1. Take a deep breath.
The first thing to do when you get anxious is to breathe.
Deep breathing is powerful for reducing anxiety because it activates the body's relaxation response. This helps the body transition from a fight-or-flight response.
Try slowly inhaling to a count of 4, filling your belly first and then your chest, gently holding your breath to a count of 4, and slowly exhaling to a count of 4 and repeat several times.
2. Accept that you're anxious.
Stop and remind yourself that anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling. By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, you can start to accept it.
Accepting the feeling is essential because denying or trying to eliminate the anxiety often worsens it.
However, accepting your anxiety doesn't mean you need to like it or suffer through a troubled life.
Sometimes the tough truth is that you need to accept reality as it is, and sometimes that reality includes anxiety or feelings you would rather avoid. These feelings can be difficult to deal with and less than ideal, but are not intolerable.
3. Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you.
Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., has seen first-hand how a person's brain can make them believe they're dying of a heart attack when they're actually having a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student.
"I had seen people having heart attacks and look this ill on the medical floors for medical reasons and it looked exactly the same. A wise, kind and experienced psychiatrist came over to [the patient] and gently, calmly reminded him that he is not dying, that it will pass and his brain is playing tricks on him. It calmed me too and we both just stayed with him until [the panic attack] was over."
Today, Dr. Hyland, who has a private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells her patients the same thing. "It helps remove the shame, guilt, pressure and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself in the midst of needing nurturing more than ever."
4. Use a calming visualization.
"Picture yourself on a river bank or outside in a favorite park, field or beach. Watch leaves pass by on the river or clouds pass by in the sky. Assign [your] emotions, thoughts [and] sensations to the clouds and leaves, and just watch them float by."
This is very different from what people typically do. Typically, we assign emotions, thoughts and physical sensations certain qualities and judgments, such as good or bad, right or wrong, Hyland said. And this often amplifies anxiety. Remember that "it is all just information."
5. Use positive self-talk.
Anxiety and stress can lead to many negative thoughts bouncing around in your head, repeating themselves.
Fight back through positive coping statements - don't let your mind linger on a recurring thought dragging you down.
Some examples to try:
- This anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.
- I feel stressed right now, but later in the day I will feel better.
- I am stronger than my anxiety, and it is just a feeling.
6. Focus on right now.
For many people, when they are anxious they are stressing about something that could occur in the future.
Try to stop and pause for a few seconds, take a deep breath and focus on what is happening right now, in the world around you.
Even if you are right in the middle of something serious, keeping yourself grounded in the present will improve your ability to manage the situation.
7. Focus on meaningful activities.
Keeping your mind full and attention focused on a meaningful activity is often helpful when you're feeling anxious. What would you be doing if you weren't anxious?
If you were going to go for a walk, still go. If you were going to tidy the house, still do it.
One of the worst things to do when anxious is to passively sit and stress or obsess about how you feel. Getting on with your life will help you get out of your head and feel better, and you'll get things done.
"The bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don't sit around focusing on being anxious - nothing good will come of that."