Get a Handle on Anxiety

Your heart is pounding, and your breath is coming in short gasps. The world seems to be closing in around you. But you are not alone: Many people experience debilitating anxiety attacks. Prevent panic with these 10 tips.

1. Put Your Body in Motion

Get out your bike, pull on your walking shoes, or grab your gym bag. There’s no better therapy for the “I can’t breathe” feeling of an anxiety attack than to quickly escape the situation and get your blood moving and endorphins pumping through exercise.

2. Cease Caffeine Consumption

Cut out all caffeinated drinks, foods, and medications. The caffeine only adds to that tense, jittery, anxious feeling. Sources of caffeine include chocolate, beverages like coffee, tea, soda, and some prescription and over-the-counter medications, like Excedrin.

3. Avoid Annoyance

Avoid conversations likely to increase your anxiety when you’re tired, overwhelmed, or stressed. For instance, tell your kids that you’re simply not available for problem solving after 8 p.m. Try to protect a “trouble free” time, especially before bed, when you don’t address difficulties but focus instead on pure relaxation.

4. Write it Out

Choose one thing that is making you anxious. Now sit down and write out all the fears you have about that one thing. If it’s money, write down what would happen if you lose your job, if you can’t pay your bills. What is the absolute worst thing that could happen? Now look at each item and mark it on a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being highly unlikely it would ever happen, 10 being likely that it would happen. You’ll be surprised at how few items rank above a 5. This understanding should help reduce your anxiety. If something does rank higher than 5, you may want to develop a contingency plan for it. Nothing works better to calm anxiety than turning from pure worry to an action plan.

5. Laugh Out Loud

Rent a comedy and watch it. Let yourself laugh out loud. The act of laughter stimulates endorphins that help blow stress hormones (which contribute to that feeling of anxiety) out of your system the way a good thunderstorm can blow away hot, humid weather.

6. Stay in the Present

Don’t borrow future problems. Many people get into a cycle of predicting and worrying about future concerns, says Larina Kase, Psy.D., a psychologist at the Center for Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania and president of Performance and Success Coaching. Ask yourself, “Is this something I know can happen and is it something I can do something about right now?” If the answer to either of these questions is no, tell yourself you will revisit it later.

7. Go With the Flow

Simply experience your anxiety for 45 minutes. That’s usually all it takes for you to become used to it and for the anxious feeling to dissipate, says Dr. Kase. The worst thing you can do is try to ignore it, she says, because anxiety tends to fight back if you push it down.

8. Take Up a Hobby

Go to the museum, see a movie, read a good book, or take up oil painting (or some other hobby). People who are bored tend to score higher on tests designed to measure levels of anxiety.

9. Eat Right

Make sure you’re getting several servings of whole grains, fruits, and vegetables every day, along with healthy protein sources such as fish, poultry, lentils, soy, or lean meats. The combination helps your brain make serotonin, a chemical that induces a state of calm relaxation.

10. Go for a Confession Session

Share your anxieties with a confidant. You need to find someone who can help you understand why you worry too much. Try to play the same role for that person. We are usually better at placing someone else’s worries in perspective than we are our own.

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