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Feeling Anxious? Add These 5 Tactics to Your Toolkit

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Susan Ko, Ph.D.
February 09, 2024

Maybe you’re nervous when you’re tasked with presenting at a meeting, or you tense up even thinking about socializing at a party with new people. Maybe you can’t sleep the night before a dentist’s appointment. Whatever it is, having anxieties like these at some point or another may be an expected part of life.

Given that, building a toolkit of ways to cope can be helpful for just about anyone in handling situations that bring up anxious feelings. Indeed, there are some everyday strategies people can use to manage anxious feelings that crop up from time to time, according to Roseann Capanna-Hodge, Ed.D., a licensed professional counselor who specializes in holistic and integrative mental health approaches, based in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Actively using these tools can be important. “Not only must someone have a toolkit full of science-backed ways to mitigate the effects of stress on the brain and body, but they must also actually use these tools daily and in times of high stress,” Capanna-Hodge says. “Stress is a part of our daily life, so we need to use our stress-buster tools to keep anxiety at bay.”

Finding ways to reduce anxious feelings that work for you can be a trial-and-error process, says Samantha Gambino, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist in New York City. Here are a few science-backed tactics for coping with anxious feelings that experts suggest are worth exploring.

Heading Outdoors

Spending time in nature may come with psychological benefits, such as relieving feelings of stress and anxiety and boosting happiness, well‑being, and overall mood, according to the American Psychological Association. “Connecting with nature helps you connect the mind, body, and spirit, as well as ground you when you feel anxious or unsettled,” says Capanna-Hodge. “Slowing down and breathing in the outdoor air can have a powerful calming effect on the busy mind.”

You can benefit from the outdoors during any season, says Devon J. Estes, a licensed professional counselor based in Dallas. Observe colors on the trees. Let your feet touch the grass. Feel the wind on your face. “The goal is to bring in your five senses. Bring in hearing, smell, taste, sound, and touch to relax and soothe the body,” Estes says.

Journaling

When feeling anxious, many people tend to ruminate, or cycle through repeating thoughts, Estes says. She notes that you can help process a situation—and stop unhelpful thought patterns—by putting some language to your worries in a journal.

By recognizing your thought patterns, you may be able to interrupt or challenge your feelings. “Many times, anxiety causes people’s thoughts to be irrational—although they never feel that way,” Gambino says. “The mere act of putting your thoughts down on paper allows for some distance and perspective-taking. It also enables the person to review those thoughts and feelings when their mind is more stable.”

Some studies also suggest that expressive writing, like journaling, may improve mental as well as physical well‑being. A 2018 study found that, compared to people who didn’t journal, people who journaled about their emotions for 15 minutes three days per week for 12 weeks were more likely to show improved wellness and fewer symptoms of anxiety.

“Whether using a journal to organize and process thoughts or to express gratitude, writing is a wonderful way to move through bothersome and unresolved thoughts,” Capanna-Hodge says.

Breaking a Sweat

Regular exercise releases brain chemicals called endorphins. “Endorphins give you that exhilarated ‘I can tackle the world’ feeling after you exercise,” Gambino says. Exercising regularly can give you a healthy coping outlet for your feelings of anxiety while also helping you gain confidence, according to the Mayo Clinic—which may help reduce anxious thoughts in the long term.

To reap the most benefit in reducing feelings of anxiety, aim for 30 minutes or more of exercise a day for three to five days a week. If you can’t make that happen, even 10 to 15 minutes of exercise—especially more vigorous exercise like biking or running—may help change how you’re feeling.

When you’re done exercising, your mind is likely to be sharper and more alert, says Gambino. “Thinking clearly is important, because anxiety has a way of creating anxious, racing, and irrational thoughts that are powerful and difficult to control,” she says.

Spending Time with Animals

Science is behind the idea that animals and pets can offer support and comfort in times of need. Here’s the connection: Anxious episodes may be associated with higher levels of stress hormones (like cortisol) and higher blood pressure. And interacting with animals has been found to lower stress hormone levels and decrease blood pressure for some people.

You don’t need to have an animal of your own to experience the health benefits. Even short-term interactions with animals—like petting your neighbor's dog, for example—may help lower cortisol levels and decrease feelings of anxiety, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.

“Animals can offer emotional support with the unconditional love, physical attention, increased social interactions, and engagement they offer,” Capanna-Hodge says.

Practicing Meditation, Even Briefly

Meditation can help calm feelings of anxiety. Practice it daily or when you notice that anxious feelings are coming on. Through meditation, you may be able to learn how to calm your anxious thoughts so they don’t get in the way of your life.

“It can be intimidating,” says Estes about meditation. Even if you have one minute, though, you can meditate, she says.

Try this: Before starting a new activity, pause. Take notice of your body and the smells around you to help clear your mind. Try repeating an inspirational phrase to help ground you. The goal is not necessarily to stay focused, says Estes, continuing, “It’s to bring the mind back to a place where you can control your emotions.”

You can also try a guided meditation. Whether it’s your first time or you’re a seasoned pro, guided meditations can make meditation easy.

Although it can take some practice, meditation can be worth the time and effort. “When a person feels physically anxious and mentally spent, the idea of slowing down to meditate may feel like a chore,” Capanna-Hodge says. “But research shows that it increases calm, focused brain waves that alleviate stress and increase focus. The point of meditation is to calm your breath and your busy mind.”

Consider giving these techniques a try when you’re feeling stressed or anxious. If you’re finding it difficult to manage your feelings of anxiety despite these efforts, consider also meeting with a mental health professional, who can help you learn other skills and strategies for coping.

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