Living with high anxiety can be really challenging, it can affect our sleep, work, relationships and general wellbeing.  Struggles with high anxiety often leave us feeling out of control in our lives and this can really get us down.

Anxiety struggles has been described as:

“An overestimation of danger coupled with an underestimation of coping resources”

“Anxious thinking distorts the view of the world, makes it feel unsafe and outsmarts common sense”

Here are some ideas to help you to manage and reduce anxiety in your life.

Familiarise yourself with your body’s physiological response

Understanding what is happening psychically when you’re anxious can help you to remember that your body is responding in the right way-just at the wrong time! Your mind interprets danger/threat and sends a message to your body to prepare to ‘fight, flight or flop’ (attack, run away or play dead). This is really helpful if there is a genuine threat, but our bodies don’t differentiate and simply respond to keep us safe-even when there really is no danger.

Anxiety symptoms are automatic, conditioned, natural and part of the human experience.

These bodily symptoms may include rapid heartbeat, racing thoughts, dread, muscle tension, shaking, sweating and digestive discomfort.  They can feel really unpleasant and frightening.

Don’t add to your anxiety with frightening thoughts

When we experience the above bodily symptoms we tend to jump to irrational conclusions. Try not to add to anxiety with unhelpful thoughts as this can escalate the feeling. Instead, reassure yourself that although unpleasant the feeling will pass and you will be okay.

Reality checking

Notice how you are feeling and reality check this with the current situation. For instance, is there any evidence to suggest the thing you fear will happen? What are the reasons that make it unlikely to happen?

The importance of breathing

Deep breathing helps us regulate our nervous system, soothe our emotions and reduce our stress.  There are many different breathing exercises and one example is:

*Cover a nostril with your finger and breathe in through the nose and count to five, hold for one second and then breath out counting five to one.

Identify cognitive distortions

When we are anxious (or depressed), our minds are not on our side and cognitive distortions tend to be present. Some of these include:

  • Catastrophizing: Assuming the worst/imagining disaster as the only outcome. This often causes distress.  For instance, feeling your heart beating fast and drawing the conclusion you are having a heart attack (when you simply have adrenaline running through your body).
  • Black and white thinking: Seeing everything in ‘all or nothing’ terms.  For instance, ‘everyone shouts at me’ or ‘ I always fail’, rather than ‘some people have shouted at me on occasions/sometimes things haven’t worked out as hoped but other times they have’.
  • Exaggerating: The process of magnifying the negative such as ‘The interview was terrible, everyone though so’.
  • Discounting/Ignoring the positive: The process of discounting the positive aspects of an experience such as not acknowledging success, compliments, achievements etc and focusing or the negative aspect.  For instance a student who gains goods grades except in one area and notes they feel like a failure.
  • Scanning:  Searching for what we fear in order to confirm our fears. For instance, a person who is afraid of spiders may notice several spiders’ webs where another would not see any. Another example is someone noticing aches and pains in their body when fearing they have an illness.


Focusing on the here and now can be very calming. For instance try paying attention to each footstep you make as you take a walk.  Activities such as doing a jigsaw puzzle, knitting, or colouring are all ways to stay mindful in the moment.

Immerse yourself

Immersing your hands in soil, flour or clay is a great way to find balance and reduce anxiety. As such, people often report finding activities such as crafting, planting, growing vegetables and baking helpful.

Reassure yourself

Remind yourself that Anxiety is a natural state and we all feels anxious sometimes. In fact, it can even be helpful such as if we are preparing for an exam and a heightened state can mean better focus and memory.  Remember that although unpleasant, anxiety always passes.

Grounding techniques

When we are anxious over minds tend to be in the future so it’s important to bring our mind back to the present moment.

Some ways to do there are:

  • *Count five things you see that are green in the room you are in.
  • *Clap your hands together firmly.
  • *Say the date and time aloud three times.

You can discuss other grounding methods that work best with you during your therapy sessions with your counsellor.

Positive distraction

Distracting yourself in ways that are active rather than passive and that are also enjoyable and realistic can really help.  It may be that you go for a walk or swim, or anything else that is do-able and enjoyable to you. Passive activities such as scrolling social media or watching TV are far less effective.

Practice self compassion

Don’t beat yourself up for being anxious! It doesn’t help and instead reinforces the anxiety. This is the time you need to give yourself a break and be extra kind to yourself.

Body scan/awareness

Taking our focus to our body can help to reduce the anxiety and bring us back to the here and now.  Lie down and pay focused attention to each part of your body in turn, noticing how you feel in each area.  A variation of this exercise is to tense your muscles in each area and then release them before you move onto the next body part.


Think of a physical place where you feel safe, if you do not have this then try imagining a place where you would feel safe (it may be a close friend’s house).  Close your eyes.  Include all your senses as you explore how the place smells, what sounds you can hear, and what you can see.  When we are physically unable to go to the safe place, closing our eyes and thinking of our imagined safe place and all we can see, hear, smell and feel can really relax us.

Muscle toning

Physically tensing and releasing the muscles can be good when we feel overwhelmed and unable to think/imagine. One example of this is:

*Clenching your hand to make a fist then releasing and repeating.

Yoga or Thai Chi

Moving the body helps us to release tension and process emotions held in the body. These two particular practices encourage deep breathing and being present and as such can have a powerful effect in terms of regulating the body.

Try to identify why you feel anxious

Often we don’t know why we feel anxious and then in talking to a friend we realise how busy and overwhelmed we are!  It can be that anxiety is giving us an important message. It may be an important reminder to think about our work/life balance or consider if we need to be assertive with others around our boundaries.

Often we think we are anxious about something yet it’s masking the real fear. For instance, your anxiety may present as a fear of public speaking while the real fear behind it is a fear of ridicule. Identifying the real fear can help us confront it.

Explore your support network

Is there someone in your life that you trust and experience as reliable? It’s useful to identify someone you can talk to get some relief from your thoughts and feelings. Sometimes, it may be that you don’t want to talk about what’s going on and want a light distraction.  Identifying a friend you can have a bit of a laugh with can really help.

Remind yourself of your resourcefulness

Often we are more resilient than we give ourselves credit for. It can be useful to take a moment to acknowledge that you have come through hard times before.  What was it that helped you then? It may be that you relied on something which was not healthy for you. It’s important to recognise that we all have crutches to get us through hard times and not to judge yourself for it. It’s likely you were doing the best you could with the limited resources you had at the time. Instead, use it as an opportunity to identify other sources of support.

Create a personal tool kit

Reflect on what it is that helps you feel more present in your life. Is there an activity where you feel ‘in the flow’?  Activities such as gardening, baking, using clay, crafting, cleaning can be really grounding and reduce our anxiety.

Consider herbal teas

Some herbs have a natural relaxing effect on the body and drinking in tea form is a quick easy and often cost efficient way to intake herbs.  Look out for lavender, camomile and valerian; the latter can be particularly helpful if anxiety affect you sleeping.

Utilise apps

Apps such as Headspace are popular for handy relaxation and stress busting support.

An alternative, free resource on the internet is the free mindfulness website:

Be sure to try a few out to see which voices and styles you gel with best.

Remember the ‘4 elements’

The four elements of Air, Earth, Fire, Water is a good quick reminder of some tools that help us manage anxiety. Firstly Air refers to breathing techniques, Earth to activities that ground us, Fire refers to visualisations and Water is about salivation. It may sound strange but tending to a dry anxious mouth with water or sucking a sweet to encourage salivation helps regulate our emotional system.

Useful things to remember

  1. Discomfort and danger are separate. Anxiety state is temporary.

  2. While avoiding what makes us anxious may provide short term relief, long term it reinforces, empowers and energises anxiety.

  3. Remember we are sensitised to anxiety during stressful times.  Fatigue, tiredness, hunger, anger and ill health all increase our sensitivity.

  4. The more you are able to accept the uncomfortable reaction without engaging, the quicker it subsides. Acceptance and tolerance is key. That which we resist tends to persist.

Talking about your anxieties through counselling

Consider talking about your feelings through counselling. Finding a suitable psychotherapist to talk things through can help provide some relief to those anxious thoughts.

As you can see from the above list that we work with the body and the mind as we recognise the interconnection of these aspects. I hope these ideas create some relief for you in your life.


Image Credit
By johnmarkarnold Licensed under Creative Commons