Like getting your teeth cleaned at the dentist or forgetting your umbrella on the one day it downpours, occasional anxiety is a normal part of life. And while worrying is a completely natural reaction to stressful situations, anxiety disorders can amplify these feelings for some people.
In these cases, feelings of anxiety can be much more intense and persistent — seemingly small tasks and enjoyable activities like hanging out with friends (especially if you have social anxiety) can feel impossible at times.
But no matter how overwhelmed you get, it’s important to know that you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), roughly 31.1 percent of American adults experience an anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.
Anxiety disorders come in all shapes and sizes but even in the most severe cases, there are coping strategies you can develop to better tackle your feelings.
If anxiety makes your life feel out of control, one of the best things you can do is focus on what you can control. Fortunately, there are coping skills you can learn that will help keep your anxiety from taking the steering wheel from your hands.
Think of it this way: Anxiety may be that annoying backseat driver criticizing your driving skills, but that doesn’t mean you have to hand over the car keys.
Not sure where to start? Here are eight scientifically-backed skills you can leverage when you start to notice your anxiety creeping in:
Talk to a healthcare provider about your anxiety
Reframing your emotions
Opening up to others
Avoiding drugs and alcohol
Below, we'll unpack all of them so that you can prevent anxiety from taking the wheel.
First things first: If you think your anxiety (or any mental health disorder like depression, which shares similar traits) is getting in the way of everyday life, the most crucial step is finding a healthcare provider to speak to. They can give you expert guidance, which is much more effective than doomscrolling your symptoms at 1 a.m.
There’s a few different ways to approach this:
Get help online.
If you’re struggling and want to open up to someone, meeting virtually with a licensed therapist may feel less intimidating. Hers offers online therapy, so you can connect with a counselor from wherever is most convenient for you. Our platform also provides online psychiatry consultations, allowing you to access other types of mental health treatment, like medication.
Find a local mental health professional.
Of course, you can always meet with a mental health professional in-person if you’d prefer. The best way to start is to research mental health providers in your area to schedule an appointment. You can even find healthcare providers who specialize in different types of anxiety, like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or panic disorder, and can offer specific coping techniques.
Reach out to your primary care provider.
Connecting with your primary care provider is another great place to start as you already have an existing relationship with them. Based on your symptoms, they can make a medical diagnosis and help you develop an anxiety disorder treatment plan, which may include medication, counseling and/or psychotherapy like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
How many times have you found yourself in a panic and at least one person has immediately told you to “Just breathe”? While these two words are not a solution to finding your missing apartment keys, this person’s instincts are, in fact, correct.
If you’re feeling stressed, deep breathing is a popular powerful technique that you can do from anywhere to calm your anxiety. More specifically, the 4-7-8 breathing technique is a controlled breathing pattern that can be used to calm your mind, help your body relax and even help you sleep better.
Sleep deprivation can negatively impact your heart rate variability (HRV) and blood pressure, but a study concluded that using 4‐7‐8 breathing control can improve these outcomes among healthy young adults. That means that this type of breathing can help both your mental and physical health.
Diaphragmatic breathing, a relaxation technique that involves breathing into your stomach and not solely your chest, also has the potential to help anxiety. Research indicates that this type of breathing exercise can trigger relaxation responses in your body, which can ultimate benefit your physical and mental health by lowering stress hormones such as cortisol.
No matter which technique you use, in moments of distress, try to keep calm and breathe on.
Practicing mindfulness is about finding a mental state where you are focused on the present moment, allowing feelings and thoughts to pass through without judgment. Easier said than done, huh?
Here’s why it’s worth trying, though: Mindfulness meditation is yet another mechanism that can reduce negative thoughts and produce a more peaceful state of mind. Studies have shown that this technique can help decrease the intensity of anxiety, depression and severe stress.
Yoga therapy is another tool for practicing mindfulness. This type of therapy combines the physical components of yoga with various breathing techniques, like alternate nostril breathing, to help better regulate your emotions.
Of course, you can always practice good old-fashioned regular yoga, which is another grounding exercise used to reduce anxiety.
Learning mindfulness can be tricky, but like any muscle in your body, you have to exercise it. So give it a shot the next time life feels hectic and check out our mindfulness guide if you need more help getting started.
Sometimes, the best way to shake off anxious thoughts is to get your body moving. Whether it’s a spin class, an online yoga session or a stroll around your neighborhood, breaking a sweat is not only great for your physical health, but it’s also an excellent stress reliever.
Even better news: You don’t need to be a “gym rat” or a marathon runner in order to reap the mental health benefits of exercise. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), just 30 minutes of walking a day can have a significant boost on your mood.
So load up your playlist with your favorite songs, grab a friend and walk for any amount of time that feels right.
Bonus points if you’re able to get outdoors, as surrounding yourself with green spaces can lower stress levels, too.
In the meantime, check out our guide on exercise and mental health for more information on how staying active can help with other aspects of your life, like sleep and self-esteem.
A big part of managing mental illness is knowing when you need to reframe harmful, scary and uncomfortable emotions and thought patterns.
When you have feelings of anxiety, it can be easy to let negative emotions spiral out of control and tell you a narrative that simply isn’t true. To prevent this, it’s important to be able to look at situations –– including the ones that cause stress and frustration –– from another angle.
For example, if you get a poor grade on a test, you might have the instinct to (mentally) beat yourself up, making your anxiety symptoms even worse. To reframe these thoughts, try being generous and reminding yourself that you tried your best.
You can also stop yourself from falling into a negativity trap by finding a mantra for anxiety you can repeat. It might feel strange the first time you do it, but saying to yourself “I’ve been through this kind of experience before and I will be okay” — or any other similar phrase that speaks to you — can be a powerful reframing. By doing this, you’re building resiliency for similar situations in the future.
“Self-care” may seem like a buzzword used by influencers these days, but it’s truly one of the most important coping skills you can have. It means actively taking steps to take care of your well-being.
Self-care looks different for everyone, but it’s a skill everyone has to consistently practice. For some people, self-care is making sure their head hits the pillow by 10 p.m. every night or taking the time to prepare balanced meals that aren’t just frozen chicken nuggets. For others, self-care is punching it out at a boxing class, socializing with friends at happy hour or integrating certain relaxation techniques into their routines.
If you’re looking to build more healthy self-care habits, journaling for mental health can be a powerful place to start. Not only is journaling a great outlet for expressing your thoughts and emotions, but it can also reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Despite the fact that millions of Americans deal with anxiety on a daily basis, there’s still shame and stigma associated with this condition, making it hard to open up to others. It can also be difficult to maintain friendships when you’re dealing with anxiety.
For example, if you have a social anxiety disorder, parties and group settings might make you panic. If you decide to cancel plans because you’re worried about having a potential panic attack, you then might feel a sense of FOMO as you later watch your friends’ Instagram stories from your couch.
You might even worry that you’re being judged for not participating. These negative thoughts can make you question the strength of your friendships –– and maybe regret having canceled plans in the first place. It’s a lose-lose spiral.
It makes sense that people might feel the instinct to retreat when they’re feeling anxious. Mental illness can make you want to isolate yourself, but then you run the risk of magnifying your symptoms like the above scenario.
That said, one of the best coping skills you can deploy is opening up to your friends, loved ones and other people who care about your well-being, so they can lend the support you need. If you’re stuck on how to start this kind of conversation, check out this guide for how to tell someone you’re depressed, which can walk you through the process.
If you don’t feel quite comfortable talking to those who know you personally, that’s totally understandable. Anonymous support groups can help provide the support you need while adding a layer of privacy.
Occasionally engaging with alcohol and drugs might seem harmless enough, but if you have mental health issues, there’s a chance you could be making things worse.
There’s also substance use disorder (SUD), which is a mental disorder that impacts a person’s brain and behavior so they’re unable to control their use of substances.
It’s important to take stock of the substances you’re consuming and if they’re affecting your mental health in a negative way. If you feel like you have a problem, reach out to someone, be it a friend, medical professional or anonymous support group.
Living with anxiety can feel all-consuming –– but that doesn’t mean it has to consume you.
Luckily, there are coping mechanisms for anxiety you can add into your routine to make your day-to-day a bit easier. While coping skills by no means replace medication or therapy, they can make a big difference when dealing with anxiety symptoms.
Here are some takeaways to keep in mind as you get started:
Anxiety is super common. The reality is that everyone experiences anxious feelings and stressors on some level, from occasional anxiety about stressful situations to full-blown anxiety disorders. Just remember that you are not alone, no matter how isolated you may feel.
Talk to a healthcare provider. Don’t try to self-diagnose — instead, talk to a professional. Whether it's an online crisis counselor or in-person psychiatrist, they can give you medical advice and a personalized treatment plan. You can even start with a mental health consultation right here, if you’d like.
It may feel overwhelming, but it’s very treatable. In addition to the coping strategies for anxiety that you’re now equipped with, online therapy and medication are also options. As you take your next steps towards managing your anxiety, you can also check out our online mental health services for more information.
Dr. Beth Pausic is a clinical psychologist and oversees the therapy platform at Hims & Hers.
Prior to Hims & Hers, Beth worked in senior roles at several behavioral healthcare startups focused on the digital delivery of emotional support and treatment through both conventional and innovative approaches.
Her experience prior to working in telebehavioral health includes over 15 years as a Clinical Administrator and provider in diverse clinical settings. In her clinical work, she primarily focused on anxiety, depression and relationships.
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