Anxiety affects people in different ways, from a slightly elevated heart rate to full-blown panic. It can stem from large crowds, speaking in public or simply getting into a car.
According to Dr. Suhair Erikat, a licensed doctor of behavioral health and family therapist with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital, many people feel the urge to withdraw or avoid situations that provoke feelings of anxiety, when the opposite action is more effective.
“The only way to reduce anxiety is by proceeding with action toward the anxiety-provoking trigger,” says Dr. Erikat. “Initially there will be discomfort, but as you continue, the anxiety will dissipate, because now your mind has new information that it’s not as scary as you thought.”
Five techniques to help reduce feelings of anxietyWhile the emotional and physical symptoms of anxiety can be treated with medication under the supervision of a health professional, here are five popular exercises used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) that can help ease anxiety symptoms.
- Consider the best- and worst-case scenarios.
People with anxiety often think of worst-case scenarios, but it is important to visualize the best-case and most-likely scenarios, as well.
“Anxiety decreases when you realize what you would realistically do,” says Dr. Erikat. “You discover that not even the worst will destroy you.”
Think through the best- and worst-case scenario for the thought or experience that triggers feelings of anxiety and imagine how you would manage each instance. Think about how equally plausible each situation would be, and consider the most-likely scenario.
In visualizing the most-likely scenario, it may be helpful to pair some degree of negative outcome with a positive outcome. For instance, “If I share my art in a gallery, there will be some people that do not like it, and some people will love it and want to purchase it.”
- Counter catastrophic thinking.
“Catastrophic thinking is an exaggeration of the danger and an underestimation of your control,” says Dr. Erikat. “Be mindful of thoughts regarding danger and decreased sense of control and use self-coaching statements to challenge such thoughts.”
For instance, if driving is causing you anxiety, you can list potential dangers (freeway entrances, driving at night and parallel parking) and think of ways you can control those dangers (stick to streets only, park in a nearby lot and drive during the day).
- Practice paced breathing.
Panic can trigger quick, shallow breathing. Take a moment in a quiet place without distraction to note your breathing pattern.
Count how many seconds each inhale and exhale takes. Then, increase the length of the inhalation and exhalation by one second. Gradually slow down your breathing, adding pauses in between each inhalation and exhalation. Continue for 10 minutes.
In trying this or other breathing techniques, you will feel the effects of a slower heart rate. This focused exercise can take your mind off the anxiety and simulate the opposite symptoms of a panic attack.
- Stop negative thoughts.
The basis of this technique is to consciously command “STOP” when you find yourself repeating negative or distorted thoughts. Use positive self-talk or an easy-to-remember mantra that you can repeat to counter the negativity.
- Distract your mind.
“Distraction is a powerful means of reducing anxiety and panic,” says Dr. Erikat. “If someone suffering from anxiety can ‘get out of their heads’ for a second by changing their focus on some outside stimulus, anxiety can reduce.”
Some quick, easy strategies to distract yourself are counting, deep-breathing exercises or moving your eye focus.
Sharp Mesa Vista offers a monthly Cognitive Therapy Lecture Series. If you are interested in learning more about how cognitive behavioral therapy can help you or a loved one, you can request information.
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Suhair Erikat about tips for reducing anxiety, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.