Coping with Anxiety
By Graham Reynolds, Ph.D.
For many people, anxiety can feel unbearable. Perhaps you feel uncomfortable in crowds or when you have to speak in front of a group of colleagues or classmates. Perhaps you experience anxiety about seemingly everything that comes to mind, worrying about “what if.” Often our response to feeling anxious is to stay away from the thing that makes us uncomfortable, but this can create problems for us in the long term. Here are some anxiety survival techniques to help manage the feelings more effectively.
Change your routine:
- Take time to engage in self-care. Making sure to eat a balanced diet, drinking plenty of water, and getting enough sleep are ways of reducing our vulnerability to anxiety. Exercise can also be a great way of dealing with uncomfortable feelings. Try doing yoga or even going for a short walk during a break.
Change your thinking:
- The first step in changing thinking is to catch yourself if you are bogged down in worrying. It’s hard to change something if we aren’t aware that we are doing it. Once you have noticed that you are having anxious thoughts, you can ask yourself, “Is this really true?” or “What is a different way of thinking about this?”
- Alternatively, you can try to take a step back from your thoughts rather than getting caught up in them. Think of your thoughts as being suitcases on a baggage carousel. Your anxious thoughts can come into your head, stay for a moment, and leave again. You let the vast majority of bags go by on the carousel and don’t pick them up. Try doing the same with your anxiety and worry thoughts. Notice them, and let them go. They may come back (like the bags on the carousel do), so just gently try to let them go again.
- Ask yourself, “How much time do I want to dedicate to thinking this way?” If the thoughts are painful to have, try refocusing your attention on to something else. Go back to doing whatever it was you were doing 10 seconds before you had the worry thought.
- Give yourself some praise. Positive self-statements can help you get through difficult times. Reminding yourself that “I can do this” and “I have been through a lot of difficult situations, I can handle this one, too” can help you tolerate the anxiety in a more effective way.
Change your behavior:
- Notice your urges to avoid things, and try to do the opposite. Anxiety often leads to avoidance, which helps make things feel better in the moment, but often just makes the anxiety worse in the long run. If you have an urge to avoid something because it leads you to feel uncomfortable, try facing that fear. If speaking in certain situations causes anxiety, go and talk to as many people as you can. You might find that it’s not as difficult as you thought.
- Schedule time to worry. This one seems strange on the surface, but can be a good way of shaking things up. Rather than engaging in the worry thoughts for hours at a time, create a rule for yourself that you are only allowed to worry during a set time-frame. Set aside 30 minutes where all you are allowed to do is worry. If you have a worry thought outside that time-frame, save it for later. Often people experience that when they force themselves to worry only in that time, their thoughts may not even take up the full 30 minutes.
- Talk to your therapist. Speaking with a therapist qualified to treat anxiety using evidence-based techniques can provide real and meaningful change. CBT therapists can help with thinking differently and doing things to overcome anxiety in the long term.
Graham Reynolds, Ph.D., practices as a full-time clinician at the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and specializes in working with adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety, OCD, social phobia, PTSD, personality disorders, depression, and mood disorders. Dr. Reynolds approaches treatment with an emphasis on creating meaning and collaborates with clients to help them live a valued life while helping to foster change in problematic behaviors.