Coping With Anxiety


Why Do I Feel Anxiety?

Everyone feels anxiety once in a while. Anxiety is your body’s natural response when you think there’s some kind of danger or threat. Whether you fear something physical (e.g., having a disease) or social (e.g., being rejected by someone), your body reacts in a predictable way:

  • your heart beats more rapidly, and you may feel a racing pulse, palpitations, or chest tightness;
  • you breathe more quickly (or you may hold your breath), which can lead to shortness of breath, dizziness, lightheadedness, fear of fainting, and sometimes tingling feelings in your hands and feet;
  • your digestion slows, and you may have upset stomach, nausea, or indigestion;
  • you perspire more, and may feel chills or hot flashes;
  • and you may tremble or shake.

While these feelings are all typical signs of anxiety, they may be very frightening if you are unfamiliar with them. Most of the time, these feelings are only temporary and fade away naturally. If you find that your anxiety is frequent or prolonged, or if it starts to interfere with your life, then you may benefit from learning to manage your anxiety. Fortunately, there are lots of ways to restore your body to a relaxed state.

How Can I Feel Calmer?

  • Keep a daily log of how you’re feeling. Write down what you were thinking and doing when you felt most relaxed (and least relaxed). After one week, review the log to see what thoughts and activities you might want to practice more (or avoid).
  • Reduce or eliminate caffeine (coffee, tea, cola), tobacco, alcohol, and drugs.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise several times a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet and eat small but frequent meals to keep your energy level high.
  • Don’t overload yourself with too many changes or responsibilities at once–space them out, whenever possible.

Five Minutes to Relaxation

There are also a number of techniques to relax your body directly, and any one of them might work for you. These include hypnosis, yoga, massage, meditation, stretching, listening to soft music or “environmental” tapes/CD’s (e.g., ocean or forest sounds), or taking a leisurely walk. One of the easiest ways to relax is through deep breathing. To practice deep breathing:

  • Breathe out completely through your nose.
  • Take a deep breath, first letting your abdomen (belly) expand, and then filling up your chest with air.
  • Exhale slowly, letting the air out of your chest and then contracting your abdomen.
  • Repeat in a slow, regular rhythm, about 6-10 breaths per minute (6-10 seconds per breath).
  • Practice for at least five minutes to give your body time to “reset.”
  • If you have any discomfort, begin gradually and work up to longer periods.
  • Practice deep breathing at least twice a day. In time, it will become more natural and you will be able to feel relaxed more easily.
  • Add calming thoughts, (e.g., imagine a peaceful “mini-vacation” somewhere). Or repeat a simple word or phrase such as “relax” or “peace.”

See additional resources on the Links page.

The above suggestions are not a substitute for professional guidance, and no liability can be assumed for this advice. Seek professional assistance if your difficulties persist.