12 Quick Fixes for Anxiety: Simple Strategies for Mental Well-BeingOct 31, 2022 ● By Ronica O’Hara
It is an all-too-human experience to have anxiety—feeling fear or apprehension about what might happen. A survival mechanism for our species, it can easily get out of hand in times of uncertainty, morphing from a timely signal to a crippling, chronic condition. Happily, mental health professionals have found many useful anti-anxiety strategies to ease us through difficult moments.
“Controlling your breathing is a fantastic hack to help you move out of a stress/anxiety response state. It’s important to try different breathing techniques to figure out which ones work for you,” says Krista Jordan, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Austin, Texas. Many options exist such as breathing slowly into the belly; inhaling through the nose for a count of four, holding the breath for a count of seven and exhaling through the mouth for a count of eight; slowing the breath so that the in and out breaths equalize; and placing mindful attention on our breathing until 10 breaths are completed.
Tap with the Fingers
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) is a five-minute approach using two fingers to tap on specific points of the head and chest in a certain sequence. In one 5,000-person study, 76 percent of participants found anxiety relief after three EFT sessions, while only 51 percent experienced relief after 15 sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy. “EFT sends a calming signal to the brain that reduces your anxiety, which allows for newfound thinking and solutions,” says Colorado Springs therapist Dana C. Avey. Simple instructions can be found online and in YouTube videos.
Write It Off with Journaling
Whether it’s a three-page brain dump in the morning, a frantic scribbling on paper in a stressful moment or a nightly ritual in a bound journal, writing out anxious thoughts helps clarify worries and puts things into perspective, research shows. Seattle spinal surgeon David Hanscom, a chronic pain expert and author of Back in Control, counsels writing down in longhand whatever is on the mind using graphic and descriptive language twice a day for 10 to 30 minutes, and then promptly tearing it up to let the thoughts go.
Many soothing types of meditation can be tried out on apps like Calm, InsightTimer and Headspace, but the best-studied approach for anxiety is mindfulness, which involves focusing on the breath and body sensations while letting distracting thoughts float by. A 2017 Australian study found that just 10 minutes of daily mindful meditation can help prevent the mind from wandering and is particularly effective for repetitive, anxious thoughts. “Just be clear that having a constant stream of thoughts is fine and part of the process. It’s sadly ironic that people turn to meditation to help with anxiety, and then get anxious that they are doing it wrong,” advises Jordan.
Move the Body in Nature
According to the Harvard Health Letter, “Just a single bout of exercise can ease anxiety when it strikes.” Studies have proven the value of everything from aerobics to swimming and yoga, and it’s even better if exercising can be done outdoors, because decades of research have found that being amidst the sights, sounds and scents of natural settings lowers anxiety markers. In a recent study, walking without using a smartphone or another electronic device in urban settings just two hours a week reduced cortisol levels 21 percent in 20 minutes, “which helps to reduce the medical effects of stress, including chronic inflammation, GI disorders and heart problems,” says Santa Barbara-based John La Puma, M.D., co-founder of the ChefMD health media brand and creator of My Nature Dose, a free, anti-anxiety walking program.
Say a Favorite Prayer
Making a deep spiritual connection—an age-old anxiety solution—can involve praying or for example, reading psalms, saying a rosary, chanting a mantra or reading sacred scripture. Eric Almeida, a mental health practitioner in Bernardston, Massachusetts, recommends the Serenity Prayer: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.” He says, “It doesn’t matter if you believe in God, the wisdom is useful nonetheless.”
“Sip cold water, hold ice cubes, take a cold shower, blast the AC in your face. Our body and mind are very connected, so if you can’t cool down your mind, cool down your temperature,” advises San Diego-based marriage and family therapist Sarah O’Leary. Some people find the opposite works: taking a long, hot bath infused with essential oils like bergamot, frankincense and lavender.
Stand barefoot in grass or dirt while breathing deeply or imagine the roots of trees growing from the soles of the feet deep into the earth. “This helps ‘ground’ you or ‘root’ you, and can help you find steadiness rather than getting lost in anxiety,” says mindfulness trainer and author Joy Rains of Bethesda, Maryland.
Soothe with Supplements
Boston integrative medicine physician Sarika Arora, M.D., of the Women’s Health Network, recommends vitamins B5, B6 and B12 to improve cellular energy, lower cortisol and restore equilibrium to the nervous system; magnesium to support balanced metabolism and increase feelings of calm; L-theanine, found in green tea, to lower stress hormone levels; eleuthero (Siberian ginseng) to limit excess cortisol; and vitamin E to support hormone production and stress recovery.
Be with the Anxiety
Tyler Read, the San Francisco-based owner of Personal Trainer Pioneer, decided to bite the bullet by using the tools of dialectical behavior therapy to put himself into anxiety-producing public places. “Instead of convincing myself that I was at peace or not nervous, I accepted that I was nervous. I gave myself permission to shake, sweat and feel nauseous; at times, I acknowledged that I felt like I was dying. And by permitting myself to be nervous, the anxiety decreased over time,” he says.
Move to Music
Relaxing music can be as effective as medication in altering brain function, research suggests, especially if the rhythm is 60 beats per minute, which encourages the slow brainwaves associated with hypnotic or meditative states. Dancing to upbeat music like no one is watching can also chase worries away. Holistic psychotherapist Kellie Kirksey, Ph.D., of Youngstown, Ohio, suggests shaking to a favorite song: “Begin by shaking out the hands while holding the thought, ‘I let go.’ If shaking the hands feels good, add in shaking one leg at a time. Shake the whole body while imagining yourself releasing the tension stored in your muscles.”
Bond with an Animal
Merely petting a dog or cat releases the feelgood bonding hormone oxytocin into our system. “Animals speak to you in a nonverbal communication, so the interactions require you to be present and to feel. Both allow for a meditative experience that is tremendously impactful for reducing anxiety,” says Shannon Dolan, an Austin, Texas, nutritional therapist and horse owner. “If you don’t have your own pet, look up equine therapy in your area, go to a local dog shelter, spend time with a friend’s dog or travel out to a petting zoo, where you can experience the healing power of animals.”
Health writer Ronica O’Hara can be reached at [email protected]