According to the World Health Organization (WHO), anxiety is the most prevalent mental health disorder in the world, affecting almost 300 million people globally.
If you are currently living with an anxiety disorder, there are some things that you can do to reduce your symptoms and improve your quality of life.
But first, let’s take a look at some of the most common anxiety disorders.
General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) – This covers quite a broad spectrum because two people with the same diagnosis can have different symptoms.
Although, it’s common for people with GAD to worry about lots of different things in their life.
Panic Disorder – People who experience frequent panic attacks without a known cause have this kind of anxiety.
The panic attacks can be so scary that they can cause the sufferer to develop an intense fear of having another one, which can induce another panic attack.
Social Anxiety – Those who have an extreme fear of social situations find it difficult to talk to others.
This can really interfere with work, school and other social gatherings.
Health Anxiety – Anyone with this diagnosis worries a lot about their health.
They will often think that they have illnesses and diseases when they are in fact fine. Health anxiety is related to OCD.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – This diagnosis is given to those who have repetitive thoughts and behaviors.
Those with OCD often feel the urge to engage in repetitive behaviors to reduce their anxiety like repeatedly washing their hands, for instance.
Phobias – A phobia is an intense fear that is triggered by a situation like closed spaces, vomiting or coming into contact with a spider.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – This type of anxiety is experienced by someone who has been through some kind of trauma.
Symptoms include nightmares, and flashbacks that make the person feel like they are reliving the trauma.
Body-Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) – This is a type of OCD that relates to someone’s physical appearance.
Those with BDD spend a lot of time thinking about aspects of their body that they don’t like. These aspects typically include their skin, hair or nose.
As we can see, a common feature in anxiety disorders is chronic worry, and living in fear on a daily basis can really wear you down and stop you from living a satisfying life.
So the aim here is to find ways to reduce your worrying so you are not constantly at the mercy of your fears.
However, the first step is to accept that there will always be external factors which can trigger your anxiety because we can’t control what happens to us. That’s just the way life is.
You can’t control all of your thoughts and you can’t control the situations that life throws at you.
But you can change the way that you respond to any uncomfortable thought or situation that has been causing you angst.
Here are twelve practical tips to help calm your mind and reduce your anxiety.
1. Practice Relaxation Techniques
A lot of anxiety sufferers carry a lot of tension in their muscles.
If you feel tension in your body, then a good way to reduce it is by using the Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) technique. Here’s how to do it:
- Find a quiet space where you can either lie down or sit comfortably.
- Take a few slow, deep breaths.
- Tense the muscles in your forehead for 15 seconds, then gently release the tension as you count to 30.
- Now tense the muscles in your jaw for 15 seconds, then again count to 30 while you gently release the tension.
- Next, tense your neck and shoulders while counting for 15 seconds as you squeeze these muscles, and again, count for 30 seconds as you release the tension.
- Continue to do this by focusing on each area of your body until you get to your feet.
When you have finished this technique, continue to breathe calmly while you enjoy the wave of relaxation coursing through your body.
2. Put a Time Limit on Your Worries
Anyone dealing with anxiety would find it extremely hard to just stop worrying because if it were that easy, you wouldn’t have anxiety.
What can be effective, though, is putting a time limit on how long you allow yourself to worry.
Some people find that by allocating a fifteen minute slot for a ‘worrying session’ where you permit yourself to worry about whatever is on your mind can be beneficial.
By ‘telling’ yourself that you can worry at designated times, but not all the time, you should start to feel some of the tension lift.
If you have OCD, then you might find it a challenge to try and limit your repetitive thoughts.
You could instead try to limit your compulsions.
If your OCD means that you check things numerous times until it feels right, then you could limit the amount of times that you check things.
If for instance, you feel the need to check that the door is locked, then only check three or four times instead of multiple times.
3. Use the 54321 Mindfulness Technique
This effective mindfulness tool is used by many psychologists because it has been shown to calm the mind.
It involves using all of your five senses to ground you and bring you back to the present when your worries are overwhelming.
Here are the five steps:
- Look around you, what can you see? State five things.
- Listen carefully. What can you hear? Identify four sounds.
- What can you feel through touch? Find three things – one could be feeling your feet in your shoes.
- What can you smell? Identify two smells.
- Then finally, what can you taste? Even if you can only taste your tongue, that’s fine.
Clinical psychologist and author of How to Be Yourself, Ellen Hendriksen said, this technique ‘grounds us in the present’ and when we are truly in the present, our mind isn’t so focused on our worries.
4. Use the STOPP Strategy
This CBT tool can help you to regain control of your emotions. Here are the five simple steps:
Stop – Pause for a moment.
Take a Breath – Focus on your breathing. Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth.
Observe – Pay attention to your thoughts and identify what you are reacting to at the moment. Notice how it makes your body feel.
Pull Back – Remember that thoughts are NOT facts. Think of a reasonable explanation to your concern(s).
Some people find that it helps if they imagine what a trusted friend would say to them, or what they would say to a friend who has the same worry.
Practice What Works – Ask yourself what would be the best thing to do right now, and where you should focus your attention.
This self-help strategy can help to put your worries into perspective.
5. The Helicopter View
If you find yourself full of anxiety and caught up the moment, then this technique can help your brain to see that there is no imminent danger, which should calm down your nervous system.
For this strategy, in your mind’s eye, you zoom out as if you’re in a helicopter. As your helicopter takes off and you get further and further away from the ground make a mental note of what you see.
As you start to pull back from your emotional situation and see yourself from a bird-eye-view, you should see there is no current danger present.
You are okay.
6. Strengthen Your Connections
Confiding in your nearest and dearest can help to put some of your worries into perspective.
When you are alone with your worries, you’re more likely to over-think things.
This makes your worries seem bigger than they really are.
But spending time with people who care about you will distract you from your negative thoughts and, it can also be a great source of strength because you know that you are not alone.
7. Find a Hobby
Hobbies are a great way to distract yourself from your concerns.
If you already have hobbies, then be sure to make time to do them because doing something for yourself is important.
If you don’t, really have any hobbies, then find some.
It could be something as simple as gardening, reading a book, or going for a leisurely walk. What matters is that it’s something you enjoy.
8. Exercise Regularly
When was the last time you exercised?
A growing body of research indicates that exercise is effective at relieving anxiety and depression. Even just a brisk ten-minute walk can lift your mood for several hours.
9. Eat Well
Eating a healthy, balanced diet is not only beneficial to your health, it can also be good for your mental health too.
Be sure to include foods that contain adequate amounts of protein, magnesium, and polyphenols.
Some examples include eggs, meat, poultry, beans, lentils, tofu, avocados, nuts, seeds, dark chocolate, soy, red grapes, berries and green tea.
Try to avoid sugary snacks and meals that consist mainly of carbohydrates because they will cause your blood-sugar levels to rise quickly and then drop, which can make anxiety worse.
10. Reduce Caffeine and Alcohol Intake
Caffeine is a stimulant and yes, it’s good for waking you up in the morning, but too much of it can affect the brain’s ‘fear center’ putting you into ‘fight or flight’ mode.
If you drink a lot of caffeinated drinks, try to reduce the amount you have.
If you like coffee, you could switch to the decaffeinated variety, or perhaps have one cup of regular coffee in the morning, then a few cups of decaffeinated coffee throughout the rest of the day.
Alcohol can also make your anxiety worse because it has an effect on the neurotransmitter levels in your brain.
Some people who have anxiety use alcohol to calm their nerves, and it does have a sedative effect on the body for a while.
However, as the alcohol starts to wear off, your anxiety starts to increase, and is often more intense than it was before drinking the alcohol.
This increase in anxiety can last for several hours and possibly a whole day.
With this in mind, try to reduce your alcohol intake and find healthier ways to relax and enjoy yourself.
11. Listen to Relaxing Music
Music can change the way we feel. So listen to songs that make you feel calm. Three of the best songs that have shown to reduce anxiety are:
- Weighless by Marconi Union
- Electra by Airstream
- Mellomaniac by DJ Shah
Neuroscientists found that the song Weightless can reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent.
In fact, it can be so effective at putting you into a relaxed state that you shouldn’t listen to it while driving.
12. Talk to Someone
A lot of people who have anxiety suffer in silence, keeping their worries to themselves. If this describes you then you might find it helps to talk to a therapist, or others who understand what you’re going through.
There are some great online support groups like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADDA). This one is a peer-to-peer support group where you can remain anonymous.
If, however, you would like to attend a face-to-face support group, then you could ask your health care practitioner, or do a quick online search to find one in your area.
Finally, keep a journal and write down what situations trigger your anxious thoughts, and which techniques help to calm them. This way you can reflect on what works for you and use it for future reference.