Anxiety can be difficult to manage, especially when it starts impacting your daily life.
Some days anxiety is like a light breeze, and you barely notice it. Other days anxiety can feel like a gust of worry, fear, and uncertainty. Anxiety is a normal reaction that everyone experiences from time to time, but it becomes an anxiety disorder when the anxiety interferes with daily life. An anxiety disorder is an anxiety-based mental health problem that can severely impact your quality of life. Some anxiety disorders include:
- generalized anxiety disorder
- panic disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
There are several strategies for managing anxiety in daily life. I’ll discuss these strategies below. But first, it’s important to understand how anxiety manifests. When we’re anxious, our bodies release a large number of chemicals that make us feel stressed and tense. These changes in the body can cause physical symptoms such as muscle tension or pain, nausea, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat (heart palpitations), sweating, dizziness, or lightheadedness.
It’s important to recognize these signs and respond appropriately when anxiety occurs.
Anxiety can be triggered by a wide variety of events or circumstances, including social situations, fear of failure, changes in your routine, or anxiety-inducing thoughts, etc. It’s important to be able to recognize anxiety and anxiety-inducing thoughts as they happen. If we can identify anxiety, we’re better able to manage it effectively. Start by defining your anxiety triggers–what circumstances or events trigger your anxiety?
Identify these triggering moments so you’ll be prepared when they arise (e.g., anxiety about talking to strangers, anxiety over job interviews). Then write down anxiety-inducing thoughts. These anxiety-inducing thoughts can be very powerful, and it’s important to recognize them when they occur so you don’t allow anxiety to take control of your life.
For anxiety-inducing thoughts, create a list of more realistic thoughts.
Once you’ve identified your anxiety triggers and anxiety-inducing thoughts, develop an action plan for how to manage them effectively. For example, if talking with strangers is one of your anxiety triggers, practice doing it even though you feel anxious. You can start by talking with just one person at a time, then move on to something more difficult, like talking to groups of people.
Anxiety management strategies include progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing exercises, mindfulness meditation, etc. Progressive muscle relaxation consists of a series of exercises where you tense and relax muscles. This process helps to release anxiety from your body, as well as reduce muscle tension that anxiety causes.
Use mindfulness strategies for anxiety.
Deep breathing exercises consist of a cycle of inhaling deeply through the nose for four seconds, then exhaling slowly for eight seconds. This helps to calm the central nervous system. Mindfulness meditation is used to calm anxiety by focusing on breathing while releasing anxiety-inducing thoughts. Other anxiety management strategies include:
- Take a break to go for a walk. This gives your body and mind time away from what you were doing before anxiety occurred, allowing you to come back refreshed with new energy after walking around outside.
- Keep track of how much time passes between when anxious thoughts enter your mind and when they begin to fade away. Alternatively, you may try counting down your breaths while practicing deep breathing.
- Plan ahead by making a list of anxiety triggers and think about how you will handle them if they happen; even though anxiety is inevitable, many people can successfully manage their anxiety without avoiding everyday tasks or social situations.
- Write down your thoughts about what makes you anxious and make a plan so when anxiety does strike, you have an idea about how to deal with it rather than continuing to worry about the future, which will only exacerbate symptoms.
- Get plenty of sleep every night because lack of sleep causes stress which leads to more frequent anxiety symptoms. Set a consistent sleep and wake time daily and stop any screen time half an hour before bedtime.
- Exercise is an anxiety management technique that can help you clear your head and remove anxiety from the forefront of your mind; try going for a jog or taking part in yoga as these activities can reduce anxiety while also promoting physical health.
Everyday anxiety is not something that can be cured overnight, but with time and patience, you will see your anxiety diminish. It’s important to remember anxiety management techniques need to become habits because the more you practice them, the easier they are for your mind to access when anxiety occurs in daily life. Anxiety management tools can be used in combination with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), talk therapy, or counseling to help you reduce anxiety levels in the long term.