How To Fight Anxiety: Tips And Tricks
Updated August 28, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Boring-Bray, DBH, LPC
Many people experience some sort of anxiety at a point in their lives. In fact, anxiety is the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting over 40 million adults in the country. Although it can feel incredibly isolating, if you suffer from anxiety or an anxiety disorder, you are not alone. You likely know someone else with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, even if they don’t talk about it. But, knowing this likely won’t stop your feelings of anxiety.
The positive result of anxiety being so common is that it has been heavily researched. With that being said, there are many proven coping methods for people with anxiety. Although not every coping method will work for all people with anxiety, they can certainly be helpful. Be sure to try out the different methods listed below and see what works best for you. But first, it’s important to understand what anxiety is so you can recognize it.
What is Anxiety?
According to the Mayo Clinic, anxiety is “intense, excessive and persistent worry and fear about everyday situations.” Anxiety is a very normal feeling, as it is your brain trying to keep you safe. However, excessive worrying can be a sign of having an anxiety disorder. But it is very important that you do not assume you have an anxiety disorder because you have felt anxiety before. It is best to be seen by a licensed counselor, such as one from BetterHelp, and get professionally diagnosed if you are suspecting you have an anxiety disorder.
There are several different anxiety disorders that one can have. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, there are five primary anxiety disorders that exist today. First, there is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) which is explained thoroughly below. There is also obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and finally, social anxiety disorder (SAD). Every anxiety disorder has different symptoms, and many have triggers for their anxiety. This means different anxiety disorders will have better coping methods.
How to Fight Generalized Anxiety
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is one of the many anxiety disorders that doctors are aware of. Someone with a generalized anxiety disorder has excessive worry, even with nothing to provoke it. This is different than other forms of anxiety disorders as most others require a trigger to stimulate an anxiety attack. Generalized anxiety disorder can be very similar to panic disorder, as they both do not require triggers for their feelings of anxiety or panic.
If you suffer from generalized anxiety, try the tips listed below. Also, consider journaling your anxiety levels throughout the day when you try them. This can help you to notice which methods were effective and which were not.
Get Enough Sleep
A lack of sleep can have a large impact on your anxiety levels. According to an article from PsychCentral, a lack of sleep is very common with anxiety disorders and contributes to excessive worrying. Without sleep, your stress hormone, cortisol, can skyrocket, which can induce generalized anxiety attacks. With something as simple as getting enough sleep leading to less anxiety, it is worth trying.
An easy way to implement more sleep in your daily routine is to set a bedtime. If you have to wake up early for work each morning, calculate what time you need to go to bed to get at least eight hours of sleep. Then, try to be in bed 30 minutes before that time. If you have racing thoughts around bedtime, it may be helpful to take a melatonin supplement. As always, ask your doctor before taking this supplement, but it is generally fine to take for most patients. A dose as little as one to two milligrams can be what you need to fall asleep quickly at night.
Minimize Caffeine Intake
Although a warm cup of coffee in the morning can be exactly what you need to perk up your mood, it can also contribute to anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant and has an impact on your mind. It can make your brain work quickly, which can cause an anxiety attack. This is a very difficult change for many because of the withdrawal effects of caffeine, but it can be worth it.
If you are an avid coffee or tea lover, try to limit yourself to just one or two cups a day. Or, you can try decaffeinated coffee or tea to see if it wakes you up as well. However, if you don’t notice a difference in your anxiety levels after eliminating caffeine intake, it may not be worth cutting it out. Coffee and tea both have amazing health benefits. So, monitor your symptoms for a few weeks before writing off caffeine altogether.
Never Skip Meals
Although an anxiety attack can make you incredibly nauseous, to the point in which you can throw up, it is important to never skip meals. Similar to getting sufficient sleep, not getting enough food can send your body into panic mode. When this happens, you will produce more cortisol as your body will be under stress. This is why you may have more anxiety when you are hungry, or people can get “hangry”. It is important that you don’t skip meals, especially when you are already anxious.
Try to learn which foods calm you down. Perhaps there is a family recipe that is associated with happy childhood memories. Or, maybe there is a food you love that always makes you feel amazing. Even if the food is not nutritious, it is important to never skip a meal. If the only thing that doesn’t make you want to get sick is a granola bar, then eat that. Whatever it takes to give yourself necessary nutrition and reduce your cortisol levels.
Seek the Help of a Counselor
Generalized anxiety disorder can come with several complications, but it is not impossible to treat. Through the help of a counselor, cognitive behavioral therapy leads to great breakthroughs. A counselor can help you on an individual level so you can learn helpful ways to cope. He can also assist you in getting to the root of your generalized anxiety, which is crucial when trying to fight anxiety disorders. This is likely the most effective tip for fighting GAD, as it is incredibly challenging avoiding anxiety attacks when you don’t have specific triggers.
How to Fight Anxiety Attacks
For people with periodic anxiety or other anxiety disorders, they can still follow the tricks mentioned above. The tips listed above can help people with any type of anxiety disorder but are especially great for those with generalized anxiety disorder and panic disorder. This is because GAD and panic disorder don’t have specific triggers, so it is more difficult to treat them naturally. However, many people with, for example, OCD, may find the tips above to be very helpful. You should also try the methods listed below to see if they are effective for you.
Learn Your Triggers
For anxiety disorders other than panic disorder and generalized anxiety disorder, there are typically specific triggers that induce anxiety. This could be seeing a person who is associated with trauma. Or, it could be something that reminded you of a horrible situation you were in. No matter what it is, you likely have some type of trigger for your anxiety attacks.
If you are unsure of your triggers, consider writing down when you have an anxiety attack in a journal. This can be incredibly helpful for you to explore why you get anxiety attacks. Keep note of who was with you, where you were, and what you were doing. Then, evaluate your notes to see if there is a direct correlation with your anxiety attacks. This will help you realize what your triggers are.
Refocus Your Mind
Learning how to refocus your mind when suffering from an anxiety attack is an incredibly helpful tool when you want to fight anxiety. Although this is much easier said than done, it is possible. Anxiety disorders can make you feel as though you have no control over your own mind. This is a frightening feeling. However, it is simply not true. Despite your stress responses, you do have control over your mind and your thoughts. It may take some practice to take advantage of that, but it will help you fight anxiety.
One tip for refocusing your mind is to look at something. This can be literally anything. Look at the object and inspect it. Consider what it’s made of, what it feels like, and what it smells like. This practice is what is considered grounding. The idea is that when you focus on and inspect an object, your mind will pull away from the stress response. This is obviously the opposite reaction you give when you are in real danger, so it calms your mind quickly. Another tip is to go for a run, as you will be activating the flight response when responding to stress. This can help your brain to move past the anxiety. However, this method is not always possible when you are out of the house or it is nighttime.
Remind Yourself That the Attack will End
One of the best tips for fighting anxiety is to remember that an attack will pass. Thankfully, most anxiety and panic attacks last for 10 to 30 minutes. This is just a small percentage of the day. So in the middle of an anxiety attack, make sure you remind yourself that the attack will end. Hopefully, the methods listed above will help the attack end quickly or prevent one from happening. Remember that even though it feels like the anxious feelings will prevail forever, they won’t.