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Anxiety tips for short- and long-term relief
Shortness of breath, lack of focus, an upset stomach — these are common anxiety symptoms. Just about everybody feels anxious once in a while. It’s a natural part of life.
But for some people, anxiety becomes a way of life. Anxiety factors into all their daily plans, and then anxiety interferes with their plans anyway. If this has happened to you, you may have an anxiety disorder.
In the meantime, we’d like to share some ways to calm anxiety. First, we’ll share some in-the-moment anxiety tips to help people in the middle of an anxiety attack right now. Then, we have some tips for creating a less anxious lifestyle in the months ahead.
15 short-term anxiety tips
Counseling and lifestyle changes help lay a foundation for less anxiety in the future. But if you’re in the middle of an anxiety attack, you’ll need some ways to calm your anxiety right now.
Try one or more of the following:
1. Taking a quick break
Our culture often touts hard work as the solution to just about any problem. So, when facing a problem — especially an anxiety-invoking problem — it’s natural to keep working toward a solution.
However, giving yourself a break from the problem you’re facing, even if it’s just for a minute or two, can help you see the problem more clearly. After a break, you might see your problem within the context of a bigger picture.
2. Thinking about something else
Most of us can’t “not think” about something. If someone says not to think about a basketball, for example, we’ll immediately imagine an orange ball, a crisp net, or a 3-point line.
So instead of trying not to think about your anxiety or the source of your anxiety, try thinking about something else on purpose. Think about a friend from your past, a favorite movie scene, or the pattern of tiles on the floor beneath your feet.
3. Trying the 3-3-3 rule
Still not sure how to take a break when you’re feeling anxious? Try the 3-3-3 rule for anxiety. Here’s how it works:
- Look around at your surroundings and name 3 things you see.
- Listen to your environment and name 3 sounds you hear. It doesn’t matter what they are: crickets, road noise, someone else’s voice.
- Move any 3 parts of your body: your arm, your fingers, and your toes, for example
4. Stepping outside
Simply stepping outside, especially on a sunny day, can help relieve in-the-moment anxiety. Plus, this might get you away from a stressful situation.
5. Counting to 10, 50, or 100
It may sound silly, but counting can refocus your mind and body, derailing the anxiety-feeding-anxiety cycle.
6. Controlling what we can control
It’s easy to feel anxious about things we can’t control. When this happens, try to isolate and control what we can control.
- Instead of thinking about the financial state of your employer, focus on doing your job well
- Instead of thinking about world affairs, focus on being a good citizen and following the law
- Instead of thinking about the unusual behavior of a companion, focus on being kind and patient
7. Finding the facts
When we experience anxiety, it’s easy to confuse the facts with our interpretation of those facts. We act on our interpretations as if they were facts, and this can make the anxiety even worse.
For example, someone who has sudden abdominal pain may interpret the pain as a serious health condition that will cost a lot of money and wreak financial havoc. But the only fact, at the moment, is the abdominal pain.
8. Talking it over with someone
Humans are natural-born collaborators. Yet when we feel anxious, we tend to avoid others, either because of shame or exhaustion. In reality, talking about the source of anxiety with a friend or family member can help a lot.
And if you’re ever on the listening end of someone else’s anxiety, remember that simply listening — without trying to offer advice or judgments — is invaluable.
9. Listening to your favorite song
The arts can offer a release from anxiety. When you’re feeling anxious, pull up your favorite song on Spotify or Apple Music. Or find your favorite movie clip on YouTube. Or get one of your favorite novels off the shelf and read the last chapter.
10. Giving yourself some credit
Some of us blame ourselves for causing our own feelings of anxiety. Or we think we should know better than to get snared in this anxiety trap once again.
But anxiety is a natural human reaction to stress and overwork. You’re already doing the right thing by looking for solutions.
11. Writing it all down
When the anxiety-provoking situation seems too complex to sort out, try writing it down. Write it as if it were a story. No need to worry about correct spelling or grammar: No one will read this but you.
12. Caring for your pet
Our pets have a way of grounding us within the present moment. This might happen because our pets seem to always focus on right now.
So take a moment to pet your cat, take your dog for a walk, clean your bird’s cage, or feed the fish.
13. Thinking about today
It’s easy to interpret today’s problems as a barometer for how life will be going forward. This makes anxiety even worse.
Instead, try to isolate what’s causing the anxiety today. We can’t solve many “forever-problems” in one day. But we may be able to help resolve today’s problem.
14. Taking a social media hiatus
Social media isn’t all bad. It’s a great way to stay connected with family and friends. But it never hurts to take a break for a few hours, especially when you’re feeling anxious.
15. Taking a deep breath
Yes, it sounds cliche. But breathing is our connection to the Earth. When anxiety makes us feel groundless, a deep breath or two may be just what you need to find solid ground again.
5 long-term ways to manage anxiety
If you’d like to reduce your overall anxiety over the next few months, the following lifestyle changes can help.
1. Improving your sleep
Studies show getting enough sleep reduces our overall feelings of anxiety. “Enough sleep” means different things to different people. Aim for at least six to eight hours each night.
2. Starting to exercise
Physical activity reduces stress. Walking, jogging, biking, swimming, dancing, weight training, and hiking. Pick something you enjoy and turn it into a habit.
3. Focusing on breathing
Make a daily habit of paying attention to your breathing. Distinguish between inhaling and exhaling. Be sure to take some deep breaths.
Focusing on breathing while doing something you already do — like preparing breakfast or unloading the dishwasher — can help you form this habit more quickly.
4. Improving your diet
A well-balanced diet improves our moods and our ability to cope with anxiety. Not sure where to start? Try having fruit instead of fries as a side. The key is making sustainable changes.
5. Speaking with a specialist
Anxiety is a normal human reaction to stress. Still, talking through your experiences with a professional counselor can help you understand and anticipate anxiety before it becomes a bigger problem.
When regular feelings of anxiety start to interfere with your daily life and relationships, it’s important to seek expert help.
If you’re in High Point, N.C., Mental Health Associates of the Triad is here to help. Individual counseling lets you explore your concerns in a confidential setting.
Reviewed by Karen Rudd, LMFT, LCAS