Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today


Surfing the Wave of Anxiety

A quick practical guide to navigating anxiety better.

Anxiety may be an everyday challenging experience. These resources provide a comprehensive understanding of anxiety, its mechanisms, types, and treatment approaches. The aim of this post is to provide a quick practical guide to coping better with anxiety.

Practical suggestions to cope with anxiety:

A healthy lifestyle. The interplay between sleep quality, healthy eating patterns, and physical activity represents the foundational components of coping effectively with anxiety. Our psychological state is not a separate entity from our physical body. Therefore, a multifaced approach when navigating anxiety is needed [1]–[3]:

  • Restorative sleep. There is a strong correlation between sleep and anxiety. For instance, low-quality sleep reflected by insomnia precipitates and perpetuates anxiety [4], therefore, addressing sleep quality and patterns is fundamental when it comes to coping with anxiety. This page provides a broader understanding of sleep patterns and quick resources to engage in restful sleep.
  • Nutrition. Personalized dietary plans can aid in creating and promoting healthy metabolic functioning. Research on the gut-brain axis is still in its infancy, however, there are promising studies indicating that healthy eating is associated with reduced inflammation which in turn correlates with a lower level of psychological distress [5].
  • Physical activity. Walking, running, boxing, functional training, Pilates, or yoga. Any form of physical activity you enjoy is a formidable add-on to your routine that not only helps in coping with anxiety but represents one of the basic components of a healthy lifestyle [6].

Breathing exercises are a great self-regulatory tool when navigating anxiety [7]:

  • Physiological sigh. Simply inhale air twice through your nose followed by a long exhale. A few "one, two, three" physiological sighs can provide a quick anxiety release. How to do it more concretely? This tutorial shows it. If you are interested in diving more into the scientific background of physiological sigh, The Huberman Lab dedicated this podcast to this topic.
  • Breathing techniques such as box breathing (inhale for four counts, holding the breath for four counts, exhaling out through the mouth for four counts, and holding the breath for four counts), or diaphragmatic breathing (or “belly breathing”) are two additional great and quick breathing exercises.
  • The 4-7-8 method (this tutorial suggests breathing in for four counts, holding breath for seven counts, and exhaling for eight counts). This method is also widely recommended to clients as a coping tool for anxiety.

Grounding exercises (exercises that help re-focus/re-shift the preoccupied mind to a mindful experience):

Physical grounding

  • Walk it barefoot. Take your shoes off and place your feet on the ground by pressing them, or walk with your bare feet in the grass or on solid surfaces. Walking barefoot in the sand is also another amazing physical grounding technique.
  • Unclench your jaw. When experiencing anxiety, many have a tight/clenched jaw. The objective here is to voluntarily unclench your jaw and relax it. Do it several times. You may notice how well connected the physical and emotional states are.
  • Shake it off. In eventful moments, when you are experiencing physical symptoms of anxiety like heart palpitations, sweating, or pounding sounds in your ears or at the back of your head, an easy way to ground your body is by shaking your hands and/or feet as hard as you can until you feel the anxiety has subsidized. There is no right or wrong way of doing this, just let your body flow.
  • Engage in relaxing activities. Let yourself be creative with playdough or clay, build a Lego, do a puzzle, draw, and submerge yourself in the process of baking goods, or gardening. These activities have therapeutic benefits and bring momentary relief from anxiety.
  • Butterfly method (the butterfly hug or butterfly tapping). A grounding technique in which you cross your arms around your chest and gently tap each shoulder just in the form of a butterfly.
Source: Alexandra Ghita
Source: Alexandra Ghita
  • Pet your pet. If you have a furry friend, simply looking at your pet may help reduce anxiety. A study published in 2021 by Bolstad et al. determined that pet owners experience less anxiety [8]. Your furry friend can give you a hand when experiencing anxiety.
  • Body scan meditation. This type of meditation may serve as a grounding technique by bringing your attention to different parts of the body. It is a self-soothing practice.

Mental grounding

  • “The wild horses” metaphor. A visual mental grounding exercise for rumination in which racing thoughts are similar to racing wild horses. A similar visual representation can be with racing cars on a road, or racing boats on a river. Remember, problems are like clouds—they come and go, whereas you are the clear blue sky.
  • The 5-4-3-2-1 grounding method. Look at five different things around you and name them, touch four different things (your book, your watch, your hair, etc.), listen to three different sounds in your environment and name them (e.g., the sound of birds outside, the sound of a car, sound of a colleague talking on the hallway, etc.), smell two different things in the environment, and taste one thing (e.g., a fruit).
  • Listen to green/white/pink/brown noise (which can be easily found on YouTube). For instance, green noise is a background noise that may facilitate falling asleep, improve concentration, but also promote relaxation.
  • Listen to Marconi Union's "Weightless." Considered the “world’s most relaxing song,” with research indicating that music therapy can be an alternative solution to pharmacological interventions to ease anxiety [9]. The best experience is with noise-cancelling earphones.


  • “Worry about worries.” Set a time in your calendar (e.g., one hour every day between 7 p.m. to 8 p.m.), in which you allow yourself to “worry about your worries,” about your preoccupations, recurrent thoughts, anything that is related to the anxiety you may be experiencing. This is the time for these preoccupations to “shine.” Be with them, let them flow, observe them, question what is their meaning, and perhaps put them on paper. Keep it to your established time and date. If one hour a day is dedicated to this, then keep it this way for a few good days. Once the hour is completed, you can go back to your daily routine. If preoccupations or thoughts will arise during the day outside the established time and date, you can write them in your agenda and postpone worrying about them until the right moment. This will train your mind to worry at a specific time and date, and not overwhelm you constantly.


  • Talk with a friend or someone you trust. Kindly ask your friends to listen to you. Many times, you simply want to articulate your inner world in words. Please remember that your journey may be different than your friends' journey, keep in mind what is beneficial and useful for you in case you are offered advice.
  • Talk to yourself. Sometimes, friends or close ones are not available. To cope with anxiety, one can talk to oneself by looking in the mirror or recording a video while talking out loud about what bothers you, or writing to yourself on WhatsApp or in a diary. Do what works for you best.


  • Journaling is one of the most underrated forms of coping with anxiety. There are many ways of starting your journaling habits. One example is creating a “to do” list before going to bed. This will help you organize your thoughts and create a structure for tomorrow’s tasks. Perhaps you prefer a “gratitude journal” to be thankful for little things in life? Or “your way” journal—meaning that you write your thoughts without a clear structure in mind. Usually, this habit is easier to complete once the individual has already had some experience with writing.

These are just a few ideas that may help you with surfing anxiety. Please be mindful that a new habit is developed over time through consistent practice. Try, adapt, change, and create your way.

To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.


[1] P. M. Kris-Etherton et al., “Nutrition and behavioral health disorders: Depression and anxiety,” Nutr Rev, vol. 79, no. 3, pp. 247–260, 2021, doi: 10.1093/nutrit/nuaa025.

[2] R. Norbury and S. Evans, “Time to think: Subjective sleep quality, trait anxiety and university start time.,” Psychiatry Res, vol. 271, pp. 214–219, 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2018.11.054.

[3] C. Ji, J. Yang, L. Lin, and S. Chen, “Physical Exercise Ameliorates Anxiety, Depression and Sleep Quality in College Students: Experimental Evidence from Exercise Intensity and Frequency,” Behavioral Sciences, vol. 12, no. 3, 2022, doi: 10.3390/bs12030061.

[4] S. L. Chellappa and D. Aeschbach, “Sleep and anxiety: From mechanisms to interventions,” Sleep Med Rev, vol. 61, p. 101583, 2022, doi: 10.1016/j.smrv.2021.101583.

[5] S. Mörkl et al., “The role of nutrition and the gut-brain axis in psychiatry: A review of the literature,” Neuropsychobiology, vol. 79, pp. 80–88, 2020, doi: 10.1159/000492834.

[6] B. Stubbs et al., “Physical activity and anxiety: A perspective from the World Health Survey,” J Affect Disord, vol. 208, pp. 545–552, 2017, doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2016.10.028.

[7] V. Magnon, F. Dutheil, and G. T. Vallet, “Benefits from one session of deep and slow breathing on vagal tone and anxiety in young and older adults,” Sci Rep, vol. 11, p. 19267, 2021, doi: 10.1038/s41598-021-98736-9.

[8] C. J. Bolstad, B. Porter, C. J. Brown, R. E. Kennedy, and M. R. Nadorff, “The relation between pet ownership, anxiety, and depressive symptoms in late life: Propensity score matched analyses,” Anthrozoos, vol. 34, no. 5, pp. 671–684, 2021, doi: 10.1080/08927936.2021.1926707.

[9] V. Graff, L. Cai, I. Badiola, and N. M. Elkassabany, “Music versus midazolam during preoperative nerve block placements: A prospective randomized controlled study,” Reg Anesth Pain Med, vol. 44, no. 8, pp. 796–799, 2019, doi: 10.1136/rapm-2018-100251.

More from Alexandra Ghita Ph.D.
More from Psychology Today