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Five Expert-Approved Strategies for Staving Off Anxiety

This article discusses the prevalence of anxiety as well as five expert-approved strategies to keep anxiety at bay. 

Anxiety is an issue that is as individualized as it is sweeping, affecting over 264 million individuals, or 3.6 percent of the global population. Remarkably, women are twice as likely to struggle with anxiety. In contrast to men, 2.6 percent of whom have an anxiety disorder, an estimated 4.6 percent of females experience anxiety at some point in their lives.

Given that anxiety is such a pervasive problem, even mental health experts struggle with it occasionally. “Despite being a therapist that specializes in anxiety, I have certainly experienced my own anxiety from time to time and am no superhuman,” Ashley L. Annestedt, a practicing cognitive behavioral therapist and social worker, told HuffPost.

Contrary to popular belief, clinicians are prey to the very symptoms that affect their patients. For these reasons, licensed therapists have become increasingly cognizant of their own stress levels and frame of mind. “The ability [of] the practitioner to perform well and provide services to a patient or client requires that that individual is managing his/her mental wellbeing,” says Todd Farchione, Ph.D., research associate professor at the Boston University Center for Anxiety & Related Disorders.

Let’s explore a few strategies that mental health professionals use to get themselves through a spell of anxiety.

1.      Awareness and Acceptance

“The first step in solving a problem is recognizing there is one,” as the saying goes. This approach is particularly effective when coping with anxiety, says clinical psychologist and author Kevin Gilliland. “Once I came to terms with the fact that I had an active mind—one that sometimes disrupted my sleep and time with my family—I’ve done a much better job of managing it,” Gilliland admitted. Other practitioners advise identifying the source of your anxiety as a means of navigating it. Knowing what you’re dealing with automatically makes it less intimidating, explains Dr. Franklin Schneier, co-director of the Anxiety Disorders Clinic at the New York State Psychiatric Institute.

2.      Practice Deep Breathing

Deep breathing (also known as diaphragmatic breathing) is a tried-and-true practice through which to lower your stress levels. From a biological standpoint, deep breathing not only reduces anxiety but triggers your body’s innate ‘rest-and-relax’ response. The autonomic nervous system, which regulates the body’s involuntary physiologic processes, is divided into two branches, the sympathetic and parasympathetic divisions. The former regulates the body’s ‘fight-or-flight’ response, and the latter controls the body’s ‘rest-and-relax’ response. Although both branches of the autonomic nervous system are perpetually active, one can eclipse the other depending on the body’s internal and external conditions. For instance, whereas stressful situations activate the sympathetic division, relaxation techniques can spur the autonomic branch into action. Deep breathing is one such activity that propels the body into a ‘rest-and-relax’ state. Taking deep, controlled breaths helps to lower cortisol levels and, more importantly, allows you to take a step back and regroup.

3.      Self-Care

Establishing a self-care routine is often crucial, especially for practitioners with hectic schedules. Taking a few moments to unwind and evaluate your emotions and thoughts is a simple, but effective way to keep anxiety at bay. “Engaging in a self-care routine has been clinically proven to reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression, reduce stress, improve concentration, minimize frustration and anger, increase happiness, improve energy, and more,” says Dr. Matthew Glowiak, a clinical faculty member in the graduate clinical mental health counseling program at SNHU. What’s more, practicing self-care is not only conducive to your overall health but productivity as well. On top of its immediate benefits, implementing a self-care routine has been shown to help prevent depression and burnout in the long run.

4.      Journaling

Offering opportunities for introspection and a private space in which to explore your waking thoughts, journaling is the gold standard for coping with stress. Habib Sadeghi, author of The Clarity Cleanse and a spiritual psychologist, relies on journaling to alleviate his anxiety. “I write down everything that’s disturbing my peace, paying attention to how those things are making me feel,” Sadeghi told HuffPost. By distancing himself from his written thoughts, Sadeghi can “assess the situation without losing [himself] in it or becoming it.”

5.      Practicing Mindfulness

Mindfulness is defined as “the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us.” Pausing to reflect on the present moment or activity is often easier said than done. There’s always some task to perform, call to answer, or appointment to make—really, the list goes on... and on. Stopping to take in your physical senses and thoughts is one way to quiet these external stimuli and stave off stress. What’s more, mindfulness is not a fixed destination or state of mind; rather, it’s an approach that enables us to focus on the immediate sensations and emotions that we’re feeling. How can you practice mindfulness? Simply being aware of your body’s sensations—what you’re seeing, smelling, hearing, touching, and tasting—is one way to live in the present. Another common technique entails taking a moment to parse your thoughts and emotions. Cultivating an acute awareness of our internal state enables us to manage other facets of our lives with a greater sense of calm.

All in all, even mental health experts often struggle with managing their anxiety. Several tricks that practitioners swear by to cope with stress include (1) becoming aware of and embracing your anxiety, (2) performing deep breathing exercises, (3) engaging in self-care, (4) journaling, and (5) practicing mindfulness.

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