5 Therapists Shared Their Simple Tips For Managing Anxiety If You Don't Have a Therapist
Approximately 40 million American adults ages 18 and older have an anxiety disorder, according to the American Psychological Association. Anxiety can affect everyone differently, with symptoms including feeling restless, on edge, and fatigued; having difficulty concentrating; experiencing a lack of sleep; heart palpitations; and trembling or shaking, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
There are a variety of ways to treat anxiety disorders, with options like psychotherapy and medication, and it's best to speak to a mental-health-care provider to figure out what's best for you. If you don't have access to a therapist for whatever reason, we enlisted five licensed therapists to share their tips and techniques that can help you manage your anxiety and stress. Check them out ahead.
Create Gratitude Lists
If you're experiencing anxiety, Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist and faculty member at Columbia University in New York City, recommends creating gratitude lists. "Another form of journaling, gratitude lists can be a great way to elevate your mood and help [you] cope with some of the negative thoughts that bring about anxious feelings," she said. "Keeping a journal with a list of positive prompts can help you contrast some of the stressful situations in your day with things that bring you joy."
Meditating is another therapist-approved way to manage your anxiety. "Using guided meditation apps are a free and accessible way to manage anxiety," said Nastassja Marshall, PhD, LCP, and founder of Renewal Therapy. She recommends setting aside 20 minutes each day to meditate to lower anxiety and improve your emotion regulation.
Try a Breathing Technique
If you aren't into meditating and don't have access to a therapist, try a breathing strategy that can be done anywhere. "It's helpful for people to practice these techniques when they aren't feeling anxious so they are better equipped to implement these skills in an anxious state, when adrenaline and emotions are high," said Lauren Mosback, MA, LPC, NCC, and founder of Lauren Mosback Counseling Services.
The first technique Lauren recommends is 4-7-8 breathing. "Slowly breathe in [for] four seconds, hold your breath [for] seven seconds, and exhale [for] eight seconds," she said. She suggested repeating this technique four to five times.
Another breathing technique you can follow is the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique. "Rather than being trapped by anxious thoughts in your mind, grounding helps you stay in the present moment instead of worrying about things that have happened or may happen in the future," she said.
How to do the 5-4-3-2-1 technique: "Look around you and list five things you see, name four things you feel (your hair, a carpet), three things you hear (birds, the sound of your breath), two things you can smell (your perfume, a candle), and one thing you can taste," Lauren said. "This strategy helps individuals feel more in control of their surroundings and themselves by refocusing on their body and how they are physically feeling rather than on their anxious thoughts," she explained.
LaQuista Erinna, PhD, LCSW, founder of T.H.R.I.V.E. Behavioral Health and Consulting, recommends trying the four-square breathing technique. "Breathe in for four [seconds], breathe out for four [seconds], breath in for four [seconds], and breathe out for four [seconds]," she explained.
Relax Your Muscles
Another option that may help you manage your anxiety is the muscle relaxation exercise, Lauren said. "Starting at the feet, gently squeeze the foot muscles, then slowly release them. Next, squeeze the large muscles in the calves for five seconds, then release them. Then squeeze the thigh muscles for five seconds, then release," she instructed. Work your way up your entire body, squeezing and releasing your muscles like your quads, obliques, forearms, and triceps.
Practice the A-B-C-D Method
To manage your anxiety, Dr. Erinna suggests trying the A-B-C-D method, a mental check-in you can do with yourself. "A: Be aware of your anxiety. B: Be with your feelings of anxiety and be present in the moment. C: Check the message of your anxiety. What are you anxious about? Where is the anxiety showing up in your body? What does your anxiety tell you to do? D: Decide what to do. Is it enough to just acknowledge your feelings, or should you take some other action?" Dr. Erinna said.
Schedule Time to Worry
Scheduling time to worry may seem like it will cause more anxiety, but according to Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, founder of Baltimore Therapy Group, it can be very helpful. "Worry time is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than allowing anxious thoughts to consume better parts of days or sleepless nights, you can set aside specific time each day for a specific length of time to allow yourself to worry," she said.
If you experience anxious thoughts outside of your worry time, Heather advised writing down those thoughts and coming back to them during the designated worry time. "Worry time works because of a mechanism psychologists call stimulus control," Heather explained. "When we establish specific times to worry, we stop our brain from being stimulated to worry in response to triggers like specific people or places. This helps us begin to disentangle the stimulus-response link."
According to Dr. Erinna, during your worry time, you should write down everything that makes you anxious. "At the end of the week, go back and visit your journal to see what you wrote. It's important to see and acknowledge your concerns," she said.
"Journaling helps us keep a record of our feelings, our day-to-day, and any outlying circumstances where anxiety became a problem. This can help us observe our feelings and the events that caused turmoil, helping us address at our own pace," Dr. Hafeez said.
Editor's note: These methods aren't meant to replace standard mental health care. Please consult a mental health specialist like a licensed psychologist or psychiatrist. If you are feeling anxious or depressed and need help finding help or resources, contact the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (1-240-485-1001) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (1-800-950-6264).