We talk a lot about trends on the Internet. Squalane is the new “it” skincare ingredient. Short workouts are the de jour way to sweat. Lightning-fast weddings even had their moment. But we don’t tend to talk about the trends that really matter, like how we’re feeling and functioning as a culture. But maybe you’ve noticed that we all seem to be stressed out and anxious like never before. This trend, unfortunately, isn’t going away unless we address it. That means each of learning how to reduce anxiety for ourselves and sharing openly what has worked for us to help others along the way.
Feeling and functioning at our peak is what truly determines the quality of our day. Soft, younger-looking skin is a great bonus, but it’s not going to help you handle a work crisis. And it really doesn’t matter what the world throws you each day. If you’re calm, centered, and confident in your ability to handle hurdles, you’ll make it to the end of the day with relatively smooth sailing. Doesn’t that sound wonderful compared to the dramatic highs and lows most of us suffer over the course of a day?
Why learning how to reduce anxiety is important
It’s easy to think of your anxiety as a normal reaction to the stressors of your everyday life. Being an adult is rough sometimes, so why wouldn’t you feel a little anxious? Because anxiety holds you back in life. In fact, it can prevent you from performing well in the face of problems instead of preparing you for them.
That’s because anxiety, unlike stress, comes with apprehension and unease about things that haven’t happened yet or have an uncertain outcome. Essentially, you’re worrying about things that either might not happen at all or might work out way better than you think. And this constantly worry can actually lead to paralysis now, when you could be accomplishing things, and if something does happen, when you could be picking up the pieces. But anxiety isn’t just wrecking havoc on your mental state. The constant worrying is also taking its toll on your physical health. And that means the effects ripple through every aspect of your life.
But maybe the biggest reason why learning how to reduce anxiety is essential is because bad things will keep happening, whether you worry or not. Your anxiety won’t protect you, and it won’t help you sail through the rough patches any easier. Reducing your anxiety can save you the anguish now and actually help you overcome in the future.
How to reduce anxiety in the moment
Learning how to reduce anxiety is obviously a long-term project. We’re not great at letting go of our worries. Don’t worry, it’s not just you. Left alone with our thoughts, many of us tend to head straight to the terrors of what-if wondering. But while you’re learning to just let it go in general, you’ll need some ways to cope when anxiety pops up throughout the day.
1. Bring your focus to your breathing
Feel your head start to run away with your worries? Bring your attention to your breathing and take a couple deep breaths. Ideally, take a full minute or two to ground yourself and focus on this very basic essential of being. It’s not just about distracting your head from spinning out of control, though it does work for that too. Using the right technique, you’ll also tap into your parasympathetic nervous system.
This is the system in charge of your “rest and digest” signals. Essentially, you’re turning off your sympathetic nervous system, which controls your fight or flight response. Priming your body to relax can help your mind do the same thing. But you will need to learn about diaphragmatic breathing if you want to maximize your results during these short breaks.
2. Reach for a weighted blanket
They’re not just for sleeping, guys. The comforting weight of mine not only helps me fall asleep faster but also work with more focus and purpose. That’s because the reassuring pressure eases my anxiety. Sitting on my couch soothed, I can use that mental energy toward more productive activities like writing blog entries or crafting my budget for the year.
3. Take a break
You’ll start to build an emotional toolkit that will help you reduce anxiety overall, but until then some situations might be harder to take. If you’re working on a particularly stressful project and deep breaths just aren’t doing it for you, take a break. Mentally remove yourself from the source of your anxiety. Switching gears can stop the anxious thoughts in their tracks before they spiral out of control.
Don’t feel the pressure to always make these breaks a different work task, though. Sometimes you need a laugh and watching a YouTube video is the best break you could possibly take. Once you feel the tension has left your body, slowly return to what you were doing and try to hold onto that feeling of calm.
4. Use some CBD
You obviously can’t just up and leave the office to get a CBD massage, but you can use cannabidiol to help ease the anxiety. Try a tincture, and make sure to hold it under your tongue for a full minute before you swallow the oil. Most products are absorbed readily sublingually (under your tongue) and can hit your bloodstream in 10 to 15 minutes. CBD edibles, on the other hand, can take much longer to ease your nerves. That’s because the cannabidiol has to go through your digestive process before making its way into your bloodstream. Just don’t expect a dose of CBD to be a cure all.
5. Play through the worst case scenario
Though it sounds like the worst possible thing you can do, letting your mind go through this process can be a powerful antidote to anxiety. That’s because anxiety only takes you a couple steps in the future, when everything could be terrible. But we rarely allow ourselves to follow through on those ruminations. Next time it happens, keep pushing yourself further by asking, “What then?”
I’ve never had an anxious situation that didn’t turn around by logically following it through to the end. Even if I’m worried I’ll be fired, asking myself “what then” always leads to a very undramatic “well, I just find another job.” Even if you don’t have savings built up (we’ll get to that), you’d probably get to “I’ll ask friends or family for help.” Could you sleep on a couch while you look for another job? Absolutely. Will you need to? Most likely not.
6. Remind yourself that feelings are not facts
But let’s get back to that feeling you have that your supervisor isn’t happy with you and may be considering firing you. This is just that, a feeling. It’s not a fact unless you have concrete information like a performance report or warning from HR. There could be a hundred different things that caused whatever made your anxiety spin out of control. A curt email from your boss could be caused by a horrible night of sleep, rushing to get to a meeting, or a spilled cup of coffee before they got to the office. As much as our egos don’t like to hear it, when it comes to other people acting upset, it’s probably not about us.
7. Make yourself a cup of herbal tea
It’s tempting to use that break to go on a coffee run. While getting outside is a great idea, reaching for caffeine is not (more on that further down). Reach for an herbal tea instead. Chamomile has been shown to ease anxiety symptoms, even in people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). Tea companies might label these formulas for sleep, but don’t think you can’t sip chamomile during the day. Plus, people find others more caring and generous when they’re holding a warm beverage, a study found. So maybe a warm cup of tea is exactly what you need to put your boss’s bad behavior into perspective. They are just human, after all.
8. Sniff some lavender oil
Lavender is nature’s anti-anxiety medicine. That’s not an exaggeration. Lavender was found to be just as effective as Lorazepam in adults with generalized anxiety disorder in one 2010 study. While that does not mean you should ditch your prescription for lavender essential oils, it does prove that keeping a bottle nearby is worth the investment. If you’re going to apply it to your skin, like rubbing it on your temples, try to get a food-grade essential oil. Your skin is your biggest organ, after all, and you don’t want it absorbing chemicals.
NOTE: For some people, prescription anti-anxiety medication is the best option. It helps them feel like their true selves and function at their best. Taking medicine is no better or worse than going the natural route — it all just depends on what’s right for you. Talk to your doctor about both options if you’re making that decision. And if you’re on medication, never take yourself off without talking to a medical professional first.
How to reduce anxiety for good
I’m going to tell you something that most people won’t: My life is boring, and I f*cking love it that way. What I mean by that is that my daily life is completely free of drama. There are no huge ups and downs that send me crying to my friends. I’ll filled my days mostly with things that I love or at least serve a purpose, and that doesn’t really change from week to week.
But learning how to reduce anxiety was the key to building this stable, serene life. After all, no life will ever be serene if your mental space isn’t as well. Here’s how to finally tackle that big hurdle. The process probably won’t ever be complete — we all have plenty to worry about — but these are the tools you need to work toward smooth sailing, week after week.
9. Apply the eat the frog technique
It’s also one of the biggest tools if you’re learning how to be more productive. Although this sounds unsavory, the logic is sound: essentially, you tackle the biggest thing on your plate first. And though this idea is usually applied to the office, it works just as well in other arenas. Chores is a great example. The big job you’re dreading? Just do it and get it out of the way.
Think about it like anxiety math. Which is going to make you feel better overall: tackling the thing that’s been looming over your head for a long time, or checking off several small things you can handle anytime? It might look the same on a to-do list, but those big tasks weigh so much more on our minds. It’s time to finally check it off, especially if you’re dreading it.
10. Prioritize quality sleep
We’re constantly underestimating sleep, even though it accounts for a third of our lives — and has huge implications on our waking hours. Loss of sleep makes people feel angrier and even more depressed. (Yes, they kept some poor people up all night in a lab to verify this.) Even worse, sleep deprivation is associated with greater emotional reactivity. You’re more likely to react negatively when something does go your way throughout the day. And, let’s face it, that happens to many of us most days.
Lack of sleep can also increase your anxiety by making you overreact and put undue importance on feelings of worry and stress. Get your sleep and you help yourself get critical distance on problems as they arise. You might still feel upset, but you’ll know that it’s a passing feeling. You’ll understand that this one problem doesn’t spell disaster for your career, one curt email doesn’t mean your boss is thinking of firing you. And if sleep is a problem for you, try these products for quality sleep that have worked wonders for me.
11. Take adaptogenic herbs
Adaptogens don’t get as much attention as CBD, but they works wonders on anxiety like cannabidiol. They help your body adapt to and better cope with stress, something we could all use more of. The physical effects of stress and anxiety are no joke. Whether you call it adrenal fatigue, HPA dysfunction, or HPA dysregulation, it’s hard to get diagnosed and rough to recover from. The effects of adrenal fatigue span way beyond just your energy levels, but that’s a topic for another time. Adaptogenic herbs help with one of the big ones: your cortisol levels.
There are several herbs for anxiety, but a big one is ashwagandha. A daily dose of this herb can help regulate your cortisol, so you’re not constantly in fight or flight mode. And though you can get it in delicious forms like the Recess drinks, you’ll probably want to invest in a supplement to add to your wellness routine. Everyone is different, so you might find that certain herbs work better than others for you. Ashwagandha is a good place to start, and one of my favorite products for anxiety management, but don’t get discouraged if it’s not the key to reducing anxiety for you. We’re pulling together a guide to herbs for anxiety so you can get to know all your options.
12. Try meditation
If you’ve read other articles here at Dirt Mag, you know that I’m not a fan of traditional meditation. Long story short, I fidget. But the ancient practice helps many people daily, and it’s more accessible than ever. Apps like Headspace let you take guided meditation with you on the go, which is honestly when you probably need it the most. (A screaming child on the subway tests your mental calm way more than a cushion in a clean, quiet studio ever could.) Give it a try if you’re curious, and if it pains you to sit still try walking meditation instead.
13. Cut back on caffeine
Sorry, I’m not holding back the big guns here. Your coffee might very well feel like the only thing pulling you through some days. And, sure, it’s giving you a lift thanks to the caffeine content, but that also comes with a crash — and has long-term repercussions. In the short term, that extra cup of coffee can make your anxiety worse due to the jitteriness and surge in cortisol.
Over time, those constant cortisol spikes can take its toll on your health. Chronic stress caused by elevated cortisol levels can lead to cognitive difficulties, fatigue, loss of emotional control and, yes, anxiety. And if the direct increase of your anxiety wasn’t enough, those other symptoms will make it even worse. After all, nothing will make you worry more about your job performance than, well, impaired job performance. You probably don’t have to cut it out completely, but go easy on the joe.
14. Spend time with friends, even when you don’t want to
Anxiety can make you want to retreat to your apartment where there are cozy blankets and PJs and seasons of Friends to rewatch — and stay there, maybe forever. And, sure, some days you should absolutely say no to social plans and give yourself some time to rest. But if you’re retreating due to anxiety, it might be the time to push yourself to keep that happy hour date. You are not alone with your worries, but anxiety can feel isolating. Sharing it with your friends will lighten the load, and they might be able to logic you out of your concerns (see #5) even when you can’t.
15. Create a budget and stick to it
Nothing looms over your head like financial worries. You deserve to feel secure both right now and in the future. A huge part of that is knowing that even if something disastrous happens and you lose your job, you’ll have enough money in savings to see it through. Even though you can’t make a savings account appear overnight, taking action towards these goals is usually enough to reduce your anxiety about them.
One easy way to tackle financial worries is through Personal Capital, which lets you track all of your accounts and your net worth in one place. And if you aren’t in love with your bank, consider the app that helped me save more money. It lets you not only earn 2% APR on your savings account but also set up goals. That means you can save to pay down student loans or credit card debt at the same time that you save for a big event or holiday presents.
16. Prep the night before
If you’re trying to worry less, the last thing you want to do is feel rushed in the morning. Try to keep your mornings as calm as possible. Maybe you take 5 minutes to yourself to meditate when you get out of bed. But the biggest thing you can do to ease the morning routine is to prep what you can the night before. If you meal prep to make sure you’re eating healthy, cook those meals on Sunday night or the night before as you’re cooking dinner. Throw your gym clothes in your bag and double check you have everything if you want to work out more consistently. It’s understandable if you’re tired in the evening and just want to unwind, but the 10 minutes it takes to set yourself up for success will pay huge dividends in the morning.
17. Actively seek out solutions
When it comes to how to reduce anxiety, not all tactics will work for everyone. Some things will work wonders that you never thought of, but you need to seek out sources of these tips. Therapists can be a great resource for this, but don’t underestimate the humble self-help book. There are some brilliant books about conquering these worries out there if you give the section of your local bookstore (or Amazon) a chance. We’re working on a list of our favorite books for anxiety, so keep checking back for that.
18. Cuddle up with a furry friend
Fido might feel like a responsibility first and foremost, and he is, but he’s also a fantastic buffer for your anxiety symptoms. Pets alleviate anxiety and stress, and the effect isn’t subtle. A significant 74% of pet owners reported feeling that their mental health improved thanks to pet ownership in a survey. Your pet probably knows you’re upset, so invite them up on the couch. There are very few better partners for watching West Wing through for the fifth time.
19. Study the Stoics
Don’t scroll to the next one yet. Give it a chance. Although it’s largely fallen out of favor, Stoicism has done wonders for helping me manage my anxiety. The philosophy taught that a wise person will be indifferent to the vicissitudes or fluctuations of fortune. Although the old Stoics were as lukewarm on pleasure as pain, the takeaway is consistency. You can think of it as cultivating an inner peace that cannot be touched by the ups and downs of daily life. Stoics focus on what they can control and let go of things they cannot (like worrying about things that haven’t even happened yet).