How to Manage Anxiety, According to an Expert

Anxiety is now the #1 most common mental health issue in the US. Here's expert advice on how to manage your worry, fear and frustration.

Stress, emptiness, lack of focus, anger, helplessness, despair: “Anxiety” is the dumpster fire mental health diagnosis that combines all kinds of difficult emotions into one big pile and watches them blaze. The good news is that you might feel increasingly comforted by the fact that many people you know are probably suffering from anxiety.

In fact, in the past few years, anxiety has overtaken depression to be the most common mental illness in the US. Sadly, this is true not just for adults but children as well, with one in five people suffering from an anxiety disorder, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). With so many Americans feeling the pressure, it’s important to know how to manage anxiety.

“This is a big issue because anxiety affects every aspect of your life,” says Ken Yeager, PhD, a clinical psychologist who leads the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center’s Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program and is an associate professor in their College of Medicine. “Anxiety increases stress, which then brings on physical symptoms—like chest tightness—and increased mental symptoms. These reinforce to your mind that something is indeed wrong, turning anxiety into a vicious cycle,” Dr. Yeager explains.

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Different types of anxiety

Anxiety exists on a spectrum that ranges from mild worry to high-functioning anxiety to completely debilitating, and there are many different kinds under the the anxiety umbrella, Dr. Yeager says. The most common types of anxiety disorders are: Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, post traumatic stress disorder and phobias.

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How to manage anxiety

While you can’t totally eliminate anxiety—it’s a normal human emotion and does serve a useful purpose in small doses, Dr. Yeager notes—thankfully there are things you can do to manage your anxiety and reduce the negative effects on your body, mind, and life.

“This isn’t something you just have to live with. You can learn to manage it and feel better,” he says.

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1. See a therapist

Dr. Yeager’s first tip is to talk to a trained professional. Even if you’re not looking for a “diagnosis,” they can help you put your anxiety into perspective and they have resources to help you deal. “Too many people get caught up with thoughts like ‘everyone worries’ and ‘it’s not that big a deal’ and ‘I should be able to deal with this myself,’ but that just increases the stress cycle,” he says.

2. Look for natural solutions to manage anxiety

Do some self-care with these natural home remedies for anxiety, including tea, supplements, essential oils, baths and other calming solutions.

3. Repeat a mantra

A lot of anxiety comes from getting trapped in thought loops about your worries. Dr. Yeager says you can use some mental tricks to help break those patterns. It can be as simple as repeating a mantra every time you find yourself ruminating, like these phrases that calm anxiety.

4. Watch what you eat and drink

Consumption of highly processed foods, including those high in sugar and fat, have been linked with increased anxiety. Avoiding foods that cause anxiety while eating more healthy mood-boosting foods can help you stay calm and positive.

You may also consider eliminating or lessening your caffeine consumption.

5. Follow the 3-3-3 rule to manage anxiety

If you find yourself on the verge of a panic attack, the 3-3-3 rule is one of the most effective ways to ground yourself in the here and now. Look around you and identify three objects you can see, hear, and touch. Or try one of these 5-second strategies to stop anxiety immediately.

6. Get enough sleep

Getting seven to eight hours a night of high-quality sleep is key for good mental health, but that can be easier said than done—especially as anxiety seems to worsen at night. Set yourself up for sleep success by practicing good sleep hygiene.

7. Surround yourself with loved ones

Having a strong social circle of support is one of the best things you can do to reduce anxiety and depression. At the same time, it may help to limit your time with people who trigger your anxiety, either by worrying a lot themselves or saying things that you should never say to people with anxiety.

8. Consider medication

If your anxiety is impacting your ability to live your life, you may want to consider taking anxiety medications to help you manage your symptoms. This can give you some breathing room while you work on learning new coping skills and management techniques.

9. Remember that anxiety serves a purpose

There are a lot of negative connotations with it, but Dr. Yeager says anxiety can serve a purpose in helping us maintain safety and to recognize possible threats.

He adds that feeling ashamed, embarrassed, or frustrated can make symptoms of anxiety worse and can cause you to spiral. It sounds strange, but remember that your anxiety isn’t bad and doesn’t make you broken. If you manage it gently, anxiety can sometimes help put your worries into perspective.

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Sources

Ken Yeager, PhD, a psychologist who leads Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center's Stress, Trauma, and Resilience Program and is an associate professor in their College of Medicine.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, MS, is an award-winning journalist, author, and ghostwriter who for nearly two decades has covered health, fitness, parenting, relationships, and other wellness and lifestyle topics for major outlets, including Reader’s Digest, O, The Oprah Magazine, Women’s Health, and many more. Charlotte has made appearances with television news outlets such as CBS, NBC, and FOX. She is a certified group fitness instructor in Denver, where she lives with her husband and their five children.