31 Oct Daily Practice to Manage Anxiety by Sara Loughlin, LCSW
Most of us experience anxiety to some degree. A little anxiety is even helpful: it can motivate us to be organized and keep our home tidy, or prepare thoroughly for an interview, or go the extra mile to make a good impression on a date. However, a lot of the anxiety we experience is not helpful: the worst case scenarios playing out on repeat in our brains; chest tightening, heart racing, and palms sweating during times we have to do something outside our comfort zone; or overreacting to a situation with our loved ones because of our own feelings of being overwhelmed.
I believe that the best way to consistently manage anxiety is to have a daily practice of at least one thing you do every day that helps to keep anxiety at bay. There are many different ways to manage anxiety. One technique may work well for one person, but it may not be so effective for another person. I would suggest trying out a few techniques for a while to find the one you feel most comfortable with, and then commit to practicing it every day (or as much as you can). Here are some of the most well-regarded techniques, but if you have one that is not on the list, but it works for you, by all means do that. One warning of caution, however, has to do with marijuana use. Many people use marijuana to relax, but studies show that over time, regular use will actually raise the person’s baseline anxiety level. That means that marijuana use may still feel like it is working for you, but in between the periods of getting high, you feel more anxious than you would if you quit using it.
So back to ways to manage anxiety. The one way that I believe is most effective is meditation. For people with high levels of anxiety, meditating is hard. I get it – at first, meditation may seem awkward and forced or even silly to you. Guided meditation is a good way to start off in that case. There are many meditation apps that you can download for a small fee that are very effective. I like “Simply Being” but there are many others. A voice guides you through a themed meditation of however long you choose- for example, 5, 10, 20, or 30 minutes. You can also choose meditation sessions without the voice – instead, you hear just nature sounds (light rain, gentle brook, moderate surf, etc.) There are also many wonderful area meditation centers one can go to, such as Self-Realization Fellowship, UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, and Against the Stream.
Yoga and Tai Chi are also very good because they utilize the “breath” like meditation does. The breath is a very powerful way to get out of our anxious thoughts and reconnect with our physical selves. More rigorous physical exercise is helpful for moderate anxiety because such anxiety is often accompanied by adrenaline (fight or flight syndrome), and exercise can burn this off. Even walking can be very helpful, but the key is not to use the walk to go over one’s anxious thoughts. Use mindfulness tools — really utilize your five senses to bring yourself into the present moment. Feel the temperature of the air and any breeze. Feel the ground beneath your feet — what does it feel like? What do your legs and feet feel like? Any stiffness? Pay attention to your surroundings. Look at the flowers, leaves changing colors, the architecture of the buildings, etc. Pay attention to any sounds you hear. Is there a noise from a car? A dog barking in the distance? Use all of your senses to really take in the environment along your walk.
Last but not least, take an inventory of your stress triggers. Is there anything that is anxiety-provoking that you can lessen your exposure to? If your job causes you stress, you may not be able to quit that job, but maybe if you regularly did a 5 minute meditation (using your headphones connected to your cell phone or computer) during a work break you might not be so frazzled at the end of the day. Is there a friend who has constant drama or other unreasonable demands that pull you in? This may be a good time to set some boundaries with that friend so that he or she is not draining your energy. Is there something that you know you should tackle but have been putting off? Break it down into manageable pieces and make a plan to complete each piece within a reasonable time frame.
I know all of this is easier said than done, but the fact that you are on this website, reading this blog, means that you are already on the path to self-improvement. It is a journey, and try to be compassionate to yourself along the way. I wish you all the best.