Anxiety can lead to physical illness as well as mental and emotional distress. Typically, medication is a part of a mental health care plan to manage anxiety. However, some people would rather avoid prescription medications and only resort to them if they cannot find other ways to reduce anxiety.
Psychotherapy (talk therapy) can be a wonderful alternative to medication. Some clients also find that group therapy helps with anxiety symptoms as they can talk through issues with others and share ideas to lower overall stress and anxiety.
The following is a list of ways to reduce anxiety. These suggestions have helped others destress and cope with the anxious, worrisome, and fearful thoughts that enter our minds.
Pause and breathe. While anxious, we tend to have shallow breathing. Our heart rate increases, and we can begin to pant. Eventually, if we continue breathing this way, we will hyperventilate and possibly even faint. The body uses this state of unconsciousness to reset itself and resume standard breathing patterns.
It is essential to pause and take a few deep breaths when feeling stressed. Inhale through your nose and fill your lungs deeply. Can you feel the air entering the lower portion of your lungs? Now, let the air out slowly through your mouth. Repeat this deep breathing tactic as many times as needed.
Work up a sweat. When you are worried about something, the last thing you might want to do is exercise. Yet, physical movement is one of the most beneficial activities you can do for your mental health. When you exercise, your brain releases chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, which give can eventually give you that “runner’s high.”
The more you move, the more your joints and muscles warm, dissolving those tense muscles and “knots” you have been feeling in your shoulders and upper back. Exercise also builds both physical and mental resilience, making it one of the better ways to reduce anxiety.
Pray. We cannot control everything around us. We are often concerned about something that has happened in the past or fearful about the future. We know that we cannot change the past, but why not hand our future over to the God that knows all about it?
Taking time throughout the day to talk with God and pour your heart out to Him may be all you need to begin seeing clearly. God provides a peace that passes all understanding. Even when faced with great difficulties and trials, when we know that God stands with us, we cannot fail. Spend time with God today, praying and reading His Word.
Journal your thoughts and feelings. You can also pour your heart out onto the page. Many people find journaling helpful in releasing negative emotions. You can write every thought in a journal, then reframe those negative thoughts into positive affirmations. Self-doubt and low self-esteem can result from anxiety (and depression).
By creating positive affirmations in a journal and repeating those throughout the day, you may begin to feel a sense of calm and self-confidence. Consider phrases like, “I am a child of the Most High God” and “I have God’s favor on my life so I know I can do hard things.”
Talk to a friend. Sharing a worry halves the burden. Sometimes venting is what is needed to lift the weight we are carrying. If you have a close friend that you can turn to, voice your concerns. A good friend will listen as you speak and offer constructive advice.
The Bible states, “The godly give good advice to their friends; the wicked lead them astray.” (Proverbs 12:26 NLT) Make sure that whomever you decide to confide in is trustworthy. In turn, be the friend someone needs in their time of trouble.
Flip your inner script. Negative thoughts tend to intrude at the worst time: middle of the night, during the workday, or during a quiet moment. Learning to flip those negative thoughts into positive ones can help you avoid feeling anxious. It will take practice, but it is worth it for your peace of mind. If you are unsure how to identify those thoughts, speak with a counselor. You can use this skill for a lifetime.
Create something. Producing something can help ease anxiety. The region of the brain that processes emotions is also tapped when we create. The Creator knew this when He formed us in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139). You can create a piece of art or music, write a short story, or craft something with your hands.
Any activity that activates your imagination can help ward off anxious feelings. Spend time today working on something you really love, then ask yourself how you feel afterward. Lighter? Happier? Peaceful? Make a note of how your creative endeavor left you feeling, and schedule a time to do more of the same.
Laugh it off. Who would have thought that positive humor would benefit our emotions? Studies have shown that laughter releases tension, eases anxiety, and leaves you relaxed. When was the last time you sat down and watched a funny sitcom? What about a live comedy show? Even spending a few hours with a couple of funny friends can boost your mood and ease anxiety.
Make a no-screens rule. It is essential to stay connected with smartphones in today’s society. However, researchers have found a link between anxiety and depression and the number of hours spent on devices. Electronic devices emit blue light frequencies that can decrease melatonin in the brain and disrupt the sleep cycle.
As well, spending hours scrolling through social media can lead to comparison and feelings of missing out. These emotions result in anxiety and depression. Consider setting a no-screens rule for at least a few hours before bedtime as one of the key ways to reduce anxiety.
Reduce caffeine intake. Giving up caffeinated coffee may sound like cruel and unusual punishment, but caffeine increases anxiety and its physical symptoms: rapid heart rate, nervousness, higher blood pressure, and chest tightness. If you are a caffeine drinker, it might not be best to stop cold turkey.
Wean yourself off caffeinated drinks slowly, cutting down by another cup each week. You can also find half-caffeine and decaf coffees available in grocery stores. Remember that several foods like chocolate and hot cocoa contain caffeine.
Spend time outdoors. A study published in the journal Sustainability in 2021 cited that nature walks helped lower state anxiety. Being out in nature, seeing the green grass and leaves on the trees, and breathing fresh air grounds us. Try spending a few hours every week outdoors appreciating your surroundings.
You can also bring the outdoors inside by growing various flowers and plants in your living space. Consider taking your exercise or yoga practice into nature, or join a local hiking group.
Receive grace for yourself. These tips to reduce stress are not numbered; you can work on them in any order, but this last one is far from the least. It should probably be first on any list for easing anxiety: giving yourself grace. Anxiety can leave you feeling out-of-sorts, not good enough, or worthless. Grace says, “I know I messed up, but I’m willing to improve. In God’s power, I will make my way out of this.”
We can lean on God and use Jesus’ example of grace towards us as the foundation for how we should treat ourselves (and others). “Give your entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don’t get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help you deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes.” (Matthew 6:34 MSG) Know your limits, set boundaries, take a deep breath, and give yourself grace.
If you’re looking for additional ways to reduce anxiety, reach out to me or one of the other counselors at our office today. We would love to speak with you and help formulate a treatment plan to lower your stress and anxiety.
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