How to deal with anxiety? Short- and long-term strategies to cope with anxiety

With everything that’s going on around us, it’s become so normal to have anxiety all the time. We are all struggling to cope with the anxiety that the everyday news is bringing. People already having anxiety (like me) are troubled even more. On this note, let's see what is anxiety, what are the symptoms of anxiety and some strategies to cope with general anxiety not only during these tough times but also all the time.

What is anxiety?

It’s difficult to give a definition of anxiety. According to the wellness website healthline, anxiety is your body’s reaction to stress. It’s nothing but that feeling of worry and restlessness. When you’re going for an interview or a test, or you’re going to speak on a stage, you feel anxious. Your heart rate increases, you sweat, and you can’t breathe. But this is a normal anxiousness that happens to everyone. This doesn’t affect your daily life.

Anxiety becomes a disorder when it affects your daily life. If you’re constantly worried about the future, have difficulty focusing, or if you want to check the locks, gas cylinders repeatedly, it might be time for you to address your anxiety.

Symptoms of anxiety

If you have general anxiety, you are

  • Restless, nervous, and tensed most of the times

  • irritated easily

  • you worry too much, especially thoughts like ‘what if this goes wrong’ ‘what if I mess up?’ is running through your mind

  • you have occasional panic attacks- your heart rate is high, you sweat, you’re shaky and breathless.

Here is a reel explaining the symptoms of anxiety

Why do some people have anxiety? What causes anxiety?

Have you ever wondered why some people have extreme anxiety and some people don't? I used to wonder why some people are so anxious all the time (that’s me!) and some people are not? Studies have shown genes greatly affect General Anxiety Disorder. Studies have also shown that some genes are more likely to cause anxiety.

So, if you’re anxious all the time, 50% of the blame goes to your genes! Yes, if your parents or any other family members have anxiety, it’s more likely that you get it too. Some other reasons might be your childhood, parenting, the trauma you have gone through, and many other aspects.

Whatever the reason might be, there is a solution to this anxiety problem. Here are some strategies to cope with anxiety.

7 Short-term strategies- What can you do immediately when anxiety troubles you in the middle of something?

1. Take deep breaths

We have 2 types of nervous systems- sympathetic, which controls fight or flight response and parasympathetic nervous system, which controls calm and relax response. When you breathe deeply, your response switches from sympathetic to parasympathetic system. This helps you relax and eases you from your anxiety attacks. An experimental study shows deep breathing reduces tension, anger, and depression.

So, when anxiety hits you, pause! And take a few deep breaths.

2. Listen to something- audiobook or podcasts/ songs- link to the most relaxing song

Your brain is busy thinking about the future, past, junk, and whatnot. Feed it with something else. If you are in the office or a bus and you experience anxiety, just pull out your earphones and start listening to an audiobook. I use storytel and they have thousands of audiobooks at an affordable price.

3. Distract yourself- read, draw/paint/ clean/ do anything

Another strategy is to physically move your body. It’s what we call a ‘change of scene’. If you are simply sitting when these anxious thoughts start troubling you, get up and move, take a walk or run. If you are walking when you get anxious, distract yourself by reading, painting, cooking, or doing something else.

4. Write down your thoughts

There are many benefits to writing your thoughts and emotions. Mainly it frees up your mental space. It also gives you clarity about the problem. Instead of going round and round about the problem in your head, put them down on a paper. It helps you in deciding and calms your anxiety down.

5. Notice your surroundings

When you are caught up in a pool of thoughts, STOP, and notice your surroundings, Try to be in the present moment. See what’s there in front of you, what sounds can you hear, do you notice any smell? What are the objects that you can touch? Mindfully observe your surroundings. Coming to the present moment will ease you from your anxious thoughts.

6. Talk to a trusted person

Don’t forget to talk to someone you trust. Pour your heart out to someone who really listens. This can calm down your anxiety to a considerable extent.

7. Detach yourself from thoughts

You need to realize this-you are not your thoughts or emotions. Mindfulness practices teach us to observe the thoughts like observing traffic, instead of going along with them. Try some mindfulness meditations to learn to detach yourself from your thoughts.

7 Long-term strategies to cope with anxiety

1. Identify the triggers

For some people, a stressful event at the office can cause anxiety, for others, a family function can trigger anxiety. Notice every time what is triggering your anxiety. If you know the cause of it, it’ll be easy to tackle it.

2. Meditate regularly

Studies have proved that meditation, especially mindfulness meditation improves anxiety symptoms. Sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on the present moment. Observe your body’s weight on the chair, listen to the sounds around you, observe the rising and falling sensation of your breath. If you get distracted by thoughts, don't worry, just gently bring back your attention to the present.

3. Exercise regularly

Exercising releases anti-anxiety chemicals like serotonin in your brain. Exercise builds resilience. So, exercise regularly for at least 10 minutes every day.

4. Limit social media consumption.

Dr. Laurie Santos in her course ‘the science of well-being’ shows research proofs on how social media makes us compare ourselves illogically.

When you’re watching TV or social media, your brain doesn’t think about logic. It just compares. So, don’t be surprised if you catch yourself comparing yourself to Beyonce or Justin Bieber!

And that’s why, keep your social media consumption in check. Don’t let all the negativity and comparison from the virtual world get you.

5. Journal regularly and pour down your thoughts on a paper

Emptying your thoughts on paper creates mental space. Seeing the thoughts in front of you also makes you realize the real problem (if any) and helps in decision-making.

Next time you feel anxious, ask yourself-

  • What is the problem here?

  • Is it in my control?

  • Can I do anything about it?

  • If yes, what will be my next action?

  • If not, is it worth worrying about it?

Check out this article to know how to start journaling.

6. Practice muscle relaxation

This is a simple exercise I learned during my therapy. Lie down on your back, close your eyes. Tighten your palm muscles (squeeze your palm) for 5 seconds and release them. Tell yourself now “My palms are very relaxed and heavy”. Feel the relaxed sensation for 5 -10 seconds. Do this for all your body parts one by one.

Here, you are teaching your body to relax by instructing your brain. Check out this article for detailed guidelines on muscle relaxation. Trust me this works like magic especially for panic attacks.

7. Seek therapy

Even after taking measures, if anxiety troubles you, don’t hesitate to seek therapy. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is especially helpful to deal with anxiety and depression.

My last advice to deal with anxiety is “accept and make peace with your anxiety instead of resisting it”. You know you can't really get rid of anxiety. You can cope with it and live with it peacefully.

You are not alone in this. Feel free to reach out any time on my Instagram

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