Anxiety can easily be described as fear of a perceived threat that is not actively at risk of causing harm to the individual. What makes this anxiety is the deleterious effect it has on a person’s ability to go through their daily activities.
Essentially, anxiety sufferers have a “fight or flight” system in overdrive, causing them to not control their fears, physical sensation, and even more. The “fight or flight” system occurs whenever your body perceives danger, whether real or not. During this episode, your body makes the decision to either stay and “fight” the potential threat or to flee (“flight”) from the situation.
The impact anxiety can have on one’s life is the why it is so important to learn proper coping skills to control 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.
A Comprehensive Solution to Anxiety
This list should not stop anyone from seeking professional advice and/or treatment that can prove to be very valuable. There are numerous resources and experts available that can assist with coping with anxiety, including recommending specific therapies or medications. Only a trained professional can recommend options like medications, herbs, and other interventions that can and should only be guided by experts.
Techniques to Control Anxiety
Jogging and Exercise
Exercise remains one of the most reliable treatments to combating anxiety and its symptoms. Even though individuals might be adverse to exercise, it serves as a crucial component of maintaining a healthy lifestyle - both physically and mentally. In all forms, exercise provides several biological benefits to improving and 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 regular exercise with very limited consequences; other studies have even stated that exercise can be as effective as consuming anti-anxiety medications.
A simple exercise regimen might be all you need to begin seeing a significant difference in anxiety.
While anxiety can present as various physical symptoms, the mental manifestations can be the hardest to control. Patients can often ignore the physical symptoms of aches, pain, and nausea; however, they find it quite difficult to overlook lingering thoughts of worry or having to convince themselves to avoid irrational thinking.
It is hypothesized that the mind has a tendency to want to remember and focus on things you try to forget. Your brain does not like and/or understand why you would want to push something out of your consciousness, and it overcompensates by making you worry about the topic even more. This is why you are more likely to focus on your worries despite trying not to worry.
One solution is to write down all of your thoughts. This does not refer to only stressful thoughts, but instead any recurring theme or idea that you cannot seem to rid yourself of. This is especially useful at night when you cannot pinpoint why you keep thinking about the same non-stressful idea. The action of writing down these thoughts might relax your brain since it knows your ideas are in a permanent spot.
The previous journal was designed to get you to stop thinking about recurring thoughts, but it did not focus on avoiding negative thoughts. Unfortunately, anxiety is commonly known for causing its sufferers to focus on negative thoughts and habits. Neurotransmitters in the brain begin fluctuating in the amount of chemicals they produce when anxiety becomes a permanent fixture. This just causes your thoughts to become more negative with time. It also happens so seamlessly that sufferers often down even realize it is happening.
If you can think more positively, you will find some relief from the effects of negative thinking on your life. That is 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 requirements.
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 did not call me, which is good, because I did not want to hear from her.
- I did not screw anything up too badly.
You want to fill this with a minimum of 10 to 15 entries every day from the "good" examples. They do not have to be new everyday (if you get new compliments from your boss, you can add them to the list), but they do have to be specific and positive. The biggest factor is you need to do this every day without fail.
The goal of this is not to just to think about the positives (which are important); instead it is begin noticing all the good things that occur each every day that belong 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 will 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. However, people actually cope with stress better in the long-term if they remain mentally stimulated and less engulfed in 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 what do you do if you do not have much time to go out or you cannot find anyone to spend time with?
One strategy is to download hours of comedy and light-hearted podcasts. Podcasts provide a mental distraction - even when you are not listening to them.
So why listen to podcasts instead of music? While amazing, most people’s musical tastes do not qualify as relaxing. Songs are emotions and can drag you into whatever theme the current song is playing. For example, sad songs make you feel sad. Happy songs may not have the most relaxing beats/tones. Angry songs may increase anxiety. Music is great, but most people's musical choices are not ideal for coping or managing anxiety.
In addition, the mind has an easier time tuning out music. Podcasts, on the other hand, are a valuable alternative. They are audio files that vary in length and simply consist of individuals discussing various topics. While our minds have the ability to tune out music, it does not appear to have the ability to tune out voices and talking.
Even when it is being played in the background, your ears and mind still continue to stay alert to some of the information being heard. As a result, podcasts serve as a mental distraction that prevents you from focusing on negative or irrational thoughts. Some people have even noticed reduced times when it comes to falling asleep simply by playing podcasts at extremely low volumes when going to bed. While, they cannot hear the words, it preoccupies their minds enough to drown out any distracting thoughts.
Sex really does reduce anxiety. If you currently have a partner, have a conversation explaining that you want to make love more often for not only your relationship but also to improve your mental health.
People tend to feel less anxious when they have sex more frequently. Not only does it reduce stress between couples, but it also has a tremendous effect on relaxation. If you have someone in your life who understands the role that anxiety plays in your life, consider mentioning to them how safe, romantic sex serves as a great anxiety reduction tool.
Diet does not affect anxiety as much as most people claim it does. Diet, however, can play a role, because eating healthier foods can certainly improve both your physical and mental health. The difference it can cause remains minimal, and anxiety rarely develops or resolves by dietary changes alone unless you struggle with significant deficiencies.
Just because diet does not play a significant roles does not mean there are not things you can do to help improve anxiety. It is suggested to consider 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.
Some individuals have found that magnesium supplementation has made semi-significant differences in their anxiety, especially those who suffer from severe or unusual physical symptoms. Stress also depletes serum magnesium levels, which can cause heightened anxiety symptoms if your baseline magnesium was already low. So consider magnesium supplementation, as it may have an 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 does not cause anxiety, but it does make anxiety symptoms worse and harder to manage.
So how can you combat this? Start drinking more water today. Try to add at least two or three more glasses every day, and do not worry about urinating more. You will urinate more in the beginning, but your body will eventually adjust to your extra water intake. If you were already urinating more frequently before increasing your water intake and this does not appear to quench your thirst, you should consider going to see your primary care physician.
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 are 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 on anxiety.
All of your senses are being used, and you are engaged in an activity that makes it very hard to focus on your anxiety symptoms. Even though the symptoms will still remain, 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 are going to stick with it is known as desensitization. Desensitization is a process that utilizes your natural ability to get used to things that do not cause danger.
The mind has an incredible adaptive ability. When faced with something that initially causes fear for an extended period of time, desensitization will eventually cause your brain to stop fearing it. This is why there are sometimes mice that befriend snakes. The mouse is initially afraid of the snake but was never attacked; eventually, the mouse stops being afraid of the snake and befriends it. Your brain does this regularly.
Think about cars. Cars should be scary. They are these large metal machines that go extremely fast and could cause significant damage. Chances are you are not afraid of cars, and one of the reasons is because you saw cars everywhere around you growing up. You have since realized that cars no longer cause danger; you adapted.
Now, you may wonder why this does not work with your fears. For example, if you have a fear of spiders, chances are you have never been poisoned by a spider; yet the fear remains. You encounter spiders on a pretty regular basis, but you still remain scared. Why did adaptation not happen here?
The answer is that you never stayed around long enough to really engage and play with the spider. How could you? Instead you probably ran, shrieked, and called someone over to kill it.
Studies have shown that in order to get used to something or "desensitize” yourself to it, you cannot 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 is why desensitization is not for everyone. Once you start the process, you can not stop it until you are anxiety free.
Desensitization usually involves the following steps. These steps may take days or even weeks, and should be repeated until you are comfortable enough to move forward. Let us look at a fear of spiders, for example:
- First, you would sit and think about spiders. Continue thinking about them until thinking about them does not 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 does not cause fear. Then look at another picture. Do not move on to another photo until you no longer experience fear while looking at the photo. Sometimes it is 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 is okay to try smaller spiders and work your way up to bigger ones.
- Let the spider free and watch it. Keep watching it until it does not 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 cannot quit out of fear. You need to only do this if you are confident that you can keep moving forward. Desensitization works in a variety of ways, and is a useful tool for anyone with anxiety.
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 ineffectively, worsening 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 are whistling for at least 7 seconds.
Use this strategy if you are 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 have not, do not worry. Cognitive dissonance is 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 does not 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 are an actor/actress in a play. Act as genuine as possible, so that someone meeting you for the first time would not know you have anxiety.
This confuses the brain - you have anxiety, yet you are acting like someone that does not have anxiety. Confusion stresses the mind, making it adapt to the manner that you are acting - not the way you are 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 control your anxiety.