7 Coping Tips for Anxiety From a Psychologist

10 Minute Read

It’s sometimes easy to lose sight of the importance of your own self-care when you’re so focused on others. Now more than ever, with the continuation of social unrest, the ongoing pandemic, and working remotely, we’ve had to get creative with how we take care of ourselves. 

As a Psychologist, I struggle to be fully present for others if I’m running on empty myself. Here are several practical strategies for coping with anxiety that I use when I need to feel more grounded. 

1. Use Mantras to Root Myself in the Present

I frequently find myself “time traveling”, which means stepping outside of the present moment and either replaying a past event in my mind or projecting some imagined future.

The only time that truly matters is now.

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Whenever we leave the present moment, we create problems for ourselves and others. The only time that truly matters is now. “Time traveling” with our thoughts is a potential rabbit hole, and diving headfirst into it won’t help boost your mood. Given the current uncertainty, it’s understandable that people catastrophize about what may lie ahead, because in this case we have very few answers—unfortunately, everyone is in the same boat.

How I cope: When I find myself “time traveling”, I remind myself that the only time that matters is this very moment. My favorite mantras that bring me back into the present are one-word statements such as “Release” and simply “Now”. A more developed mantra might be something like “Life starts now”, “Everything I need in this moment already exists within me”, and “Life flows in me, through me, and out into the universe in every moment.”

Everything I need in this moment already exists within me.

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Each of these mantras serves me during times of stress or when I’m feeling lost or lacking clarity. These mantras and affirmations have evolved and expanded over time as I’ve done my own self-development work. I share them with my therapy clients, and then I encourage them to sit with whatever resonates with them, evolving the mantra to fit their needs.

coping with anxiety
Each of these mantras serves me during times of stress or when I’m feeling lost or lacking clarity.

2. Remind Myself That it is Okay to Not Be Hyperproductive

In general, I’m a super-achiever. Working therapeutically with entrepreneurs and being a small business owner myself, I have to hold this in mind and be careful not to project this neurosis onto other people, including my clients and associates. During periods of stress, we all function and cope differently, so why would now be any different?

How I cope: I start with trying to be a bit more compassionate and forgiving toward myself. Unless I’m more attuned to myself in the present moment, I’m usually not even aware of the self-critical or judgemental thoughts that I sometimes tell myself. We truly can be our own worst enemies. When this happens, I tell myself to turn up the volume on my self-awareness of my inner dialogue.

What am I telling myself? What would I say to a friend or loved one who’s experiencing similar guilt over productivity? Would you tell your friend to do more than what they feel they can right now?

This is the time to set aside behaving like a super human and just take good care of myself.

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Of course not! In practicing this, I treat myself as I would a friend and challenge self-defeating thoughts, especially those that include “shoulds” and “musts.” This is the time to set aside behaving like a super human and just take good care of myself.

3. Use Stillness as an Opportunity to Reset

Like most people before this crisis, I was suffering from a fair degree of burnout. I’ve been craving a moment to pause and catch my breath, and I’ve used this time to give myself permission to be still and appreciate the natural ebb and flow of life. I’ve also been in awe with the stillness and peace that I’ve found within Mother Nature. In all places, there is a restorative opportunity to use stillness to reset and take care of ourselves.

How I cope: Instead of dwelling on the negative, I remind myself of some of the positive outcomes of this quarantine. I’ve allowed myself to have quality time virtually connecting with family and loved ones, to pick up a neglected hobby or forgotten projects, and to simply give myself time to put unfulfilling tasks on pause, and breathe a bit deeper.

In all places, there is a restorative opportunity to use stillness to reset and take care of ourselves.
resting in stillness

4. Embrace My Own Vulnerability

I’ve had profound moments of clarity in acknowledging my own vulnerability. I’ve found myself reflecting on how precious life is and how vulnerable life can be. When we’re open and vulnerable with others, it gives us an opportunity to feel heard and cared for.

When we’re open and vulnerable with others, it gives us an opportunity to feel heard and cared for.

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How I cope: I’ve been speaking more candidly with my therapy clients. As a therapist who was taught to always be a perfectly neutral “blank” slate, this shift has been refreshing, and has taken the work to a different level. In my private life, I’ve been sharing feelings with trusted friends, family, and even my own therapist. If my clients ask, I’ve chosen to share some of my personal experiences with them as we all find our way through this time. Even therapists aren’t superhuman, and I like to acknowledge that, yes, sometimes things are hard, and maybe we’re not doing this perfectly, but we’re doing our best.

By being vulnerable, I give others permission to speak openly, be seen and held, and receive a deeper, more humane and authentic level of support. It’s not always easy to be vulnerable, but this radical shift has reminded me that authenticity and demonstrating the vulnerability of my own humanity is worth it.

5. Practice Gratitude and Recognize Abundance

I take a few moments at the start of each day to consider all I have to be grateful for. It’s a wonderful way not only to take stock of my life, but to practice mindfulness, reduce anxiety, and increase the overall quality of my life.

How I cope: In order to not feel so weighed down during periods of stress or uncertainty, I take time to identify what I’m grateful for. Simply reframing my perspective and acknowledging the good around me is critical to staying balanced when things are tough. It’s so easy to get sucked in a doom-and-gloom mindset, and it’s important to have tools ready to challenge that mentality.

6. Focus on Breathing and Muscle Relaxation

I know from my studies that controlled breathing exercises can do some pretty amazing things. They can drastically reduce stress hormones and lactic acid flowing in your body, lower your blood pressure and heart rate, nudge blood flow back into equilibrium, improve immune function, and increase feelings of wellbeing. Even with this knowledge, though, I often forget to put these exercises into practice.

How I cope: When I’m stressed, I focus on the sensations in my body. I notice how my body tenses and my breathing becomes shallow. And when I’m relaxed, I pay attention to how my breathing becomes deeper and more restorative.

Pay attention to how your breathing becomes deeper and more restorative when you are able to relax.

 

We each have the power to move out of distress patterns more quickly if we harness the power of our breath.

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We each have the power to move out of distress patterns more quickly if we harness the power of our breath. By consciously moving my breathing from my chest to my abdomen, using the diaphragm, I move the nervous system into parasympathetic mode, giving myself a chance to just “relax.” Right before bed—or while I’m in bed—I tense up my body and relax it, and then find some visualization to help soothe me. This can be especially effective for people who are anxious and stressed.

7. Demonstrate Small Acts of Kindness and Forgiveness

Every act of kindness in the world counts, and this is a time when the world needs such gestures more than ever. We should do all we can to demonstrate kindness to those around us, and to be conscientious of people who are at risk and vulnerable.

How I cope: I’ve discovered that demonstrating forgiveness for myself and others opens up my life tremendously. You must forgive any mistakes you’ve made and any resentment you feel toward others. You cannot feel any sort of self-love as long as you have a constant flow of negative thoughts.

Love is an act of will and consciousness. It’s not passive; it’s an active decision to see the goodness in yourself, others, and the world despite all its dysfunction.

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Love is an act of will and consciousness. It’s not passive; it’s an active decision to see the goodness in yourself, others, and the world despite all its dysfunction. I often ask myself the simple question, “What can I do to positively impact someone else’s life today?” Within my practice, I place therapists at the center of the work, because they’re the source through which this vital energy flows. Expanding further, I’ve tried my best to give each and every employee my reassurance that they will not be in jeopardy, the company will do whatever it can to take care of them, they will be paid, and their health comes first. I know that in taking care of them, they’ll be able to take care of their clients and their work, and I trust that I’ll be taken care of in return.

The Bottom Line on Coping Tips for Anxiety

It’s so easy to get sucked in a doom-and-gloom mindset, and it’s important to have tools ready to challenge that mentality. The good news is that there are actionable steps you can take today to ground and soothe yourself. We each need to create our own recipes, but if you’re struggling, experiment with each of these techniques to see which ones fit.

Your Turn: What ways have you found to relax and cope with your anxiety? I’d love to hear your tips in the comments below.

Dr. Logan Jones

Dr. Logan Jones is a Psychologist and Founder of Clarity Therapy. Sign up for his free 30 Days of Gratitude email series and follow him on Instagram at @drloganjones.

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