Living with anxiety is part of the human experience—everyone will experience it at various times in life.
In fact, nearly 20% of the US population suffers from an anxiety disorder every single year, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
This figure is even higher for young adults—a 2022 survey from the American College Health Association found that 34% of American college students experienced overwhelming anxiety.
Anxiety may be an unavoidable part of life, but it doesn’t have to be debilitating and prevent you from achieving happiness and success.
This article covers tips for taming anxiety and will help you develop coping skills to manage your stress levels and feel more calm, content, and motivated.
The different types of anxiety
Anxiety is an umbrella term for a wide range of emotions that all center around a feeling of worry, unease, or even panic. People experience different levels of anxiety depending on what’s happening in life, their personalities, and their coping mechanisms.
However, for some people, anxiety can start to interfere with everyday life. And if anxiety lasts for a long time, it can cause people to develop more mental health challenges, like depression and isolation.
There is an important distinction between situational anxiety and general anxiety disorders.
Situational anxiety is when you feel anxious and worried about something that’s currently happening in your life. This form of anxiety can stem from any major life changes, positive or negative. Starting a new job, beginning or ending a relationship, or issues with your physical health are all examples of situations that might cause situational anxiety.
General anxiety, on the other hand, isn’t always tied to one specific or temporary circumstance. Anxiety of this type may stem from an issue that is ongoing and unlikely to resolve any time soon, or it may stem from issues you aren’t aware of—perhaps even from situations that may never happen.
With general anxiety, you may be preoccupied with anxious thoughts about getting along with co-workers at a new job before you’ve even applied for a new job. Or you might just feel a ball of anxiousness in your stomach every day, but for no exact reason you can pinpoint.
You can use the tips in this article to manage both types of anxiety, but you may find that situational anxiety clears up on its own. For example, intense anxiety about losing a loved one may resolve once the loved one has passed and you’ve had time to grieve.
That being said, situational anxiety can still cause a lot of unnecessary stress, so learning how to manage your feelings when times are tough is still valuable.
General anxiety is unlikely to go away on its own; you’ll need to develop coping methods to help alleviate your worry and stress.
What does living with anxiety look like?
Everyone experiences anxiety differently, though there are some overarching feelings that can indicate whether you’re living with intense anxiety right now.
You are frequently lost in worrying, anxious thoughts
It’s natural for our minds to worry from time to time. But if you find that you’re frequently getting lost in your anxious thoughts, you may be suffering from more anxiety than normal.
To determine if you’re living with a high level of anxiety, ask yourself:
- Do my anxious thoughts keep me up at night?
- Do I frequently lose focus at work or school because I’m worrying?
- Do I often find myself playing out anxiety-inducing scenarios in my head?
If you answered yes to any of those questions, then you’ll likely benefit from the list of coping mechanisms for anxiety in this article.
You miss out on social engagements or personal goals
Anxiety can keep you from fully engaging with people in your life. This is particularly true if you suffer from relationship anxiety—the type of anxiety that crops up when you’re interacting with others in a social setting.
You may find yourself ghosting friends who want to meet up, or maybe when you’re in a social situation, you clam up, feel shy, or can’t wait to leave.
Being an introvert or enjoying alone time is not the same as having anxiety. The difference is that social anxiety makes it impossible to enjoy social engagements that would otherwise be enriching and positive.
You can feel your anxiety in other parts of your body
Anxiety isn’t something that happens solely in the mind—it can cause a number of physical symptoms as well:
- Shortness of breath
- A tightness in the chest
- Feeling wound-up or on edge
- Headaches or stomach aches
Sometimes, your body may be better at identifying anxiety than your brain is. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, speak with a medical professional. They’ll help you determine whether these are symptoms of anxiety and can provide further guidance on helping you address and alleviate the issue.
Tips for taming anxiety
Now that we know what anxiety feels like, how can you make it less intrusive in your life? Here are a few of the best coping mechanisms for anxiety.
1. Talk to a professional about your feelings
The best thing you can do when living with anxiety is talk to someone who can help. Medical professionals, including general practitioners and mental health counselors, can help you find the right methods for treating your anxiety in a meaningful way.
Depending on your situation, you may be able to find a professional to speak with through your school or your health insurance. You can also use community resources to find affordable counseling services.
Everyday Health also has an excellent list of resources for people coping with anxiety.
If you don’t have access to a professional now, it’s still a good idea to have a conversation with someone you know and trust. Friends and family can help you alleviate anxiety by listening to your challenges and giving you a different perspective on the situation.
2. Use mindfulness to investigate the source of your anxiety
Often, the best way to treat anxiety is to explore what’s causing it in the first place. This is particularly useful if you’re living with general anxiety and can’t figure out what’s making you feel so anxious.
But a word of warning: You must be in the right mindset before you try investigating the cause of your anxiety. You need to prepare yourself emotionally and mentally to think objectively about your situation without making your worry worse.
You can start by practicing mindfulness—it may sound like a buzzword, but it’s truly one of the most effective methods of treating anxiety.
Find a moment when you can sit somewhere comfortable and quiet for at least five minutes. You may want to put on some soothing music or simply keep the space you’re in still and calm.
Breathe in deeply through your nose and out through your mouth, and if it helps you focus, close your eyes.
Your mind will naturally begin to wander, but that’s ok. When you notice that you’ve begun thinking about other things, pause and refocus on your breathing. Reflect on why your attention was pulled away—there’s a good chance that whatever distracted you is one of the catalysts of your anxiety.
As you do this, you’ll likely gain some perspective on the true sources of your anxiety.
Mindfulness isn’t something that can be done in one session—it’s a habit you develop with time and practice. There are plenty of apps and resources to help you practice mindfulness. You can start with a few of these self-care articles:
3. Avoid food and other substances that cause anxiety
It’s not likely that anything you’re eating or drinking is the sole cause of your anxiety—but there are definitely foods, drinks, and other *ahem* substances that can exaggerate your feelings of anxiety.
Both caffeine and alcohol are known to cause some people to feel increased anxiety. Cutting back on both of these could cause your anxiety to decrease to a point where you feel much more comfortable.
Despite the stereotypes that many people have of weed smokers, often smoking or ingesting marijuana can cause your anxiety levels to go up. Taking a break from it could clear up some of the symptoms you’re experiencing.
Smoking cigarettes can also have adverse effects on your anxiety levels—that’s just one of the many health benefits you can experience by decreasing or quitting nicotine altogether.
4. Design a better sleep routine
Sleep and anxiety can often cause a vicious cycle. Your anxious thoughts may make it difficult to fall asleep or cause you to wake up frequently at night. As a result, you’ll feel more exhausted, which can cause your anxiety levels to go up—leading to more missed sleep.
To break this style, you can build a nighttime routine to help you get better sleep.
Start by planning what time you need to begin winding down in order to get a full night’s sleep. Give yourself at least an hour before you want to be asleep to start your nighttime routine.
Use this time to try and calm your mind and body. This may mean taking a hot bath or shower, listening to music, or watching a relaxing TV show before you get into bed.
When you’re in bed, keep your phone somewhere else—looking at the bright light of your phone can be disruptive to sleep, and scrolling through social media before bed can cause your anxiety levels to rise.
Instead, you may want to try reading a book, doing some gentle wind-down stretching, or practicing mindfulness (see the first tip for taming anxiety).
Don’t worry too much if you still struggle with sleep after doing this one or two times. Keep with it—eventually, your routine will help your body and mind start preparing to sleep, and you’ll be getting more rest.
5. Keep an anxiety-busting journal
Anxiety can show up when we least expect it, making it harder to anticipate and deal with. If this sounds familiar, this exercise for taming anxiety might be a big help.
All you need is a small notebook and a pen that you can keep handy—ideally something you can toss in a bag or pocket when you are out and about for the day.
Throughout the day, take notes on when you are feeling anxiety. You can do this at the end of each day as part of your evening ritual, or you may find that taking out your journal while in the midst of your anxiety can help you relax.
Write down what was happening when anxiety showed up. For each entry, answer these questions:
- What were you doing?
- Who were you with?
- Where were you?
- What thoughts were in your head?
- How did your body feel?
Over time, you’ll begin to notice patterns—places, people, or events that trigger your anxiety. Once you know that, you can either change your circumstances to avoid anxiety-inducing situations or use mindfulness to prepare yourself for the unavoidable moments that cause stress.
6. Try out a new form of exercise
Nearly every list of coping skills for anxiety mentions exercise—and for good reason. Moving your body helps regulate stress and can make all of the other methods on this list more effective.
If you’re already working out regularly, you may be able to get more of the stress-busting benefits of exercise by changing up your routine. If you frequent the gym to lift weights, try going for a jog or doing yoga.
Consider enrolling in a fitness class at your gym to learn new ways to exercise or use YouTube to find some fresh at-home routines. If you enjoy working out in a social way, invite a friend or two to try this new activity with you.
The idea is to break up the monotony of your exercise to find something that stimulates and relaxes you in new ways. This may be better at taming your anxiety rather than doing the same workout routine over and over.
Anxiety can be a beast, but it’s not untamable
Learning to cope with anxiety is a valuable skill, but it takes time. No single method on this list will be an instant cure—but trying them out will steer you in the right direction to deal with your anxiety.
Remember that there’s nothing wrong with feeling anxiety. It’s a universal human experience. Be proud that you’re taking action to mitigate the issue. You’re already on the path to a calmer, happier life.