How to relax when living with anxiety

November 29, 2021

Mental Health Wellness Primary Care
Mid adult woman in isolation looking sad

If you have anxiety, you know it can be difficult to put your worries away and make time for self-care. But, carving out relaxation time – for both mind and body – is an essential part of maintaining positive mental health. 

“To counter the hectic pace of day-to-day life demands, everyone should set aside some time for downtime and relaxation, but that’s especially true for people with anxiety,” says Ed Dwyer, LPC, Director of Clinical Services at Riverside Behavioral Health Center.

Tips for relaxing when anxiety strikes

When you’re feeling especially anxious or feel you might be in the midst of a panic attack – often marked by shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, trembling and sweating – try these techniques to relax:

  1. Breathe deeply

    Focus on taking slow, deep, full breaths. Pay attention to the rhythmic in-and-out of air as you inhale and exhale. If it helps, try counting to four as you breathe in deeply. Then hold your breath for a count of four. Next, exhale as you count to four. Finally, count to four and begin the pattern again. Known variously as “box breathing,” “4x4 breathing,” or “square breathing,” the technique can help combat feelings of anxiety. Research has shown box breathing to be effective at lowering both blood pressure and cortisol levels – the stress hormone – in your body.

  2. Get grounded

    To combat a wave of anxiety – and the worried, panicky feelings it can bring – try to focus on your body in the present moment. Honing in on your senses in a process called “grounding.” One popular anxiety management strategy is called the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. To do it, identify 5 things you can see nearby, 4 things you can touch, 3 items you can hear, 2 scents you can smell, and 1 flavor you can taste. Focusing on your senses and immediate surroundings can help redirect your mind away from anxious thoughts. 

  3. Talk to someone 

    If your anxiety feels overwhelming, reach out to a trusted family member, friend, counselor or mental health provider. Talking through your worries may help you navigate them. After all, having someone who cares about you – and who is able to listen and offer help – could enable you to find a new perspective on how best to tackle the root cause of your worry or fears. 

Relaxation strategies to help keep anxiety at bay 

To manage your anxiety over the long term, work to identify a range of self-care strategies that help you relax and unwind. Make time for daily activities or hobbies that you enjoy, which allow you to step away from constant feelings of stress or worry. 

Pick options that feel like a fun reward or gift to yourself. Research has shown that engaging in fun, meaningful leisure activities can effectively reduce stress and improve overall mental well-being. 

Here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Take a relaxing bath
  • Go for a walk in your neighborhood or nearby city park
  • Listen to your favorite music 
  • Bake or cook a meal or dessert you enjoy
  • Visit with friends
  • Engage in a craft or hobby like painting, photography, knitting or scrapbooking
  • Create and tend to a small patio or backyard garden
  • Dance in your living room
  • Do yoga or meditate 
  • Exercise
  • Journal about your feelings 
  • Volunteer to help others or in support of a cause you care about

If you feel you may be suffering from an anxiety disorder, know you’re not alone. The Anxiety & Depression Association of America estimates that 40 million Americans over 18 suffer from anxiety – 18.1% of the U.S. population. 

The good news is that anxiety is a highly treatable mental health condition. 

“If you find yourself suffering from long-term, repeated episodes of anxiety, don’t put off talking to your doctor,” says Ed. “We work with patients to develop a customized plan of care, which can include counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy and, if needed, medication. Our goal is to get patients back to enjoying life – without excessive worry.”

Need to find a provider? You can search for a specialist that meets your needs. 

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