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10 Simple Steps to Manage Anxiety

By Lisa DeJarnette MSW, LISW

In the US, about 31% of the general population suffer from anxiety symptoms at some point in their life. Since COVID-19 those rates have only increased, along with other mental health issues. People that may have never noticed any anxiety disorders are now having to manage overwhelming worries and the physical manifestations of that constant worry.

Here are some simple steps to help you manage your anxiety.

1. Identify Your Triggers and Be Prepared

Prepare in advance with a variety of coping tools. Watching the news and spending time on social media is a trigger for many people. Trying to be perfect, performing, and people-pleasing can be other triggers.

2. Get Moving

Multiple studies show even 10 minutes of exercise can immediately change your brain and serves you well with improved memory, decreases stress levels, and promotes relaxation. Fresh air is great and a change of scenery often helps.

3. Smile and Laugh!

Create a competing emotion. Watch a comedy show or video clip and share funny stories with friends and family. Laughter is good for the soul! Yoga, prayer, meditation, singing, exercise, and journaling are all useful. Pick one and try it consistently.

4. Catch It Early

On a scale of 1-10 try to notice when it is approaching a 4-5. You will usually feel it in your body first. Progressive muscle relaxation and deep breathing are two ways to reset your system. Take a deep diaphragmatic breath (put your hand on your belly and watch it expand and contract). There are many breathing techniques you can use to count, hold and exhale. Imagine blowing your stress and tension out as you exhale.

5. Ask Yourself “Is It a Signal or Noise?”

Noise is usually a series of “what if” questions. If it’s noise, it isn’t helpful. Stop the thought process, bring your awareness back to the here and now and self soothe.

If it is a signal, take action and develop a plan of attack. Make a dump list. Write everything down that is causing you to worry. One-by-one go through the list and cross off what you cannot control or change. Prioritize the rest. Ask for help or delegate to others.

6. Get Curious

Ask yourself some questions. Often worry comes from real or perceived stress so explore it instead of stuffing it or overanalyzing it. You can put it in perspective by asking yourself:

  • Can I do anything about it?
  • Can I think differently about it?
  • What would I tell a friend in the same situation?
  • Will it matter a month or a year from now?
  • What’s the worst that could happen and how likely is it that to happen?

7. Challenge Your Thinking

Put your thoughts “on trial” and ask if there is evidence to support your thought.

Are you using catastrophic thinking? That is when we imagine the worst possible outcome of a situation and expect it to happen to us!

If so, non-judgmentally shift your perspective to see the gray options. If you play the “what if” game and imagine the worst that could happen, you have to play out the best option too, and then it is likely somewhere in the middle.

8. Remind Yourself of Past Successes

Often people who struggle with anxiety overestimate the problem and underestimate their ability to deal with it. You can talk back to your worry with positive self-talk. Acknowledge that this is hard but you can do hard things. You have done it before and you can do it again!

9. Have Compassion

Make sure you have realistic expectations of yourself and others. You are only one person and can only do so much. Others cannot read your mind and you cannot expect them to meet a need you haven’t communicated. Be kind and compassionate towards yourself. You are doing the very best that you can during a very difficult season.

10. Grounding and Mindfulness Techniques

Be present in the right now. In 2010, Harvard psychologists Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert discovered in their research that 47% of the time we are thinking about things in the past or the future instead of living in the moment. Focusing on your breath is a great way to get out of your head and back into your body.

Scan the room. Use all of your senses to engage yourself in the here and now. If you are feeling you aren’t thinking!

Tap your feet on the ground and wiggle your feet and tap your fingers. Take a drink of water or activate the salivary glands by putting your tongue to the front of your mouth and pushing towards the base of your teeth. Suck on a hard candy or lemon.

In Summary: Remember the Basics!

Managing stress and making self-care a priority is at the foundation of treatment for anxiety. Self-care is not selfish. Schedule breaks and time to do the things that bring you joy.

Get enough sleep and eat a well-balanced diet. Avoid or limit caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol. Take time to connect with friends or give yourself the gift of a massage or manicure. Having a healthy lifestyle sets up success.

Take it one day at a time and remember you are not alone. Make sure to reach out when you need help!