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How to Deal With Anxiety: Coping Skills

Updated: May 22

At some point, each of us will experience anxiety and stress. Recognising that you are experiencing anxiety is the first healthy step toward learning how to manage and cope with your feelings.

Symptoms of anxiety and stress include:

  • Your heart is pounding for no good reason.

  • Your mind is noisy, flitting from one thought to the next.

  • You feel exhausted.

There are different ways to tackle anxiety, including:

  • Cognitive strategies

  • Physical strategies

  • Emotional support strategies

All these strategies are accessible, easy to implement, and flexible. Some methods are more appropriate for children, others for adults, and can be easily used at home or work. You can try each strategy to see which works best for you.


10 Simple Ways to Deal With Anxiety


It’s important to note that these coping strategies are not passive and won’t happen by themselves, without your attention and care.


Think of it like going to the gym; to improve your strength and endurance, you need to work out regularly. But to work out regularly, you need to make the time and monitor how you feel. If you’re feeling tired, you might complete an easier exercise session that day, but you can work harder when you feel mentally strong. Use this same approach when dealing with anxiety.

Strategies to cope with anxiety


When we feel stressed out or anxious, it’s very easy to let our other needs slide to the wayside. Here are 10 strategies you can implement:

  1. Relax your body and muscles, and control your breathing. You can do this through exercises such as yoga, guided meditation, mindful meditation, and breathing exercises.

  2. Use visualisations, music, and meditation to relax and ease your mind.

  3. Change your thinking so that you consider other alternatives and solutions to the situation that is causing anxiety.

  4. Consider facing what you are afraid of so that you can learn to recognise that your concerns are fleeting and see that your imagined outcome is not guaranteed.

  5. Get regular exercise so that you can sharpen your mind, learn to push through pain and exhaustion, get stronger, and have fun.

  6. Eat mindfully and maintain a healthy, moderate diet.

  7. Make time for yourself to recharge. This includes getting a good night’s sleep.

  8. Simplify your life so that you can adapt to stressful situations and avoid unnecessary (and avoidable) causes of stress.

  9. Do not go down the rabbit hole of worry. If you are aware that you are starting to worry, find a way to stop it.

  10. Finally, develop a set of strategies to use when you’re feeling anxious at a particular time so that you can cope with it in the moment (e.g., calling your friend immediately, doing some physical exercise, doing a breathing exercise, etc.).

Mindful Breathing Exercises


Using breathing techniques is an excellent way to control when you feel anxious or stressed.

You can practice mindful breathing first thing in the morning when you wake up to relieve muscle stiffness and back tension, or clear clogged breathing passages.


Here’s a simple way to achieve this: from a standing position, bend forward from the waist with your knees slightly bent, letting your arms dangle close to the floor. As you inhale slowly and deeply, return to a standing position by rolling up slowing, lifting your head last.


You then hold your breath for just a few seconds in this standing position. Exhale slowly as you return to the original position, bending forward from the waist. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.


Another exercise you could try is belly breathing. This is achieved by placing one hand on your stomach and the other on your chest. Inhale, filling your belly with air, and pushing your hand out.


Allow your breath to fill your lungs, pushing your other hand out. Finally, slowly exhale. You also could choose to hold the inhalation for a count of four.


List of adaptive coping strategies


Coping strategies are methods for addressing the impact of upsetting, anxiety-provoking, or stressful events Coping strategies can be further classified into similar clusters of strategy, for example:

  • Emotional or emotion-focused strategies

  • Problem-focused strategies or solution-focused strategies

  • Dysfunctional strategies

Coping Techniques and Strategies


Emotion-focused strategies (including acceptance-based strategies)


These strategies aim to change and deal with how we feel when confronted with a stressor.

Examples include:

  1. Turning to other people for emotional support and talking about your feelings.

  2. Looking for ways that you have changed as a person in a good way.

  3. Changing your viewpoint about the stressor by looking for positive things that have come from it.

  4. Turning to prayer or meditation for added support and finding comfort in your religion or life philosophy.

Solution-focused strategies


These types of strategies aim to change the reason for the source of the stress.

Examples include:

  1. Active coping strategies, such as trying to take action to change the situation.

  2. ‘Planful’ problem solving, such as concerted efforts to make necessary changes or designing a ‘plan of action’ to address the situation.

  3. Logical analysis, which refers to identifying multiple ways to change the situation and other solutions or changes if the first solution falls through.

  4. Active behavioural changes, which refers to making a plan and following it through. The proposed plan must be accompanied by behaviour; for example, taking the time to implement the solution.

Dysfunctional strategies


Dysfunctional strategies are ineffective strategies that are less likely to help. You should not engage in these strategies.

Examples of dysfunctional strategies include:

  • Denial or denying the existence of the event or the way you feel

  • Accepting responsibility by criticising yourself

  • Avoidance, such as avoiding other people

  • Emotional discharge, such as venting your emotions

Breathing exercises


These two breathing exercises will help teach you how to practice mindful breathing. Mindful breathing can be beneficial when you need to take a break and gather your thoughts. These exercises can be easily implemented in a parked car, home, bath, or any other environment. Keep this exercise as one of your go-to’s for when you need to cope with anxiety immediately.


1. Breath Awareness

  • Sitting in an up-right position or laying down on your back, find a comfortable position you can sustain for a few minutes.

  • Release any unnecessary tension and gently bring your awareness to your breath.

  • You only need to observe your breath, do not change anything.

  • Observe the movements and sensations in your body with each inhalation and exhalation.

  • Let your attention travel with the air passing through your nose and throat to your lungs, feeling the expansion of the chest and belly.

  • Continue doing this for a few minutes.

2. Anchor breathing

  • Imagine being on a boat, feeling calm, and safe

  • Attached to the boat is an anchor. It keeps you there, where you want, and happy

  • Our bodies, like the boat, also have anchors, and they can help us focus. Our belly, our nose and mouth, and our chest and lungs can help us feel grounded.

  • With your hands on your chest, breathe in deeply.

  • Breathe out slowly.

  • Feel your ribs rise and fall

  • As your mind wanders, gently bring it back to the anchor point.

Cognitive strategy exercises


An effective coping strategy is to consider alternatives to the stressful event and to reframe it as positive. Often the anxiety we feel about a particular event is unfounded and linked to only one outcome; there may be many positive outcomes possible.


The What If Bias exercise is a good starting point to help you change how you think about the particular stressful event causing you anxiety. Thinking of a situation or challenge that you’d like to tackle, list both positive and negative “What Ifs?” in different columns. This can help to adopt a rational perspective.


Doing a Coping Stressors and Resources exercise can also help. You need to list what you think is causing you anxiety and then consider the coping resources you have to tackle the problem.

  • Use the first column in a table to list the Stressors that are bothering you - they may be current stressors, stressors from the recent past, or future, anticipated sources of stress.

  • In the second column, create a list of Resources that you can implement to cope with the stressors. These might include strategies, techniques, meditations, or activities that you’ve learned or which have helped you cope before.

  • In the third, Obstacles column, brainstorm potential things that might impede your coping.

  • The last column invites you to plan how you can overcome these obstacles to effective coping, using any methods you believe will be effective.

To help you foresee possible challenges, you also need to consider the potential obstacles that you might encounter and how to overcome those obstacles.


Useful Activities and Exercises


Here are a couple of other practical activities and exercises to help you cope with anxiety.

Physical exercises


First, make time to exercise regularly. Find an exercise that you enjoy. It can be strenuous (e.g., running or cycling) or less strenuous (e.g., walking, hiking, or yoga), performed alone or with someone else. Having a physical activity like this in your toolbox of coping strategies will better buttress you against the effects of anxiety. It can also give you opportunities to recharge, spend time with other people, and be outside in nature.


Other physical exercises that are good to practice include mindful meditation and breathing exercises. Research shows that mindfulness is a useful strategy for dealing with anxiety, and breathing exercises can also help centre you and make you feel calm. You don’t need to wait until you feel anxious to practice these exercises.

Cognitive exercises


There are many cognitive strategies for coping with anxiety.


First, practice reframing negative situations as positive events.


Secondly, take the time to foresee the event cognitively. Consider alternative outcomes other than the worst-case scenario you’re worried about. Think about what can make you feel better and ensure you are prepared for other possible hiccups.


For example, if you are anxious about something:

  • Make a list of all possible outcomes (positive and negative).

  • Consider what you need to do to feel less anxious

  • Consider possible obstacles that might occur and solutions to overcome them

Finally, delegate responsibilities and lean on other people for emotional support. You do not live in a vacuum, and you can turn to your friends and family for support. List your friends and family who you feel comfortable talking to, and let them know if you feel anxious.


Using the Decatastrophising Worksheet below can be useful when you feel incredibly anxious about something.


Decatastrophising Worksheet


Use this Decatastrophising Worksheet to help cognitively restructure when you feel that you are becoming overwhelmed by catastrophic thinking.


‘Decatastrophising’ is about exploring the reality and facts of a situation rather than letting yourself be carried away by thoughts of “What If...?”


This worksheet has 5 questions to fill out:

  • Begin at the top, where you will find a space to clearly identify the catastrophe that is bothering you. State exactly what is on your mind, before rating precisely how distressing the hypothetical scenario would be on a scale of 0% (not so bad) to 100% (absolutely awful).

  • The second question asks you to consider the likelihood of the catastrophe taking place. To make this judgment as rational as possible, objectively consider whether the dreaded scenario has ever occurred before and, if so, how frequently it does tend to occur in real life.

  • The next question asks you to assess how terrible things would be if your catastrophe really occurred. Imagining that it has taken place, you are invited to consider the best- and worst-case scenarios. Then, you will step outside your own thought processes for a minute and imagine what a friend might say to you regarding your concerns.

  • With these considerations in mind, move on to the fourth question, where you can note down what you would do if the catastrophe occurred. Use your past experiences of similar events and consider what resources you could draw on to deal with the consequences. What social support system can you draw on? What strategies, techniques, or approaches have worked for you in the past?

  • The last question is a space for you to create a narrative about this catastrophe using all the information you’ve filled in. What would you want to hear in order to feel better? What would put your mind at rest, and how would it sound? Write this down, then reassess how terrible the catastrophe would be with fresh eyes.


1. What ‘catastrophe’ is bothering you?


Specify what you imagine will occur, avoiding “What if?” statements. Instead, rephrase these as precise predictions, e.g. “I won’t get the job.”


Rate how terrible you believe it would be out of 100%:



2. What is the likelihood of the catastrophe occurring?


In the past, has this ever happened before?


How frequently does this occur in real life?



3. How terrible would it be if your catastrophe really occurred?


What would the worst possible outcomes look like?


What would the best possible outcomes look like?


How would a friend talk to you about your concern?



4. If the worst possible scenario occurred, how would you cope?


What have you done in similar past situations?


What techniques, strategies, or people could you turn to?



5. What is the most reassuring or positive thing you would like to hear?


What kind of thing would you like to hear to feel better?


What would put your mind at rest, and how would it sound?


Rate how terrible you believe it would be out of 100%:




 

Sally Edwards Counselling

I am a fully qualified counsellor based in Orpington, Kent

I work with clients with problems including: depression, anxiety, panic attacks, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence, identity issues, relationship problems, self-destructive behaviours,

self-harm, childhood sexual abuse, sexual violence, domestic violence, domestic abuse, trauma, PTSD, eating disorders and body image problems

I am easily accessible from local areas near me including Orpington, Bromley, Chislehurst, Petts Wood, Sidcup, Beckenham, Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, Knockholt, West Wickham, Chelsfield, Swanley and Bexley

Face-to-face in person or online counselling
















































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