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Tips and Strategies for Navigating Anxiety in a Stressful World

Everyday life is often filled with stressful situations, obligations, and anxiety-provoking occurrences. Learning healthy strategies for coping with and navigating anxiety is of paramount importance to living a healthy and balanced life and can keep you feeling your best no matter what happens.

Why Navigating Anxiety Is Important

In thinking about anxiety, people often make the mistake of believing that the goal of any treatment plan is to avoid or remove anxiety entirely. Unfortunately, eliminating anxiety entirely is almost never possible — and even people who achieve recovery from anxiety disorders will still feel anxious from time to time.

Anxiety is a natural human emotion. It’s the brain’s way of telling you to prepare for danger, to prepare yourself for action, or to avoid potentially harmful situations. The feeling of anxiety only becomes problematic when it occurs randomly, or when the perceived danger far exceeds the actual danger you face.

The neurological roots of anxiety are centred in the amygdala, which is responsible for the fight-or-flight response that results in common anxiety symptoms. When the amygdala gets activated, you can experience symptoms such as:

Blood flowing away from your extremities and into your heart and lungs

  • Hyperventilation
  • Sweating
  • Increased blood pressure
  • Nausea
  • Tightness in the stomach
  • Gastrointestinal issues

All of these symptoms are a product of your body preparing itself for danger, and they can be incredibly useful during these situations.

If you are confronted with a wild animal in your yard, for instance, hyperventilation helps your lungs absorb extra oxygen needed to run or fight, a racing heartbeat delivers that oxygen throughout your body, and blood gets drawn away from areas like the stomach to more essential areas.

To be without any anxiety would put you at risk of not being able to respond effectively to danger, stress, or any difficult situation. It is an inherently adaptive emotion that can go awry at times. So rather than eliminating anxiety altogether, the better path to recovery is learning to navigate your anxieties and work through them.

Tips and Strategies for Navigating Anxiety

Thankfully, there are several strategies you can use for navigating anxiety effectively. The treatment of anxiety disorders has given rise to a number of different evidence-based strategies for healthy anxiety coping mechanisms that can be effective whether you have an anxiety diagnosis or not.

Keep a Regular Routine

One of the best things you can do to prevent excessive anxiety is keeping a regular routine. Anxiety is often provoked by novel situations, and changing your routine regularly can leave you feeling constantly in the lurch.

When you have an established routine, you know what to expect. Knowing what to expect, in turn, helps you to prepare for the situations at hand. You’re not left scrambling, wondering what to do, or worrying about potential consequences when you have a clear understanding of what comes next.

Of course, this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t ever try anything new, but frequent change can lead to anxiety running out of control. Common situations where this happens include:

  • Frequent moves
  • Shift work
  • Job changes
  • Switching hobbies

If your anxiety is getting to be too much, instead of changing everything, try to find a stable routine that you can feel comfortable with. Start incorporating new changes after your anxiety has settled, rather than while you’re going through it.

Maintain Healthy Exercise and Nutrition

Exercise and proper nutrition can help you feel more prepared when anxiety strikes. Both of these important lifestyle habits help with anxiety in a similar fashion – improving your energy reserves and keeping your mood stable.

In the case of exercise, the connection between physical health and mental health is well understood. Cardiovascular exercise is highly beneficial for people struggling with anxiety. This form of exercise helps to strengthen the heart and lungs and prepares your body for stressful situations.

When you are feeling anxious, the physical symptoms of anxiety can often make the mental symptoms even worse. This includes:

  • Hyperventilation
  • Feeling like your heart is racing
  • Increased blood pressure

But when you participate in a regular cardiovascular routine, your body is better equipped to handle these physical symptoms.

The heart becomes used to beating faster, so it doesn’t feel as overwhelming. The lungs become optimised for absorbing oxygen, making hyperventilation less necessary. Exercise also helps to stabilise your blood pressure, further preventing you from feeling the physical symptoms of anxiety. In this way, a regular exercise routine can serve you in navigating anxiety without it getting out of control.

Nutrition plays a similar role. By eating a varied and healthy diet, you ensure your body has all the essential nutrients and minerals required to keep your hormones stable, your body energised, and your organs working effectively.

This stable base of health prepares you for when anxiety tries to pull your body into action — and leaves you better equipped to handle it.

Find a Reliable Support Network

When anxiety strikes, sometimes a supportive friend is all you need to get back to feeling your best. Finding a reliable support network can be indispensable in helping you navigate and overcome your anxiety.

Potential sources of support can come from nearly anywhere, but common places where people find the level of support they need include:

  • Anxiety support groups
  • Therapists or other mental health professionals
  • Compassionate co-workers
  • Understanding family members
  • Long-term friends who understand your anxiety

Ideally, people would have multiple different support networks to rely on — someone at the workplace, someone at home, and someone outside the home. But perhaps more critical is finding people who truly understand and empathise with your anxiety and can be a stable source of calm when you need it the most.

Use Breathing Techniques

Breathing techniques have long been a staple strategy for helping people through anxiety-provoking situations. Your breath getting out of control is often a symptom of anxiety and getting it back under control is often the path to helping resolve it.

There are many different breathing techniques you can use when anxiety strikes, but one of the most simple and common methods is known as the box breathing technique. This technique has just a few simple steps:

  • Breathe in for four seconds
  • Hold your breath for four seconds
  • Breathe out for four seconds
  • Hold the bottom of the breath for four seconds

Repeat this exercise several times, or until you feel like your breathing and anxiety are starting to subside.

The idea behind breathing techniques is simple: while anxiety often starts in the mind, it manifests in the body. But by controlling the body, you will often experience improvements in the mind.

Dozens of studies have validated different styles of breathing techniques in helping people overcome anxiety, panic attacks, and all types of other stressful mental situations.

Practise Mindfulness

Mindfulness practices are another fantastic way to navigate anxiety. This includes practices such as:

  • Sitting meditations
  • Guided meditations
  • Walking meditations
  • Yoga
  • Mindful eating

As strange as it may sound, these practices are designed to give you a helping hand when anxiety strikes. At its core, mindfulness is about accepting the present moment, recognising your thoughts without acting on them, and learning to regulate your emotions.

When you’ve developed a healthy mindfulness practice, you can call upon a mindful state in moments of distress. When your thoughts run out of control with anxiety, you can learn to observe them as only thoughts — not truths or things you need to act on.

With this in mind, a number of therapeutic modalities have started incorporating mindfulness practices into their treatment approach. Dialectical-behaviour therapy, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and acceptance and commitment therapy are all examples of evidence-based therapies that use mindfulness techniques to help people break free from anxiety.

Identify Your Anxiety Triggers

Often, states of anxiety are associated with specific events, circumstances, people, or even objects. If you learn to identify these anxiety triggers, you’ll have an easier time navigating anxiety-provoking situations.

For example, if spending time with your family for the holidays always brings anxiety, you can prepare yourself ahead of time or avoid the situation entirely. This often becomes a practice in weighing your options — are the benefits worth the potential downsides? Or would your life be better off if you skipped Christmas this year?

Prioritise Sleep

People who are underslept often have a much harder time managing their emotional state. Sleep is exceptionally important for both your physical and mental health, though studies have shown that as many as 20% of people in the United Kingdom don’t get the appropriate amount of sleep for their needs.

As a general guide, adults need seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. When you struggle with getting the sleep your body needs, your mood suffers in response; you feel more stressed, get anxious more often, and feel like you can’t complete all the tasks of the day.

Paradoxically, many people who struggle with anxiety have persistent symptoms of insomnia. If this is the case for you, seeking out professional mental health treatment can help you deal with both problems simultaneously.

Avoid Drugs and Alcohol

Drugs and alcohol can substantially increase the amount of anxiety you feel. While it might be obvious that stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, lead to excessive anxiety, the same is true of depressant drugs, such as alcohol or opioids.

For stimulants, the drug effect itself can heighten feelings of anxiety. It can also lead to an additive effect on the physical symptoms of anxiety, such as increased heart rate, respiration, and sweating.

For depressant drugs, it’s the comedown that can be incredibly anxiety-provoking. When alcohol or opioids wear off, any anxiety you felt before substance use can come back stronger than before.

Cut Back on Caffeine

For many people, caffeine is simply a part of daily life. But for people with anxiety, this can often be a subtle way of worsening your anxiety symptoms that may go unnoticed. Caffeine is a stimulant and can not only heighten anxiety symptoms when you drink a cup of coffee but interfere with your sleep as well.

Quitting caffeine cold turkey isn’t typically necessary, but reducing your intake, especially at night, can go a long way toward helping you navigate anxiety symptoms in the future.

Navigating Anxiety With a Mental Health Professional

Reducing your anxiety symptoms involves finding an approach that works best for your unique needs. At APN London, our team uses a wide variety of therapies and techniques to help people break free from anxiety — from traditional therapy and medication management to ketamine-assisted healing and deep transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Call our team at 0203 984 7699, connect with us via live chat, or send us a message using our confidential contact form to get started on your path to anxiety recovery.

References

  • Chand SP, Marwaha R. Anxiety. [Updated 2023 Apr 24]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2024 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470361/
  • “Sleep and Mental Health.” Mental Health UK, 26 Feb. 2024, mentalhealth-uk.org/help-and-information/sleep/.