Regular Exercise

The benefits of exercise have been well-documented for all aspects of health, and it should become a part of everyone's routine.

For anxiety and stress, exercise works to reduce it through various physical and psychological mechanisms such as [2]:

Physical

  • Exercise makes changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which is responsible for developing responses to stressors and releasing hormones.
  • A lack of beneficial chemicals such as serotonin and norepinephrine in the monoamine system has been linked to anxiety disorders; exercising can increase them.
  • Endogenous opioids in the central and peripheral nervous system can increase mood and reduce pain.
  • Exercising can augment brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in the hippocampus, which can "improve the functioning of the serotonergic system and promote neuron growth."

Psychological

  • By being exposed to exercise, people can decrease anxiety sensitivity by mimicking the physical symptoms (i.e., sweating and racing heart) and improve their tolerance of them in fearful situations.
  • Exercise benefits one's sense of self-efficacy, which allows them to reduce anxiety by trusting that they can manage specific threats and sources of stress.
  • Physical activity allows people to distract themselves from daily stressors and is effective in treating both state and trait anxiety.

It is recommended that you take the time and set aside around 2.5 hours per week of exercise to have any benefits and teach you how to calm down from anxiety; however, it is advised that you participate in it regularly. For example, the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) suggests that 30 minutes a day, five days a week is sufficient for a healthy lifestyle [2].

Make Sure You Are Getting Enough Sleep

Nearly all living organisms need sleep to function correctly, and in our busy lives, it can sometimes get neglected. If you want to learn how to calm your anxiety, getting more sleep is part of the solution; however, for many people, it is a challenge.

Unfortunately, sleep and anxiety are highly interrelated and affect each other significantly. Having too much anxiety can result in insomnia and other sleep disorders, but not getting enough sleep also contributes to anxiety.

College students, in particular, are especially prone to both sleep issues and anxiety, and a study involving 462 individuals with varying degrees of anxiety produced have reported many different concerns such as [3]:

  • Difficulties falling asleep
  • Problems staying asleep
  • Early morning awakenings
  • Sleep dissatisfaction
  • Interference with daytime functioning

In addition to this, several specific characteristics of anxiety were rated, and the majority described having:

  • A sense of nervousness or feeling "on edge."
  • An inability to stop worrying excessively
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Trouble sitting still
  • Irritability
  • A fear of something bad happening

Not only can anxiety and sleep disorders create challenges related to performance and productivity, but they can also increase your risk for health problems such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes and also make accidents more likely [3].

If you have a hard time getting to sleep, you may need to practice better sleep habits, such as turning your electronics off well-before you go to bed, reducing or eliminating your caffeine intake, and creating a bedtime that is consistent and is not too late.

Finding ways to relax and manage your anxiety will have positive outcomes for your sleep quality, and vice-versa - your stress levels should decrease with adequate rest.

Put On Some Music

One of the most effortless methods for calming your anxious mind is music therapy. The ability of most people to create and enjoy music is one of the defining factors of human culture, and it allows people to express themselves.

Soothing music with a low tempo that is close to a normal heartbeat, such as classical music, smooth jazz, and even the sounds of nature will help induce relaxation; however, the music of your own choice can be just as helpful.

Compared to silence, music has demonstrated effectiveness in reducing hypertension in patients waiting to undergo surgery. In a study consisting of 40 volunteers with similar blood pressure that were awaiting cataract procedures, two groups were created: one who listened to self-selected music and another that did not have music at all. [4]

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Those who were allowed to listen to their music throughout the entire operation showed an average decrease in blood pressure by 35 mm Hg systolic and 24mm Hg diastolic, whereas those who weren't exposed to music remained hypertensive.

In addition to this, surgeons in previous studies have also reported that they have felt less stressed and performed better when listening to music that they liked. [4]

In general, most people would recommend listening to slow, calming music for anxiety, but energetic music, while it is not intended to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, can still help decrease stress and help put you in a better mood, especially if it's your preferred music.

Create A Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

The relationship between nutrition and one's overall mental health is significant, and one of the ways to calm anxiety is by making good food choices.

First, your brain, especially your central nervous system, needs food and plenty of nutrients to function properly and to its fullest. Without them, there is an increased risk of mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety. [5]

It has been shown in a group of Appalachian college students that those with the aforementioned mental health issues had a diet characterized as being high in sugar but low in fruits and vegetables. Therefore, it was hypothesized that excess sugar and poor diet quality could be a contributor to depression and anxiety, or make it worse.

These students displayed symptoms that would persist from anywhere from a third to half of a month, which could also negatively impact not only their mental health but their physical well-being too. Consequently, this could also be detrimental to their academic performance. [5]

Poor diet choices can also be a cause of cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure, and when in a state of stress, this could make symptoms of anxiety feel amplified. Making some lifestyle changes, such as eating right and quitting smoking, might not be the cure for your anxiety, but these alterations should help reduce the severity of your symptoms by allowing your heart and lungs to work less hard and more efficiently.

Comfort foods might seem like a quick way to find relief, but in the long-term, it is likely that they may be making things more problematic. Therefore, if you have a habit of picking up junk food in times of stress, try replacing them with healthy alternatives - you should feel better.

Conclusion

Anxiety management does take work, but it pays off. Most of these tips, aside from the one related to your diet, work quite fast. For instance, being conscious of your breathing and getting a good night's rest can provide immediate benefits.

However, if you struggle with chronic anxiety, you might also benefit from counseling. At BetterHelp, licensed counselors and therapists are available to help get to the root of your anxiety. These strategies in this article can help show you how to calm down anxiety and its symptoms, but you may find that working with a therapist can help you get to the causes of your anxiety. And, you can learn additional coping skills and techniques specific to your needs.

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