Are you sick and tired of wasting your mental and emotional energy worrying about (and replaying) events in your mind? Even sabotaging yourself, your performance, and your relationships, at times? Constantly playing the “what if” game in your mind?
Let’s be honest, feeling anxious is miserable and unequivocally sucks the enjoyment out of life. It does this because it is impossible to be in the present moment when you are constantly worried about the future or past events. Here’s the deal—it doesn’t have to be that way. Let’s talk about some tips on how to stop being anxious and get your calm back.
The Difference Between Feeling Anxious and Having Anxiety
Feeling anxious is just part of the human experience and is a normal stress response. When the stress is removed, the anxiety usually goes away, too. With an anxiety disorder, the stressful trigger is removed but the anxiety can still be present.
There are multiple anxiety disorders with varying characteristics. If you are concerned that you may have one of them, it is best to be evaluated by your doctor, especially since anxiety is very common. According to research, up to 33% of all Americans will experience an anxiety disorder at some point during their lifetime.
What Can You Do to Manage Feeling Anxious?
The good news is there’s a lot that you can do to stop being anxious. Science is learning more and more every day about ways we can manage feeling anxious.
I am a strong believer in being proactive and preventative. If you have a lot of stress in your life or are prone to feeling anxious, I always recommend establishing a foundation of good daily habits. That way, when something happens to poke the anxiety bear, you are already in a position to handle things.
Twenty tips may be overwhelming for some people but remember: you are not expected to incorporate every tip on this list. Look at it as a menu of potential helpful options. You can pick and choose whatever you want and leave the rest.
Here are 20 tips on how to stop being anxious:
1. Eat the Right Food
It might come as a surprise to some, but certain foods can make anxiety worse, such as sugary foods, processed foods, alcohol, caffeine, and artificial sweeteners.
Here are some foods you can try instead that can help reduce anxiety: Brazil nuts, fatty fish, eggs, pumpkin seeds, dark chocolate, Turmeric, Chamomile, yogurt, and green tea.
2. Stay Hydrated
One simple tip to help you stop being anxious is by staying hydrated. Even being mildly dehydrated has been shown to worsen anxiety. So, drink up! Water, that is.
3. Work Some Mindfulness Into Your Day
This one shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Meditation and diaphragmatic breathing (breathing into your belly and engaging your abdominals upon exhale) are what usually come to mind, but there are some other fast and easy exercises that can help calm you down almost immediately.
One of my favorites is called Five Things, and it’s based upon our five senses (sight, smell, taste, hearing, touch). It can be done in any order.
For example, you might start by picking five things you can see. As you list each item, it’s important to take in the detail of each one. Next, you pick four things you can feel, noting each item with the same attention to detail. Work your way down to one item accompanying your last sense.
4. Get Some Exercise
Completing 30 minutes of exercise three to five days a week may significantly improve symptoms of anxiety. Even as little as 10 minutes has a positive impact.
In one study, exercise was shown to be as effective as medication in the treatment of symptoms of anxiety, with higher intensity exercise more effective than lower intensity exercise.
5. Sit With It/Observe It
Dr. Judson Brewer recently penned a book (and an app) entitled Unwinding Anxiety: New Science Shows How to Break the Cycles of Worry and Fear to Heal Your Mind in which he discusses turning toward our emotions as a way to process them rather than distracting ourselves or bottling things up (turning away).
He encourages people to be an observer of the emotional response in their bodies, almost as if conducting a research project in great detail and noting the exact location of physical sensations (stomach, right or left side, front or back) with as much detail as possible.
6. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an approach that utilizes the cyclical connection between our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors as a means to control unwanted (anxious) thoughts.
One exercise to stop ruminating thoughts includes picturing a stop sign in great detail, instructing yourself to “stop,” and then changing the narrative to something positive, encouraging, or even more realistic or likely.
Another CBT exercise involves challenging negative thought patterns and beliefs for validity by asking yourself:
- Is there evidence for my thought or am I making assumptions?
- What’s the worst that could happen? Is this likely?
- What’s the best that could happen?
- What’s most likely to happen?
- Will this matter in a week, a year, or five years from now?
7. Realize What You Can and Can’t Control
Take action where you can. Many of us spend time worrying and feeling anxious over things we can’t control.
Figure out what you can do and take action from there. Studies show that taking action reduces anxiety.
Reminding ourselves of the good things in our lives not only brings positivity to us but also reduces anxiety. This is because it is neurologically impossible for our brain to focus on negative and positive information at the same time.
9. Volunteer or Do Something for Someone Else
Helping others feels good. It also reduces stress, boosts our immune system, and can help us live longer.
10. Journal in the 3rd Person
The practice of journaling has long been known as a valuable tool to help us manage our emotions, and it can also help us stop being anxious and regain our calm.
Making a point to name the emotions you are experiencing (“name it to tame it”) is a principle Dr. Dan Siegel discovered that heightens the value of journaling. More recently, Dr. Kross, in his book, Chatter: The Voice in Our Head, Why It Matters, and How to Harness It, noted that journaling in the 3rd person (as if narrating your life) creates further value by creating some distance between you and the emotion you are experiencing, thus allowing you to breathe easier and gain perspective.
11. Go Out Into Nature
Spending time in nature has been shown to improve attention, lower stress, improve mood, reduce the risk of psychiatric disorders, and even cause upticks in empathy and cooperation.
12. Spend Time With Animals
Dogs are not only your best friend, but it turns out they are good for your mental and emotional health, too. The fact that cats just allow you to live with them as their servant doesn’t detract from the positive impact they also have on our emotional well-being.
Spending time cuddling with your pet on the couch can decrease levels of cortisol (a stress-related hormone) and lower blood pressure. Other studies have also found that animals can reduce loneliness, increase feelings of social support, and boost your mood.
13. Get Good Sleep
Getting good sleep can be difficult when we feel anxious, but being tired can worsen the issue. Try sticking to a consistent bedtime, make your bedroom dark, the temperature cool, and limit screen time before going to sleep.
14. Limit Alcohol and Caffeine
Alcohol changes the level of neurotransmitters in our brain. This can lead to a heightened sense of anxiety. Caffeine is a stimulant, specifically stimulating our fight or flight response, which is already more sensitive for those struggling with anxiety. Use both in moderation.
15. Show Yourself Compassion and Encouragement
What would you say to your best friend? Many times we make things worse by shaming or berating ourselves for feeling anxious because we fear it makes us appear weak or vulnerable. This makes the problem worse.
What would your best friend say to you? Stop beating yourself up and be your own best friend.
16. Spend Time With Friends
Healthy friendships make us feel included, improve self-confidence and self-esteem, and thus, help reduce anxiety.
17. Create Balance in Your Life
Set healthy boundaries and priorities, and don’t be afraid to enforce them. Nobody else can do this for you. Value yourself. You are worth it.
18. Have a Plan
Another tip to help you stop being anxious is to have a plan. Knowing what you will do takes away a lot of the “what if” thoughts in your mind. Being certain about some things and managing your expectations can help give you peace of mind.
19. Remind Yourself of a Past Event
You can also try to remind yourself of a past event in your life that you were anxious about but still ended up okay. Have confidence that you will make it through this situation, too.
20. Have Some Structure or Routine in Your Day
Knowing what to expect can significantly reduce anxiety and the fear that can accompany uncertainty. Give yourself as much structure as you need. You’ll thank yourself for it.
It can be difficult to manage feelings of being anxious. Take charge and pick a few of these to try out. Be consistent, and see how you feel.
You can always discard what doesn’t work for you, and pick something else to try. Confide in a friend that you are implementing some new strategies, and get some support.
Always tell your doctor your concerns, and don’t hesitate to get help if you are having difficulty managing things on your own. Good luck!
More Tips for Calming Your Mind
- Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max
- 10 Powerful Ways to Stop Worrying and Start Living Today
Featured photo credit: Ben White via unsplash.com
|||^||Healthline: Having Anxiety vs. Feeling Anxious: What’s the Difference?|
|||^||NCBI: Epidemiology of anxiety disorders in the 21st century|
|||^||US News: 10 of the Worst Foods and Drinks for Anxiety|
|||^||MedicalNewsToday: Nine foods to eat to help reduce anxiety|
|||^||The Healthy: Dehydration and Anxiety: How to Boost Your Mood with Water|
|||^||MayoClinic: Depression and anxiety: Exercise eases symptoms|
|||^||Anxiety & Depression Association of America: Exercise for Stress and Anxiety|
|||^||Psychology Today: Top 10 Tips to Reduce Anxiety|
|||^||PositivePsychology: The Neuroscience of Gratitude and How It Affects Anxiety & Grief|
|||^||Behavioral Health Systems: The Connection Between Helping Others and Your Health|
|||^||American Psychological Association: Nurtured by nature|
|||^||News in Health: The Power of Pets|
|||^||Mental Health First Aid: Why Healthy Friendships are Important for Mental Health|
|||^||headspace: The secret benefit of routines. It won’t surprise you.|