Proven Techniques To Learn How To Deal With Anxiety
By Sarah Fader
Updated February 07, 2020
Reviewer Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
How to Know if You Have Anxiety
Anxiety is diagnosed by a trained professional, a psychologist or psychiatrist, but there are specific symptoms shared by most people with anxiety. Anxiety causes symptoms that are both mental and physical. These symptoms vary from person to person and it is best to see a professional for diagnosis, but it never hurts to learn all you can in the meantime.
Mental symptoms include: excessive worry, apprehensive thoughts that disrupt your daily life, feelings of dread and fear that do not have a logical explanation, and exaggerated thoughts that make it difficult to focus and be productive.
Physical symptoms include: excessive sweating, blotchy skin, hives or rashes, racing heart, vomiting, headache, hyperventilation, numbness in the extremities, shortness of breath, weakness, dizziness and in some cases chest pain and heart palpitations.
For people with anxiety, the apprehension of "what if" leads to behaviors that are disruptive to their life. The distraction caused by anxious thoughts is only one piece of the puzzle. When anxiety goes unchecked, the anxious thoughts and behaviors begin to take their toll physically.
Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety
Dealing with anxiety can seem overwhelming and for some, dealing means avoiding situations that trigger anxious feelings and behaviors. There are many ways people try to deal with anxiety, and most of them hurt rather than help. It is important to understand that anxiety cannot be "cured", but it does not have to take over your life. You can learn to deal with anxiety in a constructive way that will help you control your reactions and behavior, when you are faced with anxiety.
Anxiety begins with anxious thoughts; these thoughts can take on a life of their own. Social anxiety and panic attacks can accompany general anxiety or GAD. The techniques below will also help you deal with GAD and social anxiety too. When you notice anxiety beginning to take hold, use these proven techniques to learn how to deal with it in a constructive way:
- Control anxiety with thought recognition and behavioral modification
- Overcome social anxiety by challenging your negative thoughts
- Calm anxiety by practicing mindfulness and meditation
- Treat panic attacks with breathing exercises and physical exercise
- Talk to someone about your anxiety. Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists understand, and they can help relieve anxiety by listening and providing more personalized techniques
- Reduce anxiety with diet and exercise
Learn to Control Anxiety
Dealing with anxiety requires some understanding and a few proven tools to help you deal with it. Learning to control anxiety isn't about stopping anxiety or fighting anxiety, it is all about regulating your reactions and modifying your behaviors. You can learn to control your reactions to anxiety and modify your behaviors if you learn to identify the situations that trigger anxiety and learn to recognize anxious thoughts when they arise.
Once you know your anxiety triggers, you can actively modify your behavior. The following proven techniques will help you identify your triggers, modify your behavior, and work to control your anxiety before it controls you.
- Recognize Rumination
- Rumination is the act of overthinking and mulling over thoughts that worry you and distract you from the present. During rumination, you will notice that your thoughts may be exaggerated and your decision making and problem solving is diminished. Once you recognize you are ruminating, you will be able to calm yourself by accepting the rumination as a symptom of anxiety and not something you need to act on.
- Recognize distortions in thought
- Once you recognize rumination, you will learn to recognize distortions in those ruminating thoughts. Thoughts that are stressful and worrisome cannot be ignored, that will just make things worse. If you learn to recognize these distorted thoughts you will have the ability to let them pass without acting on them. These feelings and thoughts are real because they trigger anxiety, but you can learn to let them pass without acting once you recognize them for what they are.
Sometimes these techniques are not enough to help you control your anxiety and admitting that is ok; as a matter of fact, admitting you cannot control everything is another technique for controlling anxiety! Everyone is different, so don't be harsh or judgmental with yourself. A professional therapist can help you use these techniques and others to help you control your anxiety.
Overcoming Social Anxiety
Social anxiety is characterized by an intense fear of social situations. For some, it may only surface during certain situations such as public speaking or attending a party; for others, it disrupts everyday living. Social anxiety has many facets and only a professional can diagnose this condition, but if you have symptoms of social anxiety, working on what you can is a step in the right direction.
The most important thing to remember about social anxiety is that you are not alone, many people experience social anxiety and many of them have very public careers. Do not judge yourself for feeling the way you do, just accept that you cannot change everything and work on what you can change. The best way to change what you can is diffuse your negative thoughts and feelings.
Examples of how to diffuse negative thoughts:
When you think, others are thinking bad things about you, diffuse this thought by asking yourself "Why would this person or people think bad about me?" and/or "They don't even know me, they can't possibly be thinking bad things about me," or "They have enough going on in their lives, too much to be overly concerned with thinking critically about me."
If you are thinking, "I know I am going to embarrass myself if I go to that party, I always embarrass myself." Diffuse this thought by asking yourself why you believe you will embarrass yourself, "always" is a strong word, are you sure you "always" embarrass yourself?
Diffusing negative thoughts by questioning the reasoning behind the thought works quite well for easing social anxiety. Once you begin to question yourself and ask why you think or feel the way you do, you are forced to rationalize your thoughts and feelings. Rationalizing and anxiety don't mix, and in time as you practice, you will be able to classify your thoughts as rational or not and then decide about action based on that rather than the thoughts themselves.
Calming Anxiety with Mindfulness and Meditation
Mindfulness and meditation are both calming techniques that work by relaxing the mind and allowing it to release stress. Anxiety will not disappear because you practice mindfulness and meditation, but it will lessen, and you will gain a sense of calm that is hard to achieve without these techniques. Mindfulness and regular meditation can provide stability when anxiety threatens to take over.
Mindfulness is the act of being present, in the moment, and aware of what is around you. Mindfulness is awesome in its simplicity, and with practice you will be able to calm your racing thoughts by tuning out and tuning in to something grounding in the moment. There are many free and helpful apps available to help you begin a mindfulness practice. Mindfulness should be cultivated daily to strengthen it as a skill, not just when anxiety is present. Note the things in your environment and really let them absorb you as you describe each one to yourself mentally.
Meditation takes many forms and it does not matter which one you choose. Meditation teaches us to be in control of our breathing and to clear our thoughts. Meditation helps put us in touch with our autonomic nervous system, and this has the potential to put us in control of lowering anxiety.
Treating Panic Attacks with Exercise
Panic attacks are sudden intense episodes of anxiety and fear that trigger physical reactions when there is no obvious danger or cause. Panic attacks can be disabling and completely disruptive to daily activity. Those who suffer from panic attacks know that the stress experienced earlier in the week can trigger a panic attack days later. If you think you suffer from panic attacks, it is important that you seek professional help for them, but it never hurts to do what you can to ease your symptoms.
Exercise and breathing exercises can and do help those who suffer from panic attacks. Regular exercise can reduce the amount of adrenaline in your system because the body will work to regulate the adrenaline during and after exercise. Exercise changes the body's chemistry and these chemical changes can lessen the occurrence and severity of panic attacks.
Breathing exercises during a panic attack can lessen the duration of the attack itself. Breathing exercises can be as simple as counting the number of breaths you are taking, to focusing on regulating your breathing. Many times, panic attacks include hyperventilation or shortness of breath, so practicing breathing exercises will make it easier for you to focus on these exercises during an attack. Practice inhaling deeply for several seconds, holding your breath for a few seconds, and then taking several seconds longer than you inhaled to release that breath. This helps signal your body that your sympathetic nervous system can relax and that you aren't in danger.
Although breathing exercises and physical exercise can and do help to treat panic attacks, you should still seek a professional diagnosis. Therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists can provide more diverse forms of treatment for panic attacks including support during or after an episode.
Reducing Anxiety with Diet and Exercise
If you suffer from anxiety, your diet and exercise patterns can affect the severity of your anxiety. What we eat has a huge impact on how our body and mind reacts to stress. Without the proper nutrition, we are vulnerable to the effects of anxiety in ways we don't even realize. The chemistry of our body changes depending on the food we eat, and this chemistry has a lot to do with anxiety.
Sugar and caffeine should be avoided as both are stimulants. Stimulants can irritate the nervous system and place it on alert, making you more likely to experience anxiety or panic. Alcohol is a commonly used self-medication for anxiety, but with poor results. Alcohol should be avoided.
Exercise releases endorphins and endorphins make everything seem brighter and better. The chemical changes that take place during and immediately after exercise work wonders for stress and anxiety. Stress levels lower the more you exercise and regular exercise eases and reduces anxiety because the mind and body are focused on the activity and the endorphins will make sure you feel good about yourself.
Talk to Someone
These tips and techniques are meant to help you deal with anxiety, but nothing beats the help of a therapist or other mental health professional. Talking to someone who is a knowledgeable, trained professional, is one of the best ways to deal with anxiety. A therapist can provide insight, and help you develop a strategy for dealing with your anxiety. Talking to someone can ease your fears, keep you positive, and provide the support you need to continue moving forward.