If you’re struggling with anxiety in any of its shapes or forms, you are not alone. And there are things you can do.
First, get checked out by your doctor to make sure there aren’t any underlying physical conditions causing your anxiety (See Everyday Worries vs. Anxiety). During your visit, your doctor may suggest trying medication or seeing a counselor that is trained to help people with anxiety disorders.
But what can you do in the here and now to manage anxiety? One effective thing you can do is turn to your own thoughts.
“Understanding the connection between your thoughts and your body can be eye-opening,” says Brandie Fraction, L.P.C. and EAP consultant at Carilion Clinic’s Employee Assistance Program. “The body is wise and tries to get our attention; often, that happens in the form of anxiety. If you can embrace anxiety as an opportunity to figure some things out, you may learn a lot about yourself and lessen your anxiety at the same time.”
These tips from Brandie will help you find ways to recognize, handle and even grow from what you’re experiencing.
- When you feel anxious. Are there certain situations or times of day when your anxiety seems worse? Does it seem worse when you’re around certain people? Our bodies and minds can react negatively to things we’re not even aware of, so pay attention to when your anxiety strikes, and you may learn some of the causes of it.
- Your senses. Sometimes your lifestyle can contribute to your anxiety. Be mindful of what you are listening to, what you're watching and what you're eating. Ask yourself where you can minimize chaos in your life.
- Where you can have some influence. Anxiety often happens when you feel like you don’t have enough control over what’s happening in your life. Finding small things to influence can help, so focus on things like deciding what you’re going to wear, what music you’re going to listen to and what attitude you’re going to have today.
- What you expect from yourself. Many of us think a lot about how our life should be—what we "should" look like, how we "should" act, what we "should" achieve, what we "should" have. Putting high expectations on yourself can contribute to anxiety. Be kind to yourself in the way you would be kind to others if they were in your shoes.
Be kind to yourself in the way you would be kind to others if they were in your shoes.
- Breathe on purpose and with intention. When we start feeling anxious, we often also start breathing more shallowly, and that can make anxiety worse. Focus on breathing deeply and into your belly at the first sign of anxiety.
- Practice gratitude. It may sound like a cliché. However, choosing to focus your thoughts on gratefulness is a powerful tool in managing anxiety. Be actively thankful for things like the people in your life who love and support you, your home, your pets, your job, your talents—anything that brings a smile to your face.
- Do something on purpose for fun. Laughter can bring you out of a dark mood faster than almost anything else. Seek out humor and ways to have fun, even if it’s something simple like watching a favorite sitcom or playing with your pets.
- Stay away from toxic people. It can be hard to accept, but some people aren’t good for your mental and emotional wellbeing—maybe it’s a family member who always points out your faults, maybe it’s a best friend who does nothing but complain. When people around you are negative, it’s contagious. Try to distance yourself from behaviors that bring you down or make you feel badly.
- Be mindful. The only place that life is happening is in the present. Turning your mind away from what has happened in the past and away from the unknown of the future can immediately lessen your anxiety. Start by spending a few minutes a day thinking only about what you are doing right now, then work your way to making it an ongoing habit.
- Reframe your thoughts. If you wake up thinking it’s going to be a bad day, it will likely be a bad day. If you think instead that you’re going to have challenges today, and you’ll get through them, you’ve put a more encouraging spin on things.
- Say no. As the saying goes, "no" is a complete sentence. You don’t have to be everything to everyone, especially if doing so is causing you anxiety. Consider where and when you can say no to some things if you’re feeling overwhelmed.
- Accept yourself. Nobody is perfect, we’re all a work in progress. Be patient with yourself and know that you're doing your best.
"No" is a complete sentence. You don’t have to be everything to everyone.
Managing your thoughts can be a challenging task. It’s OK if you’re not ready to tackle that challenge quite yet. Just starting to think through some of these things is a step in the right direction in dealing with your anxiety.
“Your thoughts are yours, they belong only to you," said Brandie. "They can create anxiety or you can use them to ease your anxiety. Once you feel ready, motivated and confident enough to make changes in your thinking, you might be surprised at the difference it will make."