If you’ve ever felt that pit in your stomach or a tightness in your chest, you probably know a thing or two about anxiety.
Anxiety is the number one reason clients come to see me in my practice, and it’s one of the most popular topics on my site, Dr. Allison Answers. In a time when we feel pressured to “do it all,” anxiety seems more consuming than ever.
Thankfully, there are so many practical, evidence-based ways to manage anxiety. And I’ve made it my life mission as a psychologist to help people do just that!
Today, I’m thrilled to be collaborating with Alex to share a few of my favorite tips for dealing with anxiety. Let’s do this!
1. Approach your anxiety like a scientist.
Did you know that humans are wired to focus on the negative? That’s right; our brains naturally pay attention to the negative and ignore the positive. We have a habit of jumping to conclusions without all the information, letting fear and worry take over.
To combat this habit, think like a scientist. Practice being methodical, unbiased, calm, and thoughtful. Resist the urge to jump to conclusions; don’t make up information you don’t have.
Challenge yourself to step back and analyze each and every data point before you draw your conclusion. Look at all of the information, not just the few pieces your anxiety wants you to see. This way of thinking doesn’t come naturally, but it does get easier over time.
Taking a slow, mindful breath is one of the quickest and most effective ways to reduce your anxiety in any given moment.
Now, if you think a deep breath is a big huff in and a big puff out, please know, that’s not a deep breath. That is an exasperated sigh, and it’s just going to make your anxiety worse.
The key is to take a slow, deep breath in through your nose, gently pause and hold your breath, and then slowly exhale. This brief pause in between your inhale and exhale is where all the magic happens. So again, slow deep breath in, pause, and then slow breath out. (You can watch a super helpful tutorial on mindful breathing here.)
Deep breathing acts on your anxiety at the physiological level, so it’s almost impossible to breathe this way and not feel a reduction in your anxiety!
3. Brainstorm all the possibilities.
Your anxiety has an incredible imagination. When faced with uncertainty, it dreams up the most far-fetched, unlikely outcomes, and convinces you that they’re totally going to happen. You notice a spot on your arm, and it’s got to be cancer. You think about asking for a raise, and you’re certain your boss is going to laugh in your face.
Your anxiety predicts the worst possible outcome. And while that outcome is a possibility, it’s not certain. Challenge this pattern by asking yourself to imagine all the possible ways the situation could play out.
Sure your boss could laugh in your face. It’s possible. Or she could say yes. She could ask for your reasoning. She could say she was already planning on it. She could ask for time to think about it.
There are a million possible outcomes, so challenge your brain to imagine all of these, not just a select few.
4. Handle transitions differently.
As humans, our brains are always going. We’re constantly moving from one thing to the next, asking our brains to play catch up as we do. But this doesn’t happen as seamlessly as you might think.
Our brains are often stuck in limbo, still thinking about what we were doing 20 minutes ago, while also thinking about what we need to do an hour from now. This constant switching from one thing to the next is taxing on your brain, and over time, it can contribute to more anxiety than you realize.
Make time to intentionally pause for at least ten seconds, particularly around transitions (i.e. work to home, car to the grocery store, stressful phone call to helping kids with homework.) This puts a period on one thing before starting the next. PS: the breathing technique I mentioned above is a great thing to do at transitions.
5. Remember, your thoughts are not always the truth.
Healthy people talk to themselves. A lot. This is a simple way to challenge your anxiety, infusing logical, rational thought. One of my favorite phrases to combat anxiety? “My thoughts are not always the truth.”
When you find yourself predicting that something is going to turn our poorly, use this phrase. When you’re certain a friend is mad at you, use this phrase. And when fear convinces you of the worst-case scenario, remember this phrase. My thoughts are not always the truth.
If you would’ve told me ten years ago that I would be meditating on the regular, I would have said no way. But the research on meditation is so good that you can’t ignore it.
Meditation has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, as well increase optimism, happiness, compassion, and attention. Scientists have observed visible changes in brain structure and functioning after just eight weeks of meditation. It’s incredible.
That being said, a lot of people feel overwhelmed with where to start. Start small and build up. I recommend starting with an app like Calm or Headspace. Make it a regular habit, rather than just using it when you’re super anxious. It’s kind of like drinking water. If you only drink water when you’re thirsty, you’ve probably waited too long. Drink water regularly; meditate regularly.
7. See a therapist.
If you struggle with anxiety, give therapy a try! There’s no shame in getting extra support. Think about it; we hire personal trainers to help with fitness goals, dentists to clean our teeth. Your take your kids to soccer camps and private violin lessons. So why not seek out an expert on mental and emotional health to help you navigate your anxiety?
This doesn’t mean you’re making a lifelong commitment of lying on the couch. It just means something isn’t quite working, and you’re reaching out to learn how to do things differently. If you want to get connected in therapy, but aren’t sure where to start, I’ve written a post with helpful tips for how to find a therapist.
Remember, we can’t always control what life throws our way, but we can absolutely control how we respond.
We have a choice in how we deal with anxiety. So why not respond in a way that helps you be calmer, happier, and more present? You, beautiful human, deserve that.
If you want more tips and tricks for living a healthier and more meaningful life, head over to Dr. Allison Answers. You’ll find lots of goodness about happiness, anxiety, mindfulness, and more.
A huge and hug-filled thanks to Alex for inviting me to her space today. I love the community she has built at The Defined Dish, and I’m so grateful that we were able to collaborate!