When anxiety hits, it can feel like a freight train slammed into you and knocked the wind right out. Other times, it's like a roller coaster made its way into your gut, and you feel nauseated. Anxiety can be debilitating and incredibly stressful, thanks to its unpredictable nature. If you suffer from chronic worrying or anxiety, you'll know all about this feeling, but if there's any silver lining in all this, it's that you're not alone, and there are ways to not worry and help curb anxiety.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, an estimated 19.1% of U.S. adults had any anxiety disorder in the past year and an estimated 31.1% of U.S. adults experience any anxiety disorder at some time in their lives. But too much anxiety isn't healthy and can impact your happiness, relationships, and career. So how do you stop anxiety naturally and curb your stress levels? We found a few common habits you can adopt to help reduce your tendency to worry and improve your well-being.
Write Down Negative Thoughts
Do you overthink everything? Do you stew on things for way too long? It's okay; we're all prone to ruminating on negative thoughts and fears for longer than we should. We can't help it. But the problem with getting caught up in our own head for too long is that our worries and doubts quickly blow up into something they're not and often seem much worse than they really are.
If this sounds like you, stop yourself when it happens next time and try to write your worries down before they spiral out of control. This simple writing approach was highlighted in studies by the University of Colorado—which had a primary focus on women—and the University of Chicago. While the research was done to assist students suffering from pre-exam anxiety, the technique can help anyone who suffers similar symptoms in high-pressure situations.
Next time you're feeling stressed, life coach and wellbeing expert Louise Thompson, suggests asking yourself four questions to cut through the fog of worry and bring back focus and calm.
1. What is real now? Don't focus on what hasn't happened yet. Be present and in the moment; that will help you see that all the worries you have are very often just figments of your imagination.
2. Is it a problem or is it a fact? The difference here is key. "If it's a problem, find a solution, figure it out," Thompson wrote in The New Zealand Herald. "If there is no solution, well then that's not a problem. By definition, honey, it's a fact. Accept the fact, and move on. This formula works like a charm. Avoid what I call the 'yeah but'…Endlessly worrying is no fun. Seeing the difference between a problem and a fact is a crucial stepping stone to reducing worry."
3. Is this my business? Don't let someone else's worries become your own.
4. How do I want to feel right now? The power to change how you're feeling is in your hands. You get to choose how you feel. If you need help, repeat Thompson's positive mantra: "Right now we are fine. We are just in transition. We are very resourceful and I trust in my own abilities to handle whatever comes up. We will be fine because we are resilient and good at handling life's inevitable curveballs. I've got this."
According to meditation instructor George Hoffman, if you're feeling insecure or worried, try mindfulness-based therapies to bring yourself back to the present. Focus on the bodily sensations that occur during your anxiety attack or in your state of worry, and recognize how it's making you feel on a physical and mental level. Resist the urge to avoid or withdraw from these feelings and acknowledge them instead. "Although it may seem counter-intuitive, fully realizing the experience of anxiety enables anxious people to release their over-identification with negative thoughts. The person practices responding to disruptive thoughts, and letting these thoughts go."
Although it may seem counter-intuitive, fully realizing the experience of anxiety enables anxious people to release their over-identification with negative thoughts.
It might take some time to perfect the art, but science has proven that mindful meditation helps ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain. "People with anxiety have a problem dealing with distracting thoughts that have too much power," Elizabeth Hoge, MD, an associate professor and the director of the Anxiety Disorders Research Program at the Georgetown University Center for Trauma told Harvard Health Publications in 2014. "They can't distinguish between a problem-solving thought and a nagging worry that has no benefit."
If this sounds like you, Hoge says we can train ourselves out of it. "If you have unproductive worries you might think, 'I'm late, I might lose my job if I don't get there on time, and it will be a disaster!'" she said. "Mindfulness teaches you to recognize, 'Oh, there's that thought again. I've been here before. But it's just that—a thought, and not a part of my core self.'"
Make Time for Worry
Making time to worry seems counterintuitive but according to a study featured on Live Science and published in the Journal of Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics "planning a certain time every day to worry may be a useful strategy." The study suggests a technique called "stimulus control" where you set aside a 30-minute period each day to think about your worries and consider solutions.
"When we're engaged in worry, it doesn't really help us for someone to tell us to stop worrying," Tom Borkovec, a professor emeritus of psychology at Penn State University told Live Science. "If you tell someone to postpone it for a while, we are able to actually do that." Participants in the study who used this worry reduction technique curbed their anxiety, stress, and depressive symptoms significantly more than people only using standard anxiety treatments.
Change Your Diet
If you're suffering from dramatic mood swings and anxiety levels are heightening, then it might be time to take a closer look at your diet. Michelle Babb, MS, RD, CD, and author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain, told MyDomaine that we should use food as medicine to promote a healthy (and happy) brain that will also help boost our mood. If we're not eating a well-balanced diet, then our brain suffers, which causes a plethora of mental health problems. "If the brain is unhealthy, you might experience excessively low mood or depression, anxiety, poor memory, and or difficulty staying focused and completing tasks," she said.
Turn Anxiety Into Excitement
Ever heard of anxiety reappraisal? If you haven't, then it's time to put this new method into practice because it could be the secret to turning your anxiety into success. This cognitive trick turns your nervous jitters into excitement.
Next time you feel those butterflies in your stomach, tight knots in your chest, and a little voice in your head saying I'm so anxious and worried about this new job, flip the dialogue around and say I'm excited to start this new job.
So how do you trick yourself into feeling excited when you're really nervous? Can you really reframe anxiety into something positive? A report in The Atlantic refers to three experiments around "anxiety reappraisal" conducted by Alison Wood Brooks, a professor at Harvard Business School who found "it's easier to convince yourself to be excited than calm when you're anxious." Why? Because they're both "arousal congruent" where the "heart beats faster, cortisol surges, and the body prepares for action." The only difference being that one conjures a positive emotion.
So next time you're feeling worried or stressed, try rephrasing your inner self-critic, and turn that negative talk into an excited one. You might be pleasantly surprised by the result.
We all know how good exercise makes us look on the outside, but it also does wonders for how we feel on the inside. If you're suffering from anxiety, then get the blood pumping, ASAP.
The Mayo Clinic suggests exercise as a natural remedy for alleviating stress and anxiety and keeping it from coming back. Not only does exercise release feel-good chemicals, such as endorphins, but it's also a great form of distraction to take your mind off of any worries or negative thoughts the feed anxiety and depression.
If you find it difficult to get motivated, then consider other forms of physical activity that aren't as structured to get started. If the idea of running makes you wince, then The Mayo Clinic suggests less intense variations such as gardening, washing your car, or walking around the block. "Any physical activity that gets you off the couch and moving can help improve your mood," they wrote.
National Institute of Health. Any anxiety disorder. November 2017.
Corliss J. Mindfulness Meditation May Ease Anxiety, Mental Stress. Harvard Health Publications. January 8, 2020.
Brownstein J. Planning 'Worry Time' May Help Ease Anxiety. Live Science. July 26, 2011.
Khazan O. Can Three Words Turn Anxiety Into Success? The Atlantic. March 23, 2016