21 Ways to Effectively Manage Anxiety to Improve Mental Health | Erica Ives
21 Ways to Effectively Manage Anxiety to Improve Mental Health
Learning to effectively manage your anxiety means you are taking steps to improve your mental health. According to anxiety.org, anxiety is the mind and body's reaction to stressful, dangerous, or unfamiliar situations. It is the feeling of excessive worry, dread, distress, or uneasiness that many people experience before a significant event.
Below is a list of 21 ways to effectively manage anxiety to improve mental health. Mental health is something we all have and with more understanding, the concepts of mental health and mental illness can bring us together instead of tearing us apart. Use this list as a starting point and continually add on throughout your life journey. Different tools work at different times and you have to find what works for YOU. And make sure to share this with others.
1. Adapt to the here and now.
Anxiety is a future-oriented state of mind about what might or could happen. Depression is more about the past, what already happened. With that being said, it is important to get you back into the here and now, into the moment versus focused on the past or the future.
2. Reframe the occurrence.
Cognitive reframing is shifting your perception and the lens in which you are viewing yourself, others, or the world around you. Remind yourself that this is a temporary state of mind and if I walk through it instead of around it, over it, or under it, the anxiety will pass.
3. Reality check yourself
Reality testing can be a very effective way to challenge and replace your anxious thoughts. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings and then ask yourself how grounded in reality these thoughts are. Is your anxiety causing you to focus on the worst potential outcome? Ask yourself if there is evidence to support this belief.
4. Breathe… breathe… and breathe again.
Take some deep and cleansing breaths to help you calm yourself. All you have to do is inhale and exhale. You do it all the time to stay alive, the only difference is now you are being encouraged to focus on it. Focusing on the breath can slow down the attention on the anxiety-provoking thoughts.
5. Get grounded.
Scan your environment and acknowledge, even say aloud, what you see as a grounding technique. Name an object, identify the color, the shape, and even the texture. Touch the object and identify the texture. Does this object have a sound?
6. Distract yourself.
Stand up, do some jumping jacks, talk, throw away a piece of trash, open a book, put on some music. While there are healthy distractions, there are also unhealthy distractions. These are impulsive behaviors that have potentially negative consequences such as shopping and spending money. Anything in excess can be dangerous and distractions can become a means of avoidance. Make a list of distractions that come to mind and take the time to carefully evaluate.
7. Take a mindful walk.
Sometimes, when you’re experiencing anxiety, it’s because of a buildup of excess energy. Taking a mindful walk means paying attention to your surroundings. We don’t realize how much time we spend walking, even walking from the car into the grocery store. Believe it or not, these brief walks can also be an opportunity for a mindful walk. Walking outside in the fresh air and connecting to nature, even if for a short time, can also improve your well-being.
8. Open up your chest and stretch.
Often when we become anxious, we slouch our shoulders, which closes up our chest cavity and it will become more difficult to get oxygen to your lungs. Pull your shoulders back, stand or sit with your feet apart, and open your chest.
9. Avoid or greatly reduce sugar and caffeine intake
Sugar can make you feel better when stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good. Caffeine and sugar can affect your sleep and without the proper amount of sleep, your mood can be greatly affected. Avoiding eating highly processed and high sugar content foods is a way to decrease highs and lows of blood sugar, which helps to further reduce feelings of anxiety. A sugar “rush” can even mimic a panic attack.
According to Dr. Ronald Griffiths, PhD, a professor in the departments of psychiatry and neuroscience at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, "Caffeine is the most widely used mood-altering drug in the world." He goes on to state that caffeine can exacerbate anxiety and panic attacks. In people predisposed to anxiety disorders, caffeine can trigger a wide array of sensations including sweaty palms, a pounding heart, and even ringing in the ears, so we see caffeine and anxiety are not the healthiest of relationships. Substitute water in place of caffeinated beverages.
10. Avoid excess alcohol, nicotine, and take medication as prescribed
Leaning on these types of coping skills to self soothe and manage anxiety can lead to its own set of problems. While it may feel like you have found a way to quiet your head, the dangers can be immense. While these may be an initial function to remove the anxieties processing these thoughts and emotions is imperative, and should not be neglected due to the benefits found by covering the issue.
11. Drink water and hydrate.
Not only can dehydration cause anxiety, but anxiety can also cause dehydration. So, not drinking enough water can make your anxiety symptoms worse. If we don’t drink enough water, our organs struggle to keep up with the demands of our bodies. This results in instinctive messages of panic being sent to the brain. The body knows something is wrong but does know what it is.
Dehydration can lead to heart palpitations, which can lead to feelings of panic. This is because our blood contains water, so when we become dehydrated, our blood can become thicker. The thicker your blood is, the harder your heart has to work to move it through your veins. Dehydration decreases your blood pressure, making you feel lightheaded, dizzy, and unfocused. It can also cause headaches and fatigue. Stress can cause dehydration, and dehydration can make you
more stressed. Drink a large glass of water and see how it makes you feel.
12. Check-in and talk with someone you trust.
Call or text a friend or family member and run through your worries with them. If your feelings of anxiety are making it hard to function, you should speak to a therapist or a clergy person. Talking to friends can also help.
13. Open a journal and write.
One of the worst aspects of anxiety is not knowing why you feel nervous in the first place. You could be lying on an idyllic beach with the ocean waves lapping in the distance and still feel worried for absolutely no reason. That’s when writing can help. It can be an effective way to explore how you feel, especially if talking out loud feels impossible. It is known that writing in a journal is a healthy way to deal with negative feelings and can be quite beneficial in helping to understand and reduce stress.
14. Watch a funny video.
Laughter is a medicine like no other. Research shows that laughter has lots of benefits for our mental health and well-being. According to Gelkopf (2011), research over time has shown that humor seems to have the potential to help with pain relief, strengthen immune function, improve positive emotions, moderate stress, and improve interpersonal processes.
Many essential oils have calming properties. Research suggests that aromatherapy with some essential oils may help promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. According to a study, lavender oil has had positive results for anxiety reduction.
16. Find gratitude and use positive affirmations
Gratitude is a powerful tool but I do know it can be difficult to find when living in heightened anxiety or when you are feeling down or depressed. One great way to use this tool is to create this list when you are not in a heightened emotional state or your mind is spinning. Create this ongoing list whenever you can to identify and access gratitude so you have it to reflect on during those days when it feels a whole lot more difficult. Identifying different mantras that you can repeat to yourself when you are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, depressed or any other intense emotion is quite helpful. Again, the best time to identify these is when your mood is more centered and if you cannot think of any, ask people you trust.
17. Turn off your phone/Get off the internet/Take a break from technology
Being constantly plugged in has its pros and cons. It is a modern-day curse that we all need to learn to live with. The question, what happens if I miss someone or something, sometimes referred to as FOMO (fear of missing out). Well, the answer is, then you do and it will be there when you are ready to get back to it.
Sleep deprivation and technology are correlated and are leading to increased anxiety, higher emotional reactivity, and more poor decision making. Rosen provides some good ideas on how to reduce nighttime anxiety and sleep more effectively. The National Sleep Foundation recommends turning off all devices an hour before bedtime and provides suggestions to improve sleep.
18. Get in the water
Take a shower or a bath to help relax your body. Splashing cold water on your face can also be therapeutic. The cold water, whether on your face or body, can shock the system just enough to move you out of your anxiety and that may be just what you are needing. Many find that swimming is a peaceful way to ease anxiety as you are forced to focus on your breath. Also, moving the legs and arms in a repetitive movement is itself a form of movement meditation. Water can also serve as a metaphor to rinse the day or your thoughts away.
19. Eat something
Often, when anxious, we forget to eat. We forget to listen to our hunger cues because we are too focused on what is going on in our heads. It is an understandable mistake, but not one that is good for our mind or body. Not eating and starving our body definitely has consequences. According to the American Diabetes Association, some of the effects of low blood sugar include shakiness, nervousness or anxiety, sweatiness, rapid heartbeat, and confusion. These are all symptoms that can mirror anxiety. So, eat something that feels easy to digest and something you enjoy.
According to Rama, meditation is a precise technique for resting the mind and attaining a state of consciousness that is different from your awake state. Meditation can help to bring these thoughts to awareness, however, the awareness this time does not carry the self-judgments, which can only exacerbate anxiety.
21. Be Patient with Yourself
There’s no quick fix for anxiety, and it may often feel like an uphill struggle. But by gaining awareness of what causes your anxiety, learning tools to effectively manage anxiety to improve your mental health, and getting help from your doctor or mental health professional, you can manage your symptoms. Giving in to feelings of anxiety by retreating from the world only served to make my life more difficult in the long run. Different solutions may work at different times, so continue to find new and additional ways to effectively manage your anxiety to improve your mental health.
You may find some of these ideas help better than others. Ask your peers and others how they manage feelings of anxiety. You never know, maybe they have a new idea or vice versa and we are all continuing to help one another.
If you ever experience a panic attack or symptoms that in any way mirror a heart attack or another medical condition, please go to your nearest emergency room or call 911.
All my best,
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