Do you struggle with anxiety? I feel you. I’ve struggled with anxiety since before I even knew what that meant. In my late 20s, I was finally diagnosed with severe anxiety. I’ve gone to all sorts therapy (and continue to go), and have spent thousands of hours researching the best ways to tame anxiety.
Through the years and years of research, I have found tons of strategies to cope with my anxiety—many of which I’ve tried. The reality is that everybody is unique and it’s impossible to know if what worked for me will also work for you. With that in mind, I’ve compiled as many tools and strategies as I could get my hands on so that you have the ultimate guide to tame your anxiety.
- What’s the deal with exercise and anxiety?
- Can’t exercise? Don’t worry!
- This mindfulness-based therapy is a highly effective mental health treatment
- This type of therapy is also highly effective for managing clinical anxiety
- Here’s how positive thinking can counter excessive worry
- What if I’m having a panic attack and need a short-term solution—right now?
- Give this relaxation technique a try
- How can I use deep breathing to cope with anxiety?
- Keep an open mind regarding anti-anxiety medication
- If you’re committed to reducing your anxiety the natural way, try this
- Cold water triggers a stress response, which has surprisingly beneficial effects on anxiety
- Consider diet and supplements when taking a holistic approach to reduce anxiety levels
- Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep
- To-do lists are crucial when overwhelmed
- Connection is way more important that you realize. Push yourself to socialize, even if you really don’t want to
- Conclusion: Embracing your anxiety could be the best thing you ever do
What’s the deal with exercise and anxiety?
As you may have gathered from the headline of this article, exercise stands out as a strategy that checks off many people’s boxes: it is evidence-based, it is natural, it is free and flexible. There are endless possibilities when it comes to what exercise you do, when you do it, and where you do it.
That said, some people (like me) have health conditions that make exercise difficult. It’s not always the best option, for one reason or another, which is why I felt it was important to include a wide range of strategies to tame our anxiety.
What’s the first step?
Taking the first step in managing anxiety can be challenging. Many people with anxiety can feel frozen. It can be debilitating, and it make the thought of improving the anxiety symptoms seem like an insurmountable task. But it’s not! You can do it. You just have to start super duper small and set achievable goals.
Good news: the fact that you’re reading this right now is actually an incredible first step. You are exploring options and seeing what may work for you. So, you can take a deep breath. You crossed the threshold and took that first step already! You did it! This is actually the hardest part—acknowledging that you are hurting and need help.
Where can I find more research about anxiety?
Now that you’ve taken that first step, you may feel that you’re on a bit of a roll. Go with it! For some, this might mean jumping right into a strategy if you have found one that seems totally doable for you and you’re feeling decisive. For others, you may need to continue researching for a little while longer so that you can have enough information to decide on next steps.
The American Psychological Association provides a wealth of resources for managing anxiety, including information on different types of anxiety disorders, self-help strategies, and referrals to mental health professionals.
Anxiety Canada is another absolutely incredible resource. It doesn’t matter whether or not you live in Canada, you can access a wide range of excellent free resources that are also used by mental health care professionals (I know this because my best friend is a social worker and she directed me to this resource).
Now, lets get into a whole range of strategies so that you can find one that works best for you to tame your anxiety:
What is the connection between anxiety and exercise?
A large-scale study of 1.2 million people in the USA was published in The Lancet Psychiatry journal in 2018—and the findings were eye-opening. To quote Science Daily, the study “found that people who exercise report having 1.5 fewer days of poor mental health a month, compared to people who do not exercise.”
Not only are the results significant, but its impact is enhanced by the fact that this is the largest observational study of its kind. Not only that, but there are many other studies to support these results. According to an article published by Frontiers in Psychiatry, “Numerous epidemiological studies have shown that exercise improves one’s self-esteem, and a sense of wellbeing.”
Any form of physical activity can be a helpful strategy for managing anxiety, but the Lancet study cited above also found that “team sports, cycling, aerobics and going to the gym are associated with the biggest reductions [of poor mental health days].”
This specific sport is surprisingly effective at reducing anxiety
Another large-scale observational study out of Sweden followed 395,369 individuals for up to 21 years, including nearly 200,000 skiers. The goal of the study was to investigate if participation in an ultralong-distance cross-country ski race was associated with a lower risk of developing anxiety.
Both skiers and non-skiers were followed, and results demonstrated that the cross-country skiers had a significantly lower risk of developing anxiety compared to non-skiers.
Don’t know how to ski? Don’t care to learn? No worries! You don’t have to be a skier to get those benefits. The researchers of the Lancet study indicated that, even though they focused on skiers, the results apply to anyone with a physically active lifestyle. In fact, being physically active halves the risk of developing anxiety disorders.
What’s the connection between blood pressure, anxiety and exercise?
Anxiety and high blood pressure are closely linked. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Anxiety doesn’t cause long-term high blood pressure (hypertension). But episodes of anxiety can cause dramatic, temporary spikes in blood pressure.” It can also be cyclical: anxiety can cause high blood pressure, and high blood pressure can cause anxiety.
Regular exercise can help to both lower blood pressure and reduce anxiety symptoms.
Can’t exercise? Don’t worry!
The following strategies don’t involve physical exertion and are also effective for anxiety management. Various stress relievers, such as yoga, meditation, and spending time in nature, can help to reduce anxiety symptoms by promoting relaxation and reducing stress hormones in the body. Other categories of tools include psychological strategies, natural approaches and medication. Here are details about some of these strategies you can try other than exercise to tame your anxiety:
This mindfulness-based therapy is a highly effective mental health treatment
Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) is one of many forms of meditation practice that has been found to be highly effective for managing feelings of anxiety. MBSR helps people to stay focused on the present moment and develop a more positive relationship with their
mindfulness can help you to stay focused on the present moment. This can help to reduce rumination on past events or worries about the future, which results in overall anxiety reduction.
This type of therapy is also highly effective for managing clinical anxiety
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is a type of talk therapy that is highly effective for managing anxiety. CBT helps people to identify and challenge negative thought patterns and develop more positive coping strategies.
What if I’m having a panic attack and need a short-term solution—right now?
Short-term solutions for managing anxiety include deep breathing exercises, progressive relaxation, and positive self-talk. These solutions are great to use when you’re not in crisis as well. Read on for details on how to execute these relaxation strategies:
Give this relaxation technique a try
Progressive relaxation is a technique that involves tensing and then relaxing different muscle groups in the body. This can help to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety symptoms.
How can I use deep breathing to cope with anxiety?
Deep breathing exercises, such as diaphragmatic breathing and the 4-7-8 breathing technique, can help to reduce anxiety symptoms by slowing down the heart rate and promoting relaxation.
Here’s how positive thinking can counter excessive worry
Positive, encouraging and cheering thoughts can help to counteract negative thoughts and feelings. Examples of positive thinking include:
- “I am capable of handling this situation”
- “I have faced challenges before and come out stronger.”
Keep an open mind regarding anti-anxiety medication
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a type of antidepressant medication that can be helpful for managing anxiety. SSRIs work by increasing the levels of serotonin in the brain, which can help to regulate mood and reduce anxiety symptoms.
If you’re committed to reducing your anxiety the natural way, try this
Certain essential oils, such as lavender and chamomile, are known for their calming and relaxing properties. Essential oils can be used in a variety of ways, including aromatherapy, massage, and bath products.
Cold water triggers a stress response, which has surprisingly beneficial effects on anxiety
Cold water immersion, such as taking a cold shower or dipping your face in cold water, can help to reduce anxiety symptoms by triggering the body’s “fight or flight” response and promoting relaxation.
Consider diet and supplements when taking a holistic approach to reduce anxiety levels
Maintaining good physical health beyond exercise is another great strategy for managing anxiety. This includes eating a healthy diet. A new report published in the journal Nutrients found that a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and omega-3 fatty acids is associated with lower levels of anxiety.
Green tea contains an amino acid called L-theanine, which has been found to promote relaxation and reduce anxiety symptoms. Other amino acids, such as L-lysine and L-arginine, may be helpful for managing anxiety. These amino acids are involved in the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and anxiety.
Omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fatty fish and certain nuts and seeds, may be helpful for managing anxiety. Omega-3s are involved in the production of neurotransmitters that regulate mood and anxiety, and may help to reduce inflammation in the brain.
Don’t underestimate the importance of a good night’s sleep
Getting a full night of sleep is essential for managing anxiety. Sleep deprivation can increase anxiety symptoms and make it more difficult to cope with stress.
To-do lists are crucial when overwhelmed
Creating a to-do list can help to reduce anxiety symptoms by providing a sense of structure and organization. It can also help to prioritize tasks and reduce feelings of overwhelm.
Grocery shopping is an example of a task that can be a stressful experience for people with anxiety. On one hand, it’s overwhelming to keep track of all the things you need to get. But there’s a social anxiety element for many people as well. Strategies for managing anxiety before going to the grocery store include making a list in advance, avoiding crowded times, and practicing deep breathing exercises.
Connection is way more important that you realize. Push yourself to socialize, even if you really don’t want to
Maintaining social connections with friends and family can help to reduce anxiety symptoms by providing a sense of support and connection. I saw this Ted Talk a while back, and it had a deep impact on me. It specifically focuses on connection as it relates to add
Conclusion: Embracing your anxiety could be the best thing you ever do
This is going to sound weird and maybe even like bogus, but hear me out. You should welcome your anxiety with open arms.
In recent years, I came to the conclusion that I will never fully get rid of anxiety. It is a part of me. That was a terrifying thought for a long time, but it doesn’t scare me anymore. Do you know why? Because I’ve learned that I can tame my own anxiety (most of the time) with the right tools and strategies. Not only that, but going through the journey to tame my own anxiety has been extremely empowering. Going through struggles has made me stronger, more resilient, has shown my what I’m capable of and, honestly, has made me a deeper and more interesting person.
Embracing your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it. It means respecting it and understanding its value. I like to thank my anxiety for trying so hard to protect me. I think of my anxiety as a small overprotective part of me that truly wants what’s best for me. But it can be a bit of a helicopter parent. So I have to step in, thank it for its intention, then take the reins as best I can.