Anxiety happens to everyone sometimes. It’s a spectrum — some of us are naturally more anxious, while others tend to be more relaxed. But if you find that your anxiety regularly interferes with your ability to function, personally or professionally, it’s time to address it. Here I’ll tell you a little bit more about what anxiety is and how it can affect your everyday life. I’ll also give you some smart tips on how to cope with anxiety when it hits.
What Is Anxiety?
To begin, let’s talk about what anxiety is and how it affects us. In general, anxiety is a normal and healthy emotion we experience in situations that are stressful or tense. If you’re nervous or uneasy about something, you might experience typical symptoms of anxiety, like a racing pulse and sweaty palms. It could happen when you’re giving a presentation at work, meeting a blind date, or driving in heavy traffic. That’s your body’s infamous “fight or flight” response, triggered by an increase in the hormone adrenaline.
You could also experience less-immediate anxiety that’s centered on issues like money, a loved one’s health, or one of your personal relationships. That can look less like situational panic and more like long-term worrying. Instead of “fight or flight” symptoms, you might experience an inability to concentrate on everyday tasks or a disturbance in your sleep.
However, anxiety disorders go beyond nervousness before a job interview or even your chronic stress about paying your bills. Having an anxiety disorder means that intense and overwhelming feelings of anxiety and panic interfere with your quality of life and everyday living activities. Whether it’s generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, postpartum anxiety (which can hit hard when you’re a new mom), or an individual phobia, anxiety disorders require professional help. If you believe this applies to you, please don’t feel ashamed! Reaching out to an expert mental healthcare provider is the best way to manage your anxiety and start feeling more relaxed.
How to Cope With Anxiety Immediately
Now let’s talk about some good ways to cope with situational anxiety. Please note that these techniques are in no way substitutes for professional mental health care. They are, however, a great way to decompress when you’re feeling nervous or panicky. When you’re in a situation that has you feeling tense, take a minute to practice one or more of these relaxation techniques.
Deep Belly Breathing
How many times have you heard someone tell a nervous person to take a deep breath? As it happens, that’s pretty good advice. Taking a deep “belly” breath can help to activate your vagus nerve, which sends a message to your body to chill out. Now, you can’t really breathe into your belly, of course — your lungs are in your chest. What you can do is fully engage your diaphragm, the muscle underneath your lungs, with each breath. Try lying on your back and inhaling deeply, visualizing the air filling up your belly. You might place a hand over your belly button and think about sending your breath there. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, you can practice diaphragmatic breathing anywhere, from the driver’s seat to the dentist’s chair. Check out this video for a helpful demonstration of deep belly breathing.
Have you ever closed your eyes and pretended you were somewhere else (like a beautiful beach) to escape your present situation? If so, you’re already familiar with another one of the best coping techniques for anxiety: visualization. Visualization is when you imagine yourself in an environment that’s comfortable and relaxed — your very own “happy place.” It could be anywhere, and it’s entirely up to you to decide where you feel safe and happy. It might be somewhere in nature, a favorite room in your house, a beach, or even somewhere imaginary. You’ll want to practice “going” to this place on a regular basis so that you can familiarize yourself with how it feels to you. If you need some inspiration, you can check out this video.
When you need to distance yourself from a stressful situation, try employing the visualization technique. If you’re shaking like a leaf in the doctor’s waiting room, open an app like Calm, play some soothing music or nature sounds, and imagine yourself miles away. You won’t make the uncomfortable situation disappear, of course, but you should come through it more easily.
Here’s another way to reach a more grounded state when you’re feeling stressed. The 5–4–3–2–1 technique asks you to direct your mind away from your source of anxiety and focus on your sensory input. Using this technique, you’ll look for or acknowledge:
- Five things you can see, like the color of the wall you’re facing, the window, even your own hands
- Four things you can touch, like a piece of your clothing, your hair, or the fabric of the chair you’re sitting in
- Three things you can hear, like a ticking clock, the TV, or people’s conversations
- Two things you can smell, even if they’re somewhat nondescript, like the familiar smell of your office or kitchen
- One thing you can taste, like something you ate recently, chewing gum, or a breath mint
Check out this helpful video demonstration on using the 5–4–3–2–1 technique. It can help bring you back to the present moment and feel more centered.
Take Charge of Your Mental Health
Now that you know more about how to get rid of anxiety, you can use these effective strategies to stay more grounded and peaceful in your everyday life. Lowering your stress level can help you to live a fuller, happier, and more productive life. That said, if you find that you consistently feel plagued by anxiety or intrusive and unwanted thoughts, you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder. When that’s the case, it’s important that you discuss your concerns with a mental health professional so that you can determine a treatment plan that will help you thrive. The good news is that, in addition to expert care, these relaxation techniques can help you when you’re feeling overwhelmed. So remember to breathe, relax, and take great care of yourself.
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