Anxiety and compulsive behaviors can significantly impact our mental health and wellbeing. While some anxiety is normal, excessive, persistent anxiety that interferes with daily life may indicate an anxiety disorder. Compulsions, or repetitive behaviors aimed at reducing anxiety, provide only temporary relief and can become disruptive. The good news is there are many effective strategies to help reduce anxiety, compulsions, and improve overall health.
Reframe Worrying Thoughts
Anxiety often involves excessive worrying and catastrophizing. Reframing our thoughts can help reduce anxiety. When we notice ourselves having anxious thoughts, we can pause and ask ourselves: is this worry realistic or helpful? We can challenge distorted thoughts and replace them with more balanced perspectives. For example, instead of thinking “something terrible is going to happen,” we can tell ourselves “I’ve overcome tough situations before, and I can handle what comes my way.”
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Relaxation techniques activate the body’s relaxation response, slowing heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and reducing anxiety. Deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, visualization, yoga, and mindfulness are highly effective for calming the mind and body. Start with short sessions of 5-10 minutes daily. With practice, anxiety will begin to naturally decrease over time. Apps like Calm provide guided meditations and breathing exercises.
Exercise and Improve Sleep
Exercise and quality sleep are essential for mental health. Exercise reduces cortisol, releases endorphins, improves mood, and manages anxiety. Aim for 30 minutes daily, or break it into short 10 minute sessions. Improve sleep by keeping a consistent bedtime, limiting electronics before bed, and creating a restful sleep environment. Maintaining healthy sleep, diet, and exercise routines can significantly reduce anxiety.
Challenge Anxious Thinking
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) techniques help reduce anxiety by identifying and challenging irrational thoughts. When we notice ourselves having distorted, catastrophic thoughts, we can ask ourselves: What is the evidence this thought is true? How likely is this worst-case scenario to actually happen? What would I tell a friend worrying about this? Reframing worrisome thoughts in a more balanced light helps relieve anxiety.
Limit Avoidance and Compulsions
While avoiding anxiety-provoking situations or using compulsions provides temporary relief, it reinforces anxiety in the long run. Anxiety and compulsions feed off each other in a vicious cycle. By gradually facing our fears and resisting the urge to perform compulsions, anxiety begins to weaken over time. Start small, celebrate progress, and be patient with yourself. Counseling can help create a structured plan for facing fears and reducing compulsions.
Set Healthy Boundaries
Setting healthy boundaries with others helps manage anxiety and compulsions. Limit time spent listening to other’s problems or getting excessively involved in their lives. Prioritize time for relaxation and calm activities. Be mindful of how certain friends or family members may increase anxiety. Spend more time with supportive, positive people. Taking care of your own needs first equips you to better help others.
Stimulate the Senses
Soothing the senses is an effective way to quickly reduce anxiety. Progressively tensing and relaxing muscle groups distracts from worried thoughts. Slow, deep breathing grounds us in the present moment. Listening to calming music promotes relaxation. Drinking herbal tea or diffusing uplifting essential oils engages the senses. Curling up under a soft blanket or taking a warm bath helps release tension. Engaging the senses shifts focus away from anxiety.
Seek Additional Support
For persistent, excessive anxiety that disrupts daily functioning, consulting a mental health professional can help. A combination of therapy and medication may be warranted in some cases. Anxiety disorders often begin in childhood and adolescence. Early intervention improves long-term outcomes. Support groups connect us with others also struggling with anxiety. We realize we are not alone. Professional treatment combined with self-help strategies allows us to break free from anxiety and compulsions.
The mind-body connection is powerful. With patience and daily practice of relaxation techniques, exercise, sleep, facing fears, and cognitive restructuring, we can disrupt the anxiety and compulsion cycle. Anxiety decreases and health improves as we learn to short-circuit our built-in stress response and activate the body’s calm system. Implementing small, sustainable changes leads to lasting improvement in anxiety, compulsions, and overall wellbeing. The first step is believing change is possible through consistent effort. Our health and peace of mind are worth doing the work.