There is a lot of anxiety coursing through the world today. No matter who you are and what your lifestyle, you’ve probably felt it. Whether you are a student struggling under the weight of a student loan, a parent coping with children and a full-time job, or a corporate executive hitting the grind day in and day out – anxiety is an increasingly common and shared experience.
With chronic stress such a pervasive experience, we are all seeking ways to manage it. It’s one of the reasons why yoga, meditation, and gratitude journals have become so popular. They are little ways to find relief in your daily routine.
How can you start to alleviate anxiety and cope with stress? Simple, you begin a wellness practice. But what does that look like? In practice, it means many different things to many different people.
Here is a collection of 50 ideas to add to your anti-anxiety, de-stressing skill set.
10 Ways to Cope with Anxiety With Nature
- Take a stroll in a forest or woodland park to recover from stressful experiences. As per one classic study from 1991, the “restorative influences of nature involve a shift towards a more positively-toned emotional state.”
- Forest bathing, the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku, is scientifically proven to reduce both emotional indicators of stress and physical symptoms. All you need is 20 minutes.
- Avoid busy urban settings and seek natural landscapes to prevent the onset of anxiety and depression. Exposure to greenspaces also improves cognition.
- Go for a hike. In a 2012 study, “Creativity in the Wild: Improving Creative Reasoning through Immersion in Natural Settings,” the authors sent people into the wild on an immersive multi-day hike. These participants demonstrated a “cognitive advantage” over their peers who were waiting for the hike to start. The research theorizes nature is an “emotionally positive and low-arousing” activity which helps us reset from busy modern life.
- Pick up a pair of binoculars and become a birder. The University of Exeter, the British Trust for Ornithology teamed up with leading researchers to look into the benefits of birding. They found a direct correlation between watching birds and lower stress. Even watching birds by your house had a significant impact on happiness.
- Do interpersonal issues cause you the most stress? Improve your relationships with others by spending time in green spaces. People increase their social behavior when exposed to big beautiful outdoor environments.
- If anxiety has made it difficult to focus, spend as little as 60 seconds, staring at a tall tree. According to the results of a 2015 study investigating the emotion of awe, one minute spent looking at a tree encourages participants to make “more ethical decisions, lower their sense of entitlement and report more “prosocial values.”
- Find a body of water and sit beside it. Research into our emotional response to water tells us that sitting with water is good for our wellbeing. The surf, the sand, and the sounds of nature are good for our mental health.
- Take a moment to soak it in. Spending time in direct sunlight (protected with a layer of SPF, of course) releases happy hormones in your body, including serotonin. The higher your serotonin, the better your mood and outlook on life.
10 Types of Meditation to Cope with Anxiety
- Walking meditation: Practiced indoors or out, walking meditation develops “calm, connectedness, and embodied awareness,” according to Jack Kornfield, author, and a trained Buddhist monk. Focus on every step, and when your attention wanders, gently bring it back.
- Visualization meditation: Many meditations focus on breath work, but this practice requires only a calming visualization. Bring to mind a moment or memory with soothing qualities and sit with it.
- Mantra meditation: Having a favorite mantra on the back burner can get you through the hardest moments. A mantra is also another option for meditation. While breathing deeply, repeat the positive mantra to yourself and focus on its message.
- Grounding meditation: When your anxiety hits a hight note, it can feel as if you are dissociating with reality. Ground yourself by using your senses. Count three things you can hear (a car driving by, a bird chirping, etc.). Count three items you can see (the grain of the wood of the coffee table, a coin on the floor, etc.). Finally, count three things you can feel (the earth under your feet, the tissue in your hand, etc.). Repeat.
- 4-Count mediation: This is a four-step breathing exercise. First, breath in through your nose for a slow count of three, then hold for three. Breath out through your mouth for a slow count of three and hold for another three before starting again.
- Guided meditation: With the popularity of meditation, it is easier than ever to find guided meditation to suit your mood. Relieve stress through a mobile meditation app, or a free meditation by searching on Youtube.
- Body scan meditation: Another way to ground yourself in times of intense anxiety is by sitting quietly (lying down if possible) to complete a body scan. Start with your toes, and work your way up inch by inch. Become aware of the area, focus on relaxing it, then move on.
- Loving-kindness meditation: This is an especially beneficial practice when anxiety impacts relationships or self-confidence. This meditation practice focuses on compassion for yourself, your loved ones, and the world at large.
- Alternate nostril breathing: A technique practiced among yogi’s, alternate nostril breathing works with the sympathetic nervous system to reduce stress and create a sense of calm. Using one finger close one nostril and breath deeply. Switch sides, and breath through the other nostril. Repeat.
- Transcendental meditation: A popular form of meditation in North America, this technique was popularized through the teachings of the late Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. This form of meditation focuses on a mantra, or sound to “transcend” the regular pattern of thought.
10 Lifestyle Changes to Cope with Anxiety
- Surround yourself with positive attitudes. Spend time with friends and family who have a positive outlook on life.
- Take up a yoga practice. Nobody said you need to go every day or try handstands, but a weekly yoga practice feeds the mind, body, and soul. It forces you to focus on yourself, not worry about the future.
- Reduce screen time, especially before bed. A growing body of research tells us that more screen time means a higher risk of depression and anxiety, especially for adolescents.
- Find a creative outlet like painting, gardening, or anything else that floats your boat. When you find a creative outlet you are passionate about, it’s easy to enter into a state of flow. Flow state, made famous by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes a period when you become so absorbed with the task at hand nothing else matters, including your anxieties.
- Start free-flow journaling. Usually done in the early morning before the rest of your day gets started, free-flow writing is a great way to process emotional turmoil, reframe problems, and get the creative juices flowing. Pick up a pen, set a timer, and write without stopping until the alarm sounds. You may find it surprising what flows out.
- Try your hand with knitting. The research tells us there are many benefits to knitting, including lower blood pressure, lower rates of depression, less loneliness, and lower anxiety levels. It is as relaxing as yoga.
- Work towards a regular sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at the same time every morning is a sure-fire way to improve sleep. Sleep is crucial to lowering levels of stress.
- Speaking of bedtime routines, schedule the last 30 minutes to unwind and get ready for sleep. Wash your face, brush your teeth, turn off your phone, and take this time to relax.
- Set out to accomplish three items off your to-do list every day. To-do lists make us feel good, and checking them off makes us feel even better. Only choose three, as this is feasible.
- Ask for help. Maybe you avoid looking at your finances or find you never have enough time for yard work. Hire a bookkeeper, or pay for someone to mow your lawn. If you always have tasks looming over your head, this is a chronic stressor. Do yourself a favor and take these tasks off your list.
10 Ways to Manage Anxiety at Work
- Don’t forget to take breaks. Not only does it make you a more productive employee, but breaks prevent burn out.
- Take steps to reduce constant interruptions. Interruptions prevent you from getting your to-do list done, which destroys your productivity and only adds to stress. Whether you have an office or a cubicle, set official office hours to reduce this constant state of chaos.
- Take a vacation (even a little one). In a 2009 study looking into “leisure as a coping resource” among lawyers found that vacation time was critical to alleviating job stress.
- Turn off desktop notifications. For at least some part of the day, reduce the constant noise coming from your phone, your inbox, and inner-office chat. Focus on what matters most.
- Ask for help on an overwhelming project. You should recognize your limitations than to struggle under a workload too heavy to bear. If you feel you are overworked, ask for help.
- Adopt the Pareto Principle. A theory which advises that “80% of results will come from just 20% of the action.” Invest your time into 20 percent of the most critical tasks. This reduces your workload, while at the same time producing more value in the work you do.
- Gradually reduce your at-work caffeine intake. In no surprise to anyone, scientists have linked caffeine consumption with stress.
- Speak with a supportive colleague about your work-related stressors. In a 2013 study, “Are You Feeling What I’m Feeling? Emotional Similarity Buffers Stress,” the authors confirmed that talking about the problem with others can alleviate on-the-job stress.
- Develop emotional intelligence. Understanding your emotions, especially in the heat of the moment, gives you greater control over them. Emotional intelligence also helps you understand others, and eventually help manage their emotions. In the workplace, this is extremely valuable for reducing stress.
- Create an action plan and break big projects into smaller pieces. Why not create a series of easy wins by breaking a big annual project up into many small goals. Each time you check an achievement off this list, you get a little rush endorphin, making the next step feel much more manageable.
10 Items to Add to Your Wellness Checklist to Reduce Anxiety
- Talk to a counselor. Whether you are in crisis, or a period of reprieve, talking to someone about your anxiety helps. In the words of the American Psychological Association, “With an effective therapist, science shows that psychotherapy even works better in the long-term and is more enduring than medication.”
- Stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of cold water handy at all times. It’s a straightforward way to drink two liters a day.
- Get daily physical activity. Physical activity is excellent for mental health. All research points to the profound benefits physical activity has on mental health outcomes.
- Nourish your body with fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats. The healthier your body, the better it handles stress.
- With all the healthy foods on your plate, don’t forget to treat yourself every so often. A sweet treat or favorite savory snacks can give you a little mental boost when you are feeling down.
- Schedule relaxation and downtime. With screens always available, it’s increasingly likely you never get downtime. Challenge yourself to sit quietly, read a book, and soak up the environment around you. Just like your physical self, your mind also needs a break from constant interaction.
- As one study bluntly put it, “Grin and Bare it!” Focus on smiling even when you don’t feel like it. Many studies over the years have demonstrated that positive expressions “can help to reduce the intensity of the body’s stress response, regardless of whether a person actually feels happy.”
- Book an acupuncture appointment for stress. There is scientific evidence that acupuncture can lower stress hormones.
- Start a gratitude journal. Every evening before you go to sleep, reflect on the day that was. Write down three moments you were grateful for. This simple act can help rewire your brain from negative thoughts into positive memories.
- Set yourself up for success. Layout your gym closes, set up the coffee maker, and make your lunch. The more you can do at night, the less frantic you’ll be in the morning. Plus, it encourages healthy eating habits, physical activity, and getting out the door anxiety-free with a warm cup of coffee in hand.
Anxiety relief isn’t instantaneous. There is no magic pill to relieve the pressures of your job or alleviate the academic expectations you are under. But you can cope with anxiety with patience, practice, and perseverance. Given enough time and intentional changes, you can beat it for good. Try adopting some of the suggestions above as a means to combat the constant pressures of the world around you. These 50 suggestions are only a few ideas of what might work in your mental health first aid kit.