Managing Anxiety: Strategies And Treatment Options

Medically reviewed by Kimberly L Brownridge , LPC, NCC, BCPC
Updated February 5, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Feeling nervous, worried, and fearful may occur from time to time. Relationships, money, or work are common topics that people might worry about. However, when you have an anxiety disorder, these worries may not be fleeting thoughts that go away with time. They could feel challenging, terrifying, or constant. 

Anxiety disorders are North America's most common group of mental health disorders. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 31% of adults in the United States experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their lives. Over time, psychologists have developed proven methods to help people target and counteract anxious thoughts to help them manage their symptoms effectively. Understanding how to manage anxiety symptoms can be beneficial in treating them. 

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What Is Anxiety?

According to the American Psychological Association, anxiety may be characterized by worrying thoughts, feelings of tension, and physical symptoms. Physical symptoms might include: 

  • Sweaty palms 
  • An elevated heart rate
  • Tension in the muscles 
  • A feeling of restlessness
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Headaches 
  • Stomachaches or gastrointestinal symptoms 
Though anxiety may occur temporarily, people with specific anxiety disorders could experience these symptoms more long-term and frequently. Anxiety may worsen over time. Understanding the source of anxiety and reaching out for treatment can be beneficial ways to reduce symptom severity. 

Some people experience anxiety after a traumatic event, while others might be genetically prone to the condition. A person with anxiety related to specific situations, such as social unease, may want to avoid certain people, locations, or events. Anxiety and associated anxiety disorders are highly treatable. Due to years of research and clinical practice, psychologists have also discovered methods of reducing anxiety and coping with it at home. 

How To Cope With Anxiety

For a person experiencing anxiety directly related to a specific trigger, taking action can be a method of coping with anxious thoughts. Anxiety may sometimes be triggered due to a work presentation or a particular social situation. Grounding yourself, practicing control, and understanding your sensations can be a step toward reducing symptom severity. 

For people experiencing severe anxiety disorders, anxious thoughts can seem to appear with no cause. Individuals may struggle to control their thought patterns or feel overwhelmed by them. Physical panic attack symptoms can also be associated with certain conditions, such as panic disorder, which can cause someone to feel so anxious and fearful that they experience physical symptoms and fear for their life. 

If you often experience anxiety, finding the tools that work for you may help you ground yourself. Therapy could also help you acknowledge and work through anxiety disorders. Some people also find that they benefit from taking medication. Try to be patient with yourself as you work through your symptoms, and give yourself time. What works for someone else may not work for you. 

Breathing Exercises 

Several breathing exercises may benefit you and help you relieve anxiety. By taking slow, sustained breaths, you may allow your nervous system an opportunity to return to its baseline. Actively controlling your breath can also have an overall relaxing effect by allowing you to focus on an activity instead of your thoughts. Giving your body oxygen may give it a chance to escape the "fight or flight" process. Try the following exercise to get started: 

  1. Breathe in for five seconds. 
  2. Hold your breath for four seconds.
  3. Breathe out for five seconds.
  4. Hold your breath for four seconds. 

This practice is called box breathing, which is done to focus your mind and help you control your nervous system during anxiety or stress. 

Calming Activities 

You might also consider taking part in a calming activity. For some people, this may be journaling; for others, it could be taking a hot shower. Knowing which activities make you feel calm and in control of your mental state can help slow down thoughts in the present moment. Deliberate meditation is also a practice that can increase mindfulness and help people cope with anxiety. Studies show that even ten minutes a day of meditation can have lasting impacts. 

Exercise 

Exercise is a preventive action and physically healthy activity that may reduce anxiety. Though some people find it challenging to implement dedicated exercise, even 30 minutes spent exercising a few times a week can help your body release tension. Regularly partaking in physical activity can help give your body and mind a chance to relax. Reducing your alcohol and caffeine intake can also help alleviate anxiety, as they have been linked to worsening symptoms. 

DBT TIP Skill 

Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT) has a few skills related to emotional control that may help you calm down from a panic or anxiety attack. One of these skills is the TIP skill, which stands for: 

  • T: Change your body's temperature. 
  • I: Engage in intense exercise. 
  • P: Practice paced breathing and paired muscle relaxation 

One way you can partake in this skill is by swimming in cold water, a form of rigorous exercise that changes your body's temperature. Studies also show that emerging in cold water might stop a panic attack immediately. 

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Is Therapy Helpful For People With Anxiety?

Therapy can be an effective and supportive treatment for individuals living with anxiety. Since anxious thoughts can be challenging to control, seeking professional medical advice from a therapist can help you discover tools to use when you feel anxious and discuss the reasons behind your anxiety, if there are any. 

One of the most common types of therapy for anxiety is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a short-term therapy model that is solution focused. Instead of focusing on past events, which can be difficult for many people, CBT attempts to help give you the skills to work on your mental health in the future. CBT aims to change how you handle unproductive or harmful thought patterns and feel in control of your behaviors and symptoms. 

Therapy can also be helpful for those with a loved one experiencing an anxiety disorder or related conditions. Since anxiety can occur suddenly, it can be challenging for people to understand. Talking about anxious thoughts and what is helpful to an individual in a moment of struggle can help you feel more supportive when it occurs.

Finally, seeking professional help can help individuals control their overall mental health. You can talk to a counselor or therapist about stress, depression, or other symptoms. They may offer techniques for lifestyle changes that may improve mental health overall. 

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Finding Professional Support

Anxiety can be an understandable reaction to stress. However, anxiety disorders can cause a person to struggle to function daily. Reaching out to a professional for further support could be beneficial in these cases. 

If you feel hesitant to make an appointment because of travel, availability, or cost, you can also meet with a licensed therapist in the comfort of your home. Online therapy may benefit those who are looking for flexibility. You can choose between phone, video, and live chat sessions with a licensed therapist through online counseling. Additionally, online cognitive-behavioral therapy for anxiety is as effective in treating anxiety disorders as in-person models. If you're looking for support, consider reaching out to a platform like BetterHelp for adults or TeenCounseling for those aged 13-19. 

Takeaway

Anxiety can feel confusing, scary, and life-changing. If you are experiencing symptoms of an anxiety disorder or another mental health condition, consider reaching out to a counselor for further guidance and support. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) 

Below are frequently asked questions on anxiety. 

What Is The 3-3-3 Rule For Anxiety?

The 3-3-3 rule is a quick mindfulness activity that may help you manage stress and anxiety, even in the middle of anxiety or panic attacks. When you are anxious, take a deep breath and look around you. Name three objects you can see and three sounds you can hear. Then, move three parts of your body, and be aware of how they look and feel as you move them.

What Is The 54321 Technique?

The 54321 technique is a mindfulness strategy for coping with anxiety or feelings of panic. First, look around and name five items that you can see. Then, find four objects that you can touch and feel around you. Next, name three sounds you can hear; these sounds can come from nearby or the distance. Then, acknowledge two pleasant scents nearby. Finally, find one food or drink that you can taste. Research shows that this 54321 exercise can help ease anxiety and may help you manage stress throughout your daily life.

How Do I Stop Overthinking? 

One way to control overthinking is to improve your overall physical health through activities that boost your mental well-being. Try getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, and exercising as much as possible. If you aren't able to do it every day, that can be okay. One day may be better than no days. 

You can also try mindfulness. Mindfulness activities may help ground you in the present moment and distract you from racing thoughts. You may feel more aware of the world around you than what is happening in your mind.  

Getting treatment or advice from a mental professional (such as a counselor or therapist) can be another effective way to cope with stress and anxiety in your daily life.

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