Although defeating anxiety is one of the most important things you can do, it’s also one of the most intimidating.
After all, part of anxiety is the feeling that you can’t ever get better.
How are you supposed to defeat anxiety when the very fact that you have it makes you feel like you can never defeat it?
First, it’s vital that you lose the stigma about having anxiety.
Talk to your doctor. Admit you’re struggling with it. There are ways your doctor can help.
But your doctor isn’t the only one who can help with defeating anxiety.
You have a powerful ally where you might not expect it: yourself.
In spite of what the anxiety may have you believing, you really can help manage, control, and defeat it.
1. Accept the moment. As strange as this one sounds – and it does sound strange, who wants to accept anxiety? Doing so is key to defeating it. Anxiety is made worse when you try to fight it. Judging yourself, thinking you’re a bad person for having these feelings, trying to force yourself to “just get over it”… all of these exacerbate the anxiety rather than alleviate it. Instead of beating yourself up and trying to force your way through it, try to acknowledge it. Sit with it. You know what anxiety is, you know what it feels like, and most importantly, you know it will end. So, don’t judge and don’t fight. Let the moment be what it is. This one takes practice, but once you get the hang of it, it can become one of your most powerful tools for defeating anxiety.
2. Distract yourself. Some people consider distractions a cheat. They believe that if you’re just distracting yourself, you aren’t really defeating anxiety. But if a distraction calms your nerves and makes you feel less anxious, that counts! A good distraction is any healthy alternative that makes you focus on something else rather than your anxious feelings and negative thoughts. Listen to music. Call a friend. Play with a dog. It really doesn’t matter how you distract yourself, so long as you do. Just don’t get spun up thinking about the things you feel like you can’t do. Revisit #1, accept that you’re not up to it, and find a distraction that you can manage. Which leads us to…
3. Make a cup of tea. First, the act of filling the kettle, getting out the teabags, finding a mug, all the steps you take to make a cup of tea can be excellent distractions. But then, the tea itself can help defeat anxiety if you choose wisely. Chamomile and green teas both contain compounds that can help relax you and defeat anxiety. Valerian and lemon balm can also be brewed into tea, just be sure to follow the directions. And all four can be taken as supplements, if tea isn’t, well, your cup of tea.
4. Learn your own triggers. Anxiety is different for everyone, so defeating anxiety has to be different for everyone. It’s not a cookie cutter condition. As soon as you’re able, make notes about what was going on leading up to the anxiety attack. Was it a slow build of stress? Was it one particular person? Or anticipating a specific event? Wait until you’re calm to try to address this one, because it’s easy to get caught in the emotion of the moment and not be able to identify a cause – which can make you feel even worse and more anxious. Once you’re calm, you’ll be able to see more clearly. And then, you may be able to find a pattern.
5. Eat a healthy diet. Let’s be honest – fruits and vegetables aren’t going to defeat anxiety on their own. However, it’s easier to deal with what’s going on in your mind when your body is up to the challenge. And researchers have known for years that diet can affect mood. So give your body the healthy food and nutrients it needs to help you take care of your mind.
6. Exercise daily. When it comes to defeating anxiety, daily exercise can help on two different levels. Anxiety can be caused or exacerbated by an abundance of stress hormones that build up in your system. Exercise can help burn them off. By exercising daily, you help prevent them from ever building up to the point that you end up with anxiety. But also, when you are feeling anxious, getting out and getting moving helps purge your system of the hormones that are contributing to your feelings. It takes about 21 minutes for exercise to help ease anxiety once it has kicked in, so get moving as soon as you can.
7. Breathe deeply. When most people breathe, they only get oxygen into the upper parts of their lungs, which is a shame because deep, belly breathing is necessary for defeating anxiety. It has to do with the fight or flight response that can trigger anxiety. Once that physical response has started, unless you do something with those chemicals, they have nowhere to go. Deep belly breathing can help slow your heart rate, and bring your body back into a calmer, more relaxed mode. Inhale deeply, expanding your diaphragm, not just your chest, for four seconds. Hold for four seconds, then release for four seconds. Repeat several times while you’re anxious and throughout the day to stay calm. And speaking of the fight or flight response…
8. Take care of your adrenal glands. These are the glands that control the fight or flight response. When they’re activated, you get a rush of adrenaline, secondary bodily functions are slowed, and you get a burst of energy that will allow you to fight or flee for your life. It’s an involuntary physical response from when our very lives depended on being able to escape from predators. Fortunately, in everyday life we rarely need the fight or flight response. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t know the difference between a saber tooth tiger attack from history and the stress of the modern world. Which means your body is always in fight or flight mode, just from the stress of living in the 21st century. This means your adrenal glands are tired. Think about how you feel when you’re constantly on the go. That’s how they’re feeling, so they aren’t functioning any better than you do when you’re exhausted.
Defeating anxiety isn’t easy. It isn’t simple. There are no sure-fire steps that will make everything better immediately.
But with practice, these guidelines really can help. And combined with your doctor’s advice, they can make a real difference in your life.