Living in the world means anxiety will creep in, because some circumstances are just plain worrisome. For clients who are seized by anxiety, therapists can offer one or more of these 10 simple, yet effective, anxiety management techniques suggested by therapist Margaret Wehrenberg. These techniques do require doses of persistence, and some even require fun and laughter.
# 1 Breathe
It seems so obvious, because breathing is a reflex that keeps us alive. But in the grip of anxiety, clients may forget that slow, diaphragmatic breathing can slow down or stop the stress response. A short practice of a minute or two several times a day can be more effective than longer practices in making relaxation breathing accessible in any situation.
#2 Care for the Body
Sleep, healthy eating and physical activity go a long way in maintaining emotional balance. Too much caffeine, nicotine or alcohol can upset the balance, so it’s important for therapists to remind patients of the influence of the body on the mind.
#3 Mindful Awareness
To pull attention away from anxiety, the client can have eyes closed and notice how the air feels and how the heart is beating. With eyes still closed, shift attention to what can be heard, smelled or even felt through the skin. Shifting attention among these impressions can bring a sense of control over anxiety.
#4 Derail Anger
Give anger the boot, not by expressing it unedited, but by writing answers the question, “If I were angry, what might I be angry about?” Short, simple phrases are best. The list can be reviewed for discussion so deeper levels of psychotherapy can resolve long-standing anger. Or the list can be tossed in the trash.
#5 Put Anxiety Out of Sight
Write down a list of worries and put them in a desk drawer, in the freezer to “chill out” or borrow the Al Anon technique of a God Box. Whatever the container, get worry out of sight, out of mind. If the client wants the worry back, it can always be retrieved.
#6 Schedule Worry
One technique for limiting the amount of time worry steals from more pleasant activities is to schedule 10 minutes to face the necessary worries. It might be a work problem or a medical issue. Worry once, deeply and well, then let the anxiety go until the next scheduled “worry session.”
#7 Ignore the Voice of Worry
When a client learns that the feeling of dread can stem from a brain function, the feeling can be translated into a cue to start a learned relaxation technique, like slow, deep breathing.
#8 Plan Instead of Worry
Identify a problem, list options for solving the problem, pick one option and write a plan of action. If anxiety surfaces, think, “Stop, I have a plan for that.”
#9 Stop That Anxious Thought
One of the most effective techniques in cognitive therapy is thought-stopping and thought-replacing. Warn clients that replacing an anxious thought with a more peaceful one can take an effort of up to 1,000 times a day, but eventually, the anxious thought gives up.
# 10 Have Fun. Laugh.
Need it be said that people have to be prescribed fun and laughter to keep anxiety at bay? Yes. In busy, often frantic lives with 24/7 communication, anxiety can creep in and take root. Laughter is an intermission from anxiety. Singing, dancing, enjoying the company of children, watching comedy or just relaxing with friends are all opportunities to break the anxiety cycle and remember how delightful, and light, fun actually feels.