Updated: Jun 10, 2021
Anxiety is part of the human experience: It is designed to warn us of danger and ensure we are vigilant about our personal safety. In this way, anxiety can be very productive. It can motivate us to study, ensure we don’t drive too fast or out of control, help us consider others feelings and act appropriately in social settings.
However, if anxiety is so intense that it interferes with daily activities, or is not appropriate for the situation, then it becomes unproductive and unhelpful. Unproductive anxiety may cause you to avoid certain things, procrastinate, keep you from doing things you want, and make it difficult to set boundaries or resolve conflict. People experience a variety of impacts from anxiety: the key is figuring out what part of your anxiety is not working for you and how to manage it better.
Get a phD in your anxiety
As a starting point in determining what is helpful or not helpful about your anxiety, start by asking yourself the following questions:
When I am anxious, what am I afraid of?
What situations, people, places or things do I avoid because of my anxiety?
What would be different about my life if my anxiety was manageable?
If you are having trouble answering these questions, consider tracking your anxiety for a few days or weeks to get more information. Tracking and monitoring your anxiety levels can help you figure out what makes it worse, what makes it better, and what you do differently when you are anxious versus when you are not.
Monitoring and tracking anxiety levels can also help increase awareness of your body sensations you experience when anxious. As the safety system is automatic, we often don’t pay attention to the subtle changes that occur when our bodies start preparing themselves to deal with danger. Learning to attune to these changes may help you notice you are anxious sooner, and therefore give you the power to act sooner.
Tracking anxiety can be done using apps, a journal, check-ins with yourself, surveys, or a combination of all these things. Get creative and find what works best for you!
There are many different ways to cope when you are anxious and what works for one person may not necessarily work for you. To help manage anxiety, try out a variety of methods to find what works best for your specific situation.
Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
CBT is often used to help manage anxiety by examining unhelpful thought patterns and behaviours. Many psychologists use CBT when treating anxiety, as it has shown to be a very effective tool to help people manage stressful situations.
Face your Fears: Exposure!
Is there anything that you used to be afraid of but you aren’t anymore? Chances are you have had the experience in your life of gradually getting over a fear, or the experience of something you were nervous about getting easier the more you did it. The way you got over your fears was likely by facing them over and over: repeatedly showing yourself that they are not something to be afraid of. Exposure to the thing you are fearing will help reduce your anxiety about it.
The thought of facing fears head on can be terrifying, so if your immediate reaction was “ I am not doing that”, you are not alone. To help alleviate the fear of exposure: start small. Start with exposure to things that are a bit uncomfortable, but not intolerable. If you are struggling to come up with ideas, make a list of things or situations that you avoid as a result of your anxiety, and rank-order them from least anxiety producing to most. Start with the lower end of the scale and practice facing your fears until you are ready to step up to the next level. Over time each level will get easier and easier.
Relaxation & Grounding
There are many different relaxation and grounding techniques that can be used for coping with anxiety. Common techniques include progressive muscle relaxation, 5-senses grounding, and various breathing exercises.
Media and Resources about Anxiety
Interested in learning more about anxiety? Check out these recommended materials:
Center for Clinical Interventions: Anxiety worksheets and information on a variety of topics including panic, generalized anxiety and health anxiety.
Anxiety BC: free information, downloads, worksheets and videos.
When Panic Attacks: The new drug-free anxiety therapy that can save your life (2007) by David D. Burns.
The Mindful Brain (2007) by Dr Daniel J. Siegel
The Dialectical Behaviour Therapy Skills Workbook for Anxiety (2011) by Alexander L. Chapman, Kim L. Gratz & Matthew T. Tull
Rewire your Anxious Brain (2014) by Catherine M. Pittman & Elizabeth M. Karle
Punch Drunk Love (2002)