If you type “how to deal with anxiety” into Google, you will get about 9 million results. That’s 9 million potential sources from which you can learn how to cope with your anxiety.
Furthermore, a quick search in Google Trends revealed that, over the last five years, the topic ‘anxiety’ has slowly but significantly increased in popularity.
It seems that both experts and regular people have taken a keen interest in this topic.
Because anxiety affects all of us!
It affects us regardless of age, gender, nationality, cultural background, or socio-economic status. No matter where you are or who you are, anxiety can interfere with your day-to-day life.
And with roughly 270 million people living with anxiety (according to the World Health Organization), it’s more than obvious that something needs to be done ASAP.
Furthermore, even though anxiety is among the most highly treatable problems, only 36.9% of anxiety sufferers receive treatment.
In my opinion – based on every statistic I could find – there can never be too many guides and materials on how to deal with anxiety. Those who can’t afford treatment need to receive some form of help.
For that matter, I have decided to compile a thorough and step-by-step guide that will help you gain a better understanding of what goes on inside your anxious mind and body. That way you will gain a clear perspective on how anxiety affects your life and what you can do to manage it.
But first, let’s take a closer look at what anxiety is.
What is Anxiety?
In broad lines anxiety is a state of increased awareness and vigilance. It is a state of physical and mental alertness that signals a potential danger.
In other words, your heart beats faster to pump more blood to your muscles, your entire body feels tense, and your mind is on full alert. All these sudden (and sometimes overwhelming) changes are meant to prepare you for the worst.
But, whenever I talk about this topic, I always like to draw a clear line between healthy and unhealthy anxiety.
Healthy anxiety is the kind of anxiety that you experience when you come back from work and take a shortcut through a dark alley. Or when you’re late on your bills and must figure out a way to pay them. In such situations, anxiety is the ‘push’ that prompts us to remain focused or take action.
Unhealthy anxiety occurs in the absence of real danger. For example, when we spend hours worrying about a situation over which we have no control. Or when we avoid going out because we don’t feel comfortable around others.
Healthy or unhealthy, anxiety is simply part of our survival mechanisms. We’ve all experienced it and we all know how unpleasant it can be. Some manage to keep it in check, while others find it difficult to control it. Unfortunately, the number of people who find anxiety challenging to control is pretty high.
Here’s how anxiety looks like from a global perspective:
Pretty serious, right! 264 MILLION anxiety sufferers worldwide. Tragically, only about 37% of them have the tools to cope with it.
And here’s what anxiety looks like on a global scale, if we were to divide it by gender:
If there’s something I want you to remember is that anxiety is highly manageable. By having a clear understanding of why it exists and how it works, you will be able to prevent it from ruining your personal and professional life.
10 Signs of Anxiety
As you probably know from your own experience, anxiety manifests both physically and mentally. This seemingly endless roller coaster of emotions, thoughts, and physical symptoms is what makes anxiety so unbearable. To put an end to this dazzling rollercoaster, we must first learn to spot its signs.
Five physical signs of anxiety:
- Pounding heart. Your heart starts pumping blood faster into your system.
- Breathing difficulties. Your lungs work on full capacity to deliver oxygen throughout your entire body.
- Muscle tension. Your entire body is in fight-or-flight mode.
- The annoying state of alertness caused by anxiety can sometimes keep us up at night.
- Headaches and migraines. The blood is racing through your system, putting tension on your head arteries.
Five psychological signs of anxiety:
- Excessive fear and worry. In most cases related to events that you interpret as threatening.
- Restlessness and inability to relax. When you are on full alert all the time, you lose those valuable moments of peace and calm.
- Anticipating the worst. You feel so caught up in that endless spiral of negative thoughts that you begin to see danger at every corner.
- You think that by being alert all the time, you will have more control over what’s going to happen.
- Social withdrawal and isolation. When you perceive the world as one big scary place, you begin to isolate yourself from everything and everyone.
The ideal way to evaluate your anxiety is by consulting a mental health professional who can determine the severity of your symptoms and design an intervention plan suited to your specific condition.
Unfortunately, the stigma associated with having an ‘official’ diagnosis can be so burdensome that many of us tend to avoid consulting a professional who might confirm what we’re too afraid to accept.
But in many ways, a mental health diagnosis can be empowering as it represents the first step towards getting a handle on the situation.
Where Does Anxiety Come From?
(And What’s It’s Purpose?)
Whenever I talk to my clients about the origins of anxiety, I always tell them the same story. A story about our distant relatives; the first humans who organized in tribes and set the foundation of our civilization.
Tens of thousands of years ago, the world was a harsh place for us humans. We were different from other mammals, but not by far. In the face of natural disasters, we were just as fragile as any other living being.
In fact, danger was lurking in every bush and on every tree branch. You could have been torn to pieces by fierce predators, poisoned by insects, or even killed by your own neighbors. Those of us who were smart enough to avoid (or even run from) predators and alert enough to spot potential hazards, managed to survive and pass on their genes.
Although we’re no longer chased by predators or hunted down by our own kin, the same mechanism that helped our ancestors survive and thrive in a hostile environment is still hardwired into our brains.
As Dr. Keith Gaynor brilliantly explains in one of his presentations:
“The body you are in is 70.000 years old plus your own age. And so, your body isn’t built for the modern world. Your body is built to be a caveman or a cavewoman. Your body is built for running and fighting and fleeing and defending. Your body has survived 70.000 years. You are a miracle of evolution because your body is exceptionally good at doing this.”
Today, the dangers that once put our lives at risk were replaced by ‘imaginary’ threats. In other words, instead of being anxious about predators, natural disasters, or ill-intentioned members of our community, we tend to worry about the future and all the risks that may or may not follow.
We worry about other people’s opinions; we worry about rejection, failure, criticism; we worry about everything our mind interprets as dangerous, risky, or impossible to cope with.
What I’m trying to say is what philosophers (especially Stoic philosophers) and mental health experts have said over and over again – It’s not the situation/event that makes you feel anxious, but the way you choose to interpret it.
That worst-case scenario you keep playing in your head may never come into reality. That never-ending rollercoaster of anxious thoughts and unpleasant emotions has nothing to do with the reality you’re currently living in.
You are not an anxious person; anxiety isn’t what defines you as a human being. You’re just a normal person who’s feeling anxious at times. That is the mindset that I want to cultivate.
With the help of this guide, you will learn how to deal with anxiety the smart way. And by that I mean you will gain a valuable set of tools to manage anxiety and prevent it from ruining your personal, social, and professional life.
The 7 Simple Steps to Help You Tackle Anxiety With Ease
#1 GET TO KNOW YOUR ANXIETY
Many of us tend to describe anxiety as unbearable, unpleasant, intolerable, or even tiring. In other words, we hate everything about it and wish to see it gone forever. We criticize and blame it for every lost opportunity and every moment of intense fear that we’ve experienced throughout our lives.
On the one hand, we criticize anxiety for making us feel the way we feel, and on the other, we identify with it. As a result, we end up criticizing and blaming ourselves for the way we feel, think, and act.
But what if you were to change your perspective about anxiety?
What if, instead of criticizing your anxious thoughts, you would take the time to understand where they come from and why they keep bugging you? What if, instead of running away from anxiety and desperately trying to banish it, you would run towards it?
You cannot fight against an unknown enemy. It’s impossible to manage and prevent anxiety without knowing what it is, where it comes from, and how it manifests. That’s why I wanted you to have a precise definition and a set of symptoms right from the start.
When you get to know your anxiety, you will notice that it’s not as scary and powerful as you think. Next time you feel anxious about something, take a moment to understand what goes on inside your mind and body:
- What are the thoughts that go through your head when you’re feeling anxious?
- What are the bodily sensations that accompany that unpleasant sensation of worry and restlessness?
- What is your inner dialogue? Is there a way to reframe your thoughts so that anxiety no longer feels like the end of the world?
Approach your anxiety with curiosity, not criticism.
#2 CHALLENGE IT
Once you realize that anxiety is nothing more than a broken alarm that goes off in the absence of real danger, you can begin to challenge it.
Thought challenging and reframing are some of the most effective and widely used strategies for managing anxiety, depression, and stress.
Over the years, therapists and mental health professionals have successfully used these techniques to help people (like you and I) reinterpret the irrational thoughts that generate emotional pain.
The beliefs we hold about ourselves, others, and the world dictate the way we feel and act. In other words, if you think the world is a scary place and people are out to criticize and humiliate you, then you’ll probably seek evidence to support this assumption.
Instead of shaping your beliefs from an objective perspective, you choose to hold on to your irrational thoughts without ever asking yourself if that’s the smartest thing to do. In fact, this is one of those mistakes we all make – We think that everything our mind produces is valid and worth believing in.
Thought challenging means doing the exact opposite. It means looking at your thoughts and beliefs with a skeptical eye.
Because the irrational beliefs you hold about yourself and anxiety is the reason why you lose control over how you feel and behave.
Next time anxiety gives you a hard time; I want you to pause for a moment and try to pinpoint those racing thoughts that make you feel anxious, depressed, or stressed. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why do I get these thoughts/beliefs?
- Are these thoughts/beliefs rational?
- Are these thoughts/beliefs useful?
- Are these thoughts/beliefs in concordance with reality?
- Do I have any objective proof to support my thoughts/beliefs?
- What would happen if I didn’t hold these thoughts/beliefs as true?
The more you ask yourself these questions and challenge the validity of your anxiety-inducing thoughts, the more you realize that it’s not the world or other people that make you feel anxious and stressed, but your own irrational beliefs and interpretations.Once you realize that anxiety is nothing more than a broken alarm that goes off in the absence of real danger, you can begin to challenge it Click To Tweet
#3 STOP TRYING TO BE IN CONTROL ALL THE TIME
The need for control is one of our most fundamental needs. But have you ever wondered why we crave control so badly? What is it about being in control that makes us want to cling to it and hold on for dear life? What do we gain by having control over ourselves, others, and our subjective reality?
Simple: We gain safety and security.
When we’re in control, unexpected things don’t happen. We are safe, free from danger. We don’t have to worry about anything because we think that everything is under our control.
Sadly, the more we love control, the more afraid we are to lose it. So, in the end, there’s still one small (but significant) detail to feel anxious about – the possibility of losing control.
Those of us who’ve lived with anxiety for years know what I’m talking about. We are the ones who know how dangerous and worrying the world seems when you feel like you have so little control over it. And it’s not just personal observation.
According to a study on anxiety and cognitive control, anxiety decreases attentional control (the ability to choose what you pay attention to) and makes us more aware of possible threats.
This is how anxiety makes you see the world – one giant mess of uncontrollable events and circumstances. How could anyone with such a grim perspective on life ever feel calm and relaxed!?
Paradoxically, by choosing to not be in control, you actually regain the joy and freedom anxiety has taken from you. You can’t be afraid of losing control if you accept to let go of it. Sounds a bit unreal right!? Allow me to elaborate.
From a purely rational perspective, control is mostly an illusion. Never had it, never will. Our need for control is just another one of those irrational beliefs that we desperately cling on to – We think we have more control over our lives than we really do.
One useful trick that allows you to let go of control once in a while is using a coin whenever you’re faced with a decision. Of course, I’m NOT talking about big decisions such as choosing your career path or which school you should send your kids to. I’m talking about the small decisions like what to eat for lunch or where to go out.
By not being in control all the time, you give your mind a chance to experience uncertainty and the anxiety that comes with it. In other words, you get to see that it’s ok to not be in control all the time.
#4 FOCUS ON WHAT IS, NOT WHAT MIGHT BE
Whenever anxiety floods our mind with worry-filled thoughts, we often notice that the content is almost always related to something that might (or might not) happen in the future.
How will I manage to deliver an excellent presentation? What if I freeze in the middle of the presentation? That would definitely feel like the end of the world.
Will I make a good impression on our first date? What if he/she doesn’t like me? How will I hide the fact that I’m awkward and clumsy?
I can’t attend the party; I’m too awkward around people. What if they laugh at me? Maybe they’ll laugh behind my back. I can’t deal with that right now. Perhaps I should leave it for another time.
… And the examples can go on for hours.
When your mind is continuously focused on what will happen, you lose sight of what goes on ‘here and now.’
The problem with spending too much time thinking about the future is that we never know how things might unfold. We have little control over what might happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or ten years from now.
It seems the future is the perfect terrain for anxiety to plant the seeds of doubt, worry, and indecision. In fact, researchers suggest “worry is pervasive across all anxiety and depression problems.”
And because it’s such a common problem, mental health professionals have put a lot of effort into finding solutions to keep worry in check.
What seems to work best is to:
- Focus on the present moment, the ‘here and now.’
- Deepen our emotional contact with events.
- Focus on the intrinsic value of a task, rather than solely its eventual outcomes.
If we were to include these three pieces of advice into one practical technique, it would most likely be – mindfulness.
This state of complete and non-judgmental awareness keeps you anchored in the present moment, thus preventing your mind from drifting towards an unclear and potentially worrying future.
Practicing mindfulness routinely helps you remain focused on what is, not what might be.
#5 WHAT’S THE WORST THING THAT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU?
Those of us dealing with anxiety catastrophize… A LOT. When your mind is filled to the brim with fear and worry, our entire existence feels like a never-ending circle of anxious episodes.
We label as terrible, catastrophic, dreadful, frightful, and disastrous anything that might cause us even the slightest discomfort. It almost feels like our entire existence is one anxious episode after another.
Catastrophizing – the tendency to exaggerate the negative consequences of an event to the extreme – is a way of thinking. It’s a belief system comprised of thoughts such as I can’t take this anymore. It’s too difficult/stressful/frightening. There’s no way I could ever overcome this situation. What did I do to deserve this?
Although catastrophizing is among the psychological symptoms of anxiety, it can have a severe impact on our body. As one group of researchers brilliantly explain, the more we catastrophize, the worst we feel, and the worst we feel, the more we catastrophize.
It’s basically a vicious circle where catastrophic thinking makes anxiety feel worse than it really is which in turn gives rise to even more complains about how terrible and intolerable anxiety is.
Whenever my clients seek to catastrophize a particular event that makes them feel anxious, I always encourage them to find something even more catastrophic.
The idea behind this simple trick is to understand that “the worst” doesn’t really exist. It’s just how an anxious, fearful mind interprets any potential danger that might threaten its integrity.
In other words, the level of severity is not built into the “catastrophic” event; it varies depending on who’s evaluating the “catastrophic” event.
One easy way to spot catastrophic thinking is by paying close attention to your language. The words you use to describe your anxiety can betray a lot. Words such as terrible, horrible, awful, dreadful, frightful, and of course, the worst are markers of catastrophic thinking.
But just as language can betray a lot about your anxiety, so can it be used against it.
What if, instead of saying This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me you would say This is an unpleasant event, but it’s not the end of the world. What if you were to say It’s undesirable, but it’s not the worst thing that could happen to me instead of I can’t take this anymore?
Change the way you talk about your anxiety, and it will no longer feel like the worst thing that has ever happened to you.
#6 EXERCISE REGULARLY
In recent years, healthy eating and a regular exercise routine have become an absolute ‘must’ for people who wish to look good and feel great. Through physical activity, we can achieve an ideal body shape, feel more energetic, and boost our well-being.
In fact, recent studies indicate that regular physical activity exerts positive effects on anxiety disorder symptoms.
One less known fact about exercising is that this activity can be as effective in fighting the symptoms of anxiety as some types of medication and most existing natural remedies.
In my opinion, exercising is one of the cheapest and most accessible remedies for anxiety, stress, and depression. Whether we’re talking about intense gym workouts or light jogs in the park, any form of physical activity can have a tremendously positive impact on your anxiety levels.
Well, it’s mostly about brain chemistry. When you exercise, your brain releases endorphins – natural pain and stress relievers. In turn, endorphins will activate the opiate receptors in the brain. These are the same receptors that get “switched on” by substances such as morphine, codeine, or even heroin.
That’s why, despite the discomfort associated with physical activity, we always end up feeling calm, refreshed and energized after a workout routine.
So, in a way, the effects of sustained physical activity are somewhat similar to an opiate high. Only this high doesn’t lead to addiction or adverse effects; only less anxiety.
If you’re thinking about adding physical activity to your daily habits, keep in mind to plan exercise routines that last for at least 30 minutes. That’s the time it takes your endorphins to kick in.
So, get off your couch, put on some running shoes, and exercise your worries away.
Just like exercising, breathing techniques are among those cheap, accessible, and highly effective strategies against anxiety, stress, and depression.
As we all know, anxiety comes with an entire array of unpleasant physical symptoms. From blushing and sweating to pounding heart and breathing difficulties, our entire body is on full alert.
But what if we choose to take five and simply breathe. What if we take our mind off the unpleasant symptoms of anxiety and focus on regaining control of our breathing.
Research indicates that if we were to do that, we would most likely experience less anxiety and stress. What’s interesting is that by regaining control over our breathing, we somehow regain control of our mind, and ourselves eventually.
When dealing with anxiety, you need all the strategies and tools you can get. That’s why I’ve prepared an insightful blog post that will help you master the basics of breathing for relieving anxiety.
In fact, if you want to learn all about managing and controlling your anxiety, whether at work, in relationships, or in your personal life, I warmly invite you to check our blog regularly. There, you will find plenty of practical, science-backed tips for keeping anxiety, stress, and depression in check.
When anxiety hits, don’t panic! Just close your eyes and breathe.Just like exercising, breathing techniques are among those cheap, accessible, and highly effective strategies against anxiety, stress, and depression Click To Tweet
Valuable Resources to Help You Cope Better With Anxiety
In my personal struggle with anxiety, I had the opportunity to stumble upon many tools that have helped me manage my worries and regain control over my life.
And since these tools have proven to be extremely useful, I wanted to share them with you so that you can achieve the same positive results I did.
1 – An App to Keep You in the Present Moment
When I first discovered Headspace, I was a rookie mindfulness practitioner. Of course, that wasn’t my first attempt to include mindfulness in my daily routine. When this technique first started to grow in popularity, I bought a few books, watched several how-to videos, and began using mindfulness on a regular basis.
Truth be told, I was never able to follow this routine for more than several days. I never understood why I kept quitting after a few days. Maybe I wasn’t disciplined enough, or perhaps I wasn’t doing it right. In fact, it didn’t really matter after I stumbled upon Headspace.
There’s something about this app that makes mindfulness seem so accessible and effortless. All I had to do is put on my earphones and enjoy ten mindful minutes. Needless to say, having ten minutes of calm awareness each day gives me a much-needed break from – myself. From my thoughts, worries, and concerns.
2 – A Book to Change Your Perspective
One of my all-time favorite authors is Albert Ellis, the founder of Rational-Emotive Therapy. What I found incredible about this guy was his rational (and sometimes humorous) attitude.
He was the one who, like many before him, aimed to highlight the irreplaceable role rational thinking plays in mental health and well-being.
Since anxiety is the product of irrational, negative beliefs we rigidly hold about ourselves, others, and the world, the only way to deal with it is to dig into our belief system and challenge the thoughts that fuel anxiety.
And that’s what How To Control Your Anxiety Before It Controls You is all about. From disputing your worry-filled beliefs to using humor to deal with anxiety, this book is packed with actionable tips.
3 – A Site to Help You Learn Even More Tips on Dealing With Anxiety
As I said in the beginning, there can never be too many materials, sites, blogs, webinars, and YouTube videos on coping with anxiety.
One of the best places to find reliable, top-quality information is ADAA, short for Anxiety and Depression Association of America. This international nonprofit is dedicated to the prevention, treatment, & cure of anxiety, depression and related disorders.
On their website, you will find tons of useful articles about two of the most common mental health issues – depression and anxiety.
But aside from providing free materials on how to cope with various mental health issues, they also have some interesting books for sale. Furthermore, if you’re in the United States, you can use the ADAA website to find a therapist near you.
To Sum Up Everything
Anxiety is a widespread issue that affects people from all around the globe. If you’re looking to conquer your anxiety and regain control of your life, try doing the following:
- Instead of running away from your fears and worries, why not take the time to examine and understand them!?
- Because the more you understand your anxiety, the better you can challenge the irrational thoughts that fuel it.
- And stop trying to be in control all the time. No matter how hard you try, you will never be able to foresee every possible bad
- Instead, focus on the present; the “here and now.” Be concerned with what is, not what might be.
- As for “the worst thing that could happen,” remember it’s just a product of your negative interpretations. Life can throw lots of unpleasant surprises down out path, but nothing is ever “the worst.”
- Last but not least, remember to exercise regularly and when anxiety hits, just close your eyes and breathe.
Now that you know how to deal with anxiety, it’s time to get cracking.
Use our anxiety test to pinpoint your most troublesome anxiety symptoms. Then apply the seven strategies mentioned earlier.
So, what do you think about our anxiety guide? Have you ever tried one of the seven techniques mentioned earlier? Which one did you find most useful? Are there any other techniques that have worked well for you?
Leave a comment below!
Clinical Psychologist, Licensed CBT Therapist.I’m a Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy practitioner. My work focuses mainly on strategies designed to manage and prevent the most common mental issues – anxiety, depression, and stress.
When I’m not busy with my therapeutic practice or other work-related activities, I enjoy going out for a jog or hit the nearby gym.
You can contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org, or via LinkedIn (link below), or through the Contact Us page.