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How to Find Lasting Relief from Anxiety

Denise Griswold, MSc, LCAS
How to Find Lasting Relief from Anxiety

Anxiety is something that millions of people manage as best they can on a day to day basis. They go to work or spend time with their friends and family while doing anything they can to fight their anxiety back. Some days are better than others, and most people with anxiety can still lead close to normal lives, but all the while they're plagued by fighting their anxiety every day.

Anxiety isn't something you want to have to dedicate significant time to managing. It's something for which most people want to find a  cure. If you want to learn to reduce your anxiety and reduce the amount of ongoing effort it takes to manage, this is possible. With hard work and dedication you can experience significantly less impairment in your life and in some cases feel as if your anxiety has been “cured.” We'll explore how to do that in this article.

The Difference Between Coping and Managing 

“Coping” with your anxiety is when you implement skills and learn techniques to control your anxiety in certain situations or on certain days. You're "coping with it" on the days that you wake up feeling less anxiety than normal or manage to get through your day without an anxiety and panic attack. You know the anxiety is there, and you know that you deal with it daily, but there are times when it's a bit more controlled than others. 

When just coping with your anxiety you may even have an underlying uneasiness knowing that anxious feelings are likely to return or intensify. 

“Managing” your anxiety is when your anxiety no longer interferes with your daily life.  Some people even report feeling their anxiety has been eliminated permanently.  When you manage your anxiety  the feeling that your anxiety is going to affect you is lifted. While there may be a days where you experience normal levels of anxiety or stress, in your day to day life you no longer have to actively work to fight your anxiety. 

How to Manage Anxiety

It starts with commitment. There is no magic pill or miracle cure that can stop your anxiety overnight. If you're not committed to managing your anxiety than you'll never be able to truly get experience relief from it because anxiety is something you need to work on managing continuously until it loses its strength. 

The first step is to show a willingness to change things in your life that create anxiety. There are going to be some challenges and tough decisions - including reducing the time you spend with people that create anxiety and avoiding anxiety fueling activities - but those changes are going to have an effect in the long run.

Once you've shown a willingness  to make life changes and are committed to following through, you can work towards successfully managing your anxiety with the tools and techniques below:

Replacement Coping Tools

It's very important that you learn replacement methods of coping with anxiety. Anxiety itself is a problem with coping, and unfortunately many of the things people use to replace it or eliminate it in the short term (including drug or alcohol use, social withdrawal) are ineffective as an overall strategy.

What do we mean by ineffective?

Being alone can also be a great way to regroup, especially if you need some time to de-stress. Drinking and recreational drug use may produce a temporary calming effect. Neither self medication nor being isolated are long term solutions.

Managing isn't the type of behavior we normally think of when we talk about controlling our own anxiety. Instead it is a thinking behavior. Managing anxiety may be thought of as a mental ability or skill - one that you need to practice in order to create.

So when we talk about these tools, we're really talking about behaviors and activities that give you the best opportunity to re-learn how you respond to situations that produce anxiety. These are activities that provide you with healthy distractions, potentially with their own benefit on your anxiety. But always remember - these tools will not “cure” or always provide immediate relief. These are simply considered some of the most useful methods of helping your brain regain its natural balance and improve its ability to deal with anxiety producing situations.

These are just a few tools that can be used to manage anxiety These activities help distract you to the point where your brain is less focused on negative thinking and anxiety. This allows your brain time to re-learn the skills necessary to avoid falling into negative thinking traps in the future. Feel free to come up with your own ideas of distraction activities you can engage in. If you enjoy skipping rocks, for example, then to go the park or beach and start skipping rocks.

As long as the activity chosen does not cause anxiety and the enjoyment isn't simply due to masking your anxiety (for example, many people talk about ‘retail therapy’ and while shopping may provide temporary highs these people are using objects to dull the pain, rather than engaging in an activity that allows them to overcome the pain of anxiety), then it is a good strategy that may be a powerful way to start overcoming anxiety.

Facing the Anxiety Triggers

Another important component of managing anxiety is to learn to face your anxiety triggers and not fear the anxiety itself. The mind is remarkably adaptive. Studies have shown that placing a person in direct contact with a fearful stimulus causes them to adapt and get used to that stimulus over time.

They used to do this with a psychological technique known as "flooding," which has since fallen out of favor due to safety concerns but provides some useful insight into how the mind works. Flooding involves placing a person with a phobia in a room with the items they fear until they are no longer afraid. Someone with a deathly fear of spiders would be in a room filled with spiders. Someone with a fear of rats would be in a room filled with rats.

At first, people are so terrified they have horrific fear reactions, possibly even coming close to passing out. When they not allowed to leave the room, their minds adjust and the fear subsides. The mind doesn't want to stay "afraid" of some type of fear stimulus for lengthy periods of time, especially when nothing happens to support the fear. By the time they leave the room, they likely will no longer be afraid of the stimulus.

This type of activity is best done in the presence of an expert, because the person can monitor you to ensure that your fear isn't too strong as well as talk you down from any extreme fear you experience. But there are many ways that you can "face" your anxiety so that your mind doesn't find those fears as stressful. Some examples include:

These are examples of facing anxiety fears, and they can be very valuable ways to address and attack your anxiety. Alone they may not eliminate anxiety altogether, but combined with other useful tools they can be very powerful.

Changing Thoughts and Positive Thinking

Finally, to successfully manage your anxiety you're going to also need to learn how to change your thoughts and think positively. This can be extremely tough for people, which is why many people choose to enlist the help of a cognitive behavioral therapist. However, there are ways to change your thoughts without seeing a professional. Consider the following techniques:

These are all important steps for managing your anxiety long-term. They all give your mind something to focus on in your thoughts that go beyond your typical thought pattern that produces anxiety. 

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