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Overcoming Anxiety: Practical Strategies to Find Calm

Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting over 40 million adults. Whether you live with an anxiety disorder or experience occasional anxiety, there are many effective strategies you can use to manage anxious thoughts and feelings to find a sense of calm.

Watch Your Self-Talk

The way we talk to ourselves can either feed anxiety or help diffuse it. Ruminating on worst-case scenarios, self-criticisms, or other negative self-talk activates the body’s stress response. If you notice your internal monologue leaning toward the catastrophic, gently guide your thoughts in a more positive direction. Remind yourself of your strengths and past successes in managing challenges.

Breathe Deeply

When we feel anxious, we tend to take quick, shallow breaths or hold our breath altogether. Deep breathing prompts your body to relax by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Try taking slower breaths from your diaphragm. Breathe in slowly through your nose while counting to 4, hold for a count of 2, and exhale slowly through pursed lips for a count of 6. Repeat for a few minutes.

Practice Mindfulness

Being fully engaged in the present moment can short-circuit anxiety. Mindfulness practices like meditation, mindful coloring, or going for a walk and purposefully noticing your surroundings can help diffuse anxious thinking by refocusing your attention. Start by trying 5-10 minutes per day of an activity that forces you to concentrate on the here and now.

Limit Caffeine and Added Sugar

The jitters, trembling, and nervous stomach many people experience from too much caffeine or sugar can exacerbate feelings of anxiety. Try swapping out some of the caffeine and sugar in your diet with calming teas, lemon water with magnesium, tart cherry juice, or complex carbs like oatmeal. Staying hydrated and getting plenty of sleep also helps manage anxiety.

Exercise

Moving your body is one of the most effective natural anxiety remedies. Cardiovascular exercise that raises your heart rate, like walking, jogging, cycling, or dance, in particular releases endorphins to improve mood while decreasing stress hormones. Aim for 30-60 minutes per day if possible. If anxiety makes exercise tough, even light stretching provides anxiety relief.

Give Yourself a Pep Talk

Self-affirmations can counteract negative thinking patterns that fuel anxiety. Tell yourself an encouraging phrase like “I have overcome this before and I will get through it.” Speak to yourself the way you would a loved one struggling with anxiety. Remind yourself of your strength and resilience.

Limit News and Social Media

While it’s important to stay informed, constant news and excessive social media feeds anxiety for many people. Specify set times to plug into news media, set time limits on social media, and give yourself regular digital detox hours. Use apps to restrict access when needed.

Connect With Others

Isolation can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Make regular social connections through in-person visits, phone calls, joining a new club, or attending community events. Sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends and family can help ease their grip while hearing alternate perspectives.

Give Back

Volunteering to help others suffering from anxiety, mental health issues, loneliness or life challenges greater than yours adds meaning and purpose when life feels overwhelming. Offering encouragement, mentorship and hope lifts your own spirits and combats anxious thinking patterns.

Know You Aren’t Powerless

While the discomfort of anxiety cannot always be prevented, you do have power over your reactions and behavior once you’re in an anxious state. When you start to feel anxious, consciously decide how to channel it. Go for a brisk walk, play a musical instrument, work on a hobby, dance to your favorite song or practice a calming yoga routine. Reward yourself when you take healthy action instead of avoidant behavior.

If lifestyle changes don’t resolve your anxiety, consult your doctor or mental health professional. Medications and psychotherapy provide additional support. Be compassionate with yourself. Have hope that with time and intention, you can overcome anxious thoughts and feel better.