1. Use positive self-talk.
Anxiety can produce a lot of negative chatter. Tell yourself “positive coping statements,” Deibler said. For instance, you might say, “this anxiety feels bad, but I can use strategies to manage it.”
2. Focus on right now.
“When people are anxious, they are usually obsessing about something that might occur in the future,” Corboy said. Instead, pause, breathe, and pay attention to what’s happening right now, he said. Even if something serious is happening, focusing on the present moment will improve your ability to manage the situation, he added.
3. Focus on meaningful activities.
When you’re feeling anxious, it’s also helpful to focus your attention on a “meaningful, goal-directed activity,” Corboy said. He suggested asking yourself what you’d be doing if you weren’t anxious.
If you were going to see a movie, still go. If you were going to do the laundry, always do it.
“The worst thing you can do when anxious is to sit around obsessing about how you feel passively.” Doing what needs to get done teaches you key lessons, he said: getting out of your head feels better; you’re able to live your life even though you’re anxious, and you’ll get things done.
“The bottom line is, get busy with the business of life. Don’t sit around, focusing on being anxious — nothing good will come of that.”
4. Accept that you’re anxious.
Remember that “anxiety is just a feeling, like any other feeling,” said Deibler, also the author of the Psych Central blog “Therapy That Works.” By reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction, Corboy said you can start to accept it.
Acceptance is critical because trying to wrangle or eliminate anxiety often worsens it. It just perpetuates the idea that your anxiety is intolerable, he said.
But accepting your anxiety doesn’t mean liking it or resigning yourself to a miserable existence.
“It just means you would benefit by accepting reality as it is — and at that moment, reality includes anxiety. The bottom line is that the feeling of anxiety is less than ideal, but it is not intolerable.”
5. Realize that your brain is playing tricks on you.
Psychiatrist Kelli Hyland, M.D., has seen first-hand how a person’s brain can make them believe they’re dying of a heart attack when they actually have a panic attack. She recalled an experience she had as a medical student.
“I had seen people having heart attacks and look this ill on the medical floors for medical reasons, and it looked the same. A wise, kind, and experienced psychiatrist came over to [the patient] and gently, calmly reminded him that he is not dying, that it will pass, and his brain is playing tricks on him. It calmed me too, and we both just stayed with him until [the panic attack] was over.”
Today, Dr. Hyland, a private practice in Salt Lake City, Utah, tells her patients the same thing. “It helps remove the shame, guilt, pressure, and responsibility for fixing yourself or judging yourself while needing nurturing more than ever.”