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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

13 Methods of Anxiety Relief that Don’t Require a Prescription

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13 Methods of Anxiety Relief that Don’t Require a Prescription

People with chronic anxiety know what it’s like to seek help and not find the perfect method for anxiety relief. The truth is, there is no perfect method. Your anxiety could strike at any time for any reason, and you could be left helpless until it passes.

Now that you’ve faced the truth of what anxiety is (i.e. a mental illness that doesn’t need a reason to strike), you can face the truth of how to relieve your anxiety. The purpose of this article is to provide you with unique and practical ways for anxiety relief.

1. Activate your body’s natural relaxation response with deep breathing

Any article or book about anxiety relief will tell you that one of the top methods for relieving anxiety is to focus on your breathing. Deep abdominal breathing activates your body’s natural relaxation response which helps alleviate anxiety.[1]

Here are some tips for how to breathe to trigger that response:

  • Put one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach.
  • Breathe in deeply until the hand that is on your stomach is higher than the hand that is on your chest.
  • Breathe in through your nose, breathe out through your mouth to a count of 8 to 10 seconds.
  • Repeat as necessary to reach a rate of 6 to 8 breaths per minute

2. Find your “happy place” by using visualization techniques.

Adam Sandler in Happy Gilmore, he was the hockey player turned golfer who couldn’t keep his anger in check until he learned a visualization technique to calm himself down.

Your anxiety may not have you ripping the heads off of clowns at a mini-golf course, but you can probably relate to the feeling.

When your anxiety strikes, use the following techniques to help you with visualization:[2]

  • Take a few slow, deep breaths to calm and center yourself.
  • Imagine you are in a place of your own creation where everything is exactly the way you want it.
  • Focus on having different senses in your happy place. Don’t just visualize a scene in your head, create the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches that come along with it and visualize them.
  • Stay in your scene for 5 to 10 minutes (or until you are relaxed).

3. Use mindfulness to center yourself in the here and now.

It has been said that depression is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the past, whereas anxiety is a symptom of someone who focuses too much on the future. I don’t know how true that is, but I do know that many of the anxieties we face come from worrying about things that haven’t happened yet.

Much of our anxiety comes from a focus on something that doesn’t exist in the present moment. Bring yourself back to the present moment by using the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique to acknowledge the following things around you:[3]

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  • 5 things you can see
  • 4 things you can touch
  • 3 things you can hear
  • 2 things you can smell
  • 1 thing you can taste

By the time you are done, you will find yourself back in the present moment focusing on the here and now. This will relieve any anxiety that you have about future events.

4. Question your thoughts and stop believing what your anxiety is telling you.

One of the main things about anxiety is that it has little to do with what is in front of you. Often anxiety can be a result of things from our past that we haven’t resolved. So try the following method for relieving your anxiety:[4]

  • Find the deeper thing that is triggering your anxiety.
  • Realize the silliness of that thing.
  • Acknowledge the thought that is causing your anxiety.
  • Realize you are doing the best you can with what you have.
  • Release the thought and give yourself permission to see new possibilities in your life.

5. Practice radical acceptance via the paradoxical intention.

Viktor Frankl created what might have been the weirdest psychological solution ever: the paradoxical intention.[5] It’s rooted in the idea that trying to suppress a thought or feeling is only serving to make that thought or feeling stronger. So instead of resisting it, you actively strive to create more of that thought or feeling in your life.

It’s a “face your fears” kind of therapy and it’s been proven to be effective. I like to call it “leaning in.” Instead of resisting the thing you fear, try leaning in to it. Put your entire focus on the thing that is causing you anxiety, puff out your chest, and tell your anxiety to bring it on.

The beauty of this method is that it reduces anxiety by relieving you of the fear that your anxiety brings you. When you purposely make it bigger than it really is and you welcome your anxiety with open arms, it will dissipate. Hence, the paradox.

6. Turn your focus to meaningful activities that give you a deep sense of purpose.

While we are on the subject of Viktor Frankl, he actually created another form of therapy that is widely effective for anxiety relief. Frankl believed it was possible to turn suffering into achievement and accomplishment.

His method of logo-therapy has three main parts: dereflection (focus on other people), paradoxical intention (focus on the thing causing your anxiety), and Socratic dialogue (self-discovery through meaning-centered words).[6]

The point is to play with your anxiety to the point where it no longer is intimidating to you. Once you’ve done that, you open up your ability to choose what gives you meaning in life. When you turn your focus to the very purpose of your being, your anxiety and worry gets stripped away because you are truly engaged with the present moment.

So, find activities that give your life meaning. Some of them have big overarching meaning (like your job) and others give you purpose for a short period of time (such as a good book or puzzle).

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7. Embrace daily meditation as a part of your life.

There are many proven benefits of daily mediation. Perhaps the greatest benefit is that you will gain control over your emotions (and experience anxiety relief). There is no major challenge to meditation.

The aims of effective meditation are the following things:

  • A quiet place free from distraction.
  • Strong focus on your breathing.
  • Clearing your mind of distracting thoughts.

If you can achieve those three things, then you’ll reap the benefits of meditation.

If you struggle with clearing your mind, remember that you shouldn’t resist distracting thoughts. Acknowledge them as they arise and then bring your focus back to your breathing.

8. Create a regular exercise routine and stick to it.

Benefits of regular exercise include: lower stress hormones in your body, improved quality of sleep, and higher confidence.

Exercise has also been proven to increase endorphins in your brain which make you feel good.[7]

The key is to make it regular enough to be beneficial without overloading yourself. If you decide you’re going to exercise 7 days a week, you’re going to find that is an impossible goal. Something will eventually come along and knock you off your rhythm and you will feel guilty.

Set a goal to exercise three days a week for an hour each session. That’s frequent enough to make a significant impact without disrupting your life too much in the process.

9. Reduce intake of known anxiety triggers such as caffeine, nicotine and alcohol.

Sadly, some of life’s greatest pleasures can also be huge triggers for anxiety.[8] Other common triggers include negative self talk, poor sleeping habits, stress and fear of failure.

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As an anxious person, your goal is to try to remove or manage these triggers as much as possible. This doesn’t mean you have to live like a monk in some monastery somewhere. You’re here to live, so live your life to the fullest.

The key is to understand what triggers your anxiety so that you can find ways to manage it. If you know yourself and how you react to certain things, you can make a plan for how to best reduce your anxiety when you experience those things. But, at the end of the day, things like caffeine and nicotine are actually causing much of the anxiety you feel. So try to avoid them whenever possible.

10. Write or talk about your anxiety.

Keep a journal that you can reference when you need it. If you’re not a writer, then get a portable recording device and talk into it.

One humorous method that I use to manage anxiety is what I call the “man in the chair” method.

I’ll pretend like the FBI or some government official is tasked with listening to my life through my phone. So, I pretend to have a conversation with that person about my issues.

I know it’s silly (which helps relieve anxiety through humor) and totally crazy, but there’s an intangible benefit for imagining that somebody is listening to your thoughts. You speak more freely and you tend to put your thoughts down in a way that distances you from them. That distance will create anxiety relief.

11. Create strong connections with people.

One study found that women, in particular, benefit from from spending time with friends and children.[9] The benefits come from a release of Oxycontin which happens when spending time with people you care about.

Another study found that the men and women with the fewest social support often suffer the most with anxiety and depression.[10]

Often our mental illnesses drive us to do the opposite of what we need to do to manage them. Anxiety can make a person pull away from people.

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But no person is an island, and you need to try to make connections with at least one other person. Don’t let your anxiety pull you away from people.

12. Find ways to bring more laughter and amusement into your life.

An interesting study done among people with cancer found that people who were in the laughter intervention group actually experienced a decrease in stress.[11] Even crazier was that laughter also increased disease resistance within cells.

So, the old proverb “laughter doth good like a medicine” is actually scientifically true.

When in the throws of anxiety, you can find relief by watching a stand up comedy special or a funny TV show.

Better yet, buy tickets and physically go see a stand up comic with a friend. Laughter is a great medicine, but laughter among friends is the cure to many of life’s ills.

13. Listen to soothing music.

A study on the effects of music on the human stress response found that listening to music can initiate faster recovery in the autonomic nervous system and the endocrine and psychological stress response.[12] That’s a fancy science way of saying that music is a great form of anxiety relief.

People’s tastes in music are vastly different. What one person might find soothing might not have the same effect on you. This is one of those cases where you have to know yourself and what you find relaxing.

Conclusion

If you’ve noticed, this article focused less on the “tips and tricks” side of anxiety relief and more on lifestyle changes. Because a person with chronic anxiety knows that in order to manage anxiety and stress, you have to find new ways of living and coping.

You build your lifestyle to help you reduce triggers, calm yourself when anxiety hits, and snap back quickly when it hits you.

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So make it your goal to create a lifestyle that helps you do that. This is your life. Isn’t it time you found the freedom you’ve been looking for?

Featured photo credit: Pexels via pexels.com

Reference

More by this author

James Leatherman

The founder of Happymindsets.com and is passionate about personal growth, psychology, philosophy and science

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Last Updated on September 23, 2021

Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, doestn’ it?

To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

  • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
  • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

“Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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  • Putting work before their health and well-being.
  • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity.
  • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job.
  • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

1. Process Your Emotions

“So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

“Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

3. Question Your Beliefs

Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

4. Make New Beliefs

Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

5. Be Clear on What You Want

Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

6. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

7. Have a Solid Support System

Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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9. Develop an Action Plan

Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

10. Talk to Someone in HR

Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

12. Complete One Thing at a Time

We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

17. Reframe Your Perspective

We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

What Organizations Can Do About It

As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

Final Thoughts

Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

Reference

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