Managing Anxiety

By Stacey Lambert, PsyD, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; Chair of the Clinical Psychology Department October 05, 2015

Stacey Lambert, PsyD, Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs; Chair of the Clinical Psychology Department.

Anxiety is a common experience. Mild amounts are adaptive in that anxiety is the body’s way of alerting us to possible environmental danger. Anxiety can motivate positive action such as preparing for a presentation or even avoiding spiders. It only becomes problematic when experienced in excess, such as when there is little real danger or when the amount of anxiety experienced impairs one’s functioning. Anxiety disorders are some of the most amenable to treatment. The management of anxiety is achievable through learning a set of self-management skills. Only in more severe cases are medications required.

Tips for Healthy Management of Anxiety

  • Exercise: Get accustomed to the various physical sensations so that they are not experienced as only indicators of danger. For example, one may breathe heavily after a brisk walk and this does not signify the onset of panic. 
  • Breathe deeply: This allows for a more efficient intake of oxygen that creates a sense of relaxation. 
  • Purposefully relax your muscles to create a feeling of calm. 
  • Utilize self-soothing statements such as “I can do it”. Try to individually tailor the statements to the situation. 
  • Distraction is your friend: Focus your mind on other thoughts and activities as opposed to dwelling on the source of your anxiety. 
  • Engage in imagery: A great way to make a mental escape is to conjure up a safe, happy place such as a sunny beach. 
  • Assess the probability of the feared stimulus actually occurring: Often we overestimate the likelihood of the most negative outcome happening so it is useful to put it in perspective. It is possible but improbable that the elevator will get stuck, for example. 

Different strategies are favored by different individuals, so try them all on for size and stick with the ones that work best for you. It is good to have a few options. Remember, like any other skill, the above must be practiced regularly so that they become over learned and available for use when needed.