How to Reduce Anxiety
Anxiety can be a cruel condition, and there are many different forms of anxiety. Some variations are generalized anxiety disorder to more specific forms of anxiety, such as social anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, PTSD, or various phobias. Often you should involve the health service when you suffer from anxiety, to get a specific diagnosis, as well as get guidance for further help. Perhaps the most important thing to do if you are struggling with intense anxiety is to contact your GP and take it from there. At the same time, there are many things you can do on your own, which we will look at in this post.
For my part, anxiety was a sidekick to the primary character depression; in the years I was sick. These two disorders often work in pairs. Anxiety can lead to depression, and depression can lead to anxiety. There is often an overlap in the treatment of anxiety and depression; these are two disorders that should be treated together. An exception here is that several forms of anxiety should involve a form of exposure therapy, where one gradually becomes accustomed to exposure to something that triggers anxiety. A therapist will be able to help you with this.
1. Go for a Walk or a Run
Physical activity, especially aerobic exercise for 30-45 minutes; in other words, activities such as swimming, jogging, brisk walking, team sports, cycling, etc., lead to a whole bunch of positive health effects. One of these health effects is that it has an anxiety-reducing effect, among other things, by reducing the levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. You do not have to keep at it for long before these effects kick in, you get positive effects already after five minutes of effort. And you don’t need to go running, going for a walk will give you the same benefits, especially if you walk at a brisk pace.
2. Work on Improving Your Sleep
Anyone who has suffered from anxiety or depression knows how much insomnia is involved in the disorders. Poor sleep aggravates both anxiety and depression, and the disorders also lead to poorer sleep in return. Improving sleep can be one of the measures that has the best effect on reducing anxiety. I have written a lot about this before, including in this post about 7 steps that lead to better sleep.
3. Learn Cognitive and Metacognitive Techniques
These techniques can be a bit complicated to learn on your own, but this is also entirely possible. I learned cognitive techniques by reading various books (especially this one) and by practicing the techniques over time. You can find a cognitive therapist who can help you on this website (Psychology Today). You can learn a technique I refer to as Extended ABC already today, by reading this article about what I refer to as Extended ABC.
Where cognitive techniques teach you to change thoughts that may aggravate your anxiety, the metacognitive techniques focus on how to avoid triggering thoughts or brooding completely. Metacognitive Therapy (MCT) is a much younger discipline than Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), so you might have a harder time finding a therapist, but this website will help you if you live in Europe.
4. Practice Meditation
There are many types of meditation, but perhaps especially the MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction) program developed by the American doctor Jon Kabat-Zinn has proven effective against anxiety (and depression). One of the techniques you learn in an MBSR course is body scanning, which you can find an instructional video about here, and a recording for guided meditation here (or here, for the YouTube version).
Meditation works against anxiety in several ways. Breathing deeply, slowly, and evenly leads directly to reduced levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. At the same time, through meditation, you will learn how to control thoughts and impulses, simply by continuously directing attention to something else (such as your breathing). This is an extremely useful skill, both when suffering from anxiety, depression, hyperactive worries, and other mental ailments.
5. Get Some Help from Your Friends, Both Two and Four-Legged
Talking to someone, especially someone who understands what anxiety is, will help. But just being with others will be anxiety-reducing, as long as you choose one or more people who have a calming effect on you. Call your best friend. Go for a walk together, watch a nice movie, go exercising together. Being active, whatever you do, will cause you to spend less time with the thoughts that trigger anxiety in you.
You will get muchof the same effect by spending time with pets. Find a dog you can walk, it could be the neighbor’s if you do not have one yourself. Cuddling with a pet will trigger the release of the hormone oxytocin, which has a calming effect. The same goes for any physical contact with people, like a good hug from a friend or family member.
Anxiety sucks, but following these steps will almost certainly help! I wish you all the best!
Read more in 14 Steps to Happiness.