Anxiety can easily be described as a problem with control. Suffering from anxiety means that you have a fight or flight system that is over-active, and you can't control your fears, your physical sensations, and more.
That's why it's so important to learn to control your anxiety. Anxiety control is something that you can do in the comfort of your own home with the right techniques. The following are 11 easy and effective ways to start controlling your anxiety now.
How Severe is Your Anxiety?
The more severe your anxiety, the harder it is to control. With our free 7 minute anxiety test, you can see your anxiety severity score, compare your anxiety to others, and receive recommended treatments.
A Comprehensive Solution to Anxiety
Before we begin, it should be noted that anxiety often needs a number of difference chances in order to control it, as well as techniques that can be complicated but still very effective. One of the best ways to find out more is by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test.
Note that there is also nothing wrong with seeking help. There are many people out there that are experts on stopping anxiety, and seeking help from them can be very valuable.
No Medicines - No Herbs
In addition, we're not going to go into medications here - not even herbal medicines. Medications tend to cause dependency, and even herbal medicines can have side effects. So we're going to focus on methodologies that you can use in the comfort of your own home. Those interested in medications should speak with their doctor, and those interested in herbs should research kava and passionflower separately.
Techniques to Control Anxiety
Jogging and Exercise
It all starts with exercise, and as much as most people have grown to hate that term there is no way around it. Exercise is a crucial component of a mentally healthy individual. Exercise - especially jogging, but all forms of exercise will do - provides several important tools necessary for controlling anxiety:
- It releases brain chemicals that provide relaxation and improve mood.
- It decreases the quantity of stress hormone in the body.
- It improves overall hormone balance.
- It tires muscles and makes for easier sleep.
If your goal is to control your anxiety, you simply have to start exercising. Studies have shown that there are ample benefits to exercising regularly with almost no consequences, and some studies have stated that exercise is as effective as some of the leading anti-anxiety medications.
Start jogging today, and that alone may be enough for you to see a significant difference.
While anxiety has a lot of different physical symptoms, the mental symptoms are often what seem the hardest to control. It's possible to ignore aches, pains, and nausea, but it's very hard to ignore thoughts that won't leave your head or worries that you try to convince yourself are irrational.
There are several reasons for this, but one of the reasons is because the mind has a tendency to want you to remember and focus on the things that you try to forget. You brain doesn't like the idea that you try to push something out of your conscious, so you're actually more likely to focus on worries that you have when you try to get rid of them.
Since you clearly want these thoughts to go away, one solution to this is to write all of the thoughts down. Not just stressful thoughts - any recurring thought that you cannot get out of your head. This is especially useful at night, when often you'll find you're thinking about things that aren't stressful but you cannot seem to stop thinking about them and go to sleep. Write out all of those thoughts in a journal, and your brain will relax knowing that they're in a permanent place.
The previous journal was designed to get you to stop thinking about negative things. But anxiety also causes you to focus on the negatives. This is actually an anxiety symptom - when your neurotransmitter levels change from anxiety, your thoughts naturally become more negative. It's not clear why this is, but it also seems natural so people don't realize it's happening.
If you can think more positively, you'll find some relief from the effects of negative thinking on anxiety. That's why you may want to start a positivity journal.
A positivity journal is a logbook of only the positive things that occurred to you throughout the day, with a pre-set minimum. The items must be specific to the day, as detailed as possible, and not at all passive aggressive. You also have to always meet the minimum.
Examples of good entries:
- The barista gave me my coffee for free today because I was nice to her.
- My boss complimented me on the project I finished.
- I received a phone call from an old friend just because she wanted to catch up.
Examples of the types of entries you should avoid:
- I woke up.
- My mom didn't call me which is good because I didn't want to hear from her.
- I didn't screw anything up too badly.
You want to fill this with a minimum of 10 to 15 entries every day from the "good" examples, not the "bad" examples. They don't have to be new every day (if you get new compliments from your boss, you can add them to the list) but they do have to be specific and positive, and you need to do this every day without fail.
The goal of this isn't just to think about the positives, which is important. The goal is so that each and every day you start noticing things to put in your journal. Filling out 10 to 15 positive things every day is hard. But the more you pay attention during the day, the easier it is. You'll find that over time you start to notice things better, remember them more, and your ability to recognize all of the positive things that happen will improve as a result.
Distractions are also an important part of controlling anxiety. Many people with anxiety want to spend time alone, but people actually cope with stress better in the long term if they remain mentally busy and less able to focus inside of their own thoughts.
On a daily basis, the best way to do this is to go out with friends, stay busy, and do things that are both healthy and make you happy. But let's say you don't have much time to go out or you can't find anyone else to spend time with. What can you do?
One strategy is to download hours upon hours of comedy and light hearted podcasts. Podcasts provide a mental distraction - even when you're not listening to them.
What makes podcasts different from music is that while music is amazing and can inspire emotion, most people's musical tastes aren't what they need to relax. Sad songs make you feel sad. Happy songs may not have the best beats/tones. Angry songs increase anxiety. Music is great, but most people's musical choices aren't ideal for dealing with anxiety.
In addition, the mind has an easier time tuning out music. Podcasts, on the other hand, are a valuable alternative. Podcasts are audio files that can be an hour long or more where people tend to simply be talking. While you mind does have the ability to tune out music, it doesn't appear to have the ability to tune out voices and talking.
Even when it plays in the background and you're not paying attention to it, your ears and mind are still taking in some of that information behind the scenes. As a result, these podcasts act as a mental distraction that prevents you from focusing as much on your anxious thoughts and feelings. Even when you go to sleep you can keep a podcast on, and simply keep the volume so low that you can barely make out the words. Many people will find that they have an easier time drifting off to sleep because they're less "in their own heads" about their anxiety.
Everyone's favorite anxiety reduction tool really does work. If you have a partner, talk to them about making love more often not just for your relationship, but also for your mental health.
People feel much less anxious when they've been able to enjoy lovemaking more often. It reduces tension between couples, and tends to have a very powerful effect on relaxation. If you have someone in your life that understands you have anxiety, mention to them that lovemaking really is a great anxiety reduction tool.
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Diet doesn't affect anxiety as much as most people claim. Diet can play a role, because eating healthier and being healthier certainly improve both your physical and mental health, but the difference isn't dramatic and anxiety rarely develops or is treated by diet alone.
But just because diet doesn't play a significant role doesn't mean that there aren't things you can do to help, and one suggestion is to consider adding magnesium supplements to your diet. Magnesium is an abundant mineral that has been processed out of most foods. The body requires it for numerous functions, and studies have confirmed that it has a relaxation effect.
Many people find that magnesium supplementation makes a surprising difference in their anxiety - especially for those that have severe and unusual physical symptoms. Stress also depletes magnesium levels so if you were already low in magnesium, your anxiety will make it worse. Strongly consider magnesium supplementation, as it may have a very powerful effect on your anxiety.
Similarly, one of the simplest strategies is also one of the best - drinking more water. The reality is that the vast majority of Americans are regularly dehydrated. Dehydration doesn't cause anxiety, but it does make anxiety symptoms worse, which makes anxiety harder to manage.
Start drinking more water today. Try to add at least two or three more glasses every day, and don't worry about urinating more - you'll urinate more in the beginning, but your body will eventually adjust to your extra water intake.
Fun Fact! Some studies show that those that drink more water start to retain less water, so weight loss may actually occur as a result of increasing your water intake.
If you can reduce the severity of your anxiety, you can often reduce the way it affects you in the future. This is especially true for those that experience anxiety attacks. So how do you reduce the severity of the attack?
The easiest way is simply to go for a walk and talk on the phone with someone you trust. While it may not sound like you're doing much, this activity provides several benefits for reducing anxiety:
- Talking on the phone is incredibly distracting to the mind.
- Talking to someone you trust improves relaxation.
- Walking stimulates blood flow and improves breathing habits.
- Walking provides visual, olfactory (smell) and tactile (touch) stimulation, which distracts the brain and makes it harder to focus anxiety.
All of your senses are being used, and you're engaged in an activity that makes it very hard to focus on your anxiety symptoms. Even though the symptoms will still be there, and you can't always stop an anxiety attack, the severity of the attack should decrease - which in turn decreases your fear of a future attack.
Another strategy that you should only consider if you're going to stick with it is known as desensitization. Desensitization is a process that utilizes your natural ability to get used to things that don't cause danger.
The mind has an incredible adaptive ability. Faced with something that caused fear for long enough and it will stop causing fear. It's why there are sometimes mice that befriend snakes. The mouse is initially afraid of the snake, but when the snake never attacks it, it eventually stops being afraid of the snake. Your brain does this regularly.
Think about cars. Cars should be scary. They're these large metal machines that go extremely fast and could cause significant damage. Chances are you're not afraid of cars, and one of the reasons you're not afraid of cars is because you saw cars everywhere around you, and they cause no danger, and you adapted. This happens at a very young age.
Now, you may wonder why this doesn't work with your fears. For example, if you have a fear of spiders, chances are you've never been significantly poisoned by a spider, and yet the fear remains. You see spiders, they don't hurt you, but you remain afraid of them. Why didn't it work?
It's because chances are you didn't stay with the spider looking at it, playing with it, and getting used to it. How could you - you were extremely afraid, and probably ran away or shrieked or had someone kill it. Studies have shown that in order to get used to something, or "desensitize yourself" to it, you can't avoid it, run away, or try to change it. That only reinforces the fear and makes it more likely that the fear will persist. Known as "avoidance behavior," this can actually make your anxiety worse.
That's why desensitization isn't for everyone. Once you start the process, you can't stop it until you're anxiety free.
Desensitization usually involves the following steps. These steps may take days, or even weeks, and should be repeated until you're comfortable enough to move forward. Let's look at a fear of spiders, for example:
- First you would sit and think about spiders. Continue thinking about them until thinking about them doesn't cause you to run away or experience fear anymore.
- Then you would look at pictures of spiders. Start with one picture and stare at it until it doesn't cause fear. Then look at another picture. Don't move on to another photo unless you don't experience fear looking at the photo. Sometimes it's useful to go back as well and make sure those photos continue to cause no fear.
- Move on to videos, doing the same process. Check out YouTube videos of spiders and watch the same video on repeat until you are ready to move on to another one.
- Watch a real spider. Have someone catch a spider and place it in a jar, and then watch the spider in the jar. It's okay to try smaller spiders and work your way up too.
- Let the spider free and watch it. Keep watching it until it doesn't cause anxiety.
- Touch a spider (or catch one yourself).
What may sound frightening will eventually be easy, and your mind will adapt to it. But you can't quit because you're too afraid. You need to only do this if you're confident that you can keep moving forward.
Desensitization can also be used in other ways as well. For example, if you get panic attacks when you feel dizzy, spin around in a chair until you get used to being dizzy. If you have a fearful thought, like in obsessive compulsive disorder, think the thought on purpose until it doesn't cause the same fear. Desensitization works in a variety of ways, and is a useful tool for anyone with anxiety.
New Anxiety Reduction Techniques
Find out some of the newest and most effective anxiety strategies by taking my free 7 minute anxiety test now, if you haven't yet.
Retrain Your Breathing
Breathing plays a significant role in the development of some of the worst anxiety symptoms, like chest pains and lightheadedness. These are the result of hyperventilation. Unfortunately anxiety can train your body to breathe inefficiently, causing more hyperventilation.
You can retrain your body to breathe better by taking slow, controlled breaths in a comfortable position every day. Breathe in through your nose for 5 seconds. Hold for 2 seconds. Then breathe out like you're whistling for at least 7 seconds.
Use this strategy if you're feeling the symptoms of hyperventilation, or if you simply want to calm your mind and body. Doing this every day may help retrain your body to breathe more efficiently, which can reduce daily anxiety levels.
You may have heard the term cognitive dissonance before, but if you haven't it's the mind's ability to change the way you think or feel when you have two conflicting ideas or beliefs. In other words, your mind doesn't like having two conflicting ideas so it actually changes the way you feel about something in order to compensate.
Studies have shown that behaviors do this as well. If you perform a behavior that conflicts with the way you feel, your mind will actually change the way you perceive the outcome. You can use this to your advantage.
Every day from morning until night time, act the way someone without anxiety would act. Fake it almost like you're an actor/actress in a play. Act as genuine as possible, so that someone meeting you for the first time wouldn't know you have anxiety.
This confuses the brain - you have anxiety, yet you are acting like someone that doesn't have anxiety. Confusion stresses the mind, so it will start to adapt to the way you're acting - not the way you're feeling. Some people find that many of their anxieties seem to decrease as a result of faking it.
Learn to Control Anxiety Today
These are just some of the ways that anxiety control really is something within your grasp. With the right decisions, you can drastically reduce your overall anxiety levels and ultimately stop your anxiety forever.
If you're looking for a more comprehensive strategy that can have you reducing your anxiety more and more with each passing day, make sure you take my free 7 minute anxiety test. This test is a valuable tool for learning more about your anxiety and how to treat it.
Start the test here, now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.