Anxiety is a familiar term to many and is more than just a fleeting feeling of unease; it is a complex emotional and physiological response to perceived threats. When people experience anxiety, they enter a state of heightened alertness. Feelings of apprehension, fear, and worry take hold, influencing their emotional state.

Physically, this can translate into symptoms such as a racing heart, excessive sweating, and shortness of breath. Behaviourally, anxiety often leads to avoidance of the perceived threat, whether that involves cancelling plans or engaging in behaviours aimed at easing feelings of discomfort, such as checking or reassurance seeking.

This multifaceted response is rooted in the evolutionary “fight, flight or freeze” system, designed to protect us from danger. When triggered, this system prepares the body to either confront or flee the threat.

However, in the case of anxiety, this is often disproportionate – like the body’s alarm system going off when in reality, there is no physical danger. Perceived threats can stem from worrying about an email to dreading a work presentation, leading to the body’s survival mechanism kicking in. The result is a vicious cycle where the physical symptoms of the fight or flight response can keep individuals in a state of heightened distress without an immediate, tangible threat.

As anxiety has become part of modern life, now more than ever it’s important to have effective coping strategies to manage these sometimes all-consuming feelings. This article explores 5 valuable strategies that anyone can use to ease feelings of anxiety.

Recognising Triggers

The first step in managing anxiety is to identify its triggers. Keeping a diary or journal to note when and where anxiety occurs, along with the accompanying thoughts and feelings, can help to identify patterns and triggers. This self-awareness is helpful, as recognising these patterns is the foundation upon which effective coping mechanisms can be built. Whether anxiety arises from specific situations or seems to appear out of the blue, understanding its origins is a vital part of the journey towards managing it.

Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation techniques are powerful tools in the battle against anxiety. They work by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which helps to counteract the body’s stress response. Techniques such as guided meditations, visualisations and body scans can be particularly powerful, especially for those who find silence and inactivity anxiety-inducing. These methods not only reduce physical symptoms of anxiety but also help to calm the mind through “rest and digest” making them an essential part of any anxiety management toolkit.

Managing Worry with Behavioural Techniques

Worry can be very interfering when going about your daily life, therefore behavioural techniques offer a structured approach to managing worry, a core component of anxiety. A strategy to deal with this is to postpone your worry to a particular period. By learning to postpone your worry, it will be less intrusive in your life and you will be managing your worry effectively, giving you a greater sense of control.

You can use this ‘worry time’ to make your way through a ‘worry list’ which you can create throughout the day. Just like a shopping list, a worry list can further help by externalising concerns, reducing their intensity and making them more manageable. Setting aside dedicated “worry time” has proven to actually reduce the overall time spent worrying by containing it within a specific part of the day. This allows the individual to take control of the worry and proactively manage it.

Incorporating Exercise

Physical activity is an effective antidote to anxiety. Exercise, from yoga to aerobic activities, like running or swimming can reduce stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol, whilst also stimulating the production of endorphins, chemicals in the brain that are the body’s natural painkillers and mood elevators. Moreover, exercise serves as a healthy distraction, redirecting focus away from anxious thoughts. The psychological benefits of exercise, including mood enhancement and stress reduction, are well-documented, making it an essential strategy for anxiety management.

Dietary Changes

The connection between diet and mental health is increasingly recognised by research. A Mediterranean diet, rich in plant-based foods, healthy fats, and moderate in fish and dairy, has been linked to better mental health. Essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3s found in oily fish, are crucial for brain health and may influence mood and anxiety levels. Additionally, monitoring caffeine intake can help mitigate its potential to exacerbate anxiety and disrupt sleep.

Coping with anxiety is a multifaceted process that involves understanding its roots. By adopting these useful strategies, individuals can take proactive steps towards managing their anxiety, fostering a sense of control and improving their overall well-being.

Gemma Bagge
Gemma Bagge
Cognitive Behavioural Psychotherapist at ARVRA | + posts

As a BABCP registered CBT Therapist, Gemma supports those suffering from a wide range of common mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, panic, OCD, social anxiety, health anxiety and PTSD. Gemma balances a strong therapeutic rapport with an evidence-based approach.