Getting nervous about an important event or a life change is normal. However, about 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder, which is more than just an occasional worry. Anxiety disorders can occur in many forms, including generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) — intense worrying you can’t control, and panic disorder — sudden episodes of fear accompanied by heart palpitations and trembling. Here you’ll know how to calm anxiety.
Several strategies can help manage or calm anxiety in the long term, such as talk therapy or medication, that can be helpful for those with anxiety disorders. However, everyone can make other lifestyle changes to reduce stress and calm anxiety, such as exercising regularly, eating a well-balanced diet, and limiting alcohol and caffeine.
You can also take steps to calm anxiety at the onset. You can relax your mind and regain control of your thoughts by trying these 10 expert-backed tips.
Related: Most Effective Anxiety Breathing Exercise
1. Stay in your time zone
Anxiety is a feeling of dread about the future. In order to cope with anxiety, Tamar Chansky, Ph.D., psychologist, and author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety, suggests focusing on the present. Ask yourself: What’s going on at the moment? Is it safe? Should I do something now? You might wish to schedule yourself an appointment later that day to revisit your worries so those far-off scenarios don’t derail your plans.
2. Relabel what’s happening
When you are experiencing a panic attack, it feels as if you are dying. The panic attack is harmless, temporary, and there is nothing you should do about it, Chansky says. You should also understand that this is the opposite of a sign of impending death — your body is activating its fight-or-flight response, a mechanism that keeps you alive, she says.
3. Fact-check your thoughts
When people have anxiety, Chansky says, they often focus on the worst-case scenario. Consider how realistic your worries are in order to overcome them. Think about how nervous you are about a presentation at work. Say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared” instead of “I’m sure to bomb.” She suggests that some things might work out and some might not. In order to learn how to handle your anxious thoughts rationally, you must practice rethinking your fears to get into a habit of doing so.
Related: How to Overcome Fear
4. Take a deep breath in and out
Calm yourself by deep breathing. Chansky says you don’t need to count breaths when performing specific breathing exercises. Simply focus on evenly exhaling and inhaling. It will help you refocus, she says.
5. Follow the 3-3-3 rule
Observe your surroundings and list three things you see. After that, name three sounds that you hear. And finally, move three body parts — your ankle, finger, and arm. When your brain seems to be running 100 miles per hour, Chansky suggests using this mental trick to center yourself, bringing you back to the present moment.
6. Just do something
Get up, walk around, take out the trash — any action that breaks up your train of thought will help you regain a sense of control, Chansky suggests.
7. Stand up straight
Chansky says that when we are anxious, we hunch over to protect our upper body, where our heart and lungs are located. You can immediately counteract this natural reaction by pulling your shoulders back, standing or sitting with your feet apart, and moving your chest. Your body will start to feel more in control when you do this, she explains.
Read: How to Stop a Panic Attack
8. Avoid sugar
Stress may make it tempting to reach for something sweet, but too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. That chocolate bar can do more harm than good. Drink water instead of candy and eat protein to give your body the slow energy it needs to recover.
9. Ask for a second opinion
If you’re having problems, Chansky suggests you discuss them with a friend or family member. You might find it helpful to speak your fears to someone else so you can see them clearly for what they are. You might also find it helpful to write your fears down.
Read: How To Get Over a Phobia
10. Watch a funny video
Finally, this could be the easiest tactic: Play clips of your favorite comedians or shows. Chansky says that laughter can help calm an anxious mind. Laughter is known to be beneficial for the mental health and well-being of our bodies; one study concluded that humor lowers anxiety just as effectively (or even more effectively) than exercise.