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Calm your anxiety with this guide to help you cope

March 2, 2022 - 18 min read


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What's anxiety, and where does it come from?

Common anxiety symptoms

Panic versus anxiety attacks: what are the differences?

How can you calm anxiety?

What not to do when dealing with anxiety

How can you help someone with anxiety?

You’re more than your anxiety

Everyone feels anxious at times, just like everyone experiences self-doubt, fear, and nervousness. We have these moments without serious damage to our well-being.

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, these feelings are increasingly common. It's reasonable to be concerned about your situation, the people you love, and the future. These feelings mean you care.

But if these negative thoughts become a constant hurdle, you may need to find better ways to cope with your anxiety. If they are persistent and get in the way of life, you may need to talk to a mental health professional.

Let’s look at how to calm your anxiety and keep it under control.


What is anxiety, and where does it come from?

Medical professionals define anxiety as excessive worrying about a real or perceived threat. This “threat” could be a presentation at school, a meeting with your boss, or traveling somewhere new. 

The human body's nervous system responds to stressors and potential threats by releasing cortisol. This is the stress hormone responsible for your fight or flight response.

For people with anxiety, the response may be out of sync with the situation. And, the anxiety isn’t fleeting — it lingers. Anxiety can stand in the way of work and relationships

Often, anxiety is the result of a new or unfamiliar situation. Sometimes, events in our past can trigger it. 

You may feel overwhelmed when these feelings arise. While anxiety is one of the most common mental health conditions, the majority of people dealing with it don’t seek help. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA), recognizing and accepting anxiety is a key step to overcoming it. 

Remind yourself it’s possible to succeed even with anxiety.

Your mental health is important, and BetterUp recognizes that. Our coaches are here to help address any aspect of life that you need.

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Common anxiety symptoms

Research from the ADAA shows that approximately 40 million Americans have a generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). This is one form of anxiety. Others include social anxiety disorder and separation anxiety disorder. 

Some of the main mental and physical symptoms of anxiety include: 

  1. Feeling nervous, restless, or tense
  2. Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  3. Rapid breathing
  4. Sweating and trembling
  5. Insomnia
  6. Feeling weak or tired
  7. Having a sense of impending danger or panic and the urge to avoid things that trigger these feelings
  8. Panic attacks

Calming Woman Applying Cosmetic Creme On Her Face-how-to-calm-anxiety

Panic versus anxiety attacks: what are the differences?

You’ll often hear people mention anxiety and panic attacks as if they’re the same phenomenon. That’s not the case.  

Panic attacks are sudden and last a few minutes. They can cause extreme feelings of pain, trembling, and fearfulness. According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of a panic attack include: 

  • Chest pain
  • Chills or excessive sweating
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Increased heart rate
  • Numbness (known as paraesthesias) 

You can have a panic attack without suffering from a mental illness. They can be a feature of a panic disorder.

Unlike panic attacks, an anxiety attack isn’t formally recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). That’s the reference used by mental health professionals for diagnosis. 

Although there isn’t a formal definition of an anxiety attack, people use the term frequently to describe the sensation of intense worry and anxious feelings. During an anxiety attack, you may struggle to concentrate, feel irritable or restless, or have trouble sleeping.

How can you calm anxiety?

It’s possible to deal with anxiety and work to calm yourself. Below are seven tips to help you with this.

Tip #1: Do a quick reality check

In moments of intense anxiety, remove yourself from your surroundings by closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths. Repeat in your head: inhale, exhale.

man sitting in silence and meditating peacefully-how-to-calm-anxiety ​​​​

Square breathing is a breathing exercise that can signal your nervous system to calm down. To practice this mindful breathing, inhale for four seconds, hold for four seconds, exhale for four seconds, and hold for four seconds.

Repeat this pattern for 5-10 minutes for an improved mood, lower heart rate, and improved sense of well-being.

Ask yourself simple questions like: 

  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely is it that the thing I’m anxious about will happen? 
  • Do I have a good reason for believing something will go wrong? 
  • Could I just be overly worried?

Thinking about your responses may help calm you down.

Tip #2: Talk to someone you trust 

This could be a family member, close friend, teacher, or coach. You don’t have to deal with your anxieties alone. This individual can provide a new perspective on whatever you’re dealing with and help you work through the problem without getting overwhelmed. A BetterUp coach can be a valuable resource if you feel vulnerable about discussing your anxiety with loved ones.

Tip #3: Remind yourself that you're safe

When an anxiety attack occurs, we typically feel scared and helpless. Our minds immediately jump to every catastrophic outcome, however unlikely they may be. 

At the moment, remind yourself that at this moment, you aren’t in danger. This self-talk will help you ground you in the present moment, instead of getting lost in your head.

Tip #4: Redirect your nervous energy into physical activity 

Stand up and move around. Go for a walk for some fresh air, do some sit-ups, or pace around your room a little. When you’re anxious, you have a lot of energy building up inside of you; safely releasing that energy will ease your feelings of uncertainty. 

Exercise also releases endorphins that will boost your mood.

Tip #5: Take a break

There’s nothing wrong with taking a break. We all need time to recharge. 

Try these simple ways to rest or take a break

  • Watch some TV 
  • Listen to music or a fun podcast
  • Do yoga 
  • Shut off your phone
  • Take a catnap 

Allowing your mind to wander will leave you feeling more relaxed and in control.

Bearded Man Writing In Journal-how-to-calm-anxiety

Tip #6: Write down your anxious thoughts

One of the more common aspects of anxiety is that we don’t know why we’re worried in the first place. Writing out your thoughts is a great self-care practice as it gives you the freedom to explore your thoughts without judgment. Studies have shown that jotting down how you feel reduces stress. 

Something like a gratitude journal can also ground you in the positive elements of your daily life, and you can look back on it when you’re feeling most negative.

Tip #7: Practice a healthy lifestyle

Regular exercise and consuming healthy food lets your body recharge and helps you think more clearly. According to the CDC, as little as 30 minutes of moderate daily exercise can yield mental health benefits.

Try to avoid caffeine and alcohol if you’re experiencing anxiety. Both drinks interact with the serotonin in your brain — a chemical that regulates your moods and helps you sleep — to enhance your feelings of anxiety instead of alleviating them. A simple, refreshing glass of cold water can also help improve your overall well-being and will help reduce your anxiety.

What not to do when dealing with anxiety

Just as there are things that can help your anxiety, there are things you should avoid that can make it worse. Here’s what to look out for.

1. Trying to do everything at once

If you’re anxious about a big project or a long to-do list, you might (understandably) want to make that project disappear — and that would mean completing it as fast as possible. 

If you catch yourself doing this, remember that biting more than you can chew will hurt you in the long run. Instead, divide your tasks into smaller, realistic goals — they’ll feel a lot less overwhelming this way.

2. Fixating on things you can’t change

Life is full of things we can’t control. And, when one of them triggers your anxiety, it’s easy to be upset about it. Before you know it, you’ve wasted all of your energy hoping for the problem to disappear instead of calming yourself and planning a course of action.

Even if you can’t change a situation, you can control your breathing and behavior. You’ll think more clearly once you’ve calmed your mind.

3. Coping with substances

Using alcohol, cigarettes, and drugs to calm your anxiety can quickly lead to addictive behaviors. In the long run, this will do little to solve your anxiety. Plus, if left untreated, addiction can worsen your mental health and impact your significant relationships.

4. Telling yourself that you’re alone

Anxiety can feel isolating. It tricks you into thinking you’re the only one with these symptoms and that no one’s here to help you.

But that’s simply not the case. In fact, 6.8 million U.S. adults have a general anxiety disorder, but only a fraction of them are receiving treatment.

Try to remember that there are folks out there who care about you. They want to see you happy and healthy — they just don’t know how to help. Talking about your feelings with someone you trust can help you feel less alone.

How can you help someone with anxiety?

You might know someone affected by anxiety. When they have an anxious episode, it’s not always obvious how you can help. You don’t want them to suffer, but you also don’t want to say something that could exacerbate their worries.

Young Woman Has A Dialogue With A Woman Psychologist-how-to-calm-anxiety

Here are some ways you can be supportive:

1. Validate their feelings

Avoid saying things like, “Calm down. You have nothing to worry about!” 

This communicates that they’re somehow wrong for feeling how they do. And it can lead down a spiral of shame in addition to their anxiety. Instead, try to be supportive: “It’s okay, you’re going through a lot. How can I help?”

2. Don’t solve their problems for them

It often seems like one way to help someone with anxiety is to remove the trigger of their worries. While this might seem like a thoughtful gesture, it prevents them from learning to cope with the problem. Many other options to support them don’t remove their agency.

3. Express your concern

There’s not much you can do to help shorten someone’s panic attack or lower its intensity. 

But if you notice their anxious behavior, you can ask what might be behind it. This could open the door to a conversation about mental health and could encourage them to seek professional support. A clinical psychologist or other mental health professionals can offer medical advice and use techniques like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to help.

4. Don’t push them too hard

Anxiety requires a gentle touch. Pushing your loved ones into something they're anxious about can break their trust in you. They’re already doing their best, and pressure might add to their stress.

They should unpack their fear with a therapist. This will take the burden off of you. It will also empower them to move at their own speed with an experienced professional.

You’re more than your anxiety

It may seem impossible to cope when you’re in the middle of a crisis. Your heartbeat increases, your mind starts to race, and the world feels like it’s closing in. When everything feels like too much, avoiding confronting whatever’s triggering your feelings is tempting. 

Thankfully, with the right coping mechanisms, you can calm your anxiety. The first step is to accept that your symptoms are normal and natural. They’re a part of you, but they don’t define you. You have the power to cope with your anxiety and live a happy and vibrant life. 

And it’s okay to ask for support if you need it. A therapist can help you get to the bottom of your feelings and develop new self-care techniques to bounce back even stronger and more resilient.

BetterUp is here to help you navigate your symptoms in the context of your work life. Our coaches can help you identify anxiety triggers and discover coping strategies to ease these effects. At BetterUp, we focus on human transformation, championing personal growth, social connections, and mental fitness, all in the name of positive, lasting change.

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Published March 2, 2022

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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