How can I help myself manage anxiety?

A common – and natural – response to anxiety is to avoid what triggers your fear, so taking any action might make you feel more anxious at first. It can be difficult, but facing up to how anxiety makes you feel can be the first step in breaking the cycle of fear and insecurity.

If you experience anxiety or panic attacks, there are many things you can do to help yourself cope.

Talk to someone you trust

Talking to someone you trust about what is making you anxious can help. You may find that they have encountered a similar problem and can talk you through it. It may be that just having someone listen to you and showing they care can help in itself.

“Getting it off my chest seems to help relieve some of the pressure.”

Try a breathing exercise

You may find a breathing exercise helps you to manage anxiety and feel calmer.

Breathe… always remember to breathe. Take time to inhale. It is the simplest thing, but is often forgotten during panic attacks. Gently breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, keeping the pace slow and regular. Slowly tense then relax all the muscles in your body, starting at your toes and working up to your head. Afterwards just take some time to be still and focus on how your body feels.

Try shifting your focus

You may find it helpful to shift your focus or distract yourself from the anxiety you are feeling. Look at a flower, a picture or something that you find interesting or comforting. Really notice the details, the colours and any smells or sounds. 

“I have fiddle toys like little puzzles, stress ball etc. to keep my hands … and mind busy.”

Listen to music

Listening to music you find peaceful or you enjoy can help you to feel calmer. 

“I made upbeat playlists… put my headphones on, lie on my bed and close my eyes – lose myself in the music.”

Try reassuring yourself

You may find it helpful to tell yourself that the symptoms you experience are actually caused by anxiety – it is not really dangerous, and it will pass. This can help you feel calmer and less fearful of future attacks.

Physical exercise

You may find that physical exercise can help you manage anxiety and panic attacks. Going for a walk or a run can help you get some time to yourself to think things over, away from everyday stresses.

“I find going for a walk great, even if I can’t go far. I walk around the park and eat my lunch outside.”

If you are not able to do physical activities outdoors, or have limited mobility, try to think about what kinds of physical activities you can do indoors, such as exercising individual parts of your body at a time.

Keep a diary

You may find keeping a note of what happens each time you get anxious or have a panic attack can help you spot patterns in what triggers these experiences for you, so you can think about how to deal with these situations in the future.

You could also try keeping a note of times when you are able to manage your anxiety successfully. This might help you feel more in control of the anxiety you feel.

“I keep a photo diary of all the things I’ve managed to do! Makes me think “I can do this”. So when I go and sit in a café, or go for a walk, I take a pic to record that I’ve done it, and look back when I feel scared… it encourages me that maybe I can do something [again] if I’ve done it before.”

Eat a healthy diet

You may find it easier to relax if you avoid stimulants such as coffee, cigarettes and alcohol. Some people also find eating a healthy diet helps them to manage anxiety better.

“Now I look for natural ways to control the panic and anxiety, including meditation, exercise, breathing exercises, mindfulness and diet. I have… cut out alcohol. Many think [drinking alcohol] helps with anxiety, but it actually makes it worse in the long run.”

Complementary therapies

Yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, massage, reflexology, herbal treatments, Bach flower remedies and hypnotherapy are all types of complementary therapy that you could try, and see if they work for you. You might find that one or more of these methods can help you to relax, sleep better, and manage the symptoms of anxiety and panic attacks.

“[For me, it’s] a hypnotherapy CD. I laughed when my husband brought it home; now I use it myself – very calming.”

Many pharmacies and health shops stock different remedies and should be able to offer advice.

Support groups

A support group can give you the opportunity to share common experiences and ways of coping with others who are facing similar challenges. It can be comforting to know that you are not alone (see ‘Useful contacts’).

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