When anxiety strikes, turning to your favorite coping skills can help calm your mind and body. Here are a few methods you can try.
Everyone feels anxious sometimes. If you have chronic anxiety or an anxiety disorder, these feelings can make it challenging to get through the day.
Anxiety coping skills can help you manage anxious thoughts and feelings in the moment.
Different coping skills work for different folks — one person might benefit most from physical methods, like moving the body or feeling cold water on their hands. Another might find that emotional methods are the key, like journaling or meditation.
No matter what’s causing your anxiety, developing a few coping skills can make all the difference. Just knowing you have some coping skills to rely on can provide comfort in times of stress.
The simple act of moving your body can work wonders for lowering your anxiety levels. Research from 2018 suggests that physical activity may help reduce symptoms in people with anxiety disorders and stress-related disorders.
1. Move your body
Some ideas for physically tackling that heightened anxiety you’re feeling include:
- going for a brisk walk
- physically shaking your hands and arms to dispel tension
- jogging or running
- practicing yoga, especially yoga sequences for anxiety
- doing jumping jacks
- doing burpees
Ultimately, whatever physical activity helps you calm down is a good choice.
Recent research into the effects of exercise on depression and anxiety during the pandemic has shown that high-intensity and moderate-intensity interval training can help reduce anxiety and stress while increasing a person’s ability to overcome adversity.
2. Walk in nature
An increasing body of evidence suggests that being in nature can positively impact your mental well-being and reduce stress levels. A walk in a park or other green space might help you shake off some stress.
But you don’t have to head to a forest to enjoy the benefits of nature. A
3. Grounding exercises
Grounding exercises are another anxiety coping skill that can help calm you in the moment. They help shift your focus onto the physical environment and away from anxious thoughts.
Some grounding exercises you can try include:
- running your hands under cold water
- taking a cold shower
- gently shaking your whole body
- focusing on your breathing
You can also attempt to ground yourself by trying to focus on each of your senses in sequence. This grounding exercise is called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique:
- Name 5 things you can see.
- Name 4 things you can feel.
- Name 3 things you can hear.
- Name 2 things you can smell.
- Name 1 thing you can taste.
Another similar technique for coping with anxiety is called the 3-3-3 rule. It involves the following steps:
- looking around and naming 3 things you can see
- listening to identify 3 sounds you can hear
- moving 3 parts of your body
If physical anxiety coping skills don’t seem to do the trick or you want additional coping strategies, you may find that emotion-focused activities help you better manage your emotions.
Things you may want to try include:
Research shows that journaling can reduce anxiety and stress. Seeing your anxious thought laid out on paper, and outside your head, can help make them seem more manageable.
In one 2018 study, participants with high anxiety and medical conditions were asked to journal 3 days a week for 3 months. At the end of the study, researchers noted that the participants had fewer anxiety symptoms after just 1 month of journaling, relative to usual care.
5. Thought exercises
Something as simple as picturing a relaxing scene may help you cope with anxious thoughts or situations as they happen.
Another strategy is to use defusion techniques. These are thought exercises intended to change the way you see your thoughts. Instead of viewing them as a universal truth, defusion allows you to gain some distance. One example of a defusion technique is repeating your thoughts in a silly voice.
Meditation is another valuable coping skill for anxiety. Practicing mindfulness or meditation can help you create some mental space, allowing you to observe your thoughts from a different perspective.
You might simply close your eyes and attempt to empty your mind. But if you’re new to meditation, it may be helpful to try guided sessions using online videos or meditation apps for your smartphone or other device.
While distraction is not a good anxiety coping skill for the long term, it may help at times when you suddenly feel bombarded by anxious thoughts.
When anxiety feels overwhelming, consider watching TV, reading a book, or going out with a friend. You can also use humor to keep your mind from dwelling on an anxious thought.
Other ways to limit your stress levels and manage your anxious feelings include:
- exercising regularly
- making time for the activities that reduce your stress levels
- prioritizing your sleep and improving sleep hygiene
- identifying and avoiding anxiety triggers
- eating a nutritious diet
- limiting caffeine and alcohol
- socializing with friends
You may also find it helpful to incorporate some above-mentioned emotional anxiety coping strategies into your daily routine.
Consider starting a daily meditation practice, for example. Or try journaling in the morning to tackle your worries before they can interfere with your day. Also, journaling at night may help you sleep better and reduce the anxious thoughts that keep you up at night.
Poor sleep can also increase your stress and anxiety levels. If you feel anxious before bedtime, 2019 research suggests that taking a warm bath before going to bed may help you fall asleep faster.
Still, anxiety and stress aren’t entirely avoidable. Even if you incorporate all of these techniques and tips, you may still experience moments of anxiety.
But these anxiety coping skills can help you to adapt and better respond to unhelpful thoughts.
The next time worrying feels overwhelming, you’ll have the tools at your disposal to cope with it.
Anxious thoughts can sometimes overwhelm us, and physical and emotional coping skills can help us tackle them head-on.
But when anxiety becomes a daily occurrence, and these coping skills are no longer helping, you may want to consider talking with a mental health professional.
You might have an anxiety disorder and benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or other treatments.
Anxiety can make you feel as if you’re carrying an impossible weight on your shoulders. But help is available.
If you’re looking for mental health support, but you’re not sure where to start, consider checking out Psych Central’s Find a Therapist resource.