12 Skills and Strategies to Add to Your Anxiety Toolbox

Teen listening to music lying on grassIf you struggle with anxiety, regardless of whether you’ve been given an official diagnosis, one of the most powerful things you can do is to construct a toolbox of skills and strategies to implement when those thoughts of worry and stress—and their accompanying physiological responses—take hold.

Here are 12 things you may want to include in your toolbox:

  1. Journaling. You don’t have to subscribe to any rules in connection with your journal. Write to relieve your stress and let go of the anxiety you feel. Write and rip, share or don’t, draw or scribble. Externalize your thoughts and feel the relief of having emptied them onto paper.
  2. Music. Assemble various playlists so you have the kind of music you seek when you need it, whether it be soothing songs or those that will energize you if you’re feeling “stuck.”
  3. Creative outlets. Funnel your anxiety into painting, drawing, dancing, writing, sculpting, playing music, singing, decorating, sewing, knitting, photographing, cooking, etc. A creative endeavor can be a healthy outlet for angst and a means of expressing feelings that might cause further suffering if ignored or suppressed. 
  4. Breaks. Stepping outside to get a breath of fresh air, getting a drink of water, or fixing yourself a cup of tea, having a healthy snack, or reading for a few minutes can all serve as brief diversions to recharge your battery and offer you a bit of calm.
  5. Relaxation skills and breathing exercises. You can download guided exercises or use an app (calm.com and headspace.com are commonly used by people I work with in the therapy room). Just a few minutes of focusing on your breath—consciously breathing in for five seconds and then out for five seconds—can be all you need to bring your anxiety level down a notch or two. Be sure to practice these exercises on a regular basis so they come more naturally to you when you need them (before bed can be an ideal time to do this).
  6. Imagery and visualization. Imagine an upcoming anxiety-producing event going as smoothly as possible. Be sure to engage as many of your senses as possible. You can also visualize a safe, soothing place such as a waterfall, the beach, or a mountaintop, again plugging into the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches the scene might invoke. These skills, too, will serve you best if they are well practiced.
  7. Rehearsing. Rehearsing can help you anticipate, and plan for, “what-ifs” so you feel better prepared. You can role play with others to help diffuse your fear and apprehension and strategize with regard to how to handle potential hurdles in a productive way.
    Combat your negative inner dialogue and perfectionism by letting go of the need to be perfect, and becoming okay with things being just “okay.”
  8. A support network. Who are the people you can talk to and go to for support? Examples might be a parent, sibling, spouse, friend, coach, teacher, religious leader, coworker, mentor, or therapist. Awareness of who is in your network of support can enable you to feel less isolated and alone. Compile your network’s names and numbers so you have them handy when you want to reach out. Be sure to let those people know just how important they are to you.
  9. Positive self-talk. Combat your negative inner dialogue and perfectionism by letting go of the need to be perfect, and becoming okay with things being just “okay.” As you tune in to the negative messages you feed yourself, formulate more appropriate, realistic ones to combat them. Nourish yourself with encouragement and the kinds of messages you’d offer your best friend in the same situation.
  10. Exercise. Funnel your stress and anxiety into physical activity. Give that excess energy and adrenaline a place to work rather than allowing it to manifest in a racing heart or sweating while sitting still.
  11. A list of your accomplishments and thoughts of gratitude. Focus on what you’ve done well, no matter how big or small, as well as on what is going right in the world around you. This can serve to create a big shift in your thoughts. Instead of putting your attention on what might go wrong, which steeps your brain and body in fear, enable positive thoughts and moments to produce as their byproduct other positive thoughts and moments. Success breeds success.
  12. The ability to ask for help. Seeking out appropriate resources when you don’t have all the answers is a wonderful skill worth developing. It helps you feel supported, and you don’t have to remain stuck if you’re unsure which direction to turn.

The most interesting thing about constructing an anxiety toolbox is that, in doing so, many people see their anxiety markedly decrease overall. This is because they now feel equipped, ready to face their anxiety more effectively when stress, upset, or overwhelm attempt to take over.

What will you put in your toolbox?

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Laurie Leinwand, MA, LPC, GoodTherapy.org Topic Expert Contributor

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.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Amy

    April 21st, 2016 at 8:12 AM

    Good Grief these are awesome tips for my daughter- sharing with her immediately!

  • Blaine

    April 21st, 2016 at 11:35 AM

    When everything else feels like it is crumbling around me, my favorite playlist can just help all of that go away. There is something about music, and I used to just think that it was me but it seems to be universal, that it can keep you a little more focused and grounded, feeling less stressed and basically just in a better mood. It can help me escape those nagging worries or even confront them when I need to even when nothing else seems to work.

  • Laurie Leinwand

    April 22nd, 2016 at 4:55 AM

    Amy, I hope your daughter finds some of these strategies helpful!
    Blaine, thanks so much for sharing how music (and your own personal playlists) can help to combat stress and anxiety and keep you focused. Love it!

  • Amy

    April 22nd, 2016 at 12:49 PM

    Well I made a copy of them for her and highlighted each individual point. Now what she chooses to do with it is up to her. She is 14 and is so stressed about school right now that it is making her physically sick. We see a counselor but anytime she gets that way at school there is still something not clicking, like she can’t take the tools they talk about and employ during her sessions and make those into working resources in real life situations.

  • davida

    April 23rd, 2016 at 10:18 AM

    Anxiety can be one of those tricky things for so many of us. It can get you off balance, take you by surprise and pretty soon you are wondering whoa, where did all of that come from? And you have no real way of knowing what to do about it because it can hit you like a ton of breaks and come out of nowhere.

  • Lucinda T.,MSW

    April 24th, 2016 at 12:13 PM

    Remember to, “Fake it til you Make it!”

  • Marchesa

    April 24th, 2016 at 2:05 PM

    Goodness, I don’t know… the more I write about it the more stressed I continue to feel!

  • Jameson

    April 25th, 2016 at 7:21 AM

    Seriously once I started working out, it led me to such overall relief from feeling anxious all the time. Now the only thing I start to worry about is how I am also going to fit that into my day when there are so many other things that have to be done too, but I think that because I have started making myself and my health more of a priority it has been a little bit easier to bump something that makes me feel worse and schedule in the things that tend to make me happier.

  • Matt

    April 25th, 2016 at 11:19 AM

    Asking others for help is not something that will come very easily for me. I feel like such a failure when I have to have a little bit of support. I don’t know why because logically I understand that not every task is something that can be completed by just one person, but I feel like I should be able to rise above that, knowing good and well that this is not ever going to be a possibility. I think that I have built up perfection in my job and in my life as something that I desperately want to achieve but it is not very realistic is it?

  • Laurie Leinwand

    April 27th, 2016 at 8:30 AM

    @Matt, you’re right, seeking to achieve perfection at all times isn’t very realistic and puts a lot of pressure on you, I’m sure. It can be helpful to shift that belief just a little….and pursue progress instead. We don’t come into this world knowing all of life’s lessons or having the ability to do every thing. Because of this, there are times we need to ask for help (and being able to ask for it when there’s no going forward without it requires courage and strength, which is part of what makes it so difficult).

  • vic

    April 28th, 2016 at 7:41 AM

    When I stress too much, just walking away from what is causing it often feels like the best thing for me. Helps me to take the stress level down a bit and decompress, get to a better state of mind so I can think a little more clearly.

  • Billie

    April 30th, 2016 at 1:09 PM

    Don’t get me wrong, all of these can be great but I think that what has helped me the most over the years is being able to understand when I need help and being willing to ask for it. It is not always the easiest thing in the world to admit that you need help with something but you know what? It can really help to relieve you when you know that you have someone else who can help you to get through some stressful times in your life.

  • michele s.

    June 9th, 2018 at 6:45 PM

    despite being able to work with my anxiety, Latley sometimes anxiety overwhelmes me so much i dont function. These tips will help even if its just a little thanks

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