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Anxiety is a feeling of tension, unease, or worry. It is a normal and healthy emotion that is a natural stress response that is usually a reaction to uncertainty about what may happen in your future. It is the most commonly experienced psychological symptom.1 A certain level of anxiety can actually give you a competitive edge and help your performance, but too much can increase your risk for chronic illnesses, cause relationship problems, and make it difficult to complete everyday tasks.
When anxiety becomes crippling, pervasive, or disproportionate to the perceived threat, it affects your quality of life and mental health.2 Depression frequently co-occurs with anxiety.3 Prolonged anxiety increases the risk of cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.4 Over 40 million U.S. adults live with an anxiety disorder.5 If you cannot cope with your anxiety or it becomes severe or persistent, see your healthcare provider. Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, with many potential treatment options.6
Most people find anxiety unpleasant and want to eliminate or reduce the symptoms. Sometimes, trying to become less anxious can have the opposite effect, as you become anxious about getting rid of anxiety. Here are some tips for calming down. Try one or all of them to see which works best for you.
The signs and symptoms of anxiety vary by person but could include the following:
Anxiety can be triggered by a variety of factors, including:7,8
It is important to note that everyone’s experience with anxiety is unique, and the specific triggers for anxiety may vary from person to person. Sometimes it is hard to identify a trigger for your anxiety.
There are many strategies that can be effective for calming anxiety and reducing stress. Talk to your healthcare provider about potential treatment options if these do not improve your symptoms. Here are a few tips that may be helpful:
Taking slow, deep breaths can help relax the body and calm the mind. When you are anxious, your body pumps out cortisol and epinephrine as part of the “fight or flight” response. This response increases your heart rate and breathing, which can increase feelings of anxiety. You can counteract this effect by focusing on your breathing. Deep breathing increases activity in the parasympathetic nervous system, which counteracts the effects of the “fight or flight” response.9
Focus on your breathing as you inhale deeply. Feel your diaphragm descend, and your abdomen expand. Next, breathe out slowly in a controlled manner.10
The 3-3-3 rule is a simple technique that can be used to help manage anxiety in the moment. It involves:
Find three things you can see: Look around and identify three things you can see. These can be objects in your environment or things you see outside a window.
Find three things you can touch: Identify three things you can touch, such as a pen, a piece of clothing, or a chair.
Find three things you can hear: Identify three sounds you can hear, such as music, traffic, or the sound of someone talking.
This technique can help you focus on the present moment and shift your attention away from anxious thoughts. It can also help you ground yourself and feel more connected to your surroundings.
Several clinical studies have shown an inverse relationship between exercise and anxiety.11 Increased exercise leads to decreased anxiety. In one study, completing just a single exercise session caused immediate reductions in anxiety.12,13 Exercise may improve feelings of self-efficacy, which can reduce anxiety.14
Exercise can help reduce anxiety by releasing endorphins, chemicals that promote well-being and happiness. Physical activity may also increase the release of serotonergic and noradrenergic brain chemicals and boost the release of natural opioids.11
Focusing on the present moment can help you become more aware of your thoughts and emotions and can help you let go of worries about the future or regrets about the past. One of the most effective ways to calm anxiety is to accept that you are anxious without fighting it. Calmly consider your anxiety and try to identify its source. Recognize the feeling for what it is and try to understand it.
Talking to a friend or loved one about your worries can help you feel more connected and supported. Humans have a biological need to form emotional connections with others. Poor-quality relationships or social isolation can increase stress and anxiety.
Oxytocin is a brain peptide that is released in response to touch and social connection. Research suggests that intranasal oxytocin, paired with social support, can reduce cortisol release. Increased oxytocin release may explain why quality relationships and social support can reduce stress and anxiety.
Techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, or yoga can help you relax and reduce anxiety. These techniques can help your mind connect with your body. Yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation can reduce anxiety and promote psychological well-being.15-18
Spending time outside by visiting green spaces can reduce stress, possibly due to exposure to water and open spaces. The sights, sounds, and smells of nature can be soothing. Combine mindfulness and spending time in nature to allow yourself to be fully immersed in the natural setting and let go of worries.19
Natural settings provide an ideal environment to be active. Walking, running, hiking, and swimming can reduce anxiety by changing your brain chemistry.
Spending time in nature can also increase your feelings of connection and belonging, which can be especially helpful for people who feel isolated or disconnected. Lacking strong relationships and social connections are risk factors for increased anxiety.
It seems counterintuitive to make time in your day to be anxious, but anxiety is a natural and normal feeling that happens to everyone occasionally. It is when it becomes pervasive throughout your day that it becomes a problem. Schedule 15 or 20 minutes per day (not right before bedtime) to think about and note anything and everything that is making you feel anxious. Seeing it on paper gives you some level of control over it.
Lack of sleep can increase anxiety, so it is important to ensure you get enough rest. If anxiety is keeping you awake, it may be that just before you go to sleep is the only time your brain has enough downtime to process your thoughts. As your brain reviews the day, anxieties may build, keeping you awake. If this is the case, set aside some quiet time well before you go to bed, relax, and let your mind wander. Write down any thoughts or topics that make you anxious. Plan to review your list in the morning. Sometimes it helps to have a trusted friend or relative review your list with you.
If you lie in bed and cannot get to sleep because of anxiety. Get up and move to another room. Try mindfulness and deep breathing exercises to calm your anxieties. This may take some practice, but you want to associate your bed with sleeping, not anxiety.
Looking for treatment plans for cognitive health? See how Invigor Medical can help today!
While we strive to always provide accurate, current, and safe advice in all of our articles and guides, it’s important to stress that they are no substitute for medical advice from a doctor or healthcare provider. You should always consult a practicing professional who can diagnose your specific case. The content we’ve included in this guide is merely meant to be informational and does not constitute medical advice.
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