Ways To Cope With Anxiety That Are Med- & Drug-Free
Believe it or not, anxiety is neither your adversary nor enemy. Anxiety is your ally and supportive friend – at least when you know how to manage it. That’s why you need ways to cope with anxiety to keep it manageable and helpful.
Anxiety can be the catalyst and motivating force for ultimate growth, success, and maybe even peace. – Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do
Coping with anxiety is very different from ignoring it. When you ignore anxiety, it increases. It can become so elevated that it’s simply not useful any more.
However, when you know ways to cope with it that become habits, you’ll be able to easily hear the messages your anxiety is attempting to communicate to you. And this is when your anxiety will help you live your best life.
There are seven basic ways to cope with anxiety:
- Use self-compassion.
- Experience gratitude.
- Lighten up.
- Be present.
- Purposefully breathe.
- Do calming activities.
- Engage in healthier habits.
Let’s look at what each of these coping mechanisms are and how they calm anxiety.
When you force yourself to do, be or think something you’re being tough on yourself. And being tough on yourself won’t work for long-term self-control. On the other hand, when you take the time to be kind to yourself, you open the door to befriending anxiety. And compassion has been shown to increase self-control.
Being kind to yourself doesn’t mean that you’re weak, indulgent or lazy. In fact, researchers Ashley Batts Allen and Mark Leary have found that “people who are high in self-compassion take greater responsibility for their failures and make needed changes while maintaining a loving, caring, and patient approach toward themselves.”
So, the next time you find yourself feeling stuck, trapped or rigid, pause and ask yourself compassionate questions. You may want to try one of these:
How can I be more gentle with myself?
Where can I ease or shift my perspective?
Self-compassion is not abdicating or avoiding. It is about facing our experience, upping our responsibility, and taking control. – Hack Your Anxiety: How to Make Anxiety Work for You in Life, Love, and All That You Do
Our feelings and our thoughts work together. How we think about a feeling actually defines it. Just as when we think particular thoughts, we can create specific emotions. So, a feeling of anxiety or stress or overwhelm – or even love – doesn’t just happen to us. We co-create it.
Purposefully experiencing gratitude can shift our emotions and thoughts toward love and connection. But that’s only possible when we realize that gratitude is not just about counting our blessings. It’s about digging deeper into our experienceof our blessings, the source of them and the interconnectedness of all of us.
When you experience gratitude, you may find that your stress response calms as your relaxation response is activated.
Positive emotions can reduce negative ones. Scientists call this “the undoing effect.”
When your anxiety is at an unhelpful, heightened level, you may be able to lower its volume by exposing yourself to lighter-feeling emotions. A simple way to do this is to watch a few minutes of your favorite comedy or cute animal videos.
As happiness researcher Shawn Achor explains, “a quick burst of positive emotion doesn’t just broaden our cognitive capacity, it also provides a quick and powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and our ability to function at our best level.”
Grounding is a way of attaching yourself to the here-and-now of your immediate environment. It can break the cycle of your churning thoughts by bringing your attention to things that are outside you.
To shift your focus, notice what’s immediately in front of you. It may be a table’s surface, a window pane or frame, or even the texture of the floor you’re standing on.
Grounding is an effective technique for escaping the cycles of thoughts that happen when anxiety is heightened. (It’s so effective that it is even helpful for panic.)
Although breathing is something that we unconsciously do every day, breathing purposefully can work wonders for turning off the stress response.
One of the most effective things you can do to physically calm your nervous system is to calm your breath. Lengthen and slow it from the short, choppy breathing that goes along with a threat response.
Threat responses just happen and you can’t always control them. But you can activate your relaxation responseand allow yourself to hear the message that your anxiety is trying to communicate.
Activities that can help you cope with anxiety fall into two broad categories: (1) focus on your body to calm your mind and (2) focus on your mind to calm your body.
The first category of ways to cope with anxiety through calming activities is body-centric. Examples of activities include progressive muscle relaxation, taking a hot bath or sauna, getting a massage, drinking hot tea, soaking up some sunshine, hugging someone and yoga.
The second category includes two different types of meditation: transcendental meditation and mindfulness mediation.
Transcendental meditation (or TM) harnesses attention toward the intrinsic pleasure of stillness through a repeated phrase or mantra. Practitioners report a greater ability to control both their thoughts and emotions. They also tap into a deeply restful state of consciousnessthat offers not only rest, but restoration.
Mindfulness meditation is about focusing on the breath without reacting with anything but curiosity. Mindfulness helps us to be more aware of the evidence or facts that are available. And by increasing our awareness of what is, we can choose to alter our experience.
Finally, there are the big three healthy habits: exercise, sleep, and nutrition.
We all know we should exercise as one of the foundational ways to cope with anxiety. So, many of us who struggle with anxiety force ourselves to do so. Although we’d like to believe that making ourselves exercise will give us anxiety-reducing benefits, that’s just not the case.
According to Robert Sapolsky exercise is only stress reducing if it is something you actually want to do. Therefore it’s only when you truly want to exercise that you can reap the benefits of increased cognitive control and self-regulationnecessary to reduce unhelpfully loud anxiety.
Getting enough sleep is another of the foundational ways to cope with anxiety. Sleep loss saps energy, concentration and emotional control.
The challenge is that when your anxiety reaches unhelpfully loud levels, it can be difficult to get adequate rest. However, getting enough sleep – or at a minimum, sleeping when you’re tired – is key to building healthy cognitive and emotional habits.
The final healthy habit for managing anxiety so it can serve you is eating nutritious foods. A diet rich in nutrient-dense foods can help provide your brain the fuel it needs to keep your body running efficiently and smoothly.
However, given the typical American’s fast-paced lifestyle, this is often easier said than done.
Surprisingly, the key to a healthy diet is your immediate environment. Controlling your environment and the foods you expose yourself to, rather than controlling what you eat, will likely make it easier for you to sustainably change your eating.
Maintaining any or all these healthy ways to cope with anxiety starts with converting the ones that work for you into habits. And when you develop even one positive coping habit, your anxiety will thank you for it.
Your anxiety truly wants to help you. It wants to provide you with the information and energy you need to be your best self.
When you don’t listen to it, it becomes louder in the hope that you’ll pay attention. By creating a new habit for managing your anxiety, you’ll likely find it easier to hear its messages. And those messages will guide you toward being your best self.
For more help with managing anxiety, check out my new book, Hack Your Anxiety, register for my free mini-ecourse by signing up for book bonuses here, or check-out my anxiety and relationships blogs.
Photo credit: Daniel Frank on Unsplash