​​10 Best-Ever Anxiety-Management Techniques
Margaret Wehrenberg

The unpleasant symptoms of anxiety that anxiety-management techniques can help to correct fall into three typical clusters:

  • the physical arousal that constitutes the terror of panic;
  • the "wired" feelings of tension that correlate with being "stressed out" and ]an include pit-of-the-stomach doom;
  • the mental anguish of rumination--a brain that won't stop thinking distressing thoughts.

Cluster 1: Distressing Physical Arousal

Panic is physical, sympathetic arousal causing the heart-thumping, pulse-racing, dizzy, tingly, shortness-of-breath physical symptoms that can come from out of the blue, and are intolerable when not understood. Physical symptoms of anxiety include constant heightened physical tension in the jaw, neck, and back, as well as an emotional-somatic feeling of doom or dread in the pit of the stomach. The feeling of doom will always set off a mental search for what might be causing it.

Method 1: Manage the Body. Humans have bodies needing ongoing self-care, including sleep and exercise. Shifts in thyroid function also contribute to shifts in anxiety.

Method 2: Breathe. Breathing will help slow down or stop the stress response. It's a physiological response so thinking that breathing won't work doesn't stop the response.

Waiting can be stressful and is the perfect time to practice conscious, deep breathing. Do it for about one minute at a time, 10 to 15 times during the day. This will eventually help associate breathing with daily life and activities, in order to start to build a habit of deep breathing all the time.

Method 3: Mindful Awareness. This simple "mindful awareness" exercise has two simple steps, repeated several times.

1. Close your eyes and breathe, noticing your body, how the intake of air feels, how the heart beats, what sensations you may be experiencing.

2. With your eyes still closed, purposefully shift your awareness away from your body to what can hear or smell or touch.

By shifting awareness back and forth several times between what's going on in your body and what's going on around you, you can start to learn in a physical way that you can control what aspects of your world -- internal or external -- that you want to give more attention to or which ones less attention. 

Cluster 2: Tension, Stress, and Dread

Some people experience high levels of tension that are physically uncomfortable and compel them to search frantically for the reasons behind their anxiety. They often believe they can "solve" whatever problem seems to be causing anxiety and thus relieve its symptoms. But since much of their heightened tension isn't about a real problem, they simply waste time running around their inner maze of self-perpetuating worry. The following methods are most helpful for diminishing chronic tension.

Method 4: Don't Listen When Worry Calls Your Name. In describing the voice of worry, she was describing that physical, pit-of-the-stomach sense of doom that comes on for no reason, and then compels an explanation for why it's there. 

Few realize that the feeling of dread is just the emotional manifestation of physical tension. This "Don't Listen" method decreases this tension by combining a decision to ignore the voice of worry with a cue for the relaxation state by learning progressive muscle relaxation to get relief. Cue up relaxation several times throughout the day by drawing a breath, yawning deeply and relaxing your jaw, and remembering how you feel at the end of the relaxation exercise.

Worry is a habit with a neurobiological underpinning. Even when a person isn't particularly worried about anything, an anxiety-prone brain can create a sense of doom, which then causes hypervigilance as the person tries to figure out what's wrong. It was as though the brain had gone into radar mode, scanning the horizons for problems to defend against. This cause-seeking part of the brain, triggered by changes in physiology that made results in a feeling of dread, in effect, calls out, "Worry now!"

To stop listening to that command to worry, say to yourself, "It's just my anxious brain firing incorrectly." Instead, use it as a cue to begin deep relaxation breathing, which can help to stop the physical sensations of dread that trigger the radar. mode

Method 5: Knowing, Not Showing, Anger. Anger can be so anxiety-provoking that some people may not allow themselves to know they are angry. 

This Method is not for people who have anger management issues including aggression, hostility, violence or bullying. 

When a person fears anger because of past experience, the very feeling of anger, even though it remains unconscious, can build up over time and produce anxiety. The key to relieving this kind of anxiety is to decrease the sense of tension and stress, while raising the consciousness of anger so that it can be dealt with in a productive manner. Simply being able to feel and admit to anger, and to begin working on how to safely express it, diminishes anxiety. And, "To know you're angry doesn't require you to show you're angry."

The next time you are stricken with anxiety, immediately sit down and write as many answers as possible to this specific question, "If I were angry, what might I be angry about?" Restrict their answers to single words or brief phrases. The hypothetical nature of the question is a key feature, because it doesn't make them feel committed to the idea that they're angry.

Method 6: Have a Little Fun. Laughing is a great way to increase good feelings and discharge tension. Playing with a child will get a person laughing. Laughter itself is one of the best "medications" of all for tension and anxiety.

Cluster 3: The Mental Anguish of Rumination

The final methods are those that deal with the difficult problem of a brain that won't stop thinking about distressing thoughts. Continual worry suffocates a person's mental and emotional lives.

Rumination is almost entirely a neurobiologically driven feature of anxiety. What people usually worry about is less important than the all encompassing nature of The Worry. Their brains keep the worry humming along in the background, generating tension or sick feelings, destroying concentration, and diminishing the capacity to pay attention to the good things in life. Seeking reassurance or trying to solve the problem they're worrying about becomes their sole mental activity. They think they can think their way out, and it ends up distorting the landscape of their lives. There is never enough reassurance to stop rumination altogether. That's the trap.

The ruminating brain is like an engine stuck in gear and overheating, and slowing or stopping it gives it a chance to cool off. The more rumination is interrupted, the less likely it'll be to continue. The following methods are the most effective in eliminating rumination.

Method 7: Turning It Off. "Clearing Space", Put it on a Shelf, or Put it in a "God Box." The goal is to give the ruminative mind a chance to rest and calm down, even if just for a minute or two.

Method 8: Persistent Interruption of Rumination. Ruminative worry has a life of its own, consistently interfering with every other thought in your mind. Thought-stopping/ thought-replacing is the most effective cognitive-therapy technique for interrupting chronic rumination, but the key to making it work is persistence. You must do it every time you catch yourself ruminating, even if it is 1,000 times a day or more!

Method 9: Worry Well, But Only Once. Worrying the correct way can help eliminate secondary, unnecessary worrying. For 10 minutes, (1) worry through all the issues; (2) do anything that must be done at the present time; (3) set a time when it'll be necessary to think about the worry again; (4) write that time on a calendar; and (5) whenever the thought pops up again, say, "Stop! I already worried!" and divert her thoughts as quickly as possible to another activity.

Method 10: Learn to Plan Instead of Worry. A good, realistic plan doesn't need constant review. An anxious brain, however, will reconsider a plan over and over to be sure it's the right plan -- and sometimes it isn't. 

One good way to get out of the reassurance trap is to use the fundamentals of planning. Planning includes: (1) concretely identifying a problem; (2) listing the problem-solving options; (3) picking one of the options; and (4) writing out a plan of action with reasonable, doable steps.

After making a plan, some people who ruminate will feel better for a few minutes and then start obsessively "reviewing the plan" -- a standard mental trick of anxiety. The rumination makes them again feel overwhelmed, which in turn triggers the desire for reassurance.

At this point, you have two choices. Maybe the action steps of plan are too big or too vague, and they need to be broken down into more bite size steps. Revise the plan but no more than one or two revisions. If the plan is reasonable, then use the fact that you have the plan as a concrete reassurance to prevent the round-robin of ruminative replanning.

The plan, which can be shared with another person, becomes part of the thought-stopping statement, "Stop! I have a plan!" It also can help stop endless reassurance-seeking, because it provides written, step-by-step solutions even to complex, challenging problems. Having the plan frees up energy to be able to take action.

adapted from 10 Best-Ever Anxiety-Management Techniques
Margaret Wehrenberg

Stress  & Anxiety

If you get tired, learn to rest, not quit.

"I know you're sad or mad right now, so I won't tell you to have a good day. Instead I will say to simply have a day. Hopefully, feed yourself well, wear comfortable clothes, get some rest, and please don't give up just yet. Change can happen. Until then, have a day."


Six Myths About Stress

Dispelling common myths about stress can lead a happier, healthier life.

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D.

Sept. 25, 2012

Misunderstandings about stress can lead to more of it in our lives. Here are six points offered by the American Psychological Association to help you dispel common myths about stress, and a little guidance from me to help you take positive and productive action to reduce the overall stress in your life.

Myth #1: Stress is the same for everyone.

Not true. We each have a different threshold for letting things get to us and we all react to stress differently. Some people withdraw; some people experience anxiety; some lose their cool. Identifying what your triggers are and what you tend to do under stress are essential first steps in developing a successful stress management routine.

Myth #2: Stress is bad.

Stress can be bad, but not always. In fact, in some circumstances, stress can help you survive a dangerous situation (the normal fight or flight response). Stress also can be a great motivator to getting things done. Whether stress is "good" or "bad" has more to do with the amount of stress in your life and how you manage it rather than a simple positive or negative valence. 

Myth #3: Stress is everywhere, so you just have to live with it.

Many aspects of today's world (a bad economy, long work hours, overscheduling, etc.) lead to increased stress for many people. But stress is not everywhere and you don't have to simply accept it. You can shape your life in such a way that you have stress-free time during your day. You also can develop effective strategies for managing those experiences in your life that you do find stressful. Prioritizing, breaking down complicated tasks into smaller, simpler projects, and effective time management strategies are just a few of the ways to reduce stress. 

Myth #4: The most popular strategies for reducing stress are the best ones.

This is a dangerous myth to believe because it leads people to force themselves to engage in activities that are "supposed" to relieve stress even though those strategies may not be effective strategies for their unique lifestyle and personality. There is no one-size-fits-all stress management program. Many of my clients find yoga extremely stressful whereas others live by it as a way to reduce stress. The best stress management plan is the one that fits your unique needs and interests. If you try to force stress management routines in your life because they seem to be working so well for others, you're likely to add to your stress rather than decrease it.

Myth #5: No symptoms, no stress.

Not true. An absence of symptoms does not equate to an absence of stress. Over time, chronic stress will eventually cause your mind and body to start wearing out (fatigue, loss of productivity, forgetfulness, etc.). But this can take years, sometimes decades. Don't ignore the stress in your life simply because you may not be suffering at this moment. Developing healthy stress management routines early in life will go a long way in helping you get through the more challenging time when they arise.

Myth #6: Only major symptoms of stress require attention.

Minor symtoms of stress will eventually turn into major symptoms of stress if not effectively managed. Think of the minor signs of stress (headaches, feeling tired, etc.) as warning flags. 

The most important thing to remember is that while there are many ways to reduce stress, the key to effective stress management is rarely some seven-day or 30-day program that tells you what to do to relax or how to find "balance." The key is discovering your own stress management program, one that works for you and your lifestyle, then making the commitment to incorporate it into your life. (See my article, Refueling Your Engine, for more specifics on developing a unique stress management plan that will work for you.)

© 2012 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

"Pain is knowledge rushing in to fill a gap. When you stub your toe on the foot of the bed, that was a gap in knowledge. The pain is a lot of information coming in really quick." 
Jerry Seinfeld


(adj.) an individual who embraces their "flaws" and knows they are awesome anyway.

"Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity." Seneca, an ancient Roman statesman & philosopher

Creating Choices