Anxiety plagues everyone from time to time. If you are feeling overwhelmed with deadlines, expectations, and a to-do list a mile long, it’s time to take control of your anxiety. Check out this list of simple activities you can do right now to help ease anxiety and give you back your serenity. Of course, if you are dealing with anxiety that is impacting your daily life, it might be time to see your doctor to be evaluated for an anxiety disorder or to talk about medical options. But if your worries are just a nagging nuisance, here are some ways to get them to pipe down and leave you alone.
1. Go Out and Play
If you have children (your own or kids in your neighborhood) or pets (again, you can borrow one), getting outside and playing with them can help ease anxiety temporarily. You’ll exercise, you’ll get fresh air, you’ll laugh, and you’ll have fun; all of these can reduce anxiety on their own. Also, if you’re spending time with your own kids or your own pets, you’ll likely reduce any guilt you have over not spending time with them. Try to make this a habit!
2. Schedule Your Worry Time
It might sound counterproductive, but scheduling 15 minutes per day where you sit and ruminate on all of your worries can help you reduce your anxiety at other times of the day. At other times, when worries crop up, simply write them down. Keep a list to worry about during your regularly scheduled time. Before or after dinner is a good time to do this; it’s well enough into the day so enough anxieties will have build up for you to make a good list, but it’s not too close to bedtime, where lingering concerns could cause insomnia. Once “worry time” is over, put the list away and vow not to think about it until the next day.
3. Take a Nap
When we are sleep deprived, anxiety tends to run amok. If you haven’t gotten a good night’s sleep, try to find 20 minutes for a power nap. Don’t sleep too long because that can negatively impact the next night’s sleep. Just lay down in a cool, dark room (reclining in your car will do in a pinch), set your phone’s timer for 20 minutes, and grab a cat nap to boost your mood and ease anxiety. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep every night to ward off sleep deprivation-related anxiety.
4. Go for a Walk
If work is getting you down, one way to ease anxiety is to excuse yourself and go for a brisk walk outside. The sunshine and fresh air will do you good and the movement itself will help you take your anxiety down a notch. While you walk, try listening to upbeat music to put yourself in a better mood. Stepping away from the situation that is stressing you out can give you some new perspective and ease your worries.
5. Watch a Funny Movie
Laughter truly is the best medicine and it can ward off worries easily and pleasantly. Hit up the local movie theater for a matinee or see what types of funny movies are playing on Netflix. If you don’t have time for a full movie, consider a few minutes of a stand-up comedy routine that you find on YouTube. Or call a funny friend. Anything that tickles your funny bone can drive your anxieties away.
You’ve probably heard the advice to “count to ten” when you’re under stress. Taking a few minutes to focus on your breathing can reverse panic attack symptoms, which might occur when anxiety levels are high. If you feel your heart pounding and you are breathing heavily during a stressful situation, find a place to sit down. Close your eyes and breathe in slowly through your nose for the count of four. Hold for four seconds, then breathe out slowly for the count of four. Again, hold for four seconds, then inhale slowly again. You can add one second each time you complete a full cycle. This will give you something else to focus on and will bring your anxiety level down a few notches.
7. Make a List
Feeling overwhelmed and anxious is often made worse by trying to keep everything straight that needs to be done. Rather than think about these tasks, make a to-do list. Once you can see what you need to accomplish, choose the most important or urgent item to focus on. Once it’s done, cross it off and choose the new most important or urgent item.
If to-do lists tend to make you more anxious, make your list, then take the two or three most urgent matters to focus on in the next hour or a few hours, depending on how long the tasks will take. Knowing that everything else is written down and that you’ll get to it in time can reduce your anxiety about forgetting something.
8. Take a Day Off
If you can, schedule yourself a day off during stressful, anxiety-provoking times. This doesn’t only apply to work; if you have young children, plan for a babysitter or mother’s helper to come over for an afternoon to entertain them so you can take a bubble bath and a nap or so you can read a book or just go for a drive. If you have older kids, try to get a friend to pick them up after school so you can just relax for a few hours. Return the favor another day. If you’re in the midst of a busy time, looking forward to a day off, even if it’s a few weeks away, can keep you calm.
When you are dealing with stress, anything you can do to turn around your attitude will often help ease anxiety levels. Remember to check with your doctor or make an appointment with a mental health professional if you are finding yourself worried more often than not. But try these self-help activities in the meantime to help you calm down, focus on what’s important, and stop worrying.
Dr. Nalin is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist, and Founder and Executive Director of Paradigm Treatment Centers, who has been a respected leader in the field of adolescent mental health for more than 20 years. He received his undergraduate degree from the University of Southern California, his Master’s degree from Loyola Marymount University, his Doctoral degree from Pacific University’s APA approved Clinical Psychology program, and completed his training at the University of California, San Diego’s APA approved psychology internship program.
Dr. Nalin has provided training and mentoring to students entering the field of psychology at institutions of learning including Pepperdine University’s Graduate School of Education and Psychology, UCSD, Pacific University, and Santa Monica College. He was also instrumental in the development of the treatment component of Los Angeles County’s first Juvenile Drug Court, which now serves as a national model.
Dr. Nalin has appeared as an expert on shows ranging from CBS News and Larry King, to CNN, The Today Show and MTV. He was also featured in an Anti-Drug Campaign for the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP).
Dr. Nalin is a Diplomate of the National Institute of Sports Professionals and a Certified Sports Psychologist as well as a Certified Chemical Dependency Intervention Specialist. He lectures and conducts workshops nationally on the issues of teen mental health, substance abuse prevention, and innovative adolescence treatment.
In 2017 Dr. Nalin was awarded The Sigmund Freud Foundation and Sigmund Freud University’s Distinguished Achievement Award in recognition of his work with youth in the field of mental health over the course of his career.