How To Calm Down: Anxiety Management Skills And Strategies

Medically reviewed by Melissa Guarnaccia
Updated November 19, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Anxiety and stress can be normal responses to various life situations, but when they are chronic, they can be detrimental to one's health and well-being. However, anxiety can be managed by using strategies that promote calm and relaxation. Reducing stress in your life can be an effective way to manage anxiety now and in the future. In fact, current research has revealed that lifestyle changes often have a significant impact on depression and anxiety symptoms. These lifestyle changes can include breathing properly, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting quality sleep, and listening to calming music. For more personalized guidance regarding anxiety management, it can be helpful to speak with a licensed therapist online or in person.

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Learn How To Breathe Properly

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

One way to solve this may be by practicing deep breathing techniques, which may 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 initiate the relaxation response in your body. This can be one of the simplest and most easily applied anxiety coping skills.

When you practice deep breathing, your body typically receives the full amount of oxygen it needs. Shallow breathing, on the other hand, tends to prevent adequate oxygen intake and may make you feel short of breath and, consequently, more anxious. Deep breathing can also slow down your heart rate and control your body temperature, which can mitigate other anxiety symptoms as well.

It usually takes some time to get used to, but by finding a quiet place to practice deep breathing and being mindful, you may learn to calm your anxiety.

Participate In Routine Exercise

The benefits of exercise have generally been well-documented for all aspects of health, including mental health. Exercise can reduce anxiety through various physical and psychological mechanisms, such as the following:

Physical

  • Exercise can lead to changes in the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis (HPA), which is generally responsible for developing responses to stressors and releasing hormones.
  • A lack of beneficial chemicals, such as serotonin and norepinephrine, in the monoamine system has often been linked to anxiety disorders; exercising can increase these chemicals.
  • Endogenous opioids released in the central and peripheral nervous system during exercise can improve 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

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

It is generally recommended that you set aside around 2.5 hours of weekly exercise to experience its benefits. The Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC) suggests that 30 minutes of exercise a day, five days a week, tends to be sufficient for a healthy lifestyle.

Get Enough Quality Sleep

Nearly all living organisms need sleep to function correctly, but with our busy lives, it can be easy to neglect sleep. Getting more sleep is typically part of the solution if you want to learn how to calm your anxiety. However, for many people, this can be a challenge.

Sleep and anxiety are usually highly interrelated and tend to affect each other significantly. Having too much anxiety can result in insomnia and other sleep disorders, but not getting enough sleep can also contribute to anxiety symptoms.

College students, in particular, can be especially prone to both sleep issues and anxiety. A study involving 462 individuals with varying degrees of anxiety reported many concerns, such as:

  • 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 make accidents more likely.

Suppose you have a hard time getting to sleep. In that case, 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 sticking to a consistent bedtime that is not too late.

Finding ways to relax and manage your anxiety can positively affect your sleep quality, and vice versa; your stress levels should generally decrease with adequate rest.

Listen To Music

Music therapy can be one of the most effortless methods for calming your anxious mind. The ability of most people to create and enjoy music may be one of the defining factors of human culture, and music frequently allows people to express themselves.

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

In a study of 40 volunteers with similar blood pressure awaiting cataract procedures, two groups were created: One that listened to self-selected music and another that did not listen to music at all. 

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

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

Most people would recommend listening to slow, calming music for anxiety. Energetic music, while not necessarily intended to reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, can still decrease stress and put you in a better mood, especially if it is music you enjoy or associate with happy memories.

Eat A Healthy, Well-Balanced Diet

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

First, your brain, especially your central nervous system, generally needs food and plenty of nutrients to function properly and at its best. Without proper nutrition, there can be an increased risk of mental health concerns, such as depression and anxiety. 

It has been shown in a group of Appalachian college students that those with the aforementioned mental health issues usually had a diet that was 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 them worse.

Poor diet choices can also contribute to cardiovascular diseases and high blood pressure. When you’re in a state of stress, this could amplify symptoms of anxiety. Making some lifestyle changes, such as eating right and quitting smoking, may reduce the severity of your symptoms by allowing your heart and lungs to work more efficiently.

Unhealthy comfort foods might seem like a quick way to find relief, but in the long term, it is likely that they may cause more harm than good. Therefore, if you have a habit of picking up junk food during times of stress, try replacing it with healthy alternatives.

Try Online Therapy

While the tips above can be helpful for those living with anxiety, you may also benefit from therapy if you experience persistent anxiety symptoms. On an online therapy platform, licensed therapists can help you get to the root of your anxiety. Plus, you can get the professional support you deserve from the comfort of your home. 

Research shows that online therapy can play a significant role in reducing depression and anxiety symptoms. For example, one study found that online therapy was generally just as effective as traditional in-person sessions, with participants in the online group typically showing continued symptom reduction three months after treatment. 

Takeaway

In many cases, a healthy lifestyle can reduce and calm anxiety symptoms. You might ensure that you’re eating a healthy diet, getting plenty of quality sleep, and exercising regularly. It can also be helpful to breathe properly and listen to music that boosts your mood or relaxes you. However, lifestyle changes may not always be enough to keep anxiety symptoms at bay. If you’re experiencing anxiety that negatively affects your daily life, you might consider working with a licensed therapist. You can find a mental health professional who meets your needs in your local area or through an online therapy platform.

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The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
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