Anxiety is something often ignored, misdiagnosed, and misunderstood. It’s normal to feel anxious at certain times and everyone does, but when anxiety begins to interfere with your life, it’s most likely an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is something several members of my family cope with (me included!), but it wasn’t until my middle child was diagnosed that I began to understand that there are effective ways to help ourselves deal with it.
National prevalence data indicate that nearly 40 million people in the United States (18%) experience an anxiety disorder in any given year. To learn more about anxiety and anxiety disorders: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety
Over the years, through research, professional recommendations, and testing ways to cope with anxiety by my children and me, we’ve collected over twenty different effective ways to cope with anxiety. We find they can stave off, lessen the impact, or at least shorten the duration of our anxiety. It’s all about living as normal a life as we can. (I often remind my teens, and myself, that “normal” is a subjective term!)
All of these are good coping skills for anxiety, but choose a few to get started and add more along the way.
This article is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Check with your doctor or mental health professional.
Twenty Ways to Cope with Anxiety – Mom & Teen Tested
1. Control your breathing
Controlling your breathing will help you feel more in control of yourself and your reaction to the way your anxiety makes you feel. It helps give oxygen to your brain, relaxes your muscles, and encourages you focus on something other than the thoughts that are causing the anxiety.
2. Positive affirmations
Clear out the negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Get into the habit of repeating a few of them several times a day, especially in the morning and before bed. They help align your thoughts on healthier ideas. (I know they have a kind of cheesy reputation in some circles, but saying kind things to yourself is a good for you, and much better than the negativity that’s rattling around in your mind.) My favorite app to use is ThinkUp, but you can check out others in a Top 10 list here.
3. Meditate for mindfulness
I was late to the game in using meditation, despite many friends, professionals, and research telling me how great it was. Meditation has been shown to help anxiety, can actually change the brain, and a whole host of other benefits, and it’s been something that my teens and I enjoy doing together. Our favorite guided meditation app is Smiling Mind. It really does make a difference for our overall day-to-day, so don’t be like me and wait any longer.
4. Do yoga
The benefits of yoga include better mental focus, increased balance, burned calories, and stretched tight muscles. Controlled breathing is usually a part of it, which is something it and meditation have in common, therefore it also can be calming for anxious thoughts. I have truly lost a lot of flexibility and balance over the years, and it’s been a challenge, but I’m seeing real improvements and benefits from it. If I can do it, you can, too.
5. Get out into nature
There’s a lot of scientific research to show that nature is very calming, and that our brainwaves settle into better patterns when we spend time there. Some research says 10 minutes is enough, others say 20 minutes should be the target time. I say that if the effort has been made to get outside, get in as much as you can. And this doesn’t mean you have to go to the middle of the deep woods. Go to a park, sit under a tree, or walk around your own back yard. It’s the perfect time for #6.
6. Engage your senses
We often go about our days mindlessly. This skill helps us be mindful. It’s also a great way to distract attention from negative thoughts. The technique is to choose five things you see, four things you hear, three things you feel (touch), two things you smell, and one thing you taste (in my family, we imagine tasting chocolate if there’s nothing else available). Take a few minutes to be mindful of your surroundings.
Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst
7. Take a warm shower or bath
This is a classic way to relax and calm your thoughts. I find that the process of taking a shower or bath is often enough to disengage negative thoughts. The bath or shower is a great place to be alone with your thoughts, however, and sometimes that’s not what we want when feeling particuarly anxious. My family members have playlists of upbeat music they use during that time. (Parents: Having timed playlists also helps eliminate overlong showers or baths.) In any case, the warm water is soothing and it gives you a chance to relax.
8. Use essential oils
This section could also be called “Things that smell good and make you feel happy”, which is exactly what I use essential oils for. Citrus oils are used liberally around my house because the bright scents are uplifting for us. For others, it might be warm cinnamon or floral blends. Find the scents that you enjoy and use them to help create a pleasant environment.
Stress is something we all deal with, but anxiety can cause a stressful situation to blow up out of proportion. Self-care can help alleviate stress. Personally, having time alone is essential for me and it’s something I have to go out of my way to create. But, I do it anyway. Whatever you consider for your own self-care, choose something and do it regularly. Paying quality attention to yourself isn’t selfish or a waste of time. It’s healthy and important.
10. Eat healthy
This really is another form of self-care, but eating healthy is so important in all areas of your life. Managing your anxiety will be more difficult if your body isn’t healthy, and that includes your brain. We pay special attention to sugar in my family, and here’s why.
11. Get moving
Go to the gym, go for a walk, turn on some tunes and dance, attend a yoga class, take a ride on your bike, or any other way you choose to get moving. All that motion helps distract the anxious thoughts, and the resulting endorphins are our body’s way to reward us for the exercise.
12. Get your Zzzzz’s
Getting enough rest is important for your mind and your body. But anxious thoughts often keep us awake or wake us up in the night. (I’ve seen my share of 3 a.m. wake up calls from my anxious brain.) A good and consistent bedtime routine is a must, and for that, or to get back to sleep, I need some help. I’ve found using an audio app to be the best solution. My choice is Relax Melodies. I use the free version, but the premium has so many cool features that I intend to upgrade to take advantage of them. (Unpaid review – it’s just that good!)
13. Limit your social media
There’s nothing like comparison-itis, family or friend rants, or negative news posts to stir up anxious thoughts, and social media is a prime culprit. If you find that the obviously perfect lives of your contacts (they’re not, of course), online arguments, or troubling world news trigger anxiety, then do yourself a favor and limit your time there. This is equally important for teens.
14. Be productive
Diverting your attention from your anxious thoughts to accomplishing something, however small, is a great way to cope with them. Choose something off your to-do list that you can complete quickly. Once you’ve done that, you can tackle the jobs on the list that are making you anxious, since you’re on a roll. (Right?) Another way to help alleviate anxiety and something that causes it is clearing the clutter. Again, set yourself a small task, like clearing a table. It’s a start, and embracing decluttering is going to make your environment less stressful.
15. Get creative
Creativity is a great outlet for stress and anxiety. If you don’t have hobbies, I recommend getting one. Being creative doesn’t necessarily mean painting or adult coloring books (although those are great), but it could mean doing crossword puzzles, gardening, sewing, building computers… Really, the list is endless. In short, use your imagination for something positive and creative.
16. Listen or watch uplifting podcasts or videos
I’m a big believer in keeping things positive and feeding my mind with only the best ideas. If you haven’t listened to podcasts or videos like TedTalk, you should give it a try. Here’s a few links to get you started.
17. Spend time with someone who loves you
Whether this is a friend, a family member, a spouse/partner, or your pet, spend time with someone who is non-judgemental, caring, and helpful in relieving stress, not causing it. My daughter will often come to me for a hug and snuggle when anxiety starts. There’s nothing like laughing, having an engaged conversation, or loving touch to help melt stress and anxiety when they start.
18. Keep a journal
Using a journal will be helpful in a couple of ways. First of all, it will allow you to say what you want to vent in a safe place and to get things off your chest and, hopefully, out of your mind. Secondly, it will allow you to keep track of things, times, people or situations that seem to trigger anxiety. By recognizing a pattern, you may be able to avoid an anxious time for yourself in the future.
19. Let it go
Anxiety is often characterized by recurring negative thoughts, and there’s nothing like rehashing an old hurt or disappointment for the gazillionth time to get things stirred up. Forgiving and forgetting can be difficult, but getting anxious about the past on a regular basis is tough, too. Working through those feelings will be beneficial. We can’t change the past or what happened, but we can change what and how we think about them, and, consequently, our reactions.
20. Talk with a professional
There may come a point when the coping skills you’re using are enough. There are certainly others that can be incorporated into your daily life. I’m happy to say that the stigma of seeking counseling is less than what it was in the past, and there are programs for all income levels. It’s a logical next step if your anxiety is interfering with your life on any regular basis.
My teens and I may have anxiety, but together, and incorporating these coping skills, we’re happy and healthy individuals living great lives.
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Wishing you all the best and good living,
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