You know the feeling: you wake up in the middle of the night with a knot in your chest. You’re unbearably anxious, but about what? Maybe it hits you while you’re driving, watching traffic merge onto the freeway or negotiating uncontrolled intersections. Maybe it comes when you meet new people or enter new experiences.
Today, anxiety is one of the most common disorders to affect adults in the U.S. Approximately 40 million people age 18 and older suffer from anxiety disorders right now.
Fortunately, anxiety and fear are both highly treatable, and people who suffer from either can often find relief through a mixture of at-home and clinical remedies. While only about 1/3 of the people currently suffering from anxiety get treatment, individuals who want to reduce their fear and anxiety can learn some helpful tips in this article.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is a feeling of intense nervousness or unease. It commonly affects people when the outcome of something is uncertain, or the environment is unfamiliar. While everyone experiences worry, anxiety is a different sensation and may be accompanied by physical symptoms, such as gastrointestinal upset, tension in the chest, a loss of appetite, nausea, or even vomiting.
7 Sure-Fire Ways to Reduce Anxiety and Fear Today
If you suffer from anxiety or fear in your daily life, follow these seven tips to begin reducing it:
1. Practice breathing exercises
Breathing is a powerful tool that can have a massive effect on the brain’s “fight or flight” response. In fact, taking long, slow breaths can help decrease stress, stimulate the vagus nerve (which mediates the “fight or flight” response in the nervous system and lowers heart rate), and lower blood pressure and heart rate.
The next time you’re feeling anxious, focus on your breathing. Take several long, slow exhales (of at least 3 seconds in length), and then move into long, slow exhales which take at least seven seconds to complete.
After about four or five of these, you’ll notice your anxiety beginning to ebb, and your heart rate and body systems returning to normal.
2. Practice visualization
Part of the reason that anxiety is so powerful is that it drags the brain into a loop. Instead of focusing on the good of a situation or experience, people who suffer from anxiety get caught in a loop of negative and frightening thinking. Fortunately, you can pull yourself out of this by practicing visualization.
Visualization is simple. When your head starts to spin, and you get fearful, practice imagining the situation in your mind. Instead of focusing on what will be frightening or painful about it, visualize it going well, and imagine yourself navigating it calmly. While this will help calm your mind in the short-term, it can also contribute to improving the outcome of the situation in real life by allowing you to prepare for it in advance.
3. Activate the thinking side of your brain
Anxiety and fear are emotional responses, and it’s easy to short-circuit them by asking the thinking (rather than the emotional) side of our brains to take over. Here are a few simple ways to do this:
- The next time you’re anxious, place it on a scale from 1-10, with ten being incredibly fearful and one being relaxed. This does two things: it forces you to take an aerial view of your anxiety by putting a number on it, and it allows you to begin thinking about your fear in a rational way, which in turn allows you to combat it.
- Ask yourself some simple questions. Questions like “Am I making this worse than it is?” “Is this fear grounded in reality?” “Am I overreacting?” “What can I do to fix this?” will go a long way toward allowing you to get a grip on your anxiety and look at it from a rational standpoint.
- Ask yourself if you can worry your way to a solution. Some problems can be thought through to the point of a solution. In other situations, though, this will just drive you crazy. If you can’t “worry yourself to an answer,” let it go and try your best to take proactive steps to combat it down the road.
4. Practice being AWARE
AWARE is an acronym people who treat anxiety use to describe the process of moving through the fear and dread. Here’s what it stands for:
- A: Accept the anxiety and understand that fighting it will only make it worse
- W: Watch the anxiety and notice how it ebbs and flows, rises and falls. Don’t get attached to holding onto it or “making” it go away.
- A: Act like you normally would. If you panic, your mind will go right along with you. If you stay calm and act like nothing is wrong, though, you mitigate your panic response and enhance your reasoning capabilities.
- R: Repeat the “A-W-A” steps as frequently as you need to get the feeling under control.
- E: Expect that your anxiety will melt away soon.
While it takes some practice to implement these steps reliably, focusing on them now is a good way to ensure that you get a better handle on your anxiety in the future.
Meditation is a tool for calming the mind and decreasing attachment to our emotional selves. Long since used by leaders around the world, a regular meditative practice can go a long way toward decreasing your anxiety and making it easier to function daily.
Fortunately, meditation is also more accessible than ever before. Apps like Headspace make it easy to meditate for just a few moments every day, and you don’t need to dedicate a huge brick of time to the practice.
While there are dozens of paid meditation programs you can participate in, it’s easy to access meditation without spending a dime. Simply find a quiet space, sit in a comfortable position, and focus on your breath for ten minutes. While it takes a while to get comfortable with the act of meditation, you’ll notice effects on your fear and anxiety in a short period.
6. Get enough sleep
Everything looks worse when you’re tired, and the simple act of getting enough sleep can be instrumental in helping you combat your fear and anxiety. With this in mind, shoot for 7-8 hours of sleep each night and take naps throughout the daytime as you need it.
7. Talk it out
Talk therapy, or even a coffee with a loved friend, can be amazingly helpful for people suffering from fear and anxiety. The simple act of voicing your worries and concerns can help destabilize them and help you see a clear path forward. Plus, talking to a therapist can help you learn more tools to combat fear and anxiety, and see to it that they have less of an impact on your life going forward.
A Happier Life Made Simple
Fear and anxiety can be crippling, and people who suffer from them often feel as if they’ve been robbed of their enjoyment, happiness, and ease. Fortunately, these seven tips can help you begin the battle with fear and anxiety, and live a happier life starting today.