Stressed African-American businessman holding his head in his hand with executives in the background

When it comes to anxiety, we all have a different baseline. Some of us naturally feel steady under stress, while others are prone to spiraling at the sight of an upsetting headline in the news. While we can all make certain lifestyle changes to keep anxiety in check, some of us may never be totally free from gut flutters and nagging worries.

Having practical ways to manage your anxiety and stress is necessary to living a happier life. Otherwise, it can manifest in harmful ways both mental and physical. Put these tips and tricks in your toolbox so that you have them ready when you are feeling overwhelmed. You will get back to yourself in no time.

Get enough sleep.

Sleep is one of the best and least expensive anxiety medicines out there. Our circadian rhythm, which is our sleep-wake cycle, is cued by light. For our human ancestors, this was a little more foolproof. If it was light out, it was daytime. They would feel awake. If it was nighttime, it was dark out, and this made them feel sleepy. In our lives now, light is topsy-turvy: Maybe you work in a dim, fluorescent-lit cubicle during the day and then watch Netflix on a tablet in bed at night. One of the best things you can do for sleep is getting strategic about light and make sure that you are getting authentic darkness at night. This means putting your phone away in one hour before bed and using an actual alarm clock to help you wake up in the morning.

Drink less caffeine.

Adrenaline is a hormone involved in the body’s fight-or-flight fear response. Caffeine causes a spike in adrenaline levels, and this can make some people feel anxious or on edge. Coffee is one of the most popular sources of caffeine. Even decaffeinated coffee contains around 2–12 milligrams of caffeine. Other popular sources of caffeine include chocolate, breakfast cereals, and some over-the-counter pain medications. People who notice a connection between their caffeine intake and anxiety should try cutting caffeine out of their diet.

Time management strategies.

Some people feel anxious if they have too many commitments at once. These may involve family, work, friends, and health-related activities. Having a plan in place for each day of the week can help to keep anxiety at bay. Effective time management strategies can help people to focus on one task at a time and not to feel overwhelmed by their to-do list. Book-based planners and online calendars can help, as can resisting the urge to multitask. Some people find that breaking major projects down into manageable steps can help them to accomplish those tasks with less stress.

Fact-check your thoughts.

People with anxiety often fixate on worst-case scenarios. To combat these worries, think about how realistic they are. Say you’re nervous about a big presentation at work. Rather than think, “I’m going to bomb,” for example, say, “I’m nervous, but I’m prepared. Some things will go well, and some may not”. Getting into a pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxious thoughts. It also helps you put into perspective what is really bothering you.

Write your worries down.

One way to handle stress is to write things down. Finding a way to express how you are feeling through a healthy outlet will help the stress become more manageable. While recording what you're stressed about is one approach, another is jotting down what you're grateful for. Gratitude may help relieve stress and anxiety by focusing your thoughts on what's positive in your life. Furthermore, a 2016 study found that creative writing may help children and teens to manage anxiety. It’s not always about what you write, but rather getting out your feelings on paper in some expressive form.

Practice centering techniques.

There are a few ways that you can really recenter yourself and get back to focusing on the present. For example, deep breathing helps you calm down. While you may have heard about specific breathing exercises, you don’t need to worry about counting out a certain number of breaths or doing it a specific way. Instead, simply focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-center your mind.

Secondly, try out the 3-3-3 rule. Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body. Wiggle your arm or stretch out your legs. Whenever you feel your brain going 100 miles per hour, this mental trick can help center your mind, bringing you back to the present moment.

Herbal teas or supplements.

Many herbal teas promise to help with anxiety and ease sleep. Some people find the process of making and drinking tea soothing, but some teas may have a more direct effect on the brain that results in reduced anxiety. Results of a 2018 trial suggest that chamomile can alter levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, for example. Like herbal teas, many herbal supplements claim to reduce anxiety too. Not as much scientific evidence is available to back up these claims, however, so it’s important to work with a doctor show is knowledgeable about herbal supplements and their potential interactions with other drugs before taking any.

There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to managing anxiety. Each person needs to take the time to find their own combination of methods that work. Once you have a toolbox full of ways to relax and calm-down effectively, you won't be as overwhelmed when the anxiety comes.

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