Anxiety disorders affect over three million Americans every year, and that’s not including those who go undiagnosed and untreated. That’s a pretty big number, especially considering how little it’s understood. Anxiety and depression are the more common types of mental illness in the US, so there’s slightly less stigma surrounding those two types of disorders due to their prevalence, but that doesn’t mean they’re well understood.
Any type of mental illness is difficult to truly understand unless you’ve experienced it on your own, that’s just kind of how life works. I have a friend who is diagnosed with depression, but simply can’t wrap his mind around what anxiety feels like. I have a friend who’s a medical doctor and has no idea what depression or anxiety really feel like firsthand. All we can do is educate ourselves as best we can and learn how to support our loved ones with mental illness, as well as how to take care of our own symptoms.
Now, anxiety is an interesting term because it can be used in a clinical sense but it’s also something we throw around in everyday jargon without second thought. There is a whole section of psychiatric disorders surrounding anxiety because it can manifest itself in so many different ways like Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Phobias, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and more. Does that mean if you don’t have one of these official diagnoses that you’ve never experienced anxiety, though? Absolutely not! In fact, it’s likely you have.
Getting anxious before you go on stage to perform, speak in a public setting, or have to talk to your friend about a conflict is normal. It’s a biological reaction we feel that’s totally natural. Clinical anxiety is more about feeling anxious without an underlying reason, or having it be so consistent and debilitating that it causes distress and difficulties with dealing with everyday life.
That said, we really do all get anxiety. And we also all have bouts of excessive worrying. You know when you get your brain on a loop and you can’t stop thinking about something? Maybe it’s a fight you had with your significant other or an issue you’re having at work. It could be the thought of having to go to court and stand in front of a judge over a traffic violation or how you’re going to feel at the party later tonight when you’re surrounded by more people than you’re comfortable with.
How are we supposed to deal with these feelings of anxiety and excessive worry? There’s lots of ways. Now, I have a degree in psychology, have worked at a psychiatric rehabilitation center for five years, and help people with personal development every single day, but I’m not a licensed therapist. Therapy and medication are viable options to consider if you feel like your anxiety is getting out of control, and there is nothing wrong with seeking assistance. (Seek out psychiatrists online here.) Taking medication or talking to someone about your feelings doesn’t make you inferior or broken, it means you love yourself to put your mental health, happiness, and personal development at the top of your priority list because you deserve to have a beautiful life.
5 Ways To Reduce Anxiety
In addition to seeking professional help, here are ten things you can to decrease your anxiety:
1) Deep breathing and meditation
You might be tired of hearing this as a solution for anxiety (or any type of problem) but I promise you the reason it’s on so many lists is because it’s a high value suggestion. It might feel silly or new age-y, but I promise it will help you!
Deep breathing is a very simple way to make your body calm down in a physical way. Getting more oxygen to your brain and pumping through your blood will relax you, and focusing on your breathing as an activity will shift your focus from your worry to your breath. What’s great about this is you can do it anywhere.
Meditation takes a bit more effort, but honestly it doesn’t need to take up a huge chunk of your day. Generally, your mind takes about 20-30 minutes to truly quiet, but that doesn’t mean a quicker 5 minute meditation in the morning or on your lunch break isn’t doing you a world of good! There are plenty of guided imagery videos and audio tracks you can use to start if you’re a beginner.
2) Sit with your feelings
Depending on the severity of your anxiety, this shouldn’t be done without supervision, but something that can be really helpful is to simply let yourself be anxious or to put yourself purposefully in a situation that causes anxiety and deal with it for a little while in a conscious way. Realizing you are in control of your anxiety is powerful. You put yourself into this situation and have the power to take yourself out of it, and you are only here to develop and challenge yourself.
I did six months of intensive Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for my OCD and it was extremely hard. I basically had to do the opposite of my rituals or activities which I knew were going to make me have immense anxiety or panic attacks. For example, having a drawer open was a huge trigger for me. So my homework assignment was to sit in front of an open drawer for 45 minutes every day. It sucked, but now I don’t really care if my drawers are slightly ajar.
Part of that is because I’ve faced the worst case scenario, and that’s another good piece of advice. Sometimes we get caught in this cyclical cognition of anxiety where we’re just worried about this one thing, but actually finishing out the thought process and thinking about what would really happen if this “terrible thing” occurred. What would you have to do to “fix” it? Is it really the end of the world? Creating a reality check for yourself can be really helpful. Yeah, that thing might suck but you’re going to live through it!
Asking yourself questions like “Is this likely to happen?”, “Can I control this situation in any way?”, “Is this thought irrational?”, and “How could I react to the worst possible scenario?” can bring you back down to earth and realize exactly what you’re dealing with.
3) Start a Happy Journal
You might call it a Gratitude Journal, but whatever you want to call it I promise it will change your life. Keeping a Happy Journal allows you to focus on the good things in your life throughout your day, every day. It increases optimism and positivity, and you also have this tangible notebook you can hold onto, knowing that inside it holds just some of the beautiful moments in your life.
I have extensive experience with this topic, and if you’re interested in it you might want to check out How To Keep A Happy Journal, 10 Ways To Keep A Happy Journal, or my free e-course 7 Days To A Grateful Life.
4) Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being consciously present of your experience without judging what you’re going through. You want to pay attention to your surroundings, focusing on the five senses, and accept that you’re feeling what you’re feeling and that’s okay!
Mindfulness can include things like deep breathing and meditation, but you can also incorporate things like simple yoga poses, positive affirmations, and chanting. Mindfulness will help you to approach your anxiety from a nonjudgmental headspace, and realize what you’re feeling is normal and will eventually pass.
A really great activity that can help you get started thinking mindfully is to get to know an orange. It seems silly, but you want to spend time with the orange and take careful note of the physical properties of it with how it looks, feels, tastes, smells, and sounds. Run it through your hands, across your face. Peel it and look at the patterns inside the orange, cut a slice off and eat it, listen to how it sounds as you chew on it. This exercise is a part of my free e-course 12 Days Of Mindfulness.
5) Declutter Your World
Organizing your physical space is a quick and easy way to decrease your mental clutter. Having tons of piles, unfinished projects, and lack of focus and organization in your work, home, car, life, etc. leads to a lot of excess mind clutter which leads to more anxiety and worry. Figuring out how to create a workflow that works well for you is vital for decreasing your anxiety. If you never know what’s on your schedule that day or how you’re going to break down your goals into more tangible and actionable baby steps you’ll constantly feel like you’re floundering.
Get rid of clothes, trinkets, and supplies you don’t use or need anymore. Turn your piles into productivity and find a to do list system that works for you (I like ToDoIst).
These suggestions might seem simple, but until you’re actively incorporating all of them into your life regularly you will definitely notice a difference in not just your levels of anxiety but your self esteem as well.
If you’re interested in a free list of 10 extra ways to decrease your anxiety, you can download it for free below. You can also check out my Pinterest board on Self Love if you want to further your inspiration on the topic! Thank you for letting me into your world today, I hope I’m able to add a little more color to it.
I needed these reminders today, so thank you. I had a panic attack this evening and just reading this, made me feel better. I’m going to declutter my room tomorrow (during the snowstorm) to ease my mind. I’m not much of a to do list person though; I can’t get the hang of them. I write one and I never look at it or complete it.
I’m sorry you had a panic attack, Courtney. I know how much those suck. Decluttering is such a good activity for being snowed in!! Good luck to you! And it’s totally okay to not be a To Do List person. Know who you are, embrace it, and shout it from the rooftop!