5 Ways to Cope With Anxiety
Updated: Apr 25
Do you notice yourself in a constant state of fear and worry, imagining negative outcomes, or avoiding situations due to a sense that things will not go well? Do you find that your muscles are often tense, that you have a rapid heartbeat or are often short of breath? These symptoms can be all-consuming and debilitating for people living with anxiety. In today’s post, I would like to address a few DBT, CBT, and physical strategies for helping reduce anxiety symptoms in order for you to begin experiencing increased relief from your anxiety.
Physical activity: When we are anxious, our bodies experience a physiological change. We get tense, our heartbeat increases, our breath becomes shallow. These changes relay the message to the brain to remain in a state of vigilance, thus creating a feedback loop which maintains anxiety symptoms. One effective way to reduce anxiety is to target these physical symptoms by engaging in physical activity. This can look like:
Intense exercise, like running or a HIIT workout
Taking a walk outside
Doing yoga or engaging in deep stretching
Physical outlets like the above release endorphins, which produce a sense of calm and relaxation. Activities like yoga help to reduce tension in your body, allowing your muscles to ease up and send a message to your brain that you can let go and relax. Additionally, when engaging in physical activity, you may notice that you are entirely focused on the activity in which you’re participating. Physical activity turns out to be an automatic mindfulness tool, yet another wonderful benefit to moving your body.
Another important reminder is that these activities can be time-limited. If you don’t have time for a run or a walk, you can do something like jumping jacks or burpees for five minutes to elicit a relaxation response. Or you can stretch for 5-10 minutes to achieve some increased release of tension.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation and Paced Breathing: DBT promotes the use of progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and paced breathing together as two ways to quickly calm intense emotions such as panic and anxiety. PMR is the practice of tensing specific muscle groups for a period of time and then slowly releasing that same muscle group to create a sense of calm and relaxation. When coupled with paced breathing, this practice can help reduce or eliminate physical tension and anxiety, leaving you in a state of contentment and peace. Here is a link that takes you through a quick and effective PMR exercise.
Improve your sleep: Lack of sleep is a major contributor to stress, tension, and anxiety. When you are lacking sleep, you are more likely to be emotionally vulnerable and reactive. Thoughts and situations that would not otherwise bother you may feel more intense and threatening. You may want to consider the following questions as a way of improving your sleep quality:
Are you consuming too much caffeine or consuming caffeine too late in the day? How can you begin cutting back on caffeine use?
Are you going to sleep and waking up at regular times? If not, how can you begin to establish a more regular sleep schedule?
Are you consuming news, media, and information that cause you to struggle with falling asleep? How can you manage the information you consume to promote less stress?
What is your bedtime routine? Do you have a bedtime routine in place at all? Can you create a routine that promotes a sense of calm and relaxation before going to bed?
Are you engaging in multiple activities in bed, like working on the computer, scrolling through the phone, or snacking? How can you reduce these activities so that your bed becomes associated with just sleep?
Challenge negative predictions and “what if” worries: A hallmark symptom of anxiety is the tendency to make negative predictions about future outcomes and to engage in “what if” worries. Often, these predictions and thoughts are happening so rapidly that they may be taking place without your awareness. However, these thoughts are still taking their toll as you move through life in a state of worry and hypervigilance. Once you begin noticing these thoughts, remind yourself that you cannot predict the future, you can only control your actions in the present moment to potentially create an outcome you’ll be happy with. Ask yourself how often your most feared prediction has come true, and if it has, how you survived it or how it helped you build resilience.
Ask yourself if there’s a threat “right now”: It can help to notice if your anxiety is focused on a real threat that’s taking place in the moment. If not, how can you check the facts about your situation and notice that you are safe? Can you bring yourself back to the present moment, perhaps using some grounding skills, and remind yourself that you are actually okay right now and can let go of your worry for the time being?
I hope you find some of these suggestions helpful toward releasing some of the anxiety you are experiencing. By focusing on some of the physical strategies you can take to reduce your anxiety and by noticing the thought patterns that contribute to your anxiety, you can begin to take action toward creating a life that is more peaceful, joyful, and stress-free.