When you struggle with anxiety, it can be an uphill battle to find coping strategies for anxiety that actually work. It’s not for a lack of trying either. Chances are you’ve tried numerous self-help programs, read several books on how to cope with your anxiety, watched videos on YouTube. Heck you might have even tried therapy or are currently in therapy.
Sure you had success with a few techniques. However, try as you might, you just can’t find any coping strategies for anxiety that keep your anxious feelings from overwhelming you on a consistent basis.
At this point you’re probably feeling like you’ll be an anxious mess for the rest of your life. Before you give up and allow your anxiety to control you, it might help to do the following:
1. Evaluate your expectations. What do you expect to happen when you use your preferred coping strategy for anxiety? Are you hoping that it will make your anxiety go away forever? If this is the case, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
I get it, dealing with anxiety is debilitating. It makes sense that you would want to find something to make it go away. However, the reality is that anxiety isn’t something that goes away. It’s a natural emotion that we all experience at some point or another.
Anxiety is our warning system and it alerts us that potential danger is nearby. It let’s us know that we need to figure out a way to stay safe. We actually need a little anxiety in our lives.
Anxiety becomes a problem when this system gets corrupted and benign things are seen as threats which sends our fight or flight response into overdrive. While you can learn ways to reduce your anxiety symptoms and rewire your corrupt anxiety alarm system, getting rid of anxiety completely is not in your best interest. Focus on finding ways to reduce your anxiety, not on ways to get rid of it.
2. Clearly define the desired result you want from the coping strategy you’re using. Many times when people implement coping strategies for anxiety it’s with the broad goal in mind that they will ‘feel better’. However, if you don’t clearly define what feeling better means to you, it’s difficult to measure if your chosen coping skill is having an impact or not.
When establishing what you want the outcome of your chosen coping strategy to be, it’s important that you’re specific and concrete about what you want (i.e. When I practice mindfulness, I want to be able to stay in the moment and be present while completing a task).
You also want your expectations to be realistic, time-limited, and attainable. If you’re just starting a mindfulness practice, it’s not realistic to think that you’ll be able to stay in the moment at all times without your mind wandering. This would be difficult for almost anyone. A more realistic expectation might be that you’ll be able to be fully present for at least 5 minutes while completing a 20 minute task. This is a realistic expectation and something you can measure to see if you’re making progress.
When you’re able to see the impact of your coping strategy on your ability to manage your anxious thoughts and feelings, you’re less likely to write off your efforts as not working. Chances are this will motivate you to continue implementing your coping strategies for anxiety instead of giving up on yourself.
3. Stop trying to control your anxiety. For some people, coping with anxiety means that they do everything in their power to avoid and escape any anxious feelings or thoughts that they experience. The problem with doing this is that although running away from anxiety might work for a little while, your anxiety comes back a majority of the time.
Anxiety is sort of like quick sand. The more you struggle with it and try and manipulate it, the more caught up and stuck you get in the muck and mire of what you’re trying to avoid. A more effective alternative is to learn how to practice acceptance.
Related Article: Want to Use Mindfulness to Relieve Anxiety? Then Try Doing This
4. Take a look at your self-care routine. Are you getting enough sleep? Eating healthy, making time to move? When I work with clients who struggle with anxiety one of the first things I assess is their level of self-care. Tending to your self-care needs is an integral part of coping with anxiety.
When you’re depleted physically, you have less energy and resources to manage your mental health. Although dealing with your anxiety is likely keeping you preoccupied, make sure that you’re making time to implement a regular self-care routine. It can make a huge difference in your ability to manage your anxiety.
5. Be patient. Are you giving yourself enough time to work with your preferred coping strategy before you decide that it doesn’t work? When you deal with constant anxiety, it’s natural to want the unpleasant feelings that it brings up to go away. You want instant results and when they don’t come, you assume it’s because your method of coping doesn’t work. The truth of the matter is, there are no quick fixes for anxiety.
Managing anxiety is a process that takes time. Be patient with yourself. Set yourself up for small wins and slowly build up your goals and expectations over time. Be proud of any positive changes you make, no matter how small it may seem. Understand that progress isn’t linear and some days you’ll see the results you want and on other days you won’t. This is completely normal.
If you’re interested in exploring more ways to manage your anxiety, you might find the following helpful: