Coping with Anxiety

The way we think, feel and behave all impact one another. This means we can reduce anxiety by changing the way we think or behave. We can also engage in activities that change the way our body feels.

Ways to Help Cope with Anxiety

Change your Thoughts

Practice Mindfulness

Instead of focusing on the future or past, focus on the present moment. Mindfulness is the act of purposefully paying attention to the present moment and being non-judgmental. This is to help a person become aware of the full range of experiences, including sensations, thoughts, and emotions. Mindfulness is not always about “fixing” what we think or feel, but rather observing.

  • Engage your five senses- what do you see? Hear? Touch? Smell? Taste?
  • Listen to some relaxing music. What do you hear? How does it make you feel?
Come up with Ways to Combat Negative Thoughts
  • When anxious, it is easy to imagine negative situations. You may think about how you felt in the past and it reminds you of the current feeling. You may remember scary experiences that are the same or similar to worst-case situations that you've imagined. The problem is that your memory can be selective with past negative events (e.g.: being hospitalized). This is because memories of negative events are better remembered than memories with positive outcomes. For example, it takes more effort to think about times where you had shortness of breath and were actually safe and able to cope with it.
  • Try to spend time coming up with ideas that are different than the worst-case situations. What is the most likely situation? What is the best-case situation?

Change your Bodily Sensations

Calm the Body (it Helps to Calm the Mind!)

Engaging in relaxation exercises can help calm the body and reduce the Fight-Flight-Freeze response. It calms the mind and tells you that you are safe.

Focus on Your Breathing

Use your breath as an anchor for your attention. Visit the Breathing Techniques page for more information. 

  • Notice your breathing without trying to control it (be mindful of your breath).
  • Next, see if you can control your breathing. Aim for slow, even breaths.
  • If you feel able, you can also try deep breathing. In this case, breathe in through your nose for a count of three, hold the breath for three, and then slowly breathe out through pursed lips for a count of six. You can adjust the pace so it is comfortable for you.
  • The goal is to focus on your breathing instead of what happens in the future.  Also, this sends a signal to the brain that the fight-flight-freeze response is not needed at the moment.
Try a Body Scan

Starting at the top of your head or your toes, scan your body. Focus on one part of the body or a group of muscles at one time. Pay attention to any areas of tension and focus on mentally releasing the tension.

Change your Behaviour

Seek Out Information from a Trusted Health-Care Source

Seek out information from a trusted health-care source on what activities are safe versus less safe based on your medical needs.

  • Approach, don’t avoid.
  • Reflect on: What have I been avoiding? Why do I avoid these activities (i.e. what do I gain by avoiding)? What has been the impact of avoiding (i.e. what do I lose by avoiding)?
Take a Gradual Approach to the Things You are Avoiding

It may be true that avoiding can help reduce anxiety at the start. However, over time, the thing you are avoiding can seem scarier and harder to approach. Avoidance keeps anxiety present and can also lead to feelings of guilt, shame, sadness, and frustration. Taking on activities that cause anxiety can be helpful because you can learn that the people, places, activities, or things you were avoiding are not dangerous. Even if they are a little difficult, you can cope.

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