All of us have an object, person, or situation that makes us anxious. It doesn’t matter if its flying, public speaking, or a weird uncle. Regardless of what it is that personally affects you, this anxiety can have an overwhelming influence on what we do and how we feel.
That’s why it’s no wonder so many Americans struggle with anxiety. Per the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) 19 percent of Americans over the age of 18 had an anxiety disorder in the past year. Similarly, 31 percent of Americans will experience an anxiety disorder during their lifetimes.
So, in today’s article, we’re going to define anxiety, describe different types of anxiety, then detail 11 simple strategies to help you learn how to clam anxiety.
What is Anxiety? (vs. Fear vs. Stress)
So, why do we, as humans, feel anxiety? Like most things in life, it has to do with our past. Anxiety is closely related to stress which is closely related to fear. That’s because our brains are biologically hardwired to protect us. Since the days of Sabre Tooth Tigers, we’ve had to keep our heads on a swivel looking for potential dangers.
Still, since we no longer need to worry about tiger attacks (unless Joe Exotic has employed you), it’s worth questioning whether we need to worry so much about dangers. That’s why it’s so essential to understand the differences between anxiety, stress, and fear.
An external trigger causes stress. Like fear, it’s a physiological and psychological response to an actual threat. Anxiety, on the other hand, is defined by persistent and excessive worries. Worries that don’t recede even in the absence of a stressor. It’s being terrified but not knowing what of and having it never decline or go away.
Types of Major Anxiety Disorders?
Anxiety, like many other mental health issues, can present itself in many different forms. Here are several significant types of anxiety disorders, per the American Psychological Association (APA):
- Generalized Anxiety Disorders – Characterized by persistent worry or anxious feelings.
- Panic Disorder – Marked by recurrent panic attacks that often occur suddenly and without warning.
- Phobias – Intense fears about certain objects or situations that are distressing and intrusive.
- Social Anxiety Disorder – Also known as social phobia. When an individual fears social situations in which they may feel judged or embarrassed.
- Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – Characterized by persistent, uncontrollable feelings, thoughts, and routines or rituals.
- Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) – Often develops after a severe physical or emotional trauma like a natural disaster, serious accident, or crime.
11 Tips on How to Calm Anxiety
Like virtually every mental health issue, there’s not a cure-all or ‘silver bullet’ to help you defeat your anxiety in one simple step. Still, there are many actions you can take to help you manage or cope with your anxiety. Here are 11 tips on how to calm anxiety:
1.) Accept and Understand your Anxiety
One of the first steps for how to calm anxiety is to accept and understand your anxiety. Often anxiety can lead to more anxiety. This chain reaction of anxiety can significantly increase if you become anxious about being anxious. It’s a vicious cycle.
But once you break the stigma surrounding anxiety, you can better accept it as is. Your anxiety isn’t a signal something is broken or abnormal. Anxiety is a very usual and ordinary emotion. As previously stated, anxiety evolved with us to help us anticipate threats and challenges. So, remember, it’s okay to be anxious.
2.) Recognize Resistance
One of the primary tools anxiety uses to control us is resistance. Resistance is the voice inside all of us telling us we can’t have the life we envision. It’s what tells us all the reasons the thing we’re doing won’t succeed. The first step to resist this resistance is to recognize it.
When it pops up, instead of fighting it, recognize it as a frightened child. You can start better recognizing resistance through such tools as meditation, mindfulness, and journaling.
3.) Avoid Avoidance
Think about something that gives you anxiety. It doesn’t matter what it is if it’s flying or social interactions. Now, think about how you react when confronted with that object or situation. What’s your typical reaction? If you’re like me, chances are your primary reaction is avoidance.
It feels safe to avoid things you’re anxious about. The bad thing you’re picturing in your mind can never manifest if you altogether avoid what makes you nervous. Avoiding something that makes you anxious means you’ll never discover the reality of the threat.
What you’re so anxious about may not be a threat at all. Remember, you can’t discover there are no monsters in your room if you never get out of bed and check your closet. Anxiety feeds off of avoidance. So, find a way, or ways, to face your fears head-on.
4.) Kindle Your Spark
On its most base level, a lot of anxiety revolves around being afraid of something. Luckily, you don’t have to be fearful of that thing your whole life. Each of us has the power to rewire our brain to make our early-warning systems less reactive. But to complete this rewiring, you must kindle your spark.
And, to kindle your spark, you must take ‘acceptable risks.’ Things that are outside your comfort zone but not totally overwhelming. Remember, you’re training your mind to approach and examine your anxiety rather than avoiding it. So, do the thing you’re passionate about but scares you.
Kindle the spark that gets you excited, even if it makes you a little anxious.
5.) Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing (or cleansing breaths or diaphragmatic breathing) is the practice of mindful breathing to calm down your body to trick your mind into relaxation. Here’s a simple five-step process you can follow to start your own deep breathing practice:
- Inhale – Take a deep, cleansing breath through your nose.
- Hold – Hold the air in your lungs for four seconds.
- Exhale – Slowly release the air from your mouth.
- Pause – Allow for a moment to pass before your next breath.
- Paying Attention – As you inhale, hold, exhale, and pause. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath.
- Observations – Allow your mind to observe what you’re experiencing physiologically and emotionally.
Additionally, you can try the Box breathing method (used by the Navy Seals) or the 4-7-8 breathing method.
6.) Cue-Controlled Relaxation
Cue-controlled relaxation is a science-backed relaxation technique to help you quickly calm anxiety. It’s a type of classical conditioning that pairs a state of relaxation with a word of your choosing. By practicing this technique, over time, you can calm yourself with only one word.
Learn more about cue-controlled relaxation here.
7.) Focus on Gratitude
It may seem pollyannish, but the simple act of focusing on gratitude can do a lot to help you control and calm your anxiety. Two recent studies have demonstrated the intense possible power of positivity. You can read about these studies in-depth here.
But to quickly summarize these findings, gratitude has been demonstrated to lessen symptoms of anxiety and depression, and decreasing the levels of brain chemicals associated with Alzheimer’s disease and the risk of cognitive decline.
8.) Control What You Can Control
If you want to calm your anxiety and find peace, you must understand this simple fact of life: some things are beyond your control. Anxiety, frequently, is a direct result of the fact you’re not in total control of a person, thing, or situation.
So, instead of worrying about the factors you can’t control, focus on what you can. Spend your time and energy accomplishing what’s immediately in front of you.
9.) Remember Physical Health Impacts Mental Health
Anxiety, like any other mental health condition, is intertwined with your physical health. How you treat your body directly affects your mind. So, if you want to improve how you handle anxiety, start by improving your physical health. Eat a balanced diet and don’t skip meals. Exercise regularly. Get seven to eight hours of sleep a day and try to avoid caffeine and alcohol.
10.) Seek Support
We all need help. And if the past year and a half has taught us anything, it’s that nobody is alone in this world. In today’s society, we’re all interconnected, no matter if we choose to recognize that fact or not. So, even if you don’t struggle with anxiety, close and loving relationships are crucial to a healthy and happy life.
But these trusting relationships are even more necessary if you are anxious. Your anxiety can trick you into thinking the people in your life don’t want to hear about your problems or don’t want to help. But that’s anxiety tricking your mind. Don’t listen! Instead, be vulnerable and ask for help. Chances are, your loved ones will reciprocate these feelings and jump at any opportunity to help you.
11.) Talk to a Professional
Finally, if necessary, seek professional help. Even thinking about how to calm anxiety can be overwhelming. So, if you know you want to change, but don’t know where to start, consider seeking a therapist or psychiatrist.
Our team of licensed experts can help you learn how to calm anxiety, as well as a host of other issues. Plus, at Compassionate Minds Therapy, we work with each of our patients to create an individualized treatment plan that works best for you at a time that’s most convenient for you.
So, if you’re ready to work on your anxiety or any other mental health issue, contact a Compassionate Minds therapist today.