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Everyone gets anxious from time to time. Occasional anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty about what will happen next, whether in the next few minutes, days, or months.

Mental health experts define anxiety as worrying about a threat that is always in your future. Thinking about a conversation you dread, for example, might twist your stomach for days before it happens. Your heart may race before a test or presentation. You could stay awake at night worried about whether you’ll catch COVID-19 from the grocery store.

It is also normal to want to get rid of those uncomfortable pitiful feelings as quickly as possible. But this approach can make you more anxious, says David H. Rosmarin, PhD, associate professor of psychology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

“When you worry about getting rid of your anxiety, you are signaling to your nervous system that you have even more to worry about. And that makes your anxiety worse, ”he says.

Keep in mind that if your anxiety lasts for a long time and interferes with your daily life, you could have an anxiety disorder. In this case, you may need treatment to overcome it.

Calm anxiety by accepting it

It’s not what people expect to hear. But one of the most effective ways to relieve occasional anxiety is to accept it, says Rosmarin, also founder of the Center for Anxiety in New York City.

“When we let anxiety run its course in the moment without fighting it, ironically, it makes it less. On the other hand, fighting anxiety is what [triggers] a panic attack, ”he says.

“And, if your only strategy is to distract yourself from your anxiety or avoid the things that cause it, you will still be afraid of it. It will always be the bully in the schoolyard because you never learned to deal with it.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America puts it this way: “The thoughts you resist persist. “

Instead, try these steps:

Recognize and understand your anxiety: Tell yourself, “My nervous system is shifting into high gear because I’m worried about [thing X]. “

Don’t criticize yourself for these feelings: Instead, say, “This is a normal, healthy response of my body to these circumstances, which are complicated, stressful, or difficult. It’s good to feel that way.

Know that you can be anxious while functioning well: “You can perform really well with anxiety, and you probably have already,” says Rosmarin.

Think back to a time when you were anxious but still doing what you needed to do. Perhaps you were filled with anxiety before an event or meeting. But later someone said you did a great job.

How to stop anxiety

When your anxiety feels overwhelming, these techniques can provide you with quick, short-term relief.

Take a reality check: Ask yourself these questions:

  • On a scale of 1 to 100, how likely is it that the thing that worries me will happen?
  • Do I have good reason to believe that something is going to go wrong?
  • Is there a chance that I’m too worried?

Share your anxiety with someone you trust: Don’t avoid your anxious thoughts, which can make them worse. Discuss them with a friend or family member, who can help you put them into perspective.

Remember you are safe: “When anxiety arises, you may feel scared or out of control, your mind rushing towards all of these uncertain future catastrophes,” says clinical psychologist Debra Kissen, PhD, general manager of Light On Anxiety CBT treatment centers in the Greater Montreal area. Chicago.

“Ask yourself, ‘Is there a real danger ahead of me, or am I actually safe at home and is she worried about something that isn’t threatening me right now?’ “, she says. “This thought can anchor you in the moment and restart your brain and body so that you feel less anxious.”

Redirect nerve energy: Anxiety can be like an engine revving, says Lisa Henderson, a Certified Professional Counselor. “Take control of this energy and put it somewhere else,” says Henderson, co-founder and CEO of Synchronous Health in Nashville.

“If you’re sitting there worried, for example, get up and walk or pace,” she said. “Take a few minutes to clean something up. Go outside for 5 minutes. Short periods of activity can release this anxious energy.

Take a mental break: “Use a guided imagery app or just dream for yourself,” says Henderson. “A brief mental vacation can break the cycle of anxious thoughts. “

To try this out for yourself, set a timer for a few minutes, close your eyes, and imagine yourself in a place where you feel peaceful or happy.

“Just letting your mind wander can work well if your anxiety is because you feel controlled or managed,” says Henderson. “If your mind returns to its anxious thoughts, notice – without judgment – that it has happened and mentally say to your anxiety, ‘I’ll be with you in a moment.’ Then go back to your daydream.

You may prefer an app that guides you through your thoughts to help release your anxiety. Find relaxation or meditation apps that appeal to you and give them a try.

Breathe: Breathe in and out slowly, evenly, and deeply for several breaths.

Change your position: “Whatever you do, do the opposite,” says Kissen. “If you are hunched over with worry, stand up and strike a Wonder Woman pose. If you are under a blanket, wash your face with cold water. Changing your sensory experience can ‘change the channel’ of anxiety. “

Use a mantra: A mantra can distract your mind from the anxious thoughts that keep coming back to your head, says Kissen.

Two that she likes are: “These thoughts are uncomfortable, but not dangerous” and “That too will pass.”

Put your anxiety on a calendar: Pick a 15-minute window during the day to reflect on your anxieties. “Meanwhile, tell your brain to go ahead and let the anxious thoughts come in,” Kissen says. “But when they show up outside of that time, tell them ‘I want to hear from you, but come back tomorrow at 3:00 p.m.'”

If anxiety keeps you awake, get up: “If you lie in bed worrying about things for more than 5 minutes, get up and go to another room and write down your anxieties, ”says Kissen. “Go back to bed when you are tired, but get up if you feel anxious. It may take a few nights to go back and forth, but this exercise can train your brain to realize that your bed is for sleep, not anxiety.

Do i need treatment for anxiety?

There are a lot of things you can do to relieve anxiety on your own, but sometimes you need help. Psychotherapy and medication are the two main treatments for anxiety disorders.

Signs it’s time to talk to a mental health professional include:

  • Constant or almost constant anxiety
  • Anxiety that interferes with your daily activities, such as work or social life
  • Anxiety about things that are not really threatening you
  • Panic attacks

Check your health insurance policy to find out which mental health services are covered by your plan. Next, examine a list of your network providers to find one to connect with.

“You don’t want to add to your anxiety by paying a hefty fee,” Kissen says.

Your primary care doctor may also be able to recommend a mental health professional who has experience in treating anxiety and anxiety disorders.

Rosmarin notes that it’s important to find a supplier that you click and trust. He also says therapy doesn’t have to go on indefinitely to be effective.

“A cognitive behavioral therapy course for anxiety can consist of eight to ten sessions,” he says. “There is also data to suggest that people feel considerably better after just one session of therapy for panic disorder.”

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