I wish I knew how to beat anxiety when I was in the midst of an anxiety attack a few years ago. I remember my heart was pounding, the room was closing in on me and I felt like everything was spiraling out of control.
Unsure what to do, I started sobbing and curled into a fetal position.
My partner responded in the most remarkable way. Rather than ignoring or blaming me for my unusual behavior, he came and hugged me. While holding me in his arms he said “You’re safe. I’m here for you.”
Immediately my anxiety dissipated.
How anxiety affects your mind and body
Did you know that anxiety is there to protect you?
I know, it’s the last thing you probably think of when you’re having an anxiety or panic attack or worried about impending anxiety, but it’s true.
To better understand how to beat anxiety, you first have to understand where your anxiety is coming from.
Anxiety is rooted in your brain
All mammals have an amygdala in their brain to help them recognize and respond to danger and perceived threats.
Like all mammals, humans were designed to survive in any and all environments. Therefore, when there is a real or perceived threat to your safety, your amygdala gets activated. When this happens there is a stress response.
Consequently, your brain and body go into a “fight, flight or freeze” mode.
Our ancestors obviously had real threats, like a lion who may attack them or their family.
Now, that we live in a civilized world, our brain can’t tell the difference between a lion and a phone call from your boss telling you to meet them in their office.
For your brain, your boss becomes the lion and your body’s stress response is activated because it believes you are in danger.
How anxiety is part of your stress response
Since I’ve had traumatic and stressful experiences at my workplace with my supervisor, I immediately notice a strong stress response when I see my boss’s name on my phone.
My heart races (last time my Fitbit indicated an increase by 20 beats!) and my mouth feels dry. My body thinks that I’m going to get attacked by a lion and is preparing me to fight or flee.
Have you ever noticed how your body responds to anxiety and stress?
It’s important to gain awareness around this because once you understand logically what is going on in your mind and body, you are able to take a step back and respond rather than react to the stress response.
How to beat anxiety without medication
Now that you know where anxiety is coming from, and a little bit more about neurobiology, you can learn how to beat anxiety without medication and get immediate relief.
1. Accept your anxiety
Though you probably don’t want to hear this, trying to ignore your anxiety or steamrolling ahead only makes it worse.
“It seems to me that the less I fight my fear, the less it fights back. If I can relax, fear relaxes, too.”
Elizabeth Gilbert Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
If you want to know how to beat anxiety, the first step is to accept the way you are feeling.
And remember, it’s just a feeling. It won’t kill you, even though it sometimes feels like it is going to.
2. Exercise is your magic drug
As you probably know by now, anxiety is all in your head.
Irrational thoughts probably led you down a rabbit hole that triggers your anxiety and before you know it you’re spiraling into this black hole of fear and worry.
Instead of jumping on the anxiety train, learn how to beat anxiety by moving your body through exercise. When you do this, your brain releases feel-good chemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine which make you feel better instantaneously.
Looking for some motivation to get started working out? Check out 10 foolproof ways to boost your motivation and work out right now.
You can also go on a simple walk around the park, stretch, or try a yoga class. These are all great activities that simultaneously get you moving and calm you down.
3. Practice self-care
When you practice self-care, you are taking one step closer to evaluating how to beat anxiety and feel calmer more quickly.
Self-care is any activity that you do intentionally, in order to take care of your mental, emotional, and physical health.
When you are experiencing anxiety, your sympathetic nervous system gets activated which floods your body with stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. These are your body’s biological responses to fear.
Stress hormones in response to anxiety are designed to be activated only for a short period of time to keep you safe.
In order to counter your stress and anxiety response, it’s important to regularly engage in self-care activities that activate your parasympathetic nervous system.
4. Ditch sugar, caffeine, and alcohol
Though consuming caffeine, sugar, and alcohol feel good in the short term, they can drastically impact your mood, emotions and even increase your anxiety.
If you suffer from chronic anxiety, considering reducing your intake of caffeine since it’s an “upper” and will only make your anxiety worse. I love drinking Earl Grey tea but notice a big improvement when I don’t drink it when I’m in an anxious state.
In addition, cutting down on sugar will result in fewer emotional highs and lows, and drinking less alcohol will help you feel healthier in the long run.
5. Change your thoughts
One of the best techniques on how to beat anxiety is to learn to change and reframe your thoughts.
Negative thoughts trigger a cascade of feelings so try to narrow in on what’s causing that unpleasant sensation and try a different perspective.
To do this you can talk to a friend, say what you’re thinking out loud, or write it down.
Journaling is an exercise I do regularly to get rid of my anxiety and worry.
When you put your thoughts down on paper, it helps since you are literally separating your thoughts from yourself. To get started, check out Journaling for Beginners: A Guide to reduce your stress and solve your problems.
Lastly, remember that it takes a lot of practice to reframe negative thoughts.
Like a muscle, you have to keep training to get it stronger. Over time, you become more adept at shifting and reframing your negative thoughts which help you beat anxiety.
6. Start a meditation practice
Integrating a daily meditation practice into your life is one of the most effective tools for beating anxiety.
When you practice meditation, you actually change the way your brain is wired. Interestingly enough, your brain has neuroplasticity, which basically means the brain has the ability to change and adapt as a result of experience.
When you meditate, you train your brain how to pause and respond rather than react. It’s pretty amazing and I can attest to the powerful ways this has helped me learn how to overcome anxiety.
In addition, my regular yoga practice has shown me that deep breathing and tuning into my body helps me recognize my feelings, and create space rather than avoid or ignore them.
If you’re new to meditation, I suggest the best meditation tips for beginners, and then to get started, check out 5 best meditation apps that will make you calm and stress-free.
7. Don’t neglect your sleep
Getting good quality sleep is critical if you want to learn how to beat anxiety.
A common misconception is that you can get by in less than 6 hours a night. However, research suggests that adults need at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to be well-rested.
Sleep is critical for my mental wellness so I focus on getting at least 8 hours of sleep a night. When I don’t sleep well, my anxiety skyrockets, I’m irritable and I get triggered easily. I try my best to follow a healthy sleep routine.
If you want to learn more, check out how to put your racing mind to bed and sleep now!
8. Start breathing
I recall once when I had a panic attack in the shower and started hyperventilating. I had to force myself to sit down, put my head between my knees and take long slow deep breaths.
When you are experiencing anxiety or a panic attack, you may feel like you can’t breathe.
Remember the stress response?
There’s a reason that you’re taking shallow breaths. You may not be running for your life, but your body still responds as if you are.
“Since your brain thinks you’re under attack, you experience chest tightening, shortness of breath, and faster breathing because your body is trying to get more oxygen to your muscles, preparing you to run.”
Dr. Timmothy Legg How Anxiety Can Cause Shortness of Breath and What You Can Do
To counter this response, force yourself to start taking slow deep breaths. Try square breathing.
When you focus on your breath, your mind is calm and you return to your body. Long, slow inhales and exhales bring you into the present moment and signal to your brain that everything is ok.
Want to know the best part of breathing? You can use it anytime, anywhere and it’s absolutely free!
9. Ask yourself these 3 questions
One of the best ways to beat anxiety is to come up with a plan using Socratic Questioning as a tool that helps you to push pause, evaluate and plan.
Here are the three questions I want you to ask yourself when you’re feeling anxious:
- What’s the worst that can happen?
- The best that can happen?
- The most likely thing to happen?
You will notice that 9 times out of 10, the worst thing did NOT happen and your mind came up with an unrealistic story.
10. Focus on the present moment
Remember that anxiety feeds on worry and making crazy and unrealistic predictions about the future.
Can you travel back to the past or jump to the future?
No, you can’t.
To avoid feeding your anxiety or worry, focus on being present and in the moment. One activity that has really helped me combat my depression and anxiety is practicing mindfulness meditation.
11. Go outside
Make an effort to go outside every day, spend time in nature and surround yourself with people.
The minute you decide to walk outside the door is when you realize that you actually have more power than fear and anxiety. They don’t rule you nor will they have power over you if you don’t let them.
12. Be kind to yourself
Your mind can be your best friend or worst enemy. As someone who struggles with anxiety, I am amazed by the kinds of thoughts that run through my brain throughout the day.
To be honest, I’m sometimes shocked at my inner critic and have to practice self-compassion when these crazy thoughts start popping up.
Try self-compassion by speaking to yourself as you would to a trusted friend. You’ll notice a difference in how you feel.
13. Call a friend
Your community is one of the most important parts of figuring out how to beat anxiety and improve your mental health.
“Depression is a lonely dark passenger that thrives on isolation. It feeds on dark thoughts and anxiety is his ugly sidekick who likes to push you into a corner and strangle you with fear and worry.”
Activate your support system and call a friend when you’re feeling anxious. They will support, validate and respect your feelings.
When you start giving a voice to anxiety, it immediately loses its power and holds over you. Next time you’re feeling your anxiety come on, stop the spiral and reach out to someone in your support system.
14. Talk to a therapist
If you’ve tried all 13 tips and find that you continue to struggle with severe stress and anxiety in your daily life, then it’s time to reach out to a mental health professional.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, it is a sign of strength, courage, and valor. To get started, this is how to start therapy the right way.
Having anxiety sucks. I know because I’ve lived with it my entire life.
I hate the feeling and I cherish the times when I’m NOT having anxiety. I wonder, wouldn’t it be lovely to live anxiety-free?
Unfortunately, you can not avoid anxiety nor can you get rid of anxiety for good.
However, the good news is that you can learn to manage your anxiety.
Remember, there is a significant difference between having occasional anxiety versus prolonged anxiety that impacts you on a daily basis.
As a clinical psychotherapist, I talk to people every day who are experiencing severe stress, worry, panic, anxiety, and depression.
I don’t tell them my story, but I understand how they feel.
So what I want to tell you is that though anxiety feels terrible at the moment, it won’t kill you. It’s there to protect you and you have the tools to manage your anxiety so it does not control you.
What do you do to beat anxiety? What tips would you share with someone who is struggling and feeling overwhelmed because of their mental health? Please share your stories and comments below.
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