Anxious? Don’t worry. These days, almost everyone can relate.
The good news? You can make a dent in your anxiety levels by changing your habits and thought patterns. To figure out how, it helps to delve into your anxiety a bit—with an attitude of curiosity, not judgment.
What kind of anxious are you?
Does your anxiety show up as a racing heart, sweaty palms or ringing in the ears?
Or is it more of a simmering, low-level anxiety that sabotages your sleep, makes you snap at your spouse or co-workers, or leaves you feeling constantly drained or muted?
It’s not impossible for both to be happening at the same time. Try to figure out just what your anxiety feels like in your body, when you’re most likely to notice it and whether you have any particular triggers.
Spot the symptoms
Broadly speaking, anxiety is the anticipation of danger, a negative event or a negative outcome—either in response to a real threat or a perceived one. And it manifests differently for different people.
Common symptoms include low energy, difficulty concentrating, nausea or stomach ache, an inability to sit still, elevated heartbeat, high blood pressure, racing thoughts, insomnia, compulsive or ritualistic behavior, and excessive avoidance of anxiety-provoking people, places and things.
Just recognizing when you’re feeling anxious can help stop the cycle.
The moment you say to yourself, “I’m feeling anxious right now, I can tell by the shallow way I’m breathing,” you gain an edge over your anxiety—and a clue about how to calm down.
Deep breathing can be an extremely effective way to tame in-the-moment anxiety.
Take slow, deep breaths—in through your nose and out through your mouth, starting from down in your stomach (versus up in your chest).
This sends a relaxation message to your nervous system. It effectively forces your body to calm down, whether it wants to or not.
Other things you can do to reduce anxiety in the moment:
- Repeat a mantra—”Breathe in peace, breathe out love,” or “This too shall pass.”
- Count backwards from 10
- Take a quick break
- Go for a short walk
- Grab a drink of water
- Give yourself a hug or hold your hand over your heart
To help yourself avoid feeling anxious in the first place, eat a nutritious diet, stay hydrated, cut back on caffeine and get enough sleep.
Exercise at least once or twice a week—an hour or two each session—and create a regular relaxation practice. This might consist of daily meditation for five to 10 minutes, or yoga or tai chi once or twice a week.
You can also write down five things you’re grateful for before you go to bed.
The trick? Find a practice that works for you.
It’s also important—and often overlooked by women, especially—to avoid overloading your schedule with obligations.
Each week, set aside time to do the things you love and that bring you joy. Read aloud with your children. Listen to your favorite music. Take a relaxing bath. Take time to unwind.
A quick check
Anxiety can be the body’s way of reminding us that having a little fun once in a while is essential, not optional.
Need help getting started? Here’s a checklist of ways to tame anxiety:
- Deep breathing
- Listen to music
- Enjoy your favorite hobby
- Take a nap
- Talk to a loved one (in person, over the phone or virtually)
- Snuggle with a pet
- Get a manicure or massage (Self-manicures and self-massages count!)
- Take a bath
- Lay off the TV or social media for a while—or, set a timer to limit how much time you spend engaging with the news