Community Psychiatry’s Julian Lagoy, M.D. and Leela Magavi, M.D. were featured in Verywell Mind discussing anxiety and strategies to help control it.
9 Things to Do If You Feel Anxious
By: Sara Lindberg, M.Ed. | November 24, 2020
Everyone goes through periods of feeling anxious and worried. After all, it’s a normal human experience. And whether you’re dealing with occasional bouts of anxiety or trying to manage excessive worries, doubts, and fears, having tools to help you calm your mind and body can reduce the intensity and duration of these feelings.
Here are nine strategies that can relax your mind, ease your anxiety, and help you regain control of your thoughts so that you can feel better.
Understand the Connection Between Anxiety and Depression
While not a specific strategy, understanding the connection between anxiety and depression can help you determine if what you’re dealing with is temporary or a sign of something more serious.
According to Leela R. Magavi, MD, a psychiatrist and regional medical director for Community Psychiatry, anxiety and depression are intertwined and frequently exacerbate each other. Part of the reason, she said, is because the same neurochemicals are implicated in both conditions.
More specifically, Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, explained that since decreased serotonin causes both depression and anxiety, it’s common for someone with depression to also feel anxious at the same time. That’s why it’s critical to acknowledge feelings of anxiety and share them with an expert, especially if you’ve been diagnosed with depression or are showing signs of depression.
Acknowledge Your Anxiety
Acknowledging when you feel anxious allows you to take steps to ease the symptoms. The first step is to accept that you cannot control everything. To do this, the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) recommends putting feelings of stress or anxiety in perspective.
When you have an anxious thought that won’t go away, ask yourself: “Is it really as bad as I think?” Take yourself through the process of breaking down the thought before jumping to the worst-case scenario. If you still answer yes, ask yourself the following:
- How do I know the thought is true (what is the evidence)?
- Can I reframe the thought into a more positive or realistic scenario?
- What are the chances the thing I’m worried about will actually happen?
- What is the worst possible outcome? How bad is this, and can I handle it?
This exercise is helpful for people who deal with chronic anxiety and worry.
Schedule a Worry Break
It may sound counterintuitive when looking at strategies to help you find relief from anxiety, but allowing yourself a short worry break each day can free up your energy to focus on the task at hand. How you set this up depends on your routine. One way is to schedule a chunk of time later in the day, maybe 15 minutes after dinner, to go through your worries for the day.
Earlier in the day, you can write down any worries or anxieties that creep into your mind. Then, give yourself permission to deal with them later. This allows you to go about your day while still acknowledging that something is bothering you.
Later, when you go over the worry list, make sure to set a timer. Review what you wrote, identify any thoughts that are still causing anxiety, and cross off those that don’t seem important anymore. Allow yourself a few minutes to sit with each concern.
Interrupt Your Thoughts
When negative thoughts or excessive worries run through your head, it can feel like there is no way to turn them off. One strategy to try is interrupting your anxious thoughts by doing something else. While it might not work every time, you may find that taking a break from overthinking can lead to fewer intrusive thoughts throughout the day. Here are some techniques to try:
- Practice deep breathing
- Take a mindfulness break
- Move your body
- Engage in an activity that brings you joy
- Call a friend or loved one
- Get outdoors and take a walk
- Keep your hands busy by drawing, knitting, doing a puzzle, or building something
Practice Mindfulness Meditation and Relaxation
Mindfulness meditation, relaxation, and breathing exercises can help calm your mind and body, which may allow you to feel less worried.2 Plus, it only takes a few minutes each day to feel a difference. Use this time to be aware of what’s going on in your mind and body. Start with five minutes a day and work your way up to mindful moments several times a day.
To help you get started, listen to a guided meditation, or recorded breathing exercises. Once you feel comfortable with the practice, you will find more focus and awareness throughout the day.
Engage in Diaphragmatic Breathing
Engaging in diaphragmatic breathing and registering bodily cues could help you better understand your emotional response to stress, according to Magavi. Many people who experience anxiety find it helpful to partake in guided body scan meditations while breathing slowly and deeply to identify how each emotion triggers disparate sensations in their body, Magavi said.
You can use this information to think about how to respond verbally or behaviorally. She recommends using diaphragmatic breathing and pranayama, which is alternative breathing or the practice of breath control.
Do One Thing Each Day That Brings You Joy
When you’re feeling anxious and want to take your mind off the stressor, Lagoy says to carve out time to do the things you love, whether that is riding a bike, reading a book, painting, or catching up with friends.
“Regular exercise can help prevent or alleviate anxiety, as well as learning techniques like meditation, deep breathing exercises, or practicing mindfulness,” Lagoy said.
Consider What Your Anxiety Is Telling You
Feeling anxious isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxious thoughts could be your body’s way of giving you valuable information. The next time you feel worry, fear, stress, or overwhelming thoughts of dread, stop, and take a deep breath. Instead of defaulting to “this is my anxiety talking,” reframe how you view the situation and ask yourself if your body is trying to tell you something. Do you need to slow down? Maybe you’re getting sick, and your body is responding with stress. Or maybe, there is a real threat, and you need to take action.
Talk to a Mental Health Professional
Feeling anxious all the time can be a sign of a mental health issue like depression. If your anxiety becomes excessive and difficult to manage, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. Talking with a therapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist who can treat the underlying issue may help you feel better.
Click here to read the entire article on Verywell Mind.