How to deal with anxiety: 6 tips to improve your mood

What is anxiety? A quick recap

Here is a quick recap of my article last week about anxiety disorders. If you’ve missed it, click here to read. Anxiety disorders are the most advanced stage of anxiety. There are several possibilities for someone to develop disorders.

It might start with a bit of stress from work. However, that stress is not disappearing so you might react with anxiety to that stress. In case you can’t solve the situation or change things around you might develop an anxiety disorder.

Anxiety manifests itself in those nagging worries you can’t seem to shake. It’s a feeling of unease, nervousness or fear that makes you uncomfortable. The world suddenly seems like a frightening place to be. You are seeing worst-case scenarios around every corner.

But anxiety can also have physical effects. Your body may feel tense and in more severe cases you might develop a feeling of sickness or tightness in your chest. Headaches are a common companion of anxiety too.

Effective ways on how to deal with anxiety

All is not lost if you suffer from anxiety. You are not alone with those symptoms. In the United Kingdom (UK), about 8% will experience anxiety in their lifetime. Women are twice as likely to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder than men.

The most important thing is, though, how you deal with it. There are some things you shouldn’t do, like ignoring it. If you ignore it, your anxiety will not go away by itself and might even get worse.

There are some things that you should definitely do. At least give them a try. They might not remove your anxiety entirely but at least reduce it to a manageable level and provide some anxiety relief.

Below are 6 tips on how to deal with anxiety which should make your life more enjoyable.

1.) Try cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT)

As the name suggests, CBT combines cognitive therapy with behavioural therapy. The way we think in certain situations can have a direct influence on the way we behave and feel. CBT is not that new and has been around since the 1960s.

For example, you might make a simple mistake, like spilling the coffee all over the floor because you dropped the cub. This might make you think of bad things about yourself: “I can’t get anything right.” And it might make you feel worthless and inadequate. Which in turn could lead you to do things, like

  • withdrawing
  • snapping at your work colleagues
  • or even avoiding tasks altogether because you think they might go wrong

When this cycle of thoughts happens over and over again, it becomes a habit. You might start to automatically start blaming yourself if something goes wrong.

So what exactly is it?

CBT is a talking treatment. Don’t worry, you don’t have to lie on a sofa and talk about your childhood experiences. CBT focuses on the present and a good CBT therapist can help you interrupt the negative cycle above. He or she can help you determine what kind of negative thoughts and feelings are contributing to your problems. The therapist will help you deal with your negative thinking and change your behaviour. This will lead to an improvement in your mood.

CBT can be very effective but takes time to do so. If you are working with a therapist, he or she will likely give you “homework”. To change your behaviour and thoughts, you need to work on yourself consistently over a period of time. This might not be for everybody and you might feel that your problems are too complex for CBT.

To use CBT you don’t have to work with a therapist though. There are lots of online tools available as well as self-help books on how to calm anxiety.

2.) Improve your physical health

Not only does exercise have physical benefits. It’s also beneficial for your mental health. A study released in 2019, shows that the mental state of inpatients who exercised more than 3 months significantly improved. Mental health specialists often prescribe regular exercise as part of a treatment plan.

That doesn’t mean that you will have to sign up to a gym and spend hours lifting weights. It means you should get more active whilst going about your life. The UK’s NHS recommends 150 minutes of moderately intense activity per week. This could take the form of going for a brisk walk with your dog or getting off a tube station earlier on the way to work.

This is how exercise can help your mental well-being:

  • It shifts your focus away from the item you are anxious about
  • It decreases the stress hormone cortisol in your body
  • It increases the amount of the feel-good hormone endorphin
  • Moving your body with cardiovascular exercises decreases muscle tension
  • Increased physical health also means increased mental health. Keeping your immune system strong and keeps the cold, flu and other minor illnesses away.

You are what you eat

If that would be true I’d be a whole chicken with carrot wings swimming in porridge with berries. When we talk about how to deal with anxiety and mention physical health, it doesn’t go without mentioning your diet.

There are certain types of foods you should avoid when suffering from anxiety. Foods like caffeine, processed products and refined sugar should be avoided. Alcohol should also be removed from your list as it might increase your anxious feelings.

Anti-anxiety diets seem to make the rounds in forums and on the web in general. I’m not a fan of diets as they mean you only change the way you eat for a certain period. Instead of changing your lifestyle and the way you eat long term.

When you switch from your diet back to your old habit of eating any result you’ve achieved will be lost. You’re starting from scratch. This is not the way to do it.

A study released in 2015 suggests a link between probiotic foods and a reduced amount of social anxiety. Eating fermented foods would mean you are not only improving your gut health but also your mental health. Check out these 6 tips to get you started with improving your gut health.

Another study suggests eating fatty fish due to its high content of omega-3 fatty acids. They may help reduce anxiety and inflammation.

Healthy grilled food including salmon

3.) Try breathing exercises

Breathing is an automatic function of the body that hardly anybody pays attention to. It just happens. The only time that people pay attention to their breathing is when they have problems with it. And their body gets starved of oxygen.

When you breathe in, oxygen goes into your blood cells which in turn release carbon dioxide. When you breathe out, carbon dioxide, a waste product, is exhaled. In times when your breathing pattern is not right, this exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide is not working as it should. This, in turn, can contribute to anxiety and panic attacks.

Changing your breathing is another effective way of how to deal with anxiety. It makes your body react with a calming response. This response includes the following physical reactions:

  • heart rate slows down
  • blood pressure decreases
  • tensions in your muscles decrease
  • oxygen consumption decreases

There are two types of breathing patterns:

  • Chest (thoracic) breathing
  • Abdominal (diaphragmatic) breathing

When people experience feelings of anxiety, their breathing tends to be rapid and shallow, coming directly from the chest. This upsets the oxygen and carbon dioxide exchange though and results in dizziness and increased heart rate. Your blood is not receiving enough oxygen when that happens.

Abdominal breathing happens when you breathe into your lower lungs. You can try this by putting one hand on your upper abdomen and the other hand on your chest.

Slowly inhale an amount of air through your nose. Try to consciously fill your lower lungs. Exhale slowly through your mouth. As you breathe, your abdomen should expand and contract whereas your chest should only rise a bit.

Breathing exercises go hand in hand with mindfulness. If you haven’t tried it yet here are 9 reasons why you should.

Woman in yoga position with hands pressed together and closed eyes

4.) Figure out the root cause and question your thoughts

Trying to manage anxiety by addressing the symptoms will only help you to a certain degree. You can always find another method on how to deal with anxiety. You see, nothing will eliminate it until you’ve found the root cause.

Once you’ve found the root cause you need to address it. If you are struggling with self-help books and online education, an experienced therapist will be able to help you. When you’ve found and addressed the root cause, anxiety plus its symptoms might disappear once and for all.

So, where does your anxiety come from? Most people’s social anxiety comes from their sense of self. When people think they are “not good enough” they are not comfortable being themselves in social situations. Unless they are compensating for perceived shortcomings.

That compensation equals to a constant effort to be different and causes anxiety and stress in social situations. If this happens consistently people start withdrawing themselves from those situations.

In the case of other types of anxiety try challenging your thoughts. Sometimes pictures of worst-case scenarios appear in your mind and you can’t seem to think of anything else. Ask yourself “how bad would that really be?” Are you really facing a cliff-edge event or an absolute disaster?

The second question to ask yourself is “how likely is this to happen?” Has this worst-case scenario happened before? Did it happen to you or to somebody you know? What are the indications of it happening to you? Chances are, there are no indications for the worst-case scenario to manifest itself.

Man sitting on floor thinking

5.) Accept your thoughts

Have you ever considered working with your anxiety instead of fighting it? If you’ve tried fighting it for some time but nothing changed it’s time to change your approach. Anxiety by itself is neither good or bad. Everybody experiences it. It’s how you react to anxiety and what you do with it that’s so important.

Imagine being able to open up about anxiety and accepting it into your life. This is the complete opposite of designing your whole life around it. Accepting anxiety into your life will allow you to focus on something else rather than making a bigger deal about it than it has to be.

By doing so you are also dis-empowering anxiety. You are taking away the power that anxiety exerts over your life. After all, if you wouldn’t feel any anxiety at all, would you even still be human?

Accepting that anxiety comes and goes is like accepting that it might rain when you go for a pick-nick. It just happens. And it’s also decoupling you from a vicious cycle.

If those anxious feelings start to show up you start to worry about them. You worry about your anxiety. That worry makes you even more frightened amplifying your anxious feelings. If you accept your anxiety, you are not worrying about it.

6.) Try supplements

If you would like to support your recovery from anxiety or just something to calm you down natural anxiety supplements are ideal. They are also a beneficial tool to have in your toolbox for how to deal with anxiety attacks. Supplements make you relax after short bursts of those feelings of unease.

Besides, most of the supplements out there are helpful for increasing your sleep quality and have several effects in common. They include the promotion of positive moods and a reduction in stress and nervousness. Anxiety supplements make you feel relaxed and promote overall wellness and health.

Here’s a list of natural remedies for anxiety and depression to try:

  • Passionflower
  • Valerian root
  • Rhodiola
  • Ashwagandha
  • Liquorice root
  • CBD

Even though CBD has been around for a few years it’s fairly new to the list. If you don’t know what CBD is I’ve written a handy overview to get you up to speed. Go and check it out. There’s already research out showing evidence that CBD might reduce anxiety. And it also doesn’t come with nasty side effects like medication.

CBD oil bottles with hemp leave and oil dropper

Conclusion

Above tips should give you a good arsenal of methods on how to deal with anxiety. Even though some of them take some time to put in place and show their results they are still beneficial.

In any case, please know that you are not alone with those feelings and there is help out there.

Are you currently suffering from anxiety or have you done so in the past? How have you overcome those feelings? Share your personal tips below in the comment section.

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