7 Ways of Managing and Coping with Anxiety
Millions of people are coping with anxiety. Whether our worries are global, political, or entirely personal, it’s easy to become consumed by them. This can leave us feeling powerless and paralyzed, a state which is never conducive to either finding peace or making change. In order to be the most ourselves and the most empowered in our lives, we have to take care of our mental health. That means finding ways of coping with our anxiety and calming ourselves down. Here is a list of strategies, developed by experts in their field, which each of us can adopt in those moments when we start to feel overwhelmed, when we feel triggered emotionally, and our anxiety starts to build.
- 4-7-8 Breathing
Breathing can be a powerful tool to for managing our anxiety and any emotions that feel overwhelming. A simple place to start is with 4-7-8. This five-step breathing exercise is easy and effective. Start by putting the tip of your tongue to the top of your mouth just behind your two front teeth. Breathe in through your nose for four seconds. Then hold your breath for a count of seven seconds. Breathe out through your mouth for a count of eight seconds. Try to make a “whooshing” sound as you do this. Immediately, start again, breathing in for a count of four and continue through the cycle a few times before returning to your normal breath. The exercise has been shown to help relieve stress, lower blood pressure, and induce sleep.
- Name It to Tame It
When we become overwhelmed with emotion, one effective exercise for making sense of our feelings and finding balance is called “name it to tame it.” Developed by Dr. Daniel Siegel, the idea is to name our internal emotional states as feelings arise. When we do this, we can simply describe our feelings without having to explain them. This practice helps strengthen the left hemisphere of our brain’s language capabilities and link them to the more raw and spontaneous emotions on the right side of our brain. This process of integration helps us calm down and feel more balanced.
- Wheel of Awareness
Mindfulness practice can be a life-changing tool for people who experience anxiety. Dr. Siegel created the Wheel of Awareness as an excellent practice for helping us calm down and actually integrate our brain. The exercise helps us to slow down our minds and nonjudgmentally look at any sensations, images, feelings, and thoughts before we choose to express them in our actions. This process helps us not only to calm down and return to a state in which we feel more ourselves and in control of our actions, but it allows us to have insights into our feelings and start to understand where they come from.
Watch a Wheel of Awareness Exercise Guided by Dr. Siegel:
- Strengthen Your Internal Observer
In his book Brainstorm, Dr. Siegel talks about a process of strengthening our internal observer. He emphasizes how important it is to focus on developing a part of our mind that can observe, witness, and narrate our experiences. Many of us tend to get overwhelmed by emotions, particularly when they stir up other emotions and experiences from the past. When we fail to recognize the deeper, old feelings that are being triggered during these “emotional storms,” we are more likely to overreact in the present. When we allow this internal observer to narrate our experiences as they unfold, it gives us the emotional space to calm ourselves down and see what is actually happening in the present more clearly. The internal observer also allows us to hit the pause button before reacting when we are emotionally triggered. This makes it a powerful tool for coping with anxiety.
- Identify Your Critical Inner Voice
Whatever struggles or worries we have about our lives, our “critical inner voice” is always there to turn up the volume. The critical inner voice is a destructive thought process; it operates like a distorted coach inside our heads that spooks us by offering the worst case scenario, putting us down, and fueling us with poor advice. It tells us we won’t accomplish anything. It reminds us that our worries are too big to manage. It encourages us to engage in limiting behaviors that undermine our goals. “Don’t bother trying. You will fail,” it cries. This “voice” provides the food for our anxiety. If we can recognize when we start to separate from our real self, which is positive and life-affirming, and start to listen to this sadistic, counterproductive coaching, we can find ways to ignore, even silence it, thereby interrupting the cycle of anxiety it perpetuates.
The RAIN Approach, taught by psychologists Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, is a wonderful tool to help us heal our minds and resolve unresolved issues or experiences of which we have trouble making sense. The steps include:
- Recognizing the trauma or loss
- Acknowledging/Accepting/Allowing that it occurred and may not be resolved
- Investigating the nature of the experience in your past and present life
- Non-identification with the experience, meaning that we don’t over-identify with what happened and allow that event define us
Click here to watch a RAIN Meditation for Self-Compassion led by Tara Brach.
- Balancing the Mind
Balancing the Mind is another simple practice that comes from Dr. Siegel. This exercise can help us achieve more calm and balance during times of chaos or stress. We can start by placing one hand on our chest—over our heart—and one hand on our abdomen. We then apply a gentle amount of pressure with each hand and see how we feel. Next, we try switching the position of our hands, so that the hand on our chest moves to our belly and vice versa. Again, we place a gentle amount of pressure with both hands and notice how this feels. Next, we place our hands in whichever position feels best and simply breathe in and out slowly until our body starts to relax, and our mind becomes calmer
All of these exercises offer healthy and effective ways of coping with anxiety. It’s helpful to find what works for each of us when it comes to relieving stress and calming ourselves in times in which we feel overwhelmed by any emotions. These practices can also help guide us to increase our self-understanding and self-compassion, which further helps reduce anxiety and depression. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by any emotion, we recommend you seek out a therapist or mental health professional. Good help is available.
The following is a list of resources on anxiety:
IF YOU OR SOMEONE YOU KNOW IS IN CRISIS OR IN NEED OF IMMEDIATE HELP, CALL 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
This is a free hotline available 24 hours a day to anyone in emotional distress or suicidal crisis.
International readers can click here for a list of helplines and crisis centers around the world.