12 Surefire Strategies for Coping with Anxiety and Stress

hands clasped in front of faceLife in today’s fast-paced world is complex, with more stressors and less direct social support than in past generations. Exposure to multiple life stressors has been shown to leave people vulnerable to illness and other negative outcomes, making it all the more important that effective coping strategies are developed and utilized.

One of the most common reactions to stressful life events and transitions is anxiety. One of the most widely reported mental health challenges that people face in the United States, anxiety affects about 40 million adults ages 18 and older.

Common symptoms of anxiety include feelings of panic, fear and uneasiness, difficulty sleeping, muscle tension, cold or sweaty hands/feet, shortness of breath, heart palpitations, restlessness, dry mouth, nausea, dizziness, excessive or unrealistic worry, and avoidance of triggering situations. Temperament and prior experiences with stressors are key determinants of whether a person develops problematic anxiety in response to life events. Though their genetics and past experiences cannot be changed, people can better prepare for the inevitable ups and downs of life by understanding their emotional responses and by nurturing healthy daily practices.

The Fight-or-Flight Response

Fear and anxiety are natural and adaptive responses to stressors. Fear is a reaction to a present danger in the environment, while anxiety refers to the anticipation of some potential threat in the future.

Fear and anxiety are natural and adaptive responses to stressors. Fear is a reaction to a present danger in the environment, while anxiety refers to the anticipation of some potential threat in the future.

When the mind perceives a threat, the nervous system activates the fight-or-flight response. A complex physiological event, the fight-or-flight response mobilizes a person for action in the face of a life-threatening danger. Because the human nervous system does not distinguish between real and imagined threats, this response system can work against a person, resulting in panic and anxiety.

The good news is that our understanding of the biological underpinnings of the fight-or-flight response has led to well-researched, effective treatments and coping methods. Below are some healthy strategies that you can begin to practice right now, regardless of whether this is a time of stress:

  1. Practice deep breathing, meditation, or relaxation: Breathing and meditation can help you focus on the present moment and reduce ruminative worry and anticipatory anxiety. Regular relaxation exercises lower overall physiological arousal.
  2. Look back to other stressful times: Reflect on past stressors and remind yourself that stressful periods are temporary and will pass.
  3. Identify effective coping from the past: You’ve been through tough times in the past. Review what helped you during those times.
  4. Accept negative feelings: Don’t deny anger, guilt, sadness, or negative feelings. Try to accept and acknowledge your feelings. Journaling can provide a safe space to express and process feelings.
  5. Engage in active problem solving: Identify aspects of the situation that you have control over and appropriate responses.
  6. Maintain and utilize supportive relationships: Build loving and warm relationships with trusted others you can lean on during difficult times.
  7. Get plenty of sleep: Aim to get seven to eight hours of sleep each night. Establish a regular bedtime and wake-up time.
  8. Exercise: Daily exercise is one of the most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety. If cleared by your physician to do so, try to exercise vigorously four or more days a week.
  9. Eat well: Eat a balanced diet, and don’t skip meals and snacks.
  10. Schedule rest breaks: Set an alarm on your phone to remind you to take a few minutes several times a day to meditate, breathe, or otherwise relax.
  11. Engage in pleasurable activities: Be sure to carve out time to engage in things you enjoy on a daily basis.
  12. Avoid caffeine and alcohol.

Everyone goes through difficult and stressful times. It is important to cultivate a robust set of coping strategies to build your resilience and reduce the negative impact of life’s challenges. If you find that you are having trouble coping, consider seeing a therapist or seeking out a support group.

References:

  1. Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. The Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2), 213-218.
  2. Jansen, A. S. P., Nguyen, X. V.,Karpitskiy, V., Mettenleiter, T. C., & Loewy, A. D. (1995). Central command neurons of the sympathetic nervous system: Basis of the fight-or-flight response. Science 270 (5236), 644-646.
  3. Mineka, S., & Zimbarg, R. (2006). A contemporary learning theory perspective on the etiology of learning disorders: It’s not what you thought it was. American Psychologist, 61(1), 10-26.

© Copyright 2015 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Angela Williams, PsyD, therapist in Burbank, California

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Betsy

    May 13th, 2015 at 9:18 AM

    All of these are great tips… if only I could make a concentrated effort to employ them in my life!

  • Crystal

    March 22nd, 2017 at 1:38 PM

    You will. When the time is right. There’s a season for everything.

  • Andrew

    May 13th, 2015 at 2:11 PM

    I am pretty high strung so breathing exercises and meditation have worked well for me.

    Was it hard to get into this habit at first? Yes! This is not my comfort zone to say the least.

    But when I discovered how much more manageable this made my life in general, I am so thankful that I have learned to make this a part of my life.

  • Marshall P

    May 14th, 2015 at 6:09 PM

    It makes me feel so much better when I have someone who is willing to sit and talk for a while. Call me old fashioned butt there are days when I don’t need anything fancy, just an extra set of ears to listen to what I have to to say. That to me is one of the best stress relievers ever.

  • brennan

    May 15th, 2015 at 11:36 AM

    You just have to keep saying that this too shall pass…

  • Lori

    May 15th, 2015 at 6:03 PM

    Lately I’ve been living with a lot of uncertainty about my future. I’m probably blowing things out of proportion, but the anxiety gets to me. I live in fear about losing family members that I am very close with that are elderly and that I have come to depend on very much in many ways. I try to work out at my gym and do productive things to relieve the stress/anxiety, but I also have negative ways of coping too.
    I don’t know…hopefully something will give…something good will come along. I have been without a partner for many years now….maybe it’s also fear of commitment since my divorce. I have been out of the workforce for many years too, so I could use a healthy dose of self-confidence!

  • Emily Leppard

    July 20th, 2015 at 8:03 AM

    Lori, you are not blowing things out of proportion you have good cause to feel the way you do. Become self sufficient find some way to make money. Also, Volunteer yourself. Any business would love to have someone offer to assist them for free. Sometimes volunteer may turn into paid. Everyone has skills or can acquire some. Change your negative ways of coping to positive by doing something you really enjoy. I treat myself to reading, time spent in nature and an ice cream. And if not already find a church your comfortable with,they will be there for you when you lose your loved ones. You will lose them one day. With regards to commitment, that is a healthy fear that will change in time. Your next relationship will be better than the last if you take the time to work though all the emotions that divorce causes. Make yourself better for the next one. Stop being hopeful and make the change that you want and need. No offense intended, good luck and if you want keep me posted.

  • Angela Williams

    Angela Williams

    May 15th, 2015 at 8:16 PM

    Thank you all for the great feedback. I’m glad you found the post helpful. I agree that a heart to heart with a good friend can help you feel so much better.

    @Lori – I am so sorry to hear that you are going through a difficult period. I hope these tips help you cope with your anxiety. If you are finding that your anxiety is getting in the way of your day to day activities, it might be helpful to seek out additional support.

  • Juan

    May 18th, 2015 at 3:44 AM

    when or if possible it can be good to take a break from life. a little time out and time away. Now THAT is a surefire anxiety fighter for me!

    Even if it is just for a few minutes r preferably for a day, although that isn’t always possible, get away from the things causing you so much stress in life.

  • Janey

    May 20th, 2015 at 1:15 PM

    Anyone have any thoughts or comments on anti anxiety medication and what kind of role that has played in their lives?

  • Lori

    May 20th, 2015 at 5:35 PM

    Hi. I was on an anti-anxiety medication (mild) called VISTARIL. It worked very well for helping me sleep at night. It generally made me very tired when I took it, so the upside to it was that it would quell the anxiety and make me want to sleep; the downside to it was that if I was feeling anxious during the day, I almost couldn’t take it because it would make me so tired, that I would have to lie down somewhere, which we all know is not practical – especially in today’s society. I know that Vistaril is a non-narcotic medication. I would have preferred a narcotic anti-anxiety medication such as Xanax or Ativan because they work better as far as being able to function while taking them. The Vistaril, I found, is only good for night when you have the time to sleep – because that is what Vistaril makes me do – sleep.

  • RAJENDRAN

    June 27th, 2016 at 2:46 AM

    Very much appreciated

  • Farzana I

    September 15th, 2016 at 11:15 AM

    Self worth is a powerful tool to overcome anxiety.

  • Madeline

    December 8th, 2016 at 5:56 PM

    Thank you so much. I feel like no one understands how I’ve felt for the last 13 years. I have stress Andy anxiety problems that no one can cure or even help me with. They’ve tried to ge me to see a therapist, but they haven’t yet. I’m not allowed to babysit children unless they’re stuck in front of the t.v.😂And I have felt am lonely and so sad over the years because this problem has prevented me from going on roller coasters, and other fun places with my friends. Stress has prevented me from getting a job as a babysitter and handling problems. I just want to thank you so much! It means a lot to me t finally figure out that something has helped. I

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