Idaho, Iowa, Des Moines
March 30, 2024

Feeling Spiraly? 7 Science-Backed Ways to Help Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental health concerns worldwide. At least 19% of US adults struggle with an anxiety disorder, and a third of American adults reported anxiety or depression symptoms in the last year. It can be debilitating to live with, and has far-reaching impacts in everyday life.

As an anxiety therapist and coach, I work with adults who want to learn how to ease anxiety in their lives. Managing anxiety takes a lot of learning new skills and unlearning old patterns. However, with the right knowledge and support, changing your relationship to fear and worry is possible. 

How to Deal with Anxiety 

I’ll be the first to tell you that there are no quick fixes or hacks that will banish anxiety from your life. You probably already know that the way we live as a culture increases anxiety disorders – especially for women. So how do you deal with anxiety?

While it’s never easy, there are ways to help anxiety that you can implement in everyday life. Here are seven well-researched ways to give you some relief.

  1. Accept that it exists

When you struggle with anxiety, so much of the struggle comes from trying to fight its existence. While it may sound counterintuitive, sometimes the best way to help anxiety is by fully accepting its presence in your life. You can accept it simply by noting where it is in your body with nonjudgment and self-compassion. Or you can talk to it like you would your pet or a small child. It can help to imagine your anxiety as a small but mighty creature who’s doing its best to protect you. Picturing it this way can allow for more compassion and softness toward yourself and the anxiety rather than frustration or anger. 

Next time you feel anxiety coming on, try this: close your eyes and put your hand on your heart. Take a few slow, deep breaths. Then, say hello to your anxiety. Acknowledge that it’s there and welcome it. You can say something like, “I see you, and it’s okay that you’re here. I know you’re just trying to protect me from danger.”

Pay attention to where you feel tension or strain in your body. Is it in your shoulders? Your jaw? Your hips? Gently pay attention to those areas and try to give yourself some compassion. Notice how this feels. It’s okay if it’s awkward at first. Keep practicing, and it will get easier with time. 

  1. Change your habits and patterns

Anxiety at its core is all about fear. It often comes up most when we feel out of control, when situations are unfamiliar, or when old wounds or stressors arise. Many of the coping mechanisms we engage in to attempt to soothe our anxiety helped us cope when we were younger, but actually make our anxiety worse now. These include:

Working with a trained therapist or coach is the best way to recognize and change old, unhelpful patterns that are keeping you stuck in cycles of anxiety.

  1. Bring logic back online

When you’re anxious, there’s little room for logic in your brain. To bring some of that back online, try the worst-case scenario exercise. Write out the thing you’re worried about, and then underneath it list out each worst-case scenario result until it comes to a natural end. Sometimes it ends up light and silly, and other times it ends in something dramatic and extremely unlikely, like you drop dead of anxiety. (Again: this isn’t going to happen!) Usually this exercise helps you see your situation for what it is, which is something you can handle, even if it won’t be pleasant. 

Example:

If I go to this party, I’ll make a fool of myself. 

If I make a fool of myself at the party, I’ll never get invited to anything ever again. 

If I’m never invited to anything again, I’ll lose all my friends and become a hermit.

If I become a hermit, everyone will forget I exist and I’ll die alone and sad. 

While this example might seem scary at face value, it’s also pretty clear that going to a single party is probably not going to result in you dying sad and alone. This exercise can bring levity to an otherwise scary situation and remind you that the worst-case scenarios are not only unlikely to happen, but that you can handle the more realistic outcomes. 

how to deal with anxiety
  1. Medication

If your baseline is distress, that means you’re spending most of your time in survival mode. It’s really difficult to turn off the anxiety when you’re in survival mode, because everything feels more dangerous. Medication can help ease your anxiety enough to implement healthy coping mechanisms, rest, and positive changes in your life. Medication can be incredibly helpful for many people. However, medication isn’t a panacea for your problems, and may not work for everyone. I’ve written before about the pros and cons of taking ADHD medication, and it’s applicable when it comes to anxiety meds as well. Side effects can be brutal, and the tradeoffs may or may not be worth it. 

If you’re interested in taking this route, speak with your doctor about some good options for you. Make sure to ask them what the side effects are for each – while these vary widely from person to person, it’s worth knowing the potential risks ahead of time. For example, many anti-anxiety and antidepressant meds curb libido or can cause flat emotional affect. Keep in mind that you don’t have to put up with awful side effects, and you may need to try several medications before you find one that works for you.

  1. Exposure therapy

Exposure therapy is very simple in theory: you expose yourself to things you’re afraid of, and your fear diminishes over time. It works particularly well for phobias and specific fears you have, such as social anxiety or a fear of flying. This doesn’t mean that if you’re terrified of flying you should go hop on a plane and hope for the best. This type of intense exposure can actually worsen your anxiety if the experience doesn’t go well (say one leg of your trip gets canceled, or you have terrible turbulence).

However, when you expose yourself to your fears in small increments, your brain will begin to learn that these things are actually safe over time. Using the fear of flying example, you might start by Googling photos of people on planes, or imagining yourself at an airport about to board a flight. Picture yourself in these scenarios and use some deep breathing or other somatic exercises to help you feel calm, safe, and comfortable. Work your way up to a very short flight eventually, and then longer trips. Depending on the severity of your fears, it may be helpful to work with a trained therapist to help you through safe and effective levels of exposure.

  1. Lifestyle changes

Lifestyle changes, such as changing your diet, sleep, or exercise routine, can be helpful in reducing anxiety. Additionally, consider implementing nervous system exercises such as deep, slow breathing or self-compassion practices if you don’t already do this. However, an important side note: all the exercise and wellness in the world can’t make anxiety go away. We are taught that it’s our fault if we have anxiety. If we have anxiety, we must be doing something wrong. We must just need more water or more salads or more steps. 

This is an oversimplified and harmful view of anxiety, and it overstates our individual control over things we don’t have control over. Someone can be an ultramarathoner with the most pristine diet on the planet and still have a shit ton of anxiety. (In fact, exercising too much or having strict or restrictive diets can make women even more anxious!) 

So while yoga isn’t going to magically make your anxiety go away, it is of course important to cover your bases. Make sure you’re implementing healthy habits and behaviors, such as getting enough sleep and exercise and sunshine.

  1. Cognitive behavioral therapy

Cognitive behavioral therapy helps you understand yourself and your thoughts in a more helpful way. During CBT, you learn how to:

  • Acknowledge your thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral patterns
  • Recognize when your thoughts aren’t accurate
  • Change those thoughts, beliefs, and behavioral patterns to be more accurate, helpful, and sustainable

Anxiety is all about fear thoughts becoming spiraly and out of control. Therefore, learning how to recognize and work with your thoughts is particularly useful when it comes to helping anxiety. 

Want Help Figuring Out How to Deal With Anxiety?

If you want support learning how to deal with anxiety, I’m here to help. 

Together, we can change anxious thoughts, find self-compassion in the midst of everyday anxiety, face your fears, and implement healthy stress management techniques. 

Learn more about my therapy services (including EMDR and talk therapy) if you’re located in Idaho or Iowa. For all other locations, check out my coaching services. My coaching program offers all the same expertise, tools, and guidance as therapy in a more direct and goal-oriented approach that you can benefit from anywhere. 

Reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation and see if we’re a good fit. Let’s start building a better future together. 

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist and perfectionism coach. She specializes in helping busy millennials dial down their anxiety and ADHD, so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

April 13, 2024

How ADHD Can Worsen Your Mental Health Woes (And What to Do About It)

April 6, 2024

Understanding ADHD vs Anxiety: How to Tell the Difference

March 30, 2024

Feeling Spiraly? 7 Science-Backed Ways to Help Anxiety

Helping millennial professionals dial down anxiety and stress, so they can perform at their best.