5 simple, effective techniques for dealing with anxiety, according to experts
Written by Lauren Geall
As Stylist’s digital writer, Lauren Geall writes on topics including mental health, wellbeing and women’s issues. She’s also a big fan of houseplants and likes to dabble in film and TV from time-to-time. You can find her on Twitter at @laurenjanegeall.
New analysis suggests the UK is more anxious than ever – here’s how to deal with any anxiety you may be experiencing.
The last couple of years have been a lot to handle – so it’s hardly surprising that we’re seeing the knock-on effect of that struggle on our collective mental health.
The uncertainty triggered by the pandemic, troubling global events and the ongoing cost of living crisis has particularly taken its toll on the country’s anxiety levels, with new research from Bupa showing that the UK is struggling with anxiety more than ever.
An analysis of Google search data shows that the term ‘anxiety symptoms in women’ has seen a sixfold search increase in the two-year period from August 2020 to August 2022, while the search term ‘anxiety symptoms in men’ has increased by a factor of 13.
Being confronted with this kind of data can feel pretty overwhelming. After all, you might ask, when the rise in anxiety is (at least partly) being fuelled by the world around us, how can we ever hope to do anything about it?
But just because the world is an overwhelming and anxiety-inducing place right now, doesn’t mean we can’t take steps that will make a difference.
On top of seeking professional help – whether from a GP, therapist or another mental health professional – there are plenty of research-backed techniques you can try to help yourself feel better and relieve some of the anxiety you’re feeling.
So, whether you’re experiencing anxiety for the first time, or just want to learn more about the tools you can use when you’re feeling anxious, keep reading to check out five tips and tricks you can use to deal with anxiety
Step away from unhealthy coping mechanisms
We all have coping mechanisms we turn to when things get tough, but unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as alcohol and ignoring your emotions, can make things worse. Making sure your coping mechanisms are making a positive difference is an important first step in dealing with anxiety.
“Though turning to stodgy foods or alcohol might seem the most tempting way to calm anxiety, it won’t help you in the long term,” explains Pablo Vandenabeele, Bupa health insurance’s clinical lead for mental health.
Some healthy coping mechanisms Vandenabeele recommends include getting outside for a 15-minute walk (everyday, if possible), laying off the caffeine, eating healthy, drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep.
Tackle any anxious avoidance
How to deal with anxiety: tackling anxious avoidance will help you to make progress with your anxiety.
If you find yourself starting to avoid things that make you anxious, you could be struggling with anxious avoidance. A form of negative reinforcement that strengthens feelings of anxiety, anxious avoidance is a common outcome of anxiety – but that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to break the cycle.
To do this, you’ll need to take small (but challenging) steps towards confronting the thing you’ve been avoiding. Once you’re there, you’ll also need to identify how to calm yourself down – and then repeat the process over and over again until your anxiety subsides.
“Once you have begun to interrupt the cycle, your brain will realise that it’s not so bad after all and you will find the anxious feelings will diminish, reinforcing to your subconscious mind that you are safe and nothing bad will happen,” Jacqueline Carson, a psychotherapist, hypnotherapist and meditation teacher, previously told Stylist.
You can read more about overcoming anxious avoidance here.
Use the five senses technique to calm yourself down
How to deal with anxiety: the five senses technique is a great way to tackle anxiety in the moment.
Also known as the 54321 method, this simple exercise is an effective tool to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and need some headspace.
To get started, all you need to do is name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
“This technique can be used whenever we feel stress, anxiety or overwhelm coming on,” Chloe Brotheridge, hypnotherapist and author of The Anxiety Solution, explains for Stylist’s Strong Women.
“It can also be used in bed at the end of the day to help you to switch off or before a meeting you’re nervous about to help you to feel centred and calm beforehand. It’s a quick and simple tool that could be used daily as part of your routine or whenever you need to ground and calm yourself.”
You can read more about using the five senses technique here.
Identify your automatic negative thoughts
How to deal with anxiety: working through your automatic negative thoughts will help you to get to the root of your anxiety.
Part of dealing with anxiety is tackling the problem at its source – and automatic negative thoughts are often one of the main contributors to the problem.
A kind of negative thinking related to our underlying core beliefs, automatic negative thoughts about ourselves and the world around us – for example, that we don’t deserve to be happy or will never be good enough – have the power to influence our behaviour and, in turn, make us more anxious.
With this in mind, tackling your automatic negative thoughts can break this cycle and help you to make changes that benefit your mental health in the long run.
Jacqueline Carson explains in this Stylist piece: “Start by acknowledging these thoughts but not believing them. Are you fixated on the past? Do you worry about the future? Are you prone to pessimism? Know that these are not really you – they come from the deep-rooted subconscious – and there are things you can do to change how you feel and think. The mind and body are bidirectional.”
You can read more about automatic negative thoughts and how to deal with them here.
Rid yourself of excess adrenaline
How to deal with anxiety: moving your body to rid yourself of adrenaline is a useful tool when you’re feeling overwhelmed.
When we’re feeling stressed or anxious, our bodies produce adrenaline, leaving us with lots of the ‘fight or flight’ hormone without anywhere for it to go. Giving your body a way to use up that adrenaline – for example, by doing some movement – can help to reduce any jitteriness you might be experiencing.
“Often with stress, anxiety and regulation we think about techniques that seem more soothing and slowing, but we forget the fact that these states involve a lot of adrenaline that has nowhere to go,” Aimee Rai, a trauma specialist, integrative therapist and founder of the International School of Holistic Healing (ISOHH), previously told Stylist.
“As such, one of my favourite tips is to run on the spot – hard and fast for 30 to 60 seconds. Then stop, breathe and feel. Lie down on the floor afterwards if you can and take a moment to surrender. It is not uncommon to feel a little shaky or for tears to follow as the system releases.”
You can read more about ways to soothe your nervous system here.
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