Anxiety is extremely common, as are anxious periods. The question is the severity of the anxiety (i.e., how disruptive it is to your daily life), whether you feel it all the time, and how long it’s been going on.
Recognizing the subtle nuances between everyday worry and clinical anxiety is crucial. Seeking guidance from a mental health professional or consulting with a doctor becomes imperative when anxiety dominates one’s daily existence.
When does anxiety become an anxiety disorder?
If you feel anxious most of the time without a specific reason and the feeling lasts for several months, you may have an anxiety disorder. If this sounds like it may be true for you, consider seeing a mental health professional or speaking to your doctor.
The first step in managing anxiety is recognizing it (making sure it’s anxiety and not worry) — identifying the feeling of dread and the worse-case-scenario thinking.
Once you’ve identified you’re dealing with anxiety, here’s what you can do to manage it.
How to Manage Anxiety On Your Own
1. Label it.
Remind yourself that what you’re feeling is anxiety and therefore, the negative outcomes that feel looming and inevitable are unlikely and not immediate.
Each time you feel anxious, tell yourself, “This is anxiety and therefore I have to question what my mind is telling me.”
Remind yourself that the likelihood of the worst-case scenario is very small. Many things need to go wrong before it occurs, each of which is also less likely than anxiety is making you believe it to be.
3. Slow your breathing.
Anxiety causes us to breathe in shallow and rapid ways which makes us feel even more anxious.
Place one hand on your chest and another on your belly and breathe in slowly to the count of four (four seconds — use a clock to count), hold your breath for two seconds, exhale to the count of four, and hold again for two seconds. Make sure to fill and empty your lungs and for your belly to extend on inhales so you’re not breathing from your chest.
Do this for three minutes at least.
4. Problem solve.
Is there anything you can/should do to address the immediate issue directly? For example, if you’re anxious about a presentation at work going badly — can you work on it further or practice more?
5. Distract yourself.
Check your breathing to make sure it’s slowed and repeat the breathing exercise if not. Then try to resume what you were doing or to distract yourself away from the issue that’s making you anxious by doing something that requires concentration.
Over time, train yourself to label anxious thoughts with an inner tone, like you’re catching someone trying to trick you — which is what anxiety does — so that it’s easier to dismiss them.
Guy Winch is a distinguished psychologist and acclaimed author. His work has been featured in The New York Times and Psychology Today.
This article was originally published at Guy Winch’s Newsletter. Reprinted with permission from the author.