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How To Self-Regulate Anxiety: 15 Practical Tips That Help

Life is stressful. How often have you told yourself when you’re feeling particularly frazzled? While it’s certainly true that so much has happened globally that we’re all a bit more anxious than normal, many of us are also dealing with anxiety symptoms daily.

Anxiety is so prevalent that studies show nearly 30% of adults will be affected by it at some point in their lives, while more than 40 million adults in the USA have an anxiety disorder. Anxiety is more than just being stressed – and anxiety, at its worst, can be crippling. 

So, how do you deal with it? How do you manage to carry on? Is it possible to self-regulate when you’re anxious?

The good news is that there are strategies that can help you navigate anxiety, and you can do most of these wherever you are. 

How to Self-Regulate With Anxiety: Practical Strategies

There are loads of social media personalities and celebrity-type figures who claim they have figured out how to manage anxiety, and while some of their tips and tricks may not hold water, there are some strategies that have proven to be effective in practice. 

A 2015 study on Self-Management Strategies in Recovery from Mood and Anxiety Disorders explored the various self-management techniques that had the most positive effect. 

Here are 15 strategies that have proven to be most effective:

1. Explore Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness refers to being aware of what’s happening to you in the moment, both externally and with the internal processes you’re dealing with. The benefits of mindfulness include being able to relax more easily, improvements to self-esteem, and a more positive mindset. 

But how do you practice mindfulness? Is it always meditation?

Mindfulness is something that you can practice anywhere and at any time, but the trick is learning to be mindful first.

Meditation is one of the best ways to become mindful, requiring you to take time out from the business around you to pay attention to your experiences in the moment: physically – like what you see, feel, hear, smell, and so on – but also what you are thinking and feeling at the time.

Getting to know what you physically experience when you’re anxious can help you to identify triggers (noticing when your body reacts in a certain way in response to something).

It also provides a guide for how to address anxiety physically. For example, learning that you feel your chest is tight or that you can’t breathe in certain situations.

Evidence suggests that mindfulness through meditation can remodel your brain structurally in a positive way. 

Here’s a great video to get you started in mindfulness:

2. Try Deep Breathing Techniques

Something as simple as deep breathing techniques can have a marked effect on your anxiety levels. The science behind it is pretty simple. Breathing deeply – from your stomach – and slowing your breathing rate signals to your nervous system that it should calm down.

So, purposeful breathing can physically calm you down and decrease anxiety. 

To get your nervous system to deactivate the fight or flight response, which is what you’re feeling when you’re anxious, taking deep, slow breaths from your stomach counter the short and shallow breaths that result from a stress response. 

There are various techniques taught for this, but the simplest to use in practice is to teach yourself to breathe from your stomach, actively pushing your tummy out every time you inhale – inhale as you count to three. Hold it for a moment, and slowly blow out, also to the count of three. Some find it helpful to make an ‘O’ shape with their lips as they breathe out.

For children, I love to use an adaptation of this where I ask them to breathe in as I count to three with my fingers and then to “blow out” those fingers as if they are candles. You can slow the rate at which your fingers get blown out if you need to slow their breathing more. I repeat these five to ten times. 

Some other techniques that you may like can be found in this video:

3. Practice Cognitive Behavioral Techniques

While Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is an excellent intervention for those with anxiety and mood disorders, there are some tricks we can harness from the CBT world to implement in our daily struggle with anxiety. 

This requires learning to recognize negative thoughts that prompt feelings of anxiety. Journaling is beneficial in this way, as writing down your thoughts and experiences will help you to identify patterns, triggers, and negative thoughts. These can be cognitive distortions or just generalized worries about what you are experiencing, your capability, or fear about what lies ahead.

Once you can identify these problematic thoughts, you can work on challenging them by addressing your reality. For example, you feel anxious about your partner’s feelings toward you, so confronting that thought with reality – such as evidence that you are loved and cared for – can dispel that anxiety.

A woman self-regulates her anxiety by placing her hands behind her head and doing some deep breathing
how to self-regulate anxiety

4. Try Grounding Techniques

Grounding yourself during anxious times or panic attacks can help pull you out of dark thoughts, flashbacks, or unwanted emotions. Grounding is the process of identifying yourself in your present; this can look like locating yourself as here, you are in the present, you are safe, despite the turmoil of fearful memories.

The ‘5-4-3-2-1’ method has become quite popular in social media for pulling you out of unwanted emotions or memories. It requires that you identify five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.

There are other tactile methods that I found very useful, too, with simple actions like running your hands under cold water, doing jumping jacks, or listening for your heartbeat being easy to do anywhere to help keep you in the present. 

5. Keep a Daily Schedule

For many, anxiety has to do with the fear of the unknown or being worried about not being in control.

Having a daily schedule and keeping to it can help to mitigate this to a large degree. It doesn’t have to be a formal, written-down schedule, although for many of my clients, seeing it pinned up on the fridge or written on the cover of a notebook had a grounding effect in and of itself.

It’s also essential to hold yourself accountable for important things like sleeping enough, eating sufficient meals, and taking breaks. Sticking to a schedule that ensures you get enough sleep is already a giant leap forward in learning to deal with anxiety. We know that those who struggle with poor sleep quality have higher levels of stress and anxiety.

6. Limit Stimulants

This may be a tough one for many people, but limiting your intake of stimulants will also be beneficial to keeping your anxiety levels manageable.

This was personally always a tough one for me as I love strong coffee, relish in sweet things, and had a habit of unwinding with a glass of wine in hand. 

Not only do caffeine, sugar, and alcohol affect the quality of sleep you get, but they can amp up your heart rate and increase racing thoughts, all of which harm our ability to manage anxiety. Nicotine in cigarettes has been proven to increase anxiety and tension, too, despite the temporary sense of relaxation it brings. 

It’s not always easy to do away with these, so to start with, consider reducing the amount you consume – and avoiding it before bed, for example – will be an excellent place to start. Avoid alcohol as a means of de-stressing because it does the opposite.

7. Stay Connected

One thing that can never be understated is the importance of a support system. Having people around you that you can count on is not only crucial for ensuring you don’t feel alone, but they also keep you accountable. 

Having friends and family around you will help to improve your overall mental well-being, but it also means you have others to share with, vent to, call on when things get bad, and talk through the anxiety with.

For many, just verbalizing their fears nullifies its power over them – hence the positive impact of group therapy for anxiety disorders.

Whether you have a small group of people you can rally around you or want to get involved with a support group, it’s important to stay connected.

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Get matched with a licensed therapist based on your individual preferences and needs. Therapy sessions are available via messaging, phone, or live video chat.

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8. Taking Stock of Your Progress

It’s essential to keep track of how much you are learning. It can often be overwhelming and disheartening when we feel like we’ve made no progress and we’re still dealing with the same issues as we did a few months ago.

I love to include a “catch me up” time in sessions with clients in which they tell me at least two things they’ve managed to do that they couldn’t do in the previous sessions.

Small victories are just as important as the big ones, and when someone tells me they were able to walk past a place that had in the past resulted in a panic attack, that’s something we write down as a triumph.

When you are doubting yourself, you can look back and remind yourself that if you are able to make progress in some way, there is always a way forward.

9. Internal Awareness: Valuing Your Strengths, Accepting Weak Points

Getting in touch with who you are is vital in dealing with anxiety. I’m talking about knowing your strengths and weaknesses. Knowing what personal resources are available to you – in other words, knowing what your unique strengths are – is called a strength-based approach.  

What does this look like in practice?

Well, imagine you are feeling anxious about an upcoming meeting at work. But one of your strengths is administration and planning. Knowing this, you can set up an agenda for the meeting, plot out some points for discussion, and prepare everything for the meeting. 

This takes away some of the things you may be worrying about and helps to improve your sense of capability to deal with challenging situations.

10. Find a Project 

Taking your mind off things is underrated in dealing with anxiety, especially if it’s the illogical or unreasonable anxieties you’re not able to alleviate with reason or fact. Having something to do to distract you can be incredibly helpful. 

A hobby, a passion project, or various ‘tasks’ you want to accomplish can redirect your thoughts away from whatever is causing you worry. So whether you want to take up painting, have something to build, or have household tasks to get through, try a change of scenery to help mitigate anxiety.

11. Be Assertive About Your Needs

A simple yet powerful tool for dealing with anxiety is being able to verbalize your needs in the moment.

For many, anxiety results in feelings of helplessness or isolation, and reaching out to others and saying what you need – whether that’s help with a project, a shoulder to cry on, or a different perspective – can help to challenge any negative thoughts you may be experiencing. 

12. Healthy Living: Exercise

I’ve alluded to the importance of healthy living before, but we haven’t touched on how vital it is to be physically healthy.

While we’re not all able to run a marathon or take a five-mile bike ride every morning, making sure we move our bodies, stimulate our heart rate, and get out of the house is beneficial. Studies show that exercise is an effective adjunctive treatment for anxiety.

A woman closes her eyes and breathes deeply in an effort to self-regulate her anxiety symptoms
practice tips for anxiety self-management

13. Balance Is Everything

Most of us are burning the candle at both ends trying to keep it together – work, school, family responsibilities, children, time for our partner, and hobbies are just a few things most of us juggle daily.

And while it’s true that some things can’t be helped, we are responsible for drawing boundaries to ensure there is some balance.

Working a fourteen-hour day is excessive – there won’t be any time for anything else in your life, which will most assuredly increase your levels of stress and anxiety.

Draw boundaries for yourself to ensure you get your work done, but also allocate time for your loved ones and the other responsibilities you have.  

14. Down Time Is Important

Following on from the above, it’s vital to learn that you need downtime just as much as you need to earn a salary.

You don’t need to earn time to rest – you need it.

Read that again.

Not getting any time to unwind is a recipe for burnout and will inevitably translate to higher levels of anxiety. 

Make sure to schedule time for yourself on a daily basis – even if it’s 20 minutes. Without rest, you cannot manage your responsibilities effectively. 

15. Knowledge Is Power: Learn About Your Illness

The adage about knowledge and power is more accurate than ever when it comes to anxiety and mood disorders.

Knowing what you’re dealing with means you can develop a unique strategy that works for you. Getting professional input on the mental health challenges you’re facing means you have an advantage in facing the anxiety. 

If you aren’t in a position to get professional help (or if you’re just not ready), do the research in the meantime. The fact that you are reading this is already a positive step forward! 

How To Determine When Professional Help is Needed

So, how do you know if it’s time to see a mental health care practitioner?

Not everyone is able to seek professional help, and for many, it’s a painful, sensitive, or terrifying thought. The rule of thumb with anxiety is that if it is interfering with your personal or professional relationships, you need to get professional help.

Signs You May Need Additional Help Managing Your Anxiety

If you’re seeing any of the following in your own life, you will benefit from seeking additional help for anxiety:

  • You’re not able to function normally, meaning you’re missing work or school because your anxiety is debilitating.
  • You’re having physical reactions like sweaty palms, a tight chest, headaches, nausea, racing heartbeat, stomach issues, and struggling to breathe.
  • You’re struggling to fall asleep and not getting enough (good quality) sleep regularly.
  • You feel constantly afraid, and you’re struggling to come out of the darkness of the “worst-case scenario” thinking.
  • You’re not able to carry out daily tasks like shopping, looking after yourself, driving yourself, or leaving the house.
  • You’re overly restless, irritable, or teary – a client with severe anxiety used to refer to the sensations of “imminent fracture” of her emotions and likened it to a mirror crashing into pieces. If you feel like this is your emotional situation, don’t wait.

Seeking Therapy

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is excellent for helping you to manage anxiety, not just because it reduces the impact of anxiety but because it equips you with tools to change the way you react to stressful situations. This empowers you to take control of your anxiety and actively diminish it yourself.

If you’re looking to find a suitable therapist, get recommendations and feedback on the various therapists – communities such as support groups and forums are an excellent place to get referrals. 

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Medication

It’s worth remembering that anti-anxiety medications can be a fantastic tool for helping you cope, especially if you’re overwhelmed or in a situation where your anxiety is affecting your ability to function as usual. And remember, you don’t have to see a psychiatrist to get help – you can ask your doctor about medication for anxiety.

Emergency Situations

Sometimes, anxiety can be so bad that you feel hopeless. Hopelessness has been proven to be a precursor to suicidal thoughts and behaviors. If you find yourself feeling like there’s no light at the end of the tunnel, that you don’t see any way out, or that you can’t live with anxiety any longer, you’re in crisis – and you need help. 

If you don’t have a trusted friend or family member to call immediately, here are some numbers you can call for immediate help:

United States: Call or text 988 or chat online at 988lifeline.org

Canada: Call 1.833.456.4566 or text 45645

United Kingdom: Call 0800 689 5652

Conclusion

Anxiety can be an annoyance. But it can also be disruptive to your life – and for some, it can be debilitating. In many cases, you can take control and learn to self-regulate in the moment. These techniques can, and do, work – but it’s important to remember that it’s okay if they don’t. 

You deserve help, and prioritizing your mental health and seeking help is something I applaud you for and encourage. 

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