Anxiety is an emotion that can affect us physically. Everyone deals with it at some point, and in many cases, it’s good: It can keep you alert during times of high stress and help you pass that exam or keep yourself on your A-game when it comes to negotiating with your boss. When anxiety lasts longer than the stressful situation, however, or if it becomes a chronic feeling, it’s time to take action. Here are six healthy strategies to cope with anxiety and stress so it does not become a problem that affects other facets of your life.
1. Take Good Physical Care of Yourself
When you aren’t in good physical health, it can be hard to stay in good mental health. Here are just a few things to consider when looking at your physical health.
Sleep – Think about how much more smoothly your day goes when you’re eating well and have gotten enough sleep the night before. Now consider how you feel when you only get a few hours of sleep and you have to hit the drive-through for lunch and dinner. When you have anxiety on top of poor eating and sleeping habits, it’s much harder to cope with what might be a fairly mild situation. Everything seems worse when you’re sleep-deprived and not eating properly.
Exercise – In addition, be sure to get the exercise that you need. Exercise in itself is a good way to keep both anxiety and depression at bay. Find something active to do each day. It can be as simple as going for a walk or going dancing. If you don’t have time to spend 30 to 60 minutes on a physical activity, you can break it up; as little as 10 minutes of activity three times per day can be enough to meet your need for exercise. Try getting in a 10-minute walk before work, walking for 10 minutes on your lunch break, and take an additional 10 minutes to take the dog for a quick walk when you get home.
2. Try Breathing and Muscle Relaxation Exercises
You’ve probably heard the advice to just count to ten when you’re feeling stressed out. Focusing on counting or your breathing can help you calm down enough to put things into perspective and cope with anxiety. When you are under a lot of anxiety, the physical symptoms include:
- sweaty palms
- a racing heartbeat
- shortness of breath
- a stomachache
- a feeling of doom
These happen because of the adrenaline and other hormones pumping through your system. Since generalized anxiety doesn’t usually cause you to have to fight off a wild animal or run for your life, you don’t need these physical reactions, and they can be disconcerting.
Breathing in a controlled manner and concentrating on relaxing your muscles can help dissipate these feelings and reactions. Try inhaling for five seconds, holding for five seconds, exhaling for five seconds, and holding for five seconds, then repeating. You can also try diaphragmatic breathing, which helps you avoid hyperventilation. Progressive muscle relaxation is another strategy that can help you focus inward instead of on what’s bothering you. You can look for guided meditation CDs or videos, too.
3. Focus on the Positive
Do you tend to be an optimistic or a pessimistic person? If you tend to see the glass as half-empty, you might be focusing on the negative too much. This can make it harder to cope with anxiety and stress. Instead, try to focus on things that are positive.
Of course, when you are in the midst of anxiety, it can be difficult to find the silver lining. Try starting a gratitude journal. Over the course of a day, even when you are in a tough situation, there are small and large things to be grateful for. It might be as important as the health of your children, or it might be something relatively trivial, like the gas tank being full on a morning when you’re in a hurry and wouldn’t have time to stop at the gas station. Keep a record of the things that you are thankful for and watch your attitude turn around.
4. Learn to Cope With Triggers
Everyone has situations that tend to trigger anxiety and stress. Your triggers might not be the same as someone else’s. Figure out what makes you feel that tension in the pit of your stomach, then think of ways to cope with them. In some cases, avoidance might be the best way to cope. In others, desensitizing yourself to the issues might be a better plan. It might help to talk to a therapist about ways to help yourself cope with the situations that give you the most stress.
5. Cultivate Supportive Relationships With Others
Having people to talk to and bounce ideas off of can give you the support system you need to cope with anxiety and stress. If you don’t have supportive relationships with your family members and close friends, consider joining a support group. You can find support groups online, or you can look for one that meets in-person. For the latter, ask a counseling center if they have support groups run by the professionals. Another option is to ask at your church or other house of worship if they have peer-led or clergy-led support groups for various topics.
6. Get Mental Health Care
If you are having trouble coping with your anxiety, professional help is available. First, consider seeing your physician; sometimes health conditions can mimic anxiety disorders, and it’s important to rule those out. If you get the all-clear from your doctor, make an appointment with the mental health professional of your choice. A counselor is usually the first line of attack against anxiety; if it turns out that you need more specialized care, a psychologist or psychiatrist can be consulted.
Learning to cope with anxiety is one part of taking care of yourself. Remember that your mental health is as important as your physical health, so take your anxiety seriously. If it’s impacting your life, know that you can change things. Seek the help that you need to put your own well-being first and stop anxiety in its tracks.
Paradigm Malibu is an adolescent mental health and drug treatment center dedicated to identifying, understanding and properly treating the core issues that impact teens and their families.