Anxiety is something that can benefit from professional help. Professionals are experts at working with your symptoms, especially if you've tried everything and cannot seem to get your anxiety under control.
But few people want to see a professional - especially when there are self-help techniques available for anxiety and panic attacks that can be completed in the comfort of your own home, and are far more affordable. Below, we'll review some of the easiest ways to reduce anxiety without seeing a psychologist.
Self Help for Anxiety?
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The Basics of Self-Help Techniques
The following are individual self-help techniques that are extremely valuable for curing anxiety. But ideally, you need to consider a more comprehensive at home strategy that will effectively reduce your anxiety symptoms. Find out how by first taking my free anxiety test.
Each of the following strategies is known to reduce anxiety. Some of them are variations of what you would do in the psychologist's office. Others are strategies that you may not have realized are potent tools for anxiety.
Self Help For General Anxiety
There are many different ways to try to address your anxiety. The following are some of the most effective techniques for treating your generalized anxiety disorders. After we review these strategies, we'll take a look at other self-help techniques for panic disorder, which often requires very different solutions than other forms of anxiety.
Many people suffer from anxiety symptoms but do not necessarily have any specific fears or issues. They're simply anxious, either physically or mentally.
But for those that do have fears, desensitization is the act of mentally "getting used to" the fear so that it no longer causes fear. Let's look at some examples:
- Those with recurring thoughts that they cannot control (known as obsessions, a hallmark of obsessive-compulsive disorder) often develop a fear of that thought. Studies have shown that by sitting in a comfortable environment and purposely thinking those thoughts will end up causing the thoughts to become boring. Eventually, they won't cause fear, and the person will think about them less.
- Those with panic attacks that are triggered by some type of physical sensation, like feeling dizzy, experience a rush of fear when faced with that sensation. So to fix it, the person can continually subject themselves to that sensation over and over again (in the case of feeling dizzy, by spinning themselves around in a chair) until it doesn't cause any anxiety.
- Those with phobias may need to take a longer, systematic approach, but still approach it the same way. For example, if you have a fear of snakes, you first think about snakes until those thoughts cause less fear. Then you look at a photo of a snake until it doesn't cause fear. Then you watch a video of a snake until it doesn't cause fear, and finally try to be in the same room as a snake until it doesn't cause fear. Feel free and spread it out over multiple days, or try multiple photos/videos/snakes.
This type of strategy is often used in cognitive behavioral therapy, but it can also be completed in the comfort of your own home. However, there is a caveat - if you decide to use this strategy, you cannot quit or take a break. That can cause what's known as "negative reinforcement," which could actually make the fear worse.
But if you're ready to commit to this type of self-help treatment, you'll find that those individual fears improve in no time. Try to repeat the process every once in a while in order to make sure the fear never comes back.
Exercise has become "that dreaded word." You hear it every day, with everyone recommending fitness as an important part of aging, staying fit, and staying healthy. You probably shrugged them off.
But what you may be surprised to learn is that some studies that compared intense exercise to anxiety medications in terms of their ability to reduce anxiety symptoms, and these studies found that the two are comparable.
Why would exercise reduce anxiety? The answer is actually a combination of a variety of factors:
- Natural Painkillers When you exercise intently, your body releases painkillers in your brain to make sure that you don't experience too much discomfort. These painkillers, known as endorphins, are actually the same exact chemicals that create a "good feeling" and relaxed mood. So while your body isn't technically trying to make you feel good, exercise acts very similarly to an anxiety drug.
- Reduced Symptom Severity Many of the symptoms of anxiety are also reduced simply because of the effects exercise has on the body. Muscle tension is harder when your muscles are relaxed after exercise. Unused energy doesn't get placed in negative areas because there is less unused energy. Sleep is easier because your body needs to rest to recover from the exercise, and so on. There is evidence that when the symptoms of anxiety are weaker, you actually experience less anxiety in the future because coping becomes easier.
- Burned Stress Hormone While the science on this is unclear, there appears to be some evidence that when you exercise, you actually burn away cortisol - the stress hormone responsible for most of anxiety's worst long-term symptoms. Whether this is entirely true is debated, but the potential is certainly there.
All of this ignores many of the other smaller benefits, such as engaging in healthy distracting activities, getting outdoors, and improving your heart health - all of which can affect your anxiety levels. Exercise may be for physical fitness, but there is simply no denying that it can have a powerful effect on mental health as well.
Another self-help strategy strongly worth considering is a thought journal. Thought journals are areas where you both write out any thought that is bothering you (even if it is not an anxiety thought) so that you can keep track of it and examine it.
Much of anxiety is spent trying not to have anxious thoughts or feelings. Very often the individual does whatever they can to push those thoughts and feelings away, hoping to be free of their anxiety. This doesn't work, and it also ignores a very important part of controlling anxiety - learning to re-think your thought processes.
That's where a thought journal comes in. Rather than try to fight your thoughts away, you can write them all out in a journal. This has several advantages for those living with anxiety:
- Research has shown that when you write out thoughts, your brain doesn't focus on them as much. This is believed to be because the mind knows when a thought is in a permanent place, so it doesn't feel as pressured to remember it.
- Writing out the thoughts can be a therapeutic activity. It gives you an important break from the thought by focusing your attention on an activity and allows you to process it rather than simply feel the anxiety of it. It also forces you to think about it, which studies have shown is actually an important tool for fighting its severity.
- Many of the fears of anxiety are irrational. Writing them out forces you to really think about them. Even though you know they're irrational, they often feel very real. However, when you go through the slow process of writing out your thoughts, you'll often find that you start to see how irrational they become. You can also follow that up by writing out all of the reasons the thought is irrational so that you start to change your mindset on these types of issues.
Writing out your thoughts in a journal is incredibly therapeutic, and definitely something worth considering. There is also another variation of this type of self-help strategy that can be very valuable, known as "positivity journaling."
Anxiety creates a considerable amount of negative thinking. It's actually a symptom of anxiety since the changes in your brain chemistry cause you to translate information more negatively. Unfortunately, that negativity actually fuels anxiety further, making it harder to stop anxious thoughts.
So one strategy designed to create positive thinking is to start "positive journaling." Every day, write down 10 to 20 specific, positive and happy things that happened that day. You have to set a high minimum and force yourself to reach that minimum every day, without skipping a day.
Eventually, your mind - knowing that you have to fill in 10 things - starts to notice all of the positive things because it's trained to figure out what goes in the journal, and in the end, you'll find that you have an easier time thinking positively as a result. While separate from a thought journal, this is another type of journal that has been popular in the past.
Self-Help for Panic Attacks and Panic Disorder
Living with panic attacks is incredibly difficult. Fortunately, there are panic attack self-help tips that can potentially stop you from experiencing further panic attacks, and while sometimes additional help is necessary, these tips alone can help some people stop their anxiety altogether.
Comprehensive Self Help for Panic Attacks
While these individual tips are valuable, there are more comprehensive ways to cure panic attacks and keep them from coming back. Find out more by taking my free 7-minute anxiety test.
The goal of this is to show some of the more valuable ways to prevent anxiety on your own. But there are of course the basic tips - tips that are important for reducing panic. For example:
- Face Fears It's very important that you don't let panic attacks stop you from anything. If you run away from places that cause panic attacks or withdraw after them you reinforce the panic attacks and possibly make them worse.
- Sleep Sleep may seem like silly, easy advice, but for panic attacks, it is especially important. Sleep renews the body's neurotransmitters which are important for preventing panic, and a lack of sleep has a tendency to cause physical symptoms that trigger panic attacks.
- Exercise Exercise releases positive feeling neurotransmitters in the brain that improve mood and reduce muscle tension in a way that can prevent triggers. Exercise and long-term jogging have been tested against some anxiety medications and shown to be as good or better.
So these basic tips may seem easy and simple, but they are more important than you may realize and few people with panic attacks actually follow them. Make sure you do. Still, if you're looking for better strategies, the following are helpful self-help tips for fighting panic attacks.
Exposure to Triggers
The first is exposing yourself to panic attack triggers. Panic attacks are often triggered by different physical sensations - most of which are similar to the ones that occur during a panic attack, and in some people create a rush of anxiety that a panic attack is incoming.
But if you expose yourself to those triggers on purpose, you can start to reduce the amount of anxiety you feel when they occur, because you'll be more used to them. For example:
- Nausea - Spin in a chair.
- Chest Pains and Trouble Breathing - Hyperventilate on purpose.
- Rapid Heartbeat - Drink lots of coffee (if possible).
Some of these can be unhealthy for those that have asthma, breathing problems, etc., so always talk to your doctor before you try any of them. But by exposing yourself to the feelings that trigger panic for long enough, you can eventually prevent anxiety from flowing when you do experience them.
Breathing issues cause most of the worst panic attack symptoms. When you have anxiety, your body tends to breathe faster and less efficiently. Your body is preparing to run away, but since you never run that preparation causes you to breathe out more carbon dioxide than you create, creating what's known as "hyperventilation."
Hyperventilation causes some of the worst panic attack symptoms, including:
- Chest pains
- Difficulty Breathing
- Feelings of Faint
- Muscle Weakness
Unfortunately, hyperventilation also tends to make someone feel like they aren't getting enough air, rather than not getting enough carbon dioxide, so they tend to breathe faster and deeper instead of slower and calmer.
That's why it's so important to try to breathe better when you have panic attacks. You need to slow down your breathing as much as possible, while still creating a controlled breath. Try to take as long as 15 seconds for each breath, 4 breaths per minute. Take 5 seconds to breathe in through your nose, hold for about 2 seconds, and then breathe out slowly for 7 seconds through your lips like you're whistling.
You can't generally stop hyperventilation when it starts, but you can reduce the severity of it. Any time you notice hyperventilation symptoms occurring, make sure you start taking these breaths.
Panic attacks tend to occur because people become too "in their own head." They monitor their whole body, they let their thoughts run wild, and they withdraw and let their anxieties go out of control. The less you're in your own head, the easier it is to control your panic.
But for many, getting out of your head is easier said than done. You need activities that are effective for making sure you don't let your mind take control of you. Some ideas that work include:
- Calling Someone Calling someone on the phone, especially while going for a short walk, can be very helpful. It's hard to talk to someone on the phone and still be in your own head, and if you're going for a walk at the same time you can get your blood moving and breathe more efficiently. Immediately call someone when you feel an attack coming on and you'll be much less likely to have a severe attack.
- Doing a Puzzle Puzzles, especially if you can do them with someone else, are also valuable ways to distract your mind. Doing a puzzle can be very difficult if you don't get out of your own head, so being involved in one can be beneficial.
- Positive Technology Some people also find that surrounding yourself with positive technology can be very helpful. By positive technology, we're talking about things that make you feel happy, not sad or stressed. This includes upbeat music, funny and light-hearted TV shows, humorous podcasts, and more, while also staying away from anything that could cause stress. Normally technology can increase anxiety, but if you surround yourself with it, it can be enough of a mental distraction that your panic attacks may decrease overall.
- Spinning Rings - Consider purchasing a ring or spinner ring and slowly twisting that ring if you're going through a panic attack alone and/or unable to call someone. Spin the ring slowly, and while you're spinning use it as a reminder of how to breathe better. By focusing your mind on an activity (spinning the ring), and helping yourself remember how to reduce symptoms through better breathing, you create an environment that will cause you less serious attacks.
These aren't perfect strategies, but spending time with friends and talking as much as possible while also doing healthy activities is a great way to make sure that you can't spend too much time lost in your own thoughts, which can decrease the severity of any of your panic attacks.
Self Help for Anxiety and Panic
It is possible to address your anxiety and panic on your own. Although it can be helpful to have a professional guide you through it, if you are able to commit to your own strategies for fighting anxiety you should find that you can eliminate your anxiety and panic attacks on your own, in your own time.
To learn more about fighting your panic attacks, start by taking the CalmClinic free 7-minute anxiety test today.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Apr 04, 2018.