10 ways to help cope with anxiety
From your heart beating fast against your chest to the sweaty palms of a social situation, we all recognise our own tell-tale signs of anxiety.
However, do you know how to calm anxiety when it threatens to overwhelm your emotions entirely?
In this guide, we will cover our top tips, tricks, and things to help with anxiety, preparing you for those moments of overwhelming stress and nervousness.
Continue reading, below, to find out how to manage anxiety.
1. Practice breathing techniques
While it might seem like a simple technique, practicing deep breathing is one of the most effective ways to calm an anxiety attack.
By closing your eyes and following specific breathing patterns, you can bring your body back under control when that overwhelming fight-or-flight response kicks in. This process works to slow down your heart rate and supply more oxygen to your brain, helping to calm you down.
To prepare yourself and calm anxiety attacks in the moment, practice this easy breathing technique, below:
- Close your eyes, breathe in gently through your nose, letting your breath flow as deep down as possible.
- Breathe out through your mouth.
- Repeat this process, this time counting steadily from one to five as you breathe in and out. Don’t worry if you can’t reach five at first; just breathe at your own pace until your get into the rhythm.
- Keep up this breathing technique for five minutes, or until you begin to feel calmer.
2. Exercise in short bursts
We understand that the idea of going to the gym or heading out on a long run might be the last thing you want to hear when coping with anxiety. However, research has shown that exercise helps with anxiety and is often one of the most effective methods of doing so.
To avoid feeling overwhelmed by a regular exercise commitment, ensure you don’t put extensive pressure on yourself. Instead of setting aside an intense one hour of exercise every day, which could even contribute to your anxious feelings, keep your daily workouts quick and simple and doing something you enjoy.
It could be a small wander around the park, a swift 15 minutes of yoga, or a short bike ride to the shops. The length or intensity of your workout does not matter; it’s more about focusing on your body’s output and giving your mind a quick break from any anxious thoughts.
For inspiration on how to get your body moving, read our fitness tips for beginners guide.
3. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
In some cases, a sudden on-set of anxious feelings could be the result of low blood sugar. That’s why it’s always important to eat regularly, keeping healthy snacks on hand if that stretch from lunch to dinner feels particularly long.
What’s more, a balanced diet is one of the best ways to help anxiety naturally, resulting in a general uplift in mood over a longer period. To achieve this, you need to feed your brain and body the required vitamins to function effectively, which means lots of fruits and veg, protein, healthy fats, and whole grains.
If you want some ideas on how to prepare delicious and healthy meals, take a look at our nutrition articles, which help direct you towards foods that help with anxiety, such as fish and eggs. Great examples of this include our nutritious limey sea bream as well as our easy breakfast ideas with eggs.
Rebalancing your diet is also a great opportunity to assess your alcohol and caffeine and energy drink intake. Don’t worry, we aren’t asking you to give up your cup of morning coffee, but minimising these type of nervous system-stimulating beverages can help to calm anxiety.
4. Get enough sleep
Research has shown that sleep issues and anxiety disorders typically go hand-in-hand, which is why we understand the frustration of being told, ‘get a good night’s sleep and you’ll feel better in the morning’.
While it’s obviously beneficial advice, the reality is that often people who suffer from anxiety will struggle to get a solid eight hours every night. However, there are a few sleep-inducing methods and things to help you sleep with anxiety.
For example, meditating before bed can get you in a more peaceful mindset. It can also help your brain transition from the activities of the day to a more sleep-ready state. Then, if you get in a routine of doing it every night, you are letting your brain know it’s time for bed when you start meditating.
Your diet and what time you eat can also affect your sleeping patterns. Take a look at our article about the best and worst foods for sleep for more information.
5. Write down your thoughts
While it can seem scary at first, it’s important to try and confront any anxious thoughts and identify the reasons behind them. As such, journaling and keeping track of your emotional state is an invaluable technique to help manage anxiety.
The idea is that, by writing down your thoughts and emotions, you are processing your feelings, rather than keeping them bottled up. It’s a practice that many people find calming at the end of the day.
There are also more long-term benefits to keeping a daily journal on your anxious thoughts. By looking back over previous entries, you can begin to identify patterns in behaviour or common triggers of anxiety to avoid in your day-to-day.
Journaling isn’t just a way to help yourself with anxiety, but a useful piece of advice when trying to help someone else with anxiety. For example, if you’re trying to help a child with anxiety, encouraging them to write down their thoughts helps to process feelings that may be new or confusing to them. If you’re worried that a child is coping with anxiety, you should look out for the signs of poor mental health in children.
6. Take the time to slow down
With work, family, and your social life all fighting for your attention on a daily basis, it can feel overwhelming to simply get through the working week.
To help break up this cycle of anxiousness, it’s important that you take the time every day to relax and re-centre yourself. This could be as simple as reading a chapter of your book after work or meditating just before bed to process the events of the day. Even taking five minutes away from your desk at work to grab a coffee or stretch your legs can go a long way to relieving the build-up of anxious feelings.
There’s value in combining other things that help with anxiety during these down periods too, such as breathing exercises or journaling, which can lead to greater mindfulness. Ideally, these personal moments would become a daily routine that you could follow, giving you a better foundation to help your anxiety.
7. Socialise regularly with family and friends
We get it; encouraging someone with anxiety to socialise is easier said than done. Social situations might even be one of their triggers, intensifying those overwhelming emotions.
However, taking the time to socialise with loved ones or trusted friends, is an important step to help cope with anxiety. Even if you suffer from social anxiety, seeing friends and family on a regular basis helps you better manage your anxiety, relieving stress and decreasing loneliness.
Going ‘one step at a time’ is one of the keys ways to help social anxiety. Meet one friend for a coffee at their place and slowly build your confidence from there. Then, once you feel ready, you can graduate to public meeting places and multiple friends. Just remember to go at your own pace, only agreeing to social situations that you feel totally comfortable in.
8. Find your support bubble
Suffering in silence is never an option to effectively help anxiety. It’s vital that those suffering have a trusted person or group to talk to, helping them properly deal with the negative thoughts and feelings.
Unfortunately, many people do not feel comfortable opening up to friends and family about their struggles. That’s where mental health support groups can be a valuable addition to someone’s life, allowing them to open up about their experiences in a supportive and welcoming environment.
Whether you find a helpful group online or arrange to go to weekly in-person meetings, mental health support groups provide a platform to discuss and address any anxiety issues you may have.
9. Talk to a medical professional
There are many things you can do to help anxiety on your own terms. However, if those feelings are hampering your day-to-day life, you should talk to a medical professional and seek mental health support.
We understand that this process can be difficult, opening up and describing your feelings to a stranger, but it is an important step on the road to recovery. To be as clear as possible, try writing down your symptoms before your appointment and take those notes in with you.
Then, once the medical professional understands your situation, they can start to advise on the best course of action. For some people, this might be anxiety medication. For others, it could be cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) or talking therapies. The treatments of how to deal with anxiety differs from patient to patient.
10. Be patient
Regardless of the anxiety coping techniques that suit you best, the most important step to help anxiety is to be patient with the process.
Unfortunately, there’s no overnight fix or short-term solution to coping with mental health problems. You will also likely experience setbacks on your journey, which can deepen those feelings of anxiety.
Our advice is to start small and build slowly. Focus on working on little, tangible interventions that can help you in the heat of a moment, for example start with the simple deep breathing exercises as that'll have immediate impact in an overwhelming anxiety attack.
Some small lifestyle adjustments can include setting simple goals every day, such as eat five pieces of fruit or veg, and acknowledge the positivity of those achievements. Only add more coping techniques when you feel comfortable and ready to do so.
How can Benenden Health help with your anxiety disorder?
Want more information on how to help anxiety or calm an anxiety attack? If you're a member of Benenden Health, you can access our 24/7 Mental Health Helpline, where you can speak to a counsellor at any time of day or night. You can also find more information on anxiety or other mental health conditions over on our Health and Wellbeing hub, including 10 ways to help with your general mental health.
Medically reviewed by Llinos Connolly in October 2023. Next review date: October 2024