Your heart’s racing, your palms are sweaty, but what you really want to do is make it stop. Suffering from anxiety can be an uncomfortable experience. And as a long time sufferer, I’ve learned a few tricks that’ll help you learn how to calm anxiety as you go through this article. So let’s jump right in.
How to Calm Anxiety: 15 Tips to Manage Anxiety
#1. Practice Deep Breathing
So, you know when you’re in the middle of a panic attack and you’re hyperventilating. Your heart is beating so fast, you start freaking out even more. Like OMG I’m totally going to die of a heart attack right now. Well, I have two pieces of good news for you. First, people don’t die from anxiety. So let’s cross that worry off the list. And second, when your body is breathing really, really fast during a panic attack, a little trick to make it stop is to force yourself to breathe in slowly and deeply. You can try the 4-7-8 breathing exercise where you breathe in for four counts, hold for seven and release for eight. Seriously, you have no idea how powerful deep breathing can be at calming your anxiety down. So try it right now.
#2. Rewrite Your Story
Our brain is so damn powerful at collecting and sharing information with us. But sometimes our brains can be bullies. Telling us we’re not as good as we think we are, making us second guess ourselves, and scaring the life out of us. When you find your brain “filling in the gaps” for you, just take a moment to rewrite the scenario. For example, say you texted your partner three hours ago and they didn’t respond. Your brain will cue in the “well, you probably shouldn’t have said that” into your head even if what you wrote was pretty harmless. Or maybe you start imagining the worst: killed in a tragic accident. Take a moment to breathe in deep. And put in new thoughts in your head. Instead of assuming the worst, think about realistic situations that could cause delays in texts. For example, stuck in meetings, running errands, driving somewhere, misplaced phone, isn’t as glued to their phone as you, they didn’t know you were expecting a response, spending time with family, etc. By thinking of realistic alternatives you can help calm anxiety.
#3. Look for Evidence
One of the most important steps when learning how to calm anxiety is to find evidence for your beliefs. For example, if you feel like you’re in danger, what evidence is there that you’re actually safe and what evidence is there that you’re actually in danger. For example, if you live in a building with security, that’s some good evidence for being safe. When it comes to evidence for how you’re in danger, being suspicious of someone isn’t enough evidence. Did they contact you? Or did someone harass you? Did someone threaten to harm you? If you have a factual piece of evidence then you can add that to your list. But often times, our anxiety does get the best of us and there’s a lot more evidence showing that we’re safe than that we’re in danger.
#4. Change Your Environment
Now, before you become a permanent drifter, you can’t spend your whole life running away from your problems and fears. But the truth is, sometimes making small changes to your environment can make you feel a whole lot better. When I was struggling with PTSD, living alone in a basement apartment freaked me out. I’d hear the floor creak from the upstairs owners and I’d go into fight or flight. Eventually, I realized I had to move out of that place and into an environment where I felt safe. The downside was that I still had to pay rent for a place I didn’t live in. But the upside was that I eventually became mentally stronger over time. If you’re having anxiety at work, you might want to spend some time looking for new jobs after hours or freelancing so you can work from home instead. So if you’re looking to calm anxiety, changing your environment can help you feel stronger and safer.
Your daily shower can be a mental health cure. Seriously. During periods where you feel like crying in private, you can just hop in the shower to cry and you’ll come out looking fresh. And no one will know a damn thing. Of course, we don’t want you to hide your sadness or frustrations, but sometimes it feels great to have a good cry to let out all the pain. Showers can also help you calm your anxiety. Hello lavender shampoo, conditioner, and soap. Whenever I have a panic attack, I hide in the bathroom and sniff my shampoo bottles if it isn’t shower time. Seriously, that lavender scent is actually proven to reduce stress and it’s super calming. For soap, Ivory has a lavender scent and for that shampoo and conditioner combo I like to use OGX products. They cost more than bulk bottles, but what I get back in relaxation pays for itself ten-fold.
As a former PTSD sufferer, for me at least, I have to say that sleep is the most important thing you need to calm anxiety. And for those of you who suffer from nocturnal panic attacks or nighttime anxiety, I imagine you know that already. But sometimes when your anxiety creeps up, you’re too afraid to fall asleep but you’re terrified of staying awake too. It can be really stressful to experience that. When I was in the midst of my PTSD, I was basically in a state of lucid dreaming for months because I was too scared to sleep at night. A little trick that I did that worked for me was I would go on Facebook at 3 AM, and check out who was online. I’d pick the person I felt most comfortable talking to and I’d send a quick message like “hey I’m freaking out right now and I have no one else to talk to, is it possible to call you on the phone right now I’m desperate.” (I know, it’s not really my finest conversation but it shows the urgency that you feel during heightened states of stress). And I ended up having 3AM-6AM chats with a Facebook acquaintance every night until things started to get better. It didn’t make the anxiety go away but it helped me feel safer while I worked through my PTSD symptoms with a psychotherapist.
#7. Switch to Decaf
If you want to increase anxiety drink coffee, if you want to calm anxiety drink decaf. Your daily coffee can be addicting. But if you’re suffering from anxiety, it will 100% make you feel so much worse. Especially, if you’re suffering from hallucinations caused by sleep deprivation caused by your anxiety. Quitting coffee doesn’t make the anxiety go away overnight. But it really does help reduce the magnifying of your anxiety. Like coffee, alcohol can also increase anxiety so cutting out could also do you some good. That doesn’t mean you need to give it up for life. But maybe focus on your health first before pulling out the cabernet sauvignon. The hardest part of coffee and alcohol withdrawal comes in those first couple of weeks. But once you’ve made the switch to decaf or tasty virgin drinks, you likely won’t notice the difference anymore.
When you experience regular anxiety, you’re often in fight or flight mode. And if you take a look at those two words carefully, they both involve… well, exercise. If you’re fighting you’re doing cardio and if you’re running away you’re also doing cardio. So even though you might not want to put on your workout gear in the middle of an anxiety attack, you’d be doing what your body is telling you to do. Plus, you get those awesome endorphins flowing through your veins to make you feel good… or at least a bit better. Whenever my anxiety gets bad, I like to climb my apartment building’s stairs. The pain of stair climbing usually distracts me from my own anxiety. Plus, it makes you feel stronger.
#9. Talk to a Friend
When you want to calm anxiety, sometimes the best option is to talk it out with a friend. A friend can offer you support, share their coping strategies, listen to your needs, or make you laugh. If you invite a friend over to bake cookies and chat, it usually helps distract you a bit because you’re doing something fun together which can help calm anxiety. But then when you’re ready to chat together (and enjoying some delicious cookies) you can have a productive conversation about your struggles and get the help you need for support. If you discuss your needs in statements like “When I experience (activity), I feel (emotion). I really need (fill in the blank) to get myself on track again.” Your friend will have a better understanding of your stresses, your feelings, and your needs. This will make it easier for you to get the support you need.
#10. Do Good Deeds
During periods of extreme anxiety, it’s always a good idea to do an act of kindness everyday. The kind act doesn’t need to be drastic. You can leave a kind message in a Facebook group about something someone said in a post. Or you can make sure that every day you check your Birthdays on Facebook to make sure you wish every single one of your friends a happy birthday each year. You can also write gratitude cards for your coworkers to let them know what you appreciate about them. And by doing all these good deeds for others, you’ll start to get out of that head of yours and into the… present moment. You’re helping others. You’re doing good work. And eventually people will do kind things for you too. By making others feel good, you’ll start to feel good about yourself too.
#11. Be Mindful of Triggers
Anxious people always have triggers. And unfortunately, sometimes you can’t avoid them. During a run with PTSD, I developed a two-year long fear of the moon (selenophobia). There was no getting out of it. Every time the full moon came out, I’d go into hysterics thinking I was in danger. I couldn’t avoid the moon coming out each night and it glared at me and haunted me during a difficult period. The point of the story is, sometimes you can’t escape your trigger. You have to accept that it’s there. You can take small actions to help minimize its impact such as staying over at a friend’s house to feel safe, scheduling a meeting with a psychotherapist to learn coping strategies, or joining Facebook groups for people who suffer from similar triggers to get specific advice from others.
#12. Decorate Your Home
A fun way to calm anxiety is to decorate your home. This usually works well in the colder and darker months when you start decorating for Christmas. But you can also decorate for Valentine’s Day or Easter too. In homes that have cold designs or feel a bit dark and dingy, decorating your home can help you create a safe, positive environment where you can feel cozy, warm, and protected. If you’ve left to work in the dark only to return home from work in the dark, it’s a good idea to get those decorations up to feel festive. Who says you can’t celebrate holidays year round? It’s also a good way to take your mind off of stresses and invest them into positive moments.
#13. Practice Exposure Therapy
Our anxiety grows the more we avoid our fears. Sometimes, we have to expose ourselves to our greatest fear to help us overcome or at least better manage them. Of course, you don’t want to put yourself in dangerous situations if your greatest fears are dangerous. But taking small baby steps can help you calm anxiety and face your fears. If you have a fear that something will happen to your children if you leave the room, you can practice leaving the room while another person is in there supervising them. And with time remove the supervision and allow them to play in an unsupervised room. More often than not, you’ll see that they’re safe and doing okay. The more you practice exposure to your fears, the better you become at managing your anxiety.
#14. Try A Meditation App
One of the best ways to calm anxiety is to meditate. Meditation is all about living in the present. And we all know anxiety is about living in the future. By meditating, you help bring your mind to the present and change your relationship to the feelings of anxiety. We have a free guided meditation app that you can use to calm anxiety anytime. It’s an always free app so you won’t need to worry about having to spend money to gain some mental clarity. It’s great for people who want support but are on a limited budget. You can practice a loving kindness meditation which helps you build empathy and compassion towards people you are positive to, negative to, and neutral to. Or you can focus on a mindfulness meditation for anxiety where you place your attention on your breath. Or you can try a body scan meditation where you scan your attention down the body and notice the physical sensations of the body. So, if you’re looking for an app that helps you calm anxiety, you could always check out Declutter the Mind.
#15. Talk Medication
Now I know how much most people with anxiety absolutely hate the idea of taking medication. But if you’re looking to calm anxiety and nothing on this list stabilizes you after months of effort, it may be exactly what you need. I was diagnosed with schizophrenia when I was 16, and the worst thing about taking medication boiled down to two things: it didn’t work and I felt like a guinea pig. Now, I know how frustrating those two problems can be. Trust me, I’ve lived it too. But the upside to being a guinea pig, is that eventually you do find the right drug. It took me four years of excessive drowsiness, suicidal thoughts, and general suffering but one day, we finally found a drug that worked. And for the past 10 years of being on that drug, things have for the most part been stable with the exception of one traumatic event. Medication shouldn’t be your only solution, it should also be paired with psychotherapy or some of the ideas on this list. But overall, it can be helpful at calming anxiety when nothing else seems to work.
So you’ve now learned how to calm anxiety. You may still feel anxious from time to time, but you can try some of the coping strategies we’ve outlined above to help you manage anxiety. Always remember that humans from the dawn of time have always felt anxiety. It’s what’s helped us survive for so many generations. So whenever you feel anxious, don’t forget to tell yourself that you come from a long line of survivors. And that feeling anxiety is normal, healthy, and the reason you’re alive today. Some days managing your anxiety can be tough, but we’re always here to help if you need to chat.