Is Anxiety Ruining Your Life? 8 Ways to Cope

microphone on stageRobert’s palms were sweating and his heart was pounding. His big presentation was scheduled in less than an hour and he was starting to panic. What if he forgot his lines? What if he made a complete fool out of himself? His job was on the line and his anxiety was building.

Jenny was also apprehensive. She’d been trying to muster the courage to ask her boss for a raise for several weeks now, but every time she thought about doing so, she became too nervous to say anything.

We have all experienced anxiety at one time or another, although some people tend to struggle with nervousness more than others. Some of the common symptoms of anxiety are feelings of fear or panic, repetitive thoughts about the situation, difficulties sleeping, muscle tension, increased heart rate, shortness of breath, restlessness, nausea, and cold or sweaty palms and feet.

Part of our discomfort stems from our fear of being criticized, ridiculed, or rejected. We all have a basic need for love, acceptance, and validation, and tend to avoid situations that will jeopardize our relationships with others in any way. This is especially true if we have grown up in dysfunctional families, where these primary needs were not met and we were taught instead to behave in certain ways to please others and discount our own needs and emotions.

We also frequently tend to play over and over in our minds the worst-case scenario, which only leads us to feel even more anxious about the situation. Rather than visualizing the outcome that we are hoping for, we make ourselves sick with our inner horror stories.

So how do we go about coping with anxiety in a healthier way? The following are some helpful techniques to begin to get our fears under control:

  1. Take 10 deep breaths, focusing on the sensation of expansion in your chest and abdomen that occurs while inhaling and the release while exhaling.
  2. Take some time the day before a stressful event to become physically active. Working out or going for a long walk are ways to decrease your stress levels. Doing so will also help you get a better night’s sleep.
  3. Before bedtime, journal about your feelings of anxiety and the obsessive thoughts you have been having. Putting your emotions down on paper can often get them off your chest and prevent you from ruminating about them throughout the night.
  4. Whenever you start to imagine the worst-case scenario, try to picture what you would like to happen instead. For example, if you are worried about an upcoming speech that you have to give, imagine remembering your words with ease and receiving a standing ovation afterward.
  5. Lower your stress levels by doing relaxation techniques and/or listening to calming music. Help your physical body to relax by lying down or getting into a comfortable position, then progressively focus on contracting each of your muscles then releasing them. Start with your toes and feet and slowly work your way up to your face and scalp.
  6. Try to gain some perspective about your fears by thinking about other times in your life that you may have dealt with a similarly difficult or stressful situation. How did you cope at that time? What are some of the strengths that you used then and can call on again?
  7. If you are feeling anxious about talking to your boss (or another authority figure) about a specific problem, consider trying to role-play the conversation with a friend or therapist first. Practicing what you will say can help you feel more comfortable when the time comes to actually have that conversation.
  8. Use mindfulness to tune into the emotions that you are feeling and allow yourself to feel them fully. Much of the time, we avoid the direct experience of our emotions, especially those that are uncomfortable, such as fear and anxiety. This tends to intensify the uncomfortable feelings rather than diminish them. To experience them, try to tune into the actual physical location in your body where the tension or fear is stored. Do you feel a knot in the pit of your stomach? Are your neck and shoulders tensed up? Allow yourself to fully experience the physical sensations and you will often find that they shift as you accept and honor them.

If you have tried some or all of these techniques and are still experiencing a considerable amount of anxiety, you may want to consider working with an empathic therapist. Although a certain amount of anxiety is a normal part of life, when stress becomes overwhelming and starts to interfere with our ability to function on a day-by-day basis, help is likely needed. Working with a compassionate therapist can assist you with facing some of your fears in a safe setting and bring you back in touch with your innate sense of peace and joy.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Wendy Salazar, MFT, therapist in San Diego, 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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  • Marshall

    June 26th, 2014 at 10:30 AM

    The idea to do some role playing before an event that you know is going to cause you a lot of stress is a great idea! It is nice to have someone who is neutral to bounce some ideas off of and to brainstorm if it seems like there could possibly be another way to approach the situation. This should be someone whom you trust and who you know will give you the guidance that you need to ensure that you will handle this in the right way. Of course there will still be the chance of a few nerves but if you have already practiced a little ahead of time you know what you want to say and potentially have some replies to what the possible responses could be.

  • Cassidy T.

    June 27th, 2014 at 10:56 AM

    Breathing exercises are so helpful when it comes down to releiving anxiety. There is something so conforting and relaxing about taking a few deep breaths and being mindful of taking your mind elsewhere, away from the stress and the things that are causing you to feel so anxious. It can be easy when you give in to this to drift away from that anxiety and to once again feel that you are strong, centered, and able to handle this.

  • Morgan

    June 28th, 2014 at 10:46 AM

    Is it weird to admit that without my anxiety I think that I would be afraid of who I was? I mean, this is something that I have lived with for so long and have besically learned to live with it that it would be strange for me to actually go through life all calm like you describe!
    believe me there are times when I really would prefer that but on a daily basis it kind of feels like managing it to the point where it wasn’t there would be taking away something that is at the very crux of what makes me, me.

  • ellen B

    June 29th, 2014 at 8:32 AM

    Yoga has literally been a lifesaver for me. I had a friend who encouraged me to take a couple of classes a few years ago when I was going through a pretty painful time in my life and after that I was looking for classes to attend all of the time. I found a great teacher and a wonderful group of friends who would motivate me and the class gave me something so spiritual and so deep, things that I had been missing in my life for a long time. I wish that I had found this sooner, but now there is rarely a day that goes by that even when I don’t make it to class that I don’t at least try to practice some of the things that we would do in class.

  • Brody

    June 29th, 2014 at 10:50 AM

    Anxiety used to plague me morning and night until I started with mindful breathing exercises. This helped me finish college and to find a good job. I don’t think that I could have accomplished either of those without something to help pull me through.

  • declan

    June 30th, 2014 at 4:21 AM

    What always, always gets me is that I start worrying about all of the things that could go wrong, that eventually this is what happens because I think that in many ways this is what I have set myself up for in advance.

    I don’t think that I fully know how to get through something without worrying it down to all of the bad things that could hapen when I logically know that I should instead think about the good, that maybe the opposite would happen if I was somehow able to do that.

  • MaeLynn

    July 3rd, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    Anxiety typically rules me but reading this I know that there are still things that I could do to make this better for myself. I could be a whole lot better steward of my own health, but we all know that that is hard when we fall into the same habits over and over again but expecting different things each time.

    I would like to say that I could look back at past events and find a time when I handles it rationally, but that really isn’t there for me. Mine will be about trying to learn from past mistakes.

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