Feeling anxious? You’re not alone. Here are some of the best coping strategies that you can try at home to reduce your anxiety.
·October 20th, 2021
Anxiety is increasingly common in the U.S., and many people experience it situationally or infrequently. If anxiety gets in the way of your social or professional life, you may have an anxiety disorder–and a behavioral therapist can help.
Exercise, breathing and mindfulness exercises, and therapeutic journaling can all help you calm your mind and manage anxiety at home.
Online counseling is another option for those who prefer speaking to a professional from home, over the phone or video chat. A range of modalities are available virtually.
There’s no getting around it: The number of people experiencing anxiety is on the rise in the US: According to Mental Health America, the number of people reporting signs of anxiety and depression hit an all-time high in September of 2020, an increase of 1.5 million compared with the previous year.
Understandably, the emergence of the pandemic in March 2020 has contributed to increased anxiety worldwide. Even as normal life resumes in communities across the nation, millions of Americans continue to feel the rippling effects of this trauma-induced anxiety.
Truth is, anxiety is a normal part of life. When experienced from time-to-time, anxiety can help alert us to life-threatening or stressful situations. But when experienced on a day-to-day basis or because of a traumatic event, it can have long-term effects on our mental and physical health.
In these cases, where it interferes with our daily activities and quality of life, it is important to find ways to reduce your level of anxiety and deal with the anxiety symptoms.
When you’re in the middle of a panic attack or bout of crippling anxiety, it can be hard to imagine ever feeling better. But the good news is, there are many things you can do to help reduce or even eliminate your anxiety.
The evidence is clear—moving your body on a regular basis is good for your mental and physical health. Studies show that exercise helps to reduce stress, increase endorphins, boost mood, and even support brain health.
Animal studies have shown that exercise produces similar changes to brain chemistry to those that take place during common pharmacologic treatments for depression and anxiety.
Exercise may also affect noradrenergic neurotransmission, a technical term used to describe one of the possible root causes of panic disorder.
30 minutes of moderate-to-intense aerobic exercise, like running (when you reach 70% of your maximum heart rate) has been shown to increase brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) and a peptide hormone called atrial natriuretic peptide (ANP), both of which can reduce anxiety and cognitive function while improving mood.
Of course, there are other benefits of regular exercise, some of which can have an indirect positive impact on your anxiety too. For example, moving your body can help decrease muscle tension, which can have an effect on anxiety levels.
Plus, the very act of exercising can help distract you from the person, event, or thing that you’re feeling anxious about.
And if working out every day isn’t in the cards, some research also shows that a single day of exercise can also help reduce anxiety when it strikes.
2. Deep breathing
Psychological studies have shown deep breathing practice to be an effective, non-pharmacological treatment for anxiety, depression, and stress. Whether you practice deep breathing once a month, once a day, or three times a day, research suggests that it can work to settle your nervous system and decrease anxiety.
The reasoning behind this method is simple:
When you’re feeling anxious, the body responds by increasing heart rate, increasing blood flow to the muscles, and making our breathing fast and shallow. This can result in a shortness of breath.
Deep breathing and breathing practices can counteract this stress state by consciously producing a relaxation response.
In addition to inducing a relaxation response, deep breathing can help to lower blood pressure and produce a feeling of calm and well-being.
Keep in mind—deep breathing practices aren’t for everyone. For some people who experience acute or chronic anxiety, it can exacerbate feelings of stress and panic. But if you’re open to giving this method a try, there are several techniques that may work for you, including the 4-7-8 and box-breathing techniques.
3. Therapeutic journaling
Research shows that therapeutic journaling, or expressive writing, can have a myriad of health benefits for people who struggle with anxiety, stress, and even chronic pain. In one study, patients who adhered to a 12-week online journaling program reported less depressive symptoms and anxiety after just one month, with reports of greater resilience by the end of the program.
Keeping a therapeutic journal can help to manage your mood by prioritizing problems, fears, and concerns while tracking triggers and symptoms that may resurface in the future.
Though there’s no right way to keep a therapeutic journal, here are some tips for getting started if it’s your first time putting pen to paper:
Make it a habit: Consistency is king when it comes to therapeutic journaling. When possible, set aside a few minutes every day to write down your thoughts, feelings, and fears. Even if it’s just three minutes each day, regular journaling can help you reap the most rewards from the process.
Go digital (if you prefer): If keeping a physical journal isn’t your style, try writing down your thoughts on your phone or computer instead. It doesn’t matter whether your journal is traditional or digital, as long as you continue to use it.
Don’t think about it: One of the hardest parts of therapeutic journaling is putting words (or images) to paper without worrying if “you’re doing it right.” Giving yourself the space to let go and put down whatever you’re feeling in the moment can help encourage you to express your feelings more in the future.
Keep it private: If you’re just starting out, think of your journal as your private space. What would you write knowing no one else will read it? Once you get comfortable with the process, if you decide to share it with a friend or family member, you can. But know that there’s no obligation to share your journal if you don’t want to.
4. Online counseling
When self-managed anxiety techniques aren’t helping to keep your worries and fears at bay, online or virtual counseling can be very beneficial. Whether you prefer speaking to a therapist over the phone, video call, or text, there are several programs available that offer licensed therapists at a range of costs.
What’s more, many virtual forms of counseling, like computerized cognitive behavioral therapy (also called iCBT) have been shown to be just as effective as traditional in-person therapy, while having the benefit of being more cost-effective.
iCBT or other forms of CBT in particular, are more time-limited approaches to therapy and therefore more accessible to people who do not have the resources to devote to months or even several years of counseling. Yet, studies show that it can still provide long-term benefits, even after short-term application.
The difference between occasional anxiety and an anxiety disorder
Not all forms of anxiety are equal. Occasional anxiety refers to when someone experiences infrequent bouts of anxiety that doesn’t interfere with their daily life. But if your anxiety gets in the way of your social or professional life, you may have an anxiety disorder or medical condition.
Even then, there are different types of anxiety disorders, including:
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD)
Panic disorder (PD)
Social anxiety disorder
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Separation anxiety disorder
Anxiety disorders can develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, and life events. Importantly, some types of anxiety disorders may respond better to certain treatments than others.
Keep in mind that some physical symptoms of anxiety may be less straightforward, including gastrointestinal distress. Some experts even refer to the gut as the “second brain,” since many of the neurotransmitters that exist in the gut are very similar to the ones in the brain, including serotonin and histamine.
Interestingly, when you’re under stress or anxiety, it can also trigger gastrointestinal symptoms, like heartburn, indigestion, diarrhea, and constipation.
When to seek help
If you think you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, there’s no shame in reaching out for help. Experts including psychologists, psychiatrists, and behavioral health specialists are trained in many anxiety disorders—and providers such as acupuncturists, dietitians, nutritionists and more can further support this process.
If you think you may be experiencing anxiety, the right health care provider can help you build a personalized plan to support your wellbeing. Connect with a credentialed expert who serves your area here.