How to calm down anxiety: Top 11 strategies for relief

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Man in vest taking a deep breath at beach after learning how to calm down anxiety

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Anxiety is a part of life. Unfortunately, for some of us, it’s a part of our daily lives. If you’re noticing an increase in anxiety, you’re not alone. Societal pressures have increased while our ability to disengage or relax has decreased. According to the World Health Organization, the pandemic triggered a 25% increase in cases of anxiety and depression worldwide, and the effects are still lingering today, which adds to the importance of knowing how to calm down anxiety.

Importance of knowing how to calm down anxiety 

Before diving into how to minimize anxiety, let’s take a quick look at the science behind it. 

When our anxiety increases, our sympathetic nervous system (SNS) is activated to help us prepare to deal with the stressor. Our bodies release stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline. When the stress has passed, our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) should kick in and help us get back to a relaxed state by stopping the flow of stress hormones.

Simply put, the SNS controls our “fight or flight” response and the PNS controls your ability to relax, known as the “rest and digest” state. The PNS controls organ and bodily functions, such as heart rate, blood pressure and digestion. It relaxes your body’s activities and returns your systems to their natural state after an increase in stress. 

The trouble today is that there are many perceived stressors that activate our SNS and it’s harder to get back to the “rest and digest” state. That’s why knowing how to calm down anxiety is so important. As you practice dealing with your anxiety, take advantage of the following strategies and choose a few to use on a daily basis. 

11 effective strategies for calming anxiety immediately

The following is a list of 11 effective strategies you can try to calm your anxiety immediately and on an ongoing basis. 

If you want to seek help for anxiety, Klarity is here. On Klarity’s network of providers, you can connect with a licensed mental health therapist trained and experienced in anxiety therapy, plus get help with medication management if/when needed.

If you’re seeking relief from your anxiety symptoms, consider tailored anxiety therapy and find a licensed therapist on Klarity today.

1. Recognize your anxiety symptoms

Recognizing your anxiety symptoms is an important first step toward reducing anxiety. Anxiety symptoms vary from person to person, so knowing what your anxiety symptoms look like helps you more effectively address them. 

Do you find yourself talking faster or having difficulty sitting still? Are your shoulders tight? Is your stomach upset? Do you feel lightheaded or get a headache? Maybe you have a combination of symptoms.

Recognizing your anxiety symptoms is the first step toward reducing them because it puts you back in control. 

Most of us want to “get away” from our anxiety, and that simple act of avoidance, whether conscious or unconscious, can make our anxiety worse. When we acknowledge and accept it instead, we regain some of our control and ease our symptoms. 

Additionally, recognizing how your mind and body express anxiety helps you choose other strategies relevant to your specific symptoms.

2. Use deep breathing exercises

Deep breathing exercises help calm anxiety because they activate the “rest and digest” response and help reduce symptoms immediately. You can practice deep breathing exercises almost anywhere at any time. 

Box breathing

One popular exercise is called “box” breathing. It’s similar to taking a deep breath and then exhaling. To practice box breathing:

  1. Breathe in for a count of four.
  2. Hold your breath for a count of four.
  3. Exhale for a count of four.
  4. Hold your breath again for a count of four.

Repeating this breathing exercise several times can help reset your nervous system and calm symptoms of anxiety. 

Belly breathing

Another popular breathing exercise is called belly breathing. To practice belly breathing: 

  1. Put one hand on your heart and one hand on your stomach. 
  2. Slowly breathe in through your nose and feel the air move from your lungs down to your stomach. You should feel your stomach expand.
  3. Exhale through your mouth by contracting your stomach muscles.
  4. Repeat with another inhale through your nose. 

3. Embrace mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation may sound intimidating but it’s easy to do. Being mindful means being aware, while meditation means focusing. Thus, mindfulness meditation can be as simple as sitting quietly for 5 minutes and observing your thoughts or taking a walk and noticing what you hear, see, and smell.

One of the easiest ways to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your day is to pay attention to your five senses. Focusing on your senses is a common grounding technique that can quickly calm anxiety. 

Try this 5-4-3-2-1 mindfulness meditation that you can do anywhere. Focusing on your senses, identify:

  • 5 things that you see
  • 4 things that you hear.
  • 3 things that you can feel.
  • 2 things that you smell.
  • 1 thing that you taste. 

Mindfulness meditation can be used anytime you can take a few moments for yourself. Creating a habit of meditation is a great way to calm your anxiety and prevent it from escalating to an anxiety attack.

If you’re looking for guided mindfulness meditations, check out YouTube or popular apps, such as CalmHeadspace or The Mindfulness App.

4. Engage in physical activity

Another good strategy for coping with anxiety is to use the energy that fuels anxiety on something physical and/or fun. So, go for a walk, vacuum the house, or shoot hoops in the driveway. It really doesn’t matter what you do. The key is simply to shift the focus of your energy.

Engaging in 30 minutes or more of aerobic activity 3 to 5 times a week is good for mental health overall. Still, even 10 or 15 minutes of activity when we’re feeling anxious can have a calming effect. Doing something physical decreases muscle tension and increases our heart rate, which triggers an increase in anti-anxiety chemicals, such as endorphins and serotonin.

5. Create a go-to calming playlist

Music has the power to change our mood almost instantly. Whether you listen to a sad song to encourage a good cry or crank up the volume on some classic rock while working out, music is a useful tool in expressing and motivating ourselves.

In addition to its ability to change our feelings, rhythm is the science behind why music is such a popular tool for calming anxiety. According to research on whether music affects mental health, listening to music with about 60 beats a minute allows our brains to synchronize with the beat, and encourages alpha brain waves — the same brain waves at work when we’re relaxed. 

Music has also been shown to reduce your heart rate, lower the stress hormone cortisol, and increase the “feel good” hormone dopamine. Lastly, listening to music is a distraction, which is always useful in preventing your anxiety from ramping up. 

6. Limit caffeine and sugar intake

Caffeine, sugar, and even alcohol may seem to help calm your anxiety in the short term, but these substances can actually increase anxiety and your body’s anxiety response. 

Most experts agree that the best we can do to reduce stress and anxiety and, ultimately, to better our mental health is to stick to a balanced diet rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Specifically, foods, like leafy greens, berries, and omega-3-rich fish, help mitigate symptoms of anxiety.

So, when feeling anxious and looking for the dopamine rush of a sugary treat, reach for a piece of fruit instead. And if you’re in the habit of having more than one cup of coffee in the morning, switch to decaf or herbal tea after that first cup. These healthy habits help ensure that what we eat supports our nervous system and its innate ability to calm anxiety. 

Hydration and its effects on anxiety

Just as a healthy diet ensures our minds and bodies work optimally, keeping your body hydrated is another important step in maintaining mental health. Studies show there’s a link between dehydration and anxiety, and that dehydration can increase tension, fatigue, depression symptoms, and even negatively impact sleep. 

Keep a water bottle with you throughout the day, and note how many times you fill it up. Most of us should be drinking about 8 glasses or 3 liters a day, but that will vary based on your overall health, how much you exercise, and whether your environment is humid or dry. 

7. Try progressive muscle relaxation

The physical impact of anxiety — tight shoulders, headaches, feeling flushed — can lock our bodies in that “flight or fight” response. The actual event that was causing the anxiety may have passed, but we still feel anxious. This is when we know we need more practice getting back to the “rest and digest” state. 

Progressive muscle relaxation is a two-step process, first tensing a particular muscle group, shoulders, and neck for example, and then relaxing them. You can do this in the areas where you feel specific muscle tension or you can do this throughout your entire body, starting with your neck and working your way down to your toes. 

In addition to alleviating muscle tension and calming anxiety, practicing full-body muscle relaxation may also reveal some atypical areas where anxiety is felt. While the most common areas to hold stress are the neck, shoulders, hips, hands, and feet, some people hold stress in their stomach, chest, and lower back. 

Being more in touch with your body and where you hold stress can help you calm your anxiety symptoms more quickly. 

8. Establish a good sleep routine

Part of establishing a comforting bedtime routine is teaching your body that bed is for sleeping and not for anxiety. Some sleep coaches recommend writing down your worries before you go to bed, so they’re “out of your head.” Another tip is to use positive affirmations about your body’s ability to fall asleep, such as “My body is made for sleep” and “My sleep will continue to improve as I practice new bedtime routines.” 

The connection between sleep and anxiety

Sleep disturbances or insomnia are symptoms of anxiety and can create a negative cycle that becomes harder to break. Without enough sleep, anxiety can increase, and with an increase in anxiety, getting a good night’s sleep can seem impossible. 

To further complicate this negative cycle, research on anxiety and sleep shows that people with anxiety are especially sensitive to the effects of sleep deprivation. That’s why building a healthy sleep routine is an important step in calming your anxiety. 

Tips for a better sleep routine

The first step in establishing a healthy sleep routine is to create a comforting environment. 

  • Invest in some comfortable bedding and a good pillow.
  • Get some light-blocking/blackout shades for your windows.
  • Turn on a fan or white noise machine to mute household sounds.
  • Make sure the temperature in your bedroom is around 65 degrees.
  • Replace screen time with reading, meditation, or listening to soothing music. 

Additionally, give yourself more time to wind down. If you usually get ready for bed at 9 p.m., start at 8:30 p.m. so you have more time to tell your brain that you’re preparing for sleep.

9. Connect with loved ones

Spending time with family and friends can help reduce anxiety. Depending on your needs, you may reach out to that family member who’s a good listener or call that friend who makes you laugh.

Connecting with people who care about us can make us feel valued and supported while also improving our mood, outlook, and resiliency. 

Let’s not forget our furry loved ones either. There’s no shortage of studies to show the health and mind-boosting benefits of pets. Spending time with animals decreases cortisol levels, increases feelings of social support, and improves mood. And sometimes pets are even more supportive than people because they’re not evaluative or judgmental.

10. Use positive affirmations

Being able to say or read something that puts things in perspective or even makes you laugh can be a valuable tool in calming anxiety. A positive affirmation can be as simple as “This too shall pass” or “I believe in myself.” Or you can find an affirmation that’s more specific to the people, places, or things that cause you anxiety.

There are plenty of websites and books dedicated to positive affirmations. And having something that you read daily is a great self-care habit. Write some of your favorite affirmations on sticky notes and put them on your bathroom mirror or around your desk at work. 

11. Spend time in nature

Studies show that spending time in nature relieves stress and calms our nervous systems. The sights, sounds, smells, and touch of being in a natural environment release feel good chemicals, like endorphins and dopamine, while decreasing the stress hormone cortisol. 

Additionally, nature is a sensory experience so it can be easier to become mindful. If it’s sunny, feel the warmth of the sun on your face. If you’re in the woods after a rain, smell the damp leaves. If you’re relaxing on your deck, listen to the birds. 

We’re genetically programmed to find natural elements engrossing, so a walk in the park or a day at the beach is an easy way to distract and disengage from our anxiety.

Incorporating nature into your week can also increase your creativity and clear your mind, which in turn, may help you more effectively deal with those people, places, and things that were increasing your anxiety in the first place. 

Find skilled professionals for anxiety treatment on Klarity

If anxiety impacts you on a daily basis and attempts to reduce anxiety are falling short, seeking professional help is an appropriate next step. 

Online mental health therapy platforms, like Klarity, provide flexible and affordable options to find a therapist who meets your specific needs. Licensed therapists and mental health professionals on Klarity have diverse expertise in treating anxiety through various approaches. 

Don’t let anxiety continue to run your life. Get started and find a therapist on Klarity today for anxiety therapy and begin your journey to a calmer, happier you.

Medically Reviewed By Dr. Zoe Russell

Dr. Zoe Russell received a dual bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology from the University of Michigan-Dearborn, pursued a master’s degree in public health from Michigan State University, and received her doctorate in osteopathic medicine from Michigan State’s College of Osteopathic Medicine in 2021. Currently, Dr. Russell is completing her residency training in family medicine and hopes to specialize in female reproductive and mental health.

Author

Jennifer Fuller

Jennifer Fuller, LPC, has been practicing as a licensed professional counselor in the state of Texas since 2015, where she helps clients manage symptoms caused by depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, and substance use.

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