Maybe it’s a first date, big interview, difficult conversation, or something you can’t quite identify. No matter what, we’ve all experienced the familiar feeling of sweaty palms, increased heartbeat, and the uncontrollable sensation of worry.
Anxiety—the body’s innate response to stressful situations—is to blame. When experiencing anxiety, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one dealing with these sensations. While the severity of anxiety differs from person to person, anxiety affects almost everyone and is a normal part of day-to-day life.
That said, you don’t always have to accept it. You can incorporate several strategies and habits into your daily life to fend off the seemingly all-consuming effects of anxiety.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety refers to a feeling of fear, dread, panic, and apprehension related to everyday events. The physical effects of anxiety can be debilitating, and range from insomnia to increased heart rate, weakness, stomach issues, headaches, and more.
“Anxiety amps up when we focus on what might or what could happen,” says Larissa House, a licensed clinical social worker and psychotherapist. “When we focus on what could go wrong and what’s outside of our control, it can create an anxious response in even the most resilient minds.”
It’s important to distinguish between general anxiety and anxiety disorders National Institute of Mental Health “Anxiety Disorders” View Source . While occasional feelings of anxiety are a normal part of life, anxiety disorders refer to anxiety that doesn’t go away. Anxiety disorders tend to interfere with your normal life, work, and relationships with others. Due to their severity, anxiety disorders require a diagnosis from a healthcare provider.
If you’re unsure as to whether or not you suffer from an anxiety disorder, consult your healthcare provider to figure out the right treatment plan for you.
Where Does Anxiety Come From?
Everyone experiences anxiety differently. For some, it’s easy to pinpoint exactly where it comes from. For others, narrowing down a root cause is more complicated.
Fear of future events is a common trigger for anxiety, but it can be boosted by other factors. Past traumas, for example, often trigger how anxiety manifests in present-day situations. Your current situation, like your job, location, or relationships, can sometimes be enough of a trigger to cause anxiety that isn’t directly tied to a specific event.
14 Essential Coping Skills For Anxiety
It’s rare to experience long stretches of time where nothing annoying, worrisome, or painful surfaces. This means it’s normal to experience anxiety from time to time.
“It’s important that you work to increase your tolerance for anxiety,” says Kelly McKenna, licensed therapist and anxiety specialist. “We can’t always push these feelings away. I suggest being proactive in taking care of your mental and physical health to reduce anxiety overall. Learn to notice your anxiety. When it’s at an 8 or higher, on a scale of 1-10, that’s a really good signal to use a coping skill to help you regulate”.
However, with these tips, you can prepare to fight back when worries become too much, no matter where your anxiety stems from.
1. Prioritize Healthy Sleep
Yes, we know: This is easier said than done. When anxiety becomes more severe, it can become more difficult to fall asleep PubMed “Hyperarousal and sleep reactivity in insomnia: current insights” View Source due to constant fear and worry. But maintaining healthy sleep habits is an effective way of fending off anxiety because it helps regulate the immune system PubMed Central “Sleep and immune function” View Source and therefore reduces stress.
What makes sleep healthy? First and foremost: getting enough of it. Most experts recommend 7-9 hours per night for adults. A good tip to ensure you maintain enough sleep is to hold yourself accountable to set bedtimes and wake-up times—say, 10-6 if you’re an early bird or 12-8 if you’re more of a night owl.
Other elements of healthy sleep include switching your phone to airplane mode at night, limiting TV consumption too close to bedtime or opting for printed books over e-readers Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness” View Source to ease stress on your eyes.
When you feel anxiety coming on, taking a second to breathe can be a simple but powerful way to stay calm and collected. As anxiety can lead to increased heart rate and hyperventilation, turning to deep and intentional breathing is an effective way to reset your nervous system and calm yourself when feelings of panic arise.
You can even try some specific breathwork techniques to achieve an even greater level of calm. The 4-7-8 technique is a particularly useful one that seeks to bring the body to a state of deep relaxation. Diaphragmatic breathing, which involves focusing on the stomach’s movement during the breath, is another effective way to reduce the speed of the breath and relax the body.
We’ve huffed and puffed our way through a bunch of breathwork apps and determined that Breathwrk is the best option for most people. It utilizes several techniques—including 4-7-8 breathing and diaphragmatic breathing—with a soothing, aesthetically pleasing interface.
Mindfulness meditation can help combat the effects of anxiety because it allows you the opportunity to be fully aware and recognize your anxious thoughts. A 2015 study showed a drop in stress and anxiety Stress and Anxiety Management in Nursing Students: Biofeedback and Mindfulness Meditation “Journal of Nursing Education” View Source among a group of Thai nurses who practiced mindfulness meditation.
A common misconception about meditation is that it’s intended to clear your mind completely. Rather, meditation allows you to recognize your thoughts and understand them better. As a result, you may leave your meditation with more perspective about your anxious thoughts.
And, if your worries are, well, legitimately worrying, meditation allows you to appreciate where you currently are and may help provide clarity on how to handle your situation. The emphasis that meditation puts on the current moment keeps us focused and grounded in the present. We’ve tried several meditation apps and think Calm is the way to go.
4. Move Around
Exercise serves as a powerful tool for dealing with anxiety. It diverts your attention and allows you to escape from the worries of your daily life PubMed “Exercise modulates the interaction between cognition and anxiety in humans” View Source .
Beyond being a distraction, exercise provides other scientifically backed benefits that can ease your nerves. When anxiety arises, your body often acts up just as much as your mind—hence the sweating, muscle tension, and fatigue. However, when exercising, you relieve muscle tension Harvard Health Publishing “Can exercise help treat anxiety?” View Source , therefore relieving yourself of the body’s contribution to anxiety.
As for mental benefits, regular exercise also helps to create a mental wall ScienceDirect “The exercise–cognition relationship: A virtuous circle” View Source against the symptoms of anxiety. Regular exercise activates the regions of the brain responsible for executive function, thus increasing the mental willpower to battle anxious feelings.
5. Treat Yourself
One of the best coping skills for anxiety is recognizing your accomplishments. Rewards release dopamine in the brain PubMed Central “Dopamine in motivational control: rewarding, aversive, and alerting” View Source and make us feel happier. Additionally, they validate the importance of a situation and your feelings around it—and give you a light at the end of the tunnel to look forward to.
This can be as lavish or humble as you want it to be. (Whatever you choose, don’t exceed your means—a little treat will only help anxiety if the subsequent credit card bill doesn’t exacerbate it.) For instance, if you’re dealing with a particularly tough quarter at work, book a trip when it’s over. Or if you finally finish a project that’s been hanging over your head, go for a long walk at the end of the day or get takeout from your favorite restaurant.
By reminding yourself that your current stress isn’t permanent, you can relieve yourself of some of the dread that comes with anxiety.
6. Find Solace in a Show
Evidence suggests that a simple smile can make you happier PubMed “When you smile, you become happy: evidence from resting state task-based fMRI” View Source . But in times of stress, it’s often difficult to find something that truly makes you beam. So what’s a better remedy than returning to a classic episode of your favorite sitcom?
Happy shows tend to make happy viewers, but there’s also something nice about returning to a familiar cast of characters and knowing what’s going to happen in an episode.
There’s comfort in the rewatch, so don’t think twice next time you consider launching into How I Met Your Mother for the sixth time (we know you want to).
7. Face Your Fears
A lot of experience anxiety due to specific situations, like public speaking, test-taking, or being in large groups. In such cases, exposing yourself to the elements is a proven way to reduce the effects of repeating anxiety.
A small 2020 study used virtual reality Taylor & Francis Online “Virtual Reality exposure therapy for public speaking anxiety in routine care: a single-subject effectiveness trial” View Source to conduct exposure therapy on a group of 23 participants who were undergoing treatment in a private clinic for a public speaking phobia. (In tests, participants had to give a speech to a virtual crowd.) The results found a decrease in fear of public speaking after the study—and the results held up three months later.
While this is a bit of an extreme example, facing your fears doesn’t always have to involve VR goggles. If you struggle with social anxiety, you can ease into your anxiety by smiling at a stranger or scheduling a meeting with a coworker. Taking small steps may work wonders in gradually tackling your fears.
8. Utilize Therapy
The effects of anxiety are often reduced by understanding the underlying triggers. Therapists are trained to tap into the brain’s neuroplasticity ScienceDirect “Efficacy of Dialectical Behavior Therapy Versus Treatment as Usual for Acute-Care Inpatient Adolescents” View Source (or its ability to learn from experience) and life experiences ScienceDirect “Efficacy of Dialectical Behavior Therapy Versus Treatment as Usual for Acute-Care Inpatient Adolescents” View Source that dictate how our brain functions. By doing this, therapists can help find the deeper causes of anxiety, thus allowing us to form a more articulate answer to why we worry.
After this a-ha moment, we’re able to learn more about ourselves and where our anxiety stems from. Armed with this knowledge, anxiety seems much less daunting and more tamable. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is the most effective type of therapy for anxiety Mayo Clinic “Anxiety disorders” View Source disorders, so look for a therapist trained in this modality.
9. Write it Down
Writing down your worries and concerns is a great tactic for articulating your feelings and reducing anxiety. This could range from dedicating five minutes to jot down how you’re feeling to writing until you can’t write anymore.
Writing down your feelings can allow you to become aware of your specific thought patterns and more clearly understand your emotions. Think of your anxiety as a messenger. When you write about it, you can recognize what it’s trying to tell you. It may also help you notice patterns of catastrophic thinking, which can worsen anxiety. If you catch it as it’s happening, you’re in a better position to reframe your thoughts.
10. Eat and Drink Well
Coffee has a number of undisputed health benefits, but for those who suffer from anxiety, the extra dose of caffeine can enhance already existing symptoms of anxiety. If you drink a lot of coffee, and find that it causes your heart (and mind) to pound, consider cutting back or trying a lower-caf option. We like Four Sigmatic’s Instant Coffee with Lion’s Mane—it has less than half the caffeine of a regular cup, plus immune function-boosting medicinal mushrooms.
Another contributor? You guessed it—alcohol. Alcohol dependency and anxiety often play off and into each other, known as a dual diagnosis. Using alcohol as a remedy for anxiety worsens the condition, as alcohol affects the level of serotonin in the brain. This can lead to lingering anxiety for an entire day after you conclude drinking.
If you find your anxiety is worsening, take a look at what you’re consuming. Perhaps it’s time to cut out the second cup of coffee or the extra glass of wine at dinner.
As the sober-curious movement picks up speed, lots of new and gorgeously branded non-alcoholic bevs have started to saturate the market. They’re like the Impossible burgers and Beyond meats of the drinks industry: a remarkable feat of food science. We tested nine leading brands, and ranked and reviewed them for you here.
11. Limit Social Media
Our phones hold a limitless amount of information that can amuse us, annoy us, and, often, stress us out. Anything from current events to seeing photos of a party you weren’t invited to can serve as anxiety triggers. Easy access to it through social media makes it feel impossible to escape.
Social media apps are additionally designed to release dopamine, creating a similar sensation to other common addictive activities like gambling. If you find that you’re constantly reaching for your phone, scrolling through your apps, and setting it back down feeling worse than before, consider limiting your exposure.
One way to stay accountable is by setting screen time limits for certain apps that trigger you. (Say, Instagram, Tiktok, Twitter, Facebook… you get it.) You can do this through your phone settings or with an app like Freedom. This way, you’ll get a reminder to leave the app once you’ve exceeded your set time for the day.
12. Talk About It
Keeping pent-up feelings of anxiety to yourself can often lead to an outburst or your anxiety worsening. If you’re not ready to try therapy, finding support in a loved one or close friend is an excellent way to sort through your feelings and get validation for your stress. You can also look into virtual (or IRL) support groups or communities for anxiety—joining one may help you understand that you’re not alone in your anxious thoughts and reduce the feeling of isolation that often goes along with anxiety.
Simply hearing the words “I understand” or “I’m here for you” can be powerful when it comes to relieving feelings of anxiousness.
13. Practice Gratitude
Much like optimism, practicing gratitude and compassion can be influential in managing anxiety. In fact, a study by the National Center for Biotechnology found that practicing gratitude can help treat symptoms of insomnia PubMed “Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions” View Source . If your anxiety is keeping you up at night, this practice could be worth a shot.
Practicing gratitude can take many forms. You can start by writing down things (or a singular thing) you’re thankful for, telling people in your life you’re thankful for them, or just making a point to notice something beautiful or special on your daily commute. By consistently telling yourself and others that they are worth it—and reminding yourself of the blessings in your life—you may feel more at peace.
14. Accept What You Can’t Control
Perhaps the hardest skill to learn to deal with anxiety is accepting the things in your life you can’t control. If your anxiety comes from certain people at work or in your life, it’s important not to dwell on how they affect you. Instead, take steps to distance them from yourself.
Additional Skills to Help You Cope With Anxiety
Beyond these skills, you can integrate other strategies into your day-to-day life to deal with normal anxiety. Whether it’s work, daily life, or relationships, there are little things you can do every day to fight off the effects.
For Anxiety From Work:
- 15. Set boundaries: In this work-from-home era, it’s vital to set boundaries between work life and home life so you don’t find yourself burning out from neverending hours.
- 16. Take time off: Whether it’s a vacation, mental health day, or just a day off because you want one, make sure you’re taking advantage of your company’s PTO policies. You earned that time off, so use it.
- 17. Be realistic about what you can manage: Yes, you want to give the impression that you can handle anything at work. However, being realistic about your bandwidth will make you a stronger and healthier team member.
- 18. Communicate your concerns: If you’re unhappy or overworked in your role, don’t sit idly by and let anxiety build up. Air your concerns to your manager and ask for a change.
- 19. Practice mindfulness throughout the day: Evidence shows incorporating mindfulness throughout the day ScienceDirect “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, stress and mindfulness in Korean nursing students” View Source can lead to a decrease in stress. Mini-meditations are a great way to do this.
- 20. Take one task at a time: Anxiety tends to be the worst when you feel like you can’t focus on a single task due to the number of other things on your plate. In situations like this, focus on completing one task at a time before even looking at the scope of the next.
- 21. Get outside: Evidence shows that doing an outdoor activity for only twenty minutes can have a profound effect on your overall mood. Try incorporating a midday walk or run into your work routine to ensure you’re exposing yourself to nature during the day.
- 22. Be social: Working from home can sometimes feel isolating. It’s important to remember that you’re working with other humans who have personalities, like you. Don’t be afraid to spark Slack conversations throughout the day. If your job allows it, try working from a coffee shop on a day where you don’t have any meetings to be around people. (Or, you can just schedule hangouts with your IRL friends after work a few times a week.)
- 23. Stop apologizing: Getting into the habit of over-apologizing at work can be detrimental to your confidence and make you doubt your abilities. Next time, instead of saying “Sorry for the delay,” try saying, “Thank you for your patience.”
For Anxiety From Daily Life:
- 24. Let some time pass: Get some distance between you and whatever is causing you angst. This can give you some perspective and let you see things more clearly. If it’s work-related, for instance, take a day off and see if your anxiety goes down after being away.
- 25. Avoid thinking traps: Common thinking traps, like all-or-nothing (thinking in absolute terms) or overgeneralizations (thinking things “never” or “always” happen to you), never paint the full picture of a situation. Before letting stress get the best of you, see if you’ve fallen into a thinking trap. Don’t automatically assume that the first thought your brain comes up with is true or accurate.
- 26. Seek something familiar: Whether it’s a movie, restaurant, or your regular walk in the park, there’s always solace in doing something familiar. When you feel like things are out of control, return to something predictable for comfort.
- 27. Try some supplements: Research shows that certain nutritional supplements, like Omega-3 ScienceDirect “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial” View Source , may reduce anxiety. Some other supplements, like Magnesium and Chamomile, can also have positive effects. Don’t expect these supplements to reverse your anxiety altogether, but they may help soothe it.
- 28. Find a furry friend: If you have a pet, spending some time playing or cuddling with it can be one of the best remedies for anxiety. Spending time with animals can reduce levels of cortisol and blood pressure News in Health “The Power of Pets: Health Benefits of Human-Animal Interactions” View Source .
- 29. Have dedicated “worry time:” “Worry time” is a technique that allows you to set aside time in the day to focus exclusively on what is worrying you. This gives provides an opportunity to recognize and dig a little deeper into what’s causing internal turmoil. It also provides a mechanism to work through your problems. Just remember to limit it to, say, 30 minutes or an hour—it’s worry time, not a worry day.
For Anxiety in Relationships:
- 30. Talk it out: When experiencing anxiety in a relationship, the best course of action is always to address it rather than letting it build up. Getting the cause of anxiety on the table is far better than holding it in for long stretches of time.
- 31. Try therapy: Couples therapy is another beneficial tactic for addressing anxiety in a relationship. A therapist can recommend healthy ways to address your anxiety and give you strategies to move forward.
- 32. Think before you speak: When addressing concerns in a relationship, it’s imperative to consider your partner before speaking. If you don’t think before speaking, it can exacerbate the situation.
- 33. Observe yourself and your actions: Another helpful technique to try before addressing your anxiety out loud is to reflect on yourself and your own actions. Ask yourself, “Is my anxiety really due to my partner? What could I do differently in my daily life?
Anxiety is a completely normal part of everyday life. However, there are habits you can incorporate into your life to prepare for when anxiety arises. If you feel susceptible to everyday anxiety, try our tips for maximizing your wellness and fending off the symptoms of anxiety. And while you’re at it, join the waitlist for the Ness card to get rewarded for your wellness efforts daily.
- The definition of anxiety: “What are Anxiety Disorders?” American Psychiatric Association (June 2021).
- Physical symptoms of anxiety: “What are the physical symptoms of anxiety?” MedicalNewsToday (April 2021).
- The difference between anxiety and anxiety disorders: “Anxiety Disorders,” National Institute of Mental Health (April 2022).
- Past traumas can lead to anxiety: “Anxiety and panic attacks,” mind (February 2021).
- Anxiety makes it more difficult to fall asleep: “Hyperarousal and sleep reactivity in insomnia,” Nature and science of sleep (July 2018).
- Healthy sleep helps regulate the immune system: “Sleep and immune function,” Pflugers Archiv : European journal of physiology (November 2011).
- Adults should get 7-9 hours of sleep: “How Much Sleep Do I Need?” WebMD (August 2020).
- Screen time before bed can hinder sleep: “Evening use of light-emitting eReaders negatively affects sleep, circadian timing, and next-morning alertness,” PNAS (September 2014).
- Benefits of the 4-7-8 breathing technique: “4-7-8 Breath Relaxation Exercise,” Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine (February 2010).
- Benefits of diaphragmatic breathing: “What to know about diaphragmatic breathing,” MedicalNewsToday (June 2020).
- Study showing meditation reduces anxiety: “Stress and Anxiety Management in Nursing Students: Biofeedback and Mindfulness Meditation,” Journal of Nursing Education (August 2015).
- Exercise distracts from anxiety: “Exercise modulates the interaction between cognition and anxiety in humans,” Cognition & emotion (June 2019).
- Exercise relieves you of muscle tension: “Can exercise help treat anxiety?” Harvard Health Publishing (October 2019).
- Rewards release dopamine in our brain: “Dopamine in motivational control: rewarding, aversive, alerting,” Neuron (December 2011).
- Smiling can make you happier: “When you smile, you become happy: evidence from resting state task – based fMRI,” Biological psychology (December 2014).
- Rewatching shows can combat stress: “Press play: The link between stress and and re-watching the same TV show on repeat,” this. (May 2020).
- Virtual reality simulation helps to face public speaking phobia: “Virtual Reality exposure therapy for public speaking anxiety in routine care: a single-subject effectiveness trial,” Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (October 2017).
- Therapists tap into life experiences to help with effects of anxiety: “Dynamic Brains and the Changing Rules of Neuroplasticity: Implications for Learning and Recovery,” Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry (January 2020).
- Therapy is a great way to learn about ourselves: “Getting to Know Me: What’s Behind Psychoanalysis,” Scientific American (November 2010).
- Journaling is a great tactic for dealing with anxiety: “Journaling to Cope With Anxiety,” Verywell Mind (March 2021).
- Journaling makes us aware of thought patterns: “How to Relieve Stress Through Writing,” FamilySearch (December 2020).
- Coffee has many health benefits: “Coffee’s Surprising Health Benefits,” WebMD (January 2009).
- Caffeine can enhance the effects of anxiety: “Is Caffeine Fueling Your Anxieties?” WebMD (July 2019).
- Alcohol can worsen the effects of anxiety: “Alcohol and Anxiety: What You Should Know,” WebMD (August 2021)
- Social media releases dopamine: The Social Dilemna: “Social Media and Your Mental Heath,” McLean (January 2022).
- Talking to someone you trust is a healthy way to deal with pent-up emotions: “Talking through problems,” BetterHealth (January 2020).
- Practicing gratitude can reduce the effects of insomnia: “Gratitude influences sleep through the mechanism of pre-sleep cognitions,” Journal of psychosomatic research (January 2009).
- Daily mindfulness can reduce stress: “Effects of mindfulness-based stress reduction on depression, anxiety, stress and mindfulness in Korean nursing students,” Nurse Education Today (June 2014).
- Mini-meditations are good ways to practice mindfulness during the day: “12 Quick Mini-Meditations to Calm Your Mind and Body,” Psychology Today (March 2017).
- Doing an outdoor activity can improve your mood: “Nature-based activities can improve mood and reduce anxiety, new study shows,” University of York (October 2021).
- Overaplogizing can be detrimental to your confidence: “Why Over-Apologizing Can Destroy Your Confidence At Work (And How To Avoid It),” Forbes (May 2021).
- Thinking traps are a common element of anxiety: “Thinking traps: how to let go of negative thoughts,” Chelsea Psychology Clinic (March 2022).
- Omega-3 supplements can reduce the effects of anxiety: “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial,” Brain, Behavior, and Immunity (November 2011).
- Supplements can be helpful in reducing the effects of anxiety: “10 Best Supplements for Managing Your Anxiety,” healthline (May 2021).
- Spending time with animals can reduce cortisol levels and blood pressure: “The Power of Pets,” News in Health (February 2018).
- Having dedicated “worry time” can levy the effects of anxiety: “How to Worry More Effectively,” Psych Central (February 2015).
- Couples therapy is a beneficial way to address anxiety in a relationship: “11 Valuable Benefits of Couples Therapy,” talkspace (November 2021).