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The Best 5 Effective Coping Skills for Anxiety

Anxiety is a normal human emotion that everyone experiences from time to time. However, for some people, anxiety becomes excessive, persistent, and disruptive to daily life. Anxiety disorders affect over 40 million adults in the United States each year. The good news is that anxiety is highly treatable with lifestyle changes, therapy, and medication. Learning coping skills for anxiety can help you manage symptoms and live a fuller, happier life. Here are 5 of the most effective coping skills for anxiety:

Deep Breathing

Deep breathing is one of the fastest and most accessible coping skills for anxiety. It activates the body’s relaxation response, lowering heart rate, blood pressure, and stress hormones. Deep breathing tricks your nervous system into thinking everything is okay. To practice deep breathing:

  • Inhale slowly through your nose, allowing your belly to expand. Count to 5 as you inhale.
  • Hold your breath for 2 counts.
  • Exhale slowly through pursed lips while contracting your abdominal muscles. Count to 5 as you exhale.
  • Repeat for 5-10 cycles.

Aim to take 5-10 minutes per day to devote to deep breathing. You can practice this coping skill anywhere, anytime anxiety strikes. Apps like Calm provide free guided breathing exercises.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Progressive muscle relaxation teaches you to recognize and release physical tension caused by anxiety. It involves systematically tensing and relaxing each major muscle group in the body. Tension often builds up without you realizing it when you feel anxious. Progressive muscle relaxation makes you more aware of physical sensations so you can stop tension before it escalates.

To practice progressive muscle relaxation:

  • Get in a comfortable position. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths.
  • Starting with your feet, tightly tense those muscles for 5 seconds. Notice how tension feels.
  • Release the tension abruptly, and observe how relaxation feels.
  • Work your way up through muscle groups in the calves, thighs, pelvis, abdomen, back, fingers, forearms, biceps, shoulders, and face. Repeat the sequence as needed.

Perform progressive muscle relaxation for 10-20 minutes daily. Pay attention to areas that feel especially tense, and release that tension consciously. Apps like Headspace offer guided sessions.

Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a powerful coping skill for anxiety focused on observing thoughts and emotions without judging them. The goal is increased awareness and acceptance of the present moment. Research shows that mindfulness reduces anxiety, depression, and stress.

To practice mindfulness meditation:

  • Sit comfortably with your eyes closed or lowered toward the ground. Back straight but not rigid.
  • Bring attention to your natural breathing. Feel the expansion and contraction of your belly on each inhale and exhale.
  • When your mind wanders, gently bring it back to your breath.
  • Start with 5-10 minutes per day, ideally building up to 20 minutes.

You can meditate anywhere, but beginners may find it easier with a guided audio. Mindfulness apps like Headspace and Calm offer introductory programs.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring challenges irrational, anxious thoughts and replaces them with more realistic perspectives. Anxiety often stems from catastrophizing and exaggerating unlikely threats in your mind. Cognitive restructuring helps you recognize cognitive distortions that fuel anxiety.

To practice cognitive restructuring:

  • Notice your anxious thoughts, and write them down. For example, “I’m going to embarrass myself and everyone will judge me.”
  • Analyze these thoughts objectively. Ask yourself, “Is this 100% true? What evidence supports or contradicts it?”
  • Replace irrational thoughts with logical alternatives. “It’s unlikely I’ll embarrass myself. People are probably more focused on themselves than me.”
  • Repeat this exercise whenever you identify anxious, irrational thoughts. Over time, it will become a habit.

Cognitive restructuring takes practice but can provide lasting relief by targeting the roots of anxiety. Consider practicing with a mental health professional.

Exercise

Exercise is nature’s anxiety relief. Physical activity aims to burn off nervous energy and stimulate feel-good neurochemicals like serotonin and endorphins. Studies show regular exercise reduces anxiety symptoms more effectively than some medications.

Any form of moderate exercise can help anxiety, including:

  • Walking, jogging, running, cycling
  • Strength training with weights or resistance bands
  • Sports like soccer, basketball, tennis
  • Yoga and Pilates

Aim for 30-60 minutes of exercise per day, or break it into short 10-minute bursts. Getting your heart rate up even briefly can calm anxiety. Time your workouts when anxiety tends to peak, like first thing in the morning. Going outside can amplify mental health benefits.

Anxiety thrives when we avoid facing fears. While coping skills help manage symptoms, you must also confront anxiety-provoking situations. Start small and work your way up the “fear ladder” gradually. Additionally, consider therapy and medication if anxiety interferes with your quality of life. With the right strategies, you can overcome anxiety and live to your fullest potential.