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10 Tips for Managing Your Anxiety

General points to keep in mind when it comes to managing your anxiety.

Here are some tips to help you keep an informed perspective on what anxiety is and provide some very basic dos and don’ts when it comes to managing your anxiety.

Accept that Anxiety is a Normal Emotion and can be Helpful: Anxiety often generates additional layers of anxiety—especially if you become anxious about being anxious. Anxiety isn’t unnatural—it’s a normal emotion that has evolved to help you deal with anticipated threats and challenges, and that’s basically what it’s there for. It can help you stay focused in an interview, and help to speed you home on a dark night. Bouts of anxiety usually don’t last very long, so try not to fight off your feelings of anxiety, but accept it and say to yourself that it’s okay to be anxious. Message to self: “It’s okay to be anxious”.

Understand that Anxiety Can’t Harm You: Experiencing anxiety doesn’t mean you’re going crazy, it means you’re normal. Anxiety can’t harm you, it’s usually you that wrongly interprets signs of anxiety as being possibly harmful. Anxiety is not necessarily a pleasant feeling, but the physiological indications of anxiety such as perspiring, increased heart rate, trembling, are not harmful, nor are they signs of impending illness. Message to self: “Anxiety can’t harm me, I can still do what I need to do.”

Avoid Avoidance: Avoidance is arguably the main factor that allows anxiety to develop and propagate. Avoiding highly dangerous things – such as running in front of moving cars—is quite sensible and reasonable. But if you’re avoiding things that most other people think are safe, then you may need to deal with what may be inappropriate anxiety. Avoiding the things that make you anxious never allows you to find out the reality of the threat—it may not be a threat at all. But you don’t discover there’s no monster in the closet if you continue to avoid opening the closet door. Message to self: “Anxiety feeds off avoidance, I’ll try and find a way to face my fears.”

Check that Your Anxiety is Justified: Very often you should reality check your anxieties—is what you’re anxious about really a significant threat or challenge, and are other people anxious about the things you are? Often the thing causing your anxiety may not be as dangerous or threatening as you think. This is certainly the case with many anxiety-based disorders where the level of anxiety elicited has grown way beyond what is reasonable for the threat that the sufferer perceives. Message to self: “Is my anxiety justified?”

Consider being Adventurous rather than Avoiding Risk and Uncertainty: Life is basically an adventure. There are no plans set out to be followed from the beginning, you can get as much out of life as you want to. There is nothing that stymies an adventure more than trying to avoid risk and uncertainty, so try to tip the balance from avoiding risk to seeking out new experiences. There is nothing that fuels anxiety like trying to control risk and uncertainty, so try to counteract this by doing something you consider adventurous at least once a week—things like going into a new situation where you don’t know what will happen, or doing things without seeking reassurances from others first. Message to self: “I will do something adventurous every week.”

No one is Perfect—Take a Break from the Rigid Rules that make you Anxious: Setting the highest standards for everything, all the time, is a recipe for stress and anxiety. So try to analyze the kinds of rigid rules that you yourself apply and replace these with more realistic expectations. These rigid rules are things like ‘I must always be loved by everyone’, ‘I must never let anyone down’, ‘life should always be fair, ‘I need to be fully in control of everything I do’. Write down some of the rigid rules you live your life by and try to think of some more reasonable alternatives. For example, “I need to be fully in control of everything I do” could become “I will do my best, but accept that some things are out of my control.” Message to self: “No one is perfect—I will live my life using realistic rules.”

Refuse to Let Anxiety Hold you Back: Anxiety will regularly prevent you from doing things that you want to. But at some point, you’ll need to feel the fear if you’re to move on. To overcome anxiety you’ll have to undertake some challenges that initially make you feel anxious, but this can be an uplifting and valuable experience if you eventually manage to prove your anxiety wrong. Most things that make us anxious are usually not as bad as our anxiety told us they might be. Trying new things, taking challenges, and solving problems all adds up to a healthier and more productive life. Message to self: “I will not let my anxiety hold me back”.

Recruit Help to Change: Moving on from anxiety will require you to change a lot of things you do and the way you do them, so it’s always helpful to enlist the help of family or friends to try to achieve these changes. Friends may help you to attempt things you’ve never done before because of your anxiety—an assisting hand and some positive encouragement from another person will always be helpful. It’s also good to know that other people understand your anxiety problems and are willing to help you. But beware, there are some forms of help from others that can reinforce your anxiety. For example, try not to seek reassurances from others that things will be okay. If you’re seeking reassurances then this confirms you’re still anxious, and it may prevent you from facing up to your fears. Similarly, if you’re anxious about something like going to the shop, don’t ask someone else to do it for you—you need to learn that with some perseverance and support you too can go to the shop without feeling anxious. Message to self: “I’m happy to ask friends and family to help me to achieve changes that will reduce my anxiety.”

Be Aware of the Bigger Picture: You’re not just simply your anxiety—believe it or not, there is a lot more to you. You’re a living, breathing human being whose life consists of many more things than just being anxious. But aspects of your broader lifestyle may be colluding with your anxiety, maintaining it, and even preventing you from moving on. For example, anxiety and sleeping problems are close allies, as are depression and anxiety. Try to organize your life so that you’re able to get a regular good night’s sleep, and if you also feel depressed, try to get help to relieve your depression because tackling your depression may leave you more confident to overcome your anxiety. Becoming over-reliant on anxiety medication or even choosing to drown your anxiety in alcohol are also unlikely to help you move on from anxiety. Medication or a stiff drink can take the edge off your anxiety in the short term, but they won’t teach you the social or problem-solving skills you need to learn to alleviate your anxiety. Problematic drinking can leave you with next-day hangovers that mean you miss work or college, it depletes the feel-good brain chemical serotonin, increases secretion of the anxiety-generating hormone cortisol, and physically creates low mood and feelings of nausea and confusion—all sensations that trigger anxious thinking and anxious cognitive processes. Finally, you should encourage yourself to embrace healthy living. Regular exercise is known to reduce anxiety, and a healthy diet is associated with better mental health. Message to self: “I’ll try to embrace a more healthy lifestyle and move on from anxiety.”

Seek Professional Help if you Feel you Need It: Tackling your anxiety problems on your own can be a daunting and overwhelming prospect, and you shouldn’t be afraid to seek more structured support from a CBT therapist, a psychotherapist or a counselor. If your anxiety is particularly distressing or you believe you have patterns of anxiety that resemble one or more of the anxiety disorders, it would be sensible to seek professional help. You may be able to find suitable psychotherapeutic help privately, or alternatively you can approach your local health services or your GP or physician for advice.

I hope you can find some useful advice in these general tips that’ll help you to manage your anxiety and move on. If you’d like more detail on how to implement these tips I would recommend CBT self-help books in general, and our own CBT self-help book Managing Anxiety with CBT for Dummies.


More from Graham C.L. Davey Ph.D.
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