I wish I knew how to cope with anxiety when I was younger. Anxiety has always been an uninvited guest in my life. I never wanted to meet but he’s always there.
Sometimes, when I least expect it, anxiety takes over my mind. And it makes me feel overwhelmed, inundated, and inadequate. I feel like I’m in the center of a tornado and the thoughts overpower me and I can’t break free.
Yet I’ve learned that it does not have to be this way. You can change your thoughts, get comfortable with the discomfort and even learn to befriend your anxiety.
Before becoming a licensed therapist I had very little knowledge of how to cope with anxiety, how it affects your mind and body.
Now I know and want to educate and empower you with information so you can restore your calm and reclaim your life so that you, not your anxiety, are in the driver’s seat.
Where my anxiety started
I’ve struggled with anxiety my whole life.
Perhaps it’s because of my early childhood trauma of living in Iran during a war and having to escape into a bomb shelter at odd hours when the bomb siren would go off.
Or other traumatic experiences like when I was four years old and woke up and realized that I was home alone and my mom was not there.
Petrified, I remember crying and walking around our empty house. I did not know that my mom had to wake up before dawn to stand in line for food rations.
I only remember the feeling of utter panic and fear. I was alone, I felt unsafe and I did not know where my mom was.
How I befriended anxiety
These traumatic memories were rooted in my brain and only after working closely with a therapist was I able to process these traumatic experiences and come to terms with how to cope with anxiety.
For years I fought my anxiety.
I hated how it felt (I still don’t like how it feels). I felt overwhelmed by my anxiety and at times turned away from it, trying to ignore or hide from it.
If you’ve ever struggled with anxiety, you can relate. Sometimes you anticipate anxiety and that itself is a terrible sensation.
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Anxiety comes out of nowhere and can be rather overwhelming.
One time I recall that my therapist said something profound. She said, “Pantea, anxiety is your friend.”
Initially, I thought she was crazy. Who in their right mind would want anxiety as a friend?
Once I was in graduate school and began to study what happens in our brain and body when we’re experiencing anxiety, I finally realized what she meant.
1. Anxiety is meant to keep you safe, but your anxiety alarm is faulty
So there’s a part of your brain called the amygdala designed to keep you safe.
All mammals have them and as lucky humans, our brains are far more developed than animals so our anxiety alarm gets triggered often because we perceive numerous situations as potential threats.
Again, your anxiety alarm bell is not 100% foolproof. There will be times when your mind and your body respond as if you’re in a life or death situation — even though you’re not in any real danger.
Currently, I’m having a lot of anxiety because of unexpected changes at work. My brain is triggering the anxiety alarm bell because it perceives these changes as potentially harmful and threatening to my well-being.
How to cope with anxiety: turn off the anxiety alarm
The best way to turn off or lower down the volume of the anxiety alarm is to recognize and acknowledge that your brain and body are overreacting.
It sounds simple but when you’re in an acute state of anxiety it’s hard to tell yourself “Hey you, you’re just overreacting.”
What helps me is to acknowledge it and say the following:
“Hey Anxiety, you’re a badass and I know you’re trying to look out for me but I’m not in any immediate danger. I’m safe. I’m ok.”Pantea Rahimian, LCSW
Most of the time when I do this my anxiety lessens. It doesn’t completely go away but I don’t feel like I’m spiraling with panic either.
2. How to cope with anxiety-understand that it affects your mind and body
Most people talk about anxiety as an emotion. But anxiety also affects your brain and your body.
As a licensed therapist, I have the privilege of supporting my clients when they’re experiencing severe anxiety since they often ruminate about the past or focus on catastrophic predictions about the future.
That’s the thing about anxiety.
It’s not using the “thinking” part of your brain, it’s using the “emotional” part of your brain.
As a result, your body will respond accordingly.
Your heart rate and your blood pressure might increase. You might begin to breathe faster, and you may break into a sweat. These reactions are meant to prepare you for action (it’s known as the fight-or-flight response).
So what do you do when you’re experiencing anxiety at the moment?
Since your body may want you to run the hell out of the anxiety-provoking situation, you need to respond.
What do I do?
I go to the bathroom and do jumping jacks! Sounds silly but it works!
Since my heart is pumping and my blood pressure has increased, I trick my anxiety alarm and move my body.
As I’m moving I take deep breaths. A few minutes of physical activity and deep mindful breathing usually lower my anxiety alarm.
When you learn how to calm both your mind and your body it makes it much easier to face anxiety-provoking situations.
3. Anxiety isn’t rational and does NOT make sense
An interesting fact about anxiety is that it isn’t always rational.
The sensation is so terrible so it’s easy to believe that you’re in danger. You might feel anxious when you’re safe and sound in your home. Or you might experience a random spike in anxiety when you’re sitting at your desk.
Therefore, how you respond to increased anxiety makes a big difference in how long it lasts and how intense it feels.
In the past when I was feeling anxious, I would panic and convince myself that I could not stand the discomfort.
Guess what would happen?
My anxiety would get worse.
So here’s what has worked for me and I hope works for you.
Embrace your anxiety
Welcome anxiety like an old friend and when it arrives, say “ok, you’re here, I did not invite you but I know you’re going to be here so let’s get comfortable together.”
The result of this action is when you embrace your anxiety — rather than fight it — you will feel better faster.
Accept that anxiety feels uncomfortable, but remind yourself that you can tolerate the discomfort.
4. Anxiety becomes a disorder when it impairs functioning
It’s common for people to have experienced anxiety at some point in their life.
However, just because you experience anxiety once in a while does not mean that you have an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety becomes a diagnosable mental health condition when it has a negative impact on your social, occupational, or educational functioning.
For example, if your anxiety is so severe that you are unable to sleep or are chronically worried about everything in your life.
Perhaps you avoid social engagements or keep missing days at work. These are some signs that you may have an anxiety disorder.
Interested in finding out if you have an anxiety disorder? Take this free anxiety test and share your results with your physician.
5. Anxiety is treatable
An unknown fact about anxiety is that it is the most common but undertreated mental illness in America.
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America estimates 18% of the population has an anxiety disorder. Yet only 36% of individuals with an anxiety disorder receive treatment for their anxiety.
An Australian study found that the average person with anxiety waits eight years to get treatment.
I wish I did not wait until I was having full-blown panic attacks before seeking help for my anxiety. I would have saved myself a lot of torment and restless nights.
Now as a therapist, I’m able to support clients by teaching them how to cope with anxiety by learning skills, and tools they can use.
Remember, anxiety is a fully treatable condition and in time you will feel significantly better.
As someone who has been in therapy as well as being a psychotherapist, I truly believe in the profound and remarkable ways in which psychotherapy works.
Check out This is how to start therapy the right way for more info on how to get started.
Living and finding ways on how to cope with anxiety has been a lifelong journey for me. During this time, I’ve also learned many facts about anxiety that I wish I had known earlier.
In short, anxiety is meant to keep you safe and the alarm is faulty. When you’re experiencing anxiety at the moment, move your body and breathe.
Keep in mind that anxiety isn’t rational, don’t fight it, and instead, embrace it.
Lastly, remember that anxiety is fully treatable and there are mental health professionals available to support you.
If you have successfully managed your anxiety, what has worked well for you? What suggestions do you have especially when you’re having anxiety at the moment? How do you cope with anxiety? Do you have tips that you want others to know? Please share your stories and comments below.