How to Heal Anxiety

How to Heal Anxiety

Anxiety is a condition, just like any other, that can wreak havoc on your life and leave you stressed, lonely, unemployed, and just generally all-around miserable.  This is where I found myself when I was struggling with social anxiety disorder (SAD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).  However, again much like any other condition, it is something that can be treated successfully, and you can reach the opposite extreme where you have tons of wonderful friends, fulfilling employment, romantic success, and a general feeling of happiness and well-being.

So, how do you heal anxiety?  Unfortunately, for many the solution is to visit the doctor and see which type of medication he prescribes.  This is one possible step that you can take, but like any other condition, using a more comprehensive approach enhances the level of success you experience.  If clichés make more sense to you, “you get out of it what you put into it.”  Besides taking a few steps, there is an additional point to keep in mind:  what works for one person may not work for another; it is up to you to build your own plan based on what experience teaches you.

How to Cure Anxiety: 8 Methods I Have Learned

Here are some of the techniques I have learned that can help to cure anxiety:

1. Accept help from a professional counselor or psychologist

This is very scary for people in Western society where we are taught to live independently, but life works differently.  Using the aid of knowledgeable others can be incredibly helpful.  Counselors typically have very gentle personalities and an open, calm, and accepting manner.  Their goal is to make it as comfortable as possible for you to interact with them.  Attempting to recover from anxiety on your own does work, but working with a counselor is like strapping on a jetpack – it helps you to grow at an incredibly rapid pace.  One caveat is that not all counselors or psychologists can work with all people.  If things simply are not working between you and your counselor, feel free to move on to another one.

2. Exercise regularly

Not only is exercise good for you physically, but it is also great for reducing anxiety and stress.  Exercise releases endorphins which cause you to experience a general sense of happiness and well-being.  All you need to do to gain the benefits is 3 sessions per week of 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise.

3. Regular journaling

For me, I have found it incredibly helpful to journal in order to collect my thoughts at the end of the day.  I typically spend 15-20 minutes writing about what happened.  It helps me to gain clarity and focus, and there is something about putting words on paper that helps to remove the anxious thoughts from my head.  While helpful for me, I have heard of many people who completely hate writing.  If this is the case for you, this is one of those things that seems to be optional.  But, it is always good to at least have the awareness of another tool to reduce your anxiety.

4. Avoid foods that cause anxiety

There are a few different foods and substances that will increase your anxiety if consumed.  Caffeine and alcohol, which are difficult to avoid in American society, are two of the chief aggravators of anxiety.  If you are like me and you really enjoy drinks which contain these two substances, the good news is you do not have to completely eliminate them from your diet.  Instead, you just have to minimize your intake.  “Minimizing,” in this case, means like 2-3 caffeinated and alcoholic drinks in a week.  Of course, if you are willing to live with more anxiety, you can consume more, but this is the general guideline.

5. Eat foods that help to reduce anxiety

Be sure to stay well-hydrated.  Dehydration can cause fatigue, and one of the body’s responses to fatigue can be anxiety.  Foods rich in complex carbohydrates such as pastas, brown rice, sweet potatoes, corn, peas, and beans are excellent for maintaining your energy levels and keeping anxiety down.  Another anxiety-reducing substance is tryptophan, and foods high in tryptophan include milk, oats, nuts, and peanut butter.  Finally, one vitamin to make sure you have in your diet is vitamin B-6.  This vitamin helps to regulate serotonin, a neurotransmitter which is responsible for managing your anxiety levels.

6. Maintain a supportive social network

A supportive social network is one that makes you feel okay with having your struggle with anxiety.  Additionally, people who are supportive will offer to help you through the difficulty, or perhaps to find a new way to understand situations that are causing you anxiety.  If people are trying to make you feel guilty, embarrassed, or simply do not want to acknowledge your anxiety condition, the best thing to do is to distance yourself from them.  Of course, if they begin to show an understanding of anxiety, feel free to bring them back into your lives.  You do not have to remove them from your life completely, but you will find that conversations about anxiety will end up going nowhere.  This may be the second most difficult part of getting better from anxiety.

7. Continue to take risks

Without a doubt, this is the most difficult step in recovering from anxiety.  For a while, it may be necessary to retreat from the outside world, find some help, think things over, and figure out how you are going to approach life now that you have recognized anxiety’s effects.  But, eventually, there will come a time where talking and thinking must translate to action.  Action means that you are actively putting yourself in situations that make you anxious.  Most people are surprised when they do this because they actually experience more anxiety!  But, never fear, because that is completely normal.  You are moving outside of your usual comfort zone, and anxiety is a natural response for all people; the difficulty for people with anxiety disorders is that they experience too much anxiety in comparison to the average person.  As you continue to take risks and work through the difficult situations, you will find that eventually you begin to grow in self-confidence, and people or situations that used to cause you anxiety now cause you little or no anxiety.

8. Use medication

For many, this is the first step to recovering from anxiety.  However, medication is a short-term false fix to a long-term real problem.  When you take medication, it simply reduces the intensity of the physiological effects of anxiety (shaking, sweating, tingling etc…) and the accompanying emotions.  If you have social anxiety, you do not suddenly become a confident and competent extrovert; you still have to take risks and do the work.  Additionally, it can take much time and thousands of dollars before you find a medication and dosage that is right for you.  A certain medication may work for most people, but not all people.  And finally, the side effects of medication may end up outweighing the benefits.  All that being said, medication does have its place, but it has its highest level of effectiveness when working in combination with the other factors given before.

* * *

There are many more methods for curing anxiety; however, with the exception of journaling, these are the most critical.  Other creative methods for healing anxiety include playing Nintendo Wii, getting a pet, and using biofeedback, but those require separate articles in themselves.

Overall, the most important point to draw from this article is that anxiety is a challenge that requires a comprehensive, rather than singular approach.  The more of these cures you use, the lower your anxiety level will be.  If you feel confused or frightened, hopefully this article has helped you to discover which direction to go in the future.  Good luck to everyone who chooses to help themselves and heal their anxiety!

Dan Stelter

Dan Stelter is the founder of The Anxiety Support Network, a blog dedicated to changing the world by treating anxiety.  Read the blog and listen to podcasts, or follow ASN on Twitter.

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34 Comments

  1. Dan, what a great article. Being a sufferer of OCD, I also deal with a high amount of anxiety on a day-to-day basis. These tips that you’ve provided all make sense to coping with anxiety. For example, the one on caffeinated drinks can make me really anxious, and I realize the anxiety becomes higher after I drink a soda can or a full cup of coffee. Water, however, makes my body more relaxed.

    Furthermore, I love the example on working through the difficult situations. Part of why we are anxious is because we are afraid to go into that discomfort zone, but the more we are exposed to it, the more we understand that it’s not as bad as we think. Although this may take a slower step-by-step approach, it does help to cope with anxiety, and even heal it in the long run.

    Reply
    • Thanks for your compliments and I’m glad you find these beneficial for OCD as well! I suffer from social anxiety and generalized anxiety, and my theory was that many of the things that worked for these anxiety conditions worked for other anxiety conditions as well. Good to hear and glad that I could be of help!

      Reply
  2. I can add ‘Learning how to relax quickly’ to this list.

    Learning how to calm yourself down is very important and it can be learned. There are various breathing techniques that are easy to do at any time (like 7/11 or 3/5).

    There is a ‘mindfulness’ technique, which is becoming very popular for overcoming anxiety. I recently installed a software application on my laptop to remind me to relax while I am working. You can have a free trial that would teach you some simple ways to relax and be present ‘in the moment’. Try it at http://www.stillnessbuddy.com

    Reply
    • Yes another good point to add, which I have not yet fully discovered in my own life. Deep breathing has been helpful at times, but I haven’t fully found that “quick relax” method yet. I would challenge the effectiveness of a deep breathing technique to teach you to quickly relax, but at the very worst, it is still helpful.

      Reply
  3. Thanks for a fantastic post! The food tips are great – I honestly had no idea about some of these. One other tip I would add is to spend time outside – literally just being in natural light has made a huge difference for me in terms of keeping my energy levels up and my attitude positive :)

    Reply
    • Yes – spending time outside is wonderfully helpful, especially since the Winter thaw is just coming now. Larger amounts of sunlight are very helpful; there are many other methods for reducing your anxiety as well – I tried to name the ones that seemed most effective for most people.

      Reply
  4. I have been dealing with anxiety for as long as I can remember… to the point where I have developed hyperhydrosis (excessive sweating condition) which just seems to make my anxiety higher. It’s a vicious circle. I grew up not very well liked by my peers and I am sure that it caused me to have low self esteem and I have not yet gotten to the point where I feel comfortable in my own skin. I liked some of the tips you gave because there are definitely ways to make it better. I feel like I have tried everything except medication, so that might be the next step.

    Reply
    • Glad that the article could be of help! My wife had similar circumstances happen in her own life, and she is still figuring out how to deal with it. If nothing else, the bottom line is that you are motivated to get better, which means that in time you will get better; it’s just a matter of finding that right mix, as you noted.

      Reply
  5. Deep breathing meditation (and many other forms of meditation) is a wonderful reliever for anxiety. Its a free, natural alternative to medication.

    Reply
  6. All very good points! Except medication in my opinion. I’m studying psychology and medication linked with depression can cause more harm than good. For example, more people have committed suicide using medication than without.

    Reply
    • Interesting point about depression, which is a different subject than anxiety. I would like to see a study that showed those results about suicide. And, you’re right, very often medication can do much more harm than good, which is why I recommend that you be extremely cautious and use the least amount of medication that you feel is needed. But, that is a whole different subject in itself!

      Reply
  7. This is all great advice! I agree that one’s diet and exercise definite influence anxiety levels. Yet sometimes, diet and exercise are the base cause of one’s anxiety. But, overall I think the methods you aligned here are definitely helpful. Also, for me, writing in a journal and getting “anxiety ridden” thoughts on paper sometimes serves as a stress release. Maybe this could work for some of you too!

    Reply
  8. Nice tips. I like the one about food, it works for me. When I eat healthier, feel so much better.

    Reply
  9. A great recommendation that I think a lot of you will intuitively connect with is to jog lightly on grass bare feet for 20 minutes every day. It gets you back in touch with nature and gets rid of all anxious thoughts. Don’t try to think your way out of it though, that will just keep you thinking eg anxious!

    Reply
  10. great post as usual!

    Reply
  11. I never had anxiety, until I broke down one day and my world changed and flipped 180. My nerves was killing me and I had chock anxiety, and when it got really bad a depression just layed over me killing the anxiety, but when it lifted the anxiety came back. I managed to not to use medication, even though I was advised from every corner (therapist, doctors, parents, friends etc), since it was so bad. Noises, everything scared me, I couldn’t listen to music. I started using magnesium, zink, b-vitamins and omega-3 and after 2 weeks my body stoped shaking after 4 motnhs non stop shaking. Now I needed to get my needle thoughts down. I used binaural beats (as Lifeflow and holosync, not promoting anything here, just to give you an idea) which forces the mind down in meditation mode. It worked wonders. By two months in I started looking positive on things. Suddenly I pictured a positive future. Even though I’m still working on it. I still have some tension in my chest, but my thoughts are getting there. I also use self hypnosis at night, to boost my confidence. Also, I started doing yoga and work out several days a week.

    I used to jump out of airplanes, dive and climbing. I even served in Afghanistan. But this is by far the thoughest thing I’ve ever experienced. I truly admire people who live with anxiety. It took me over 8 months to get to a place with hope, so don’t give up. And don’t become a victim. You are so much more than that, it’s just hard to see it sometimes.

    This is a difficult challenge, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

    Jia

    Reply
    • great article..i also had found out that i’m suffering anxiety disorders,especially just after reading its symptoms and effects.i don’t know why it all started, i just had felt it one day and get more afraid the next time it attacked, there are lots of thoughts running through my head and it really lessens my confidence. i thought i’m having a severe disease and would just die very soon.. but, thanks for the article, it helped me understand a lot about my situation, i was also practicing those deep breathing techniques, and yes it really does help, it relaxes my mind and exercise do help too.. and now i’m just hoping and praying that these anxieties would totally be gone forever and i’m gonna cure myself, and hopefully you too.. lets all heal our anxieties together!

      Reply
  12. Great article. Could I add to your list, regular meditation practice, mindfulness, deep muscle relaxation and herbal treatments such as valerian.

    Reply
  13. I am suffering from anxiety that just started a couple weeks ago tight chest can’t breathe and shaking I feel as if something bad is wrong and I can’t find any relief zone some of what I have read sounds promising

    Reply
  14. Thank you for a great article , i am suffering from anxiety….I got it out of sudden and i can cope up daily base to base and i am trying my best to reduce it by not taking any medicine and by doing what i do on a daily basis…I dont think so many people understand even if we educate them. So i usually consult this with my mum which is the only person who knows whats going on. I try to talk to my self by saying its all good and motivate all the time…but sometimes i cant help it…to get the comfort zone is very much difficult. And i have analyzed my self , as i like to do a lot of research on the net on health and stuff, that just made it worst. As sometimes small symptom can make me go crazy…and i start to sweat and get all stressed up…..I pray that all those going through this situation would be safe and sound always. I do get anxiety during driving in most case i do a deep breathing exercise which can help. I have been coping up for now.

    Reply
  15. I’m concerned about my kids, are we anxious people dangerous to others? My case is just like Jia’s it started 1 month ago.

    I just started taking a complex and was recomended on highering the levels of Omega 3.

    All day today I was feeling great until 5 P.M. right now I don’t feel well.

    I feel light headed and my face feels weird on the left side.

    I have been deep breathing and hidratinhg but…

    Reply
    • I am in the same situation. At times I will get like this and getting light headed (dizzy spells) and feeling like my lungs don’t work makes me worse. I can’t find a way to relax and I have two little ones at home with me. I am concerned because I don’t want to do anything anymore, taking my family out means I will most likely end up in the ER again. I wish it was as easy as reading an article but it isn’t that easy. Being positive is the only thing I have going right now, the brain is a tricky thing and I am slowly figuring out ways to relax.

      Reply
  16. So true about exercise. Not only will it help to relieve anxiety and make you more fit, but it will actually help you to feel more positive in all aspects of your life.

    Reply
  17. I’m trying to grasp this whole anxiety thing. I would love for someone to reply to me. I work in the oil sands and away from my girlfriend and family back home. I work 6 weeks on and 2 off. It started when I was working. My heart started beating hard, not so much fast but thumping, and the more I thought about it the worst it got. Thinking that there’s seriously something wrong with my heart. I went to the hospital and they did blood work and other stuff on my heart , everything is fine they said. But I’m still having the thumping in my heart , I can see my shirt moving when sitting down, I try not to think about it but its always there, I work out and it seems not so bad at the gym , but after I feel it again. I’m always thinking and worrying which I know don’t help but I try to stop but it don’t work. Also when I’m home it’s not as bad cause i guess I’m with my girlfriend and around my family just more relaxed astmospere. Then I come back to work it’s bad again. Do I have anxiety bad or do anymore have more good things I can do to get rid of this. It’s annoying and scary at the same time. Thanks! Great read by the way!

    Reply
    • Hi Matthew ,

      I am experiencing the same thing, I used to complain about regular chest pains that doesn’t go away even if my tests say’s i’m good. Currently, I’m on the process of trying things that relaxes me and forget about my condition. I’ll let you know if I got good results. One of the things that I’m trying is putting an aquarium in my room. I just noticed that it relaxes me a bit when I look at the fishes inside the tank. :)

      Reply
    • Hi Matthew,

      I have slowly developed the same thing you mentioned. The more attention you pay to it the worse it gets. I have gone to the doctor many times because I was convinced I was dying or there was something wrong with my heart. I went to the cardiologist and just returned my heart monitor yesterday. I have an electrocardiogram next week as well. All I can say is that anxiety has started to control my life. I am hoping that as soon as the reports from the cardiologist comes back it will give me peace of mind but on the other hand I know that I have some work to do. My regular doctor is confident it is just anxiety but I wanted a second opinion. I have started a gratitude journal and have scheduled an appointment with a therapist. Anxiety is the worst feeling in the world. I would rather break my leg and deal with the pain than feel the way I do most of the time. I wish there was an easy fix. I wish you the best.

      Reply
  18. Hi reading these posts and starting to think I may have aniexty. I am constantly on each feel lonely and never want friends round or myself round their home. I’m hardly sleeping and when I do it isn’t for long and I suffer really bad from the shakes some times it that bad I can’t even pick my child up. I am also always really hot and sweat buckets next minute im freezing cold. Am a little scare to go to my doctors as I don’t want the label that I can not cope. Can anybody help me try and establish what is causing all these symtons.

    Reply
  19. Thank you for your advice. I suffer from anxiety due to low self esteem from being bullied. I am working up the courage to visit a counselor. I also suffer hyperhydrosis and signs of depression.

    Reply
  20. Good article.

    If you don’t like journaling by typing or writing you can dictate a memo in to your smart phone!

    Reply
  21. I will recommend everyone who is suffering with anxiety to try brainev.com or Lifeflow. Which is meditation with brainwaves. I’m, after one year, starting to get out of the anxiety circle. I still get scared, but my mind doesn’t reply in the same way, it’s almost like the fear can’t hurt me in the same way..

    I truly dedicated myself to do this (at least an hour each day), and I’m getting better and better. I can not stress that its hard work, but you can reduce and even overcome your anxiety.

    Just reply to this comment if you have any questions. Reducing anxiety is achieved by becoming more secure and believe in yourself, I’m getting back to that place.

    Reply
  22. I am so scared and hopeless. I have anxiety-GAD/depression out of the sudden. i experience shortness of breathe, light headedness, heart palplitations, loss of sleep…… I need a piece of mind. somebody help …….

    I used to be funny, breezy, and rational. I feel like Im losing it. Somebody please give me a pep talk….

    Reply
  23. The first thing anyone who suffers from anxiety needs to do is learn a reliable, pleasant way to relax. Of course, if you suffer from anxiety, relaxing – or being able to calm yourself at vital moments – is probably the very thing that you find hardest to do. But the ability to calm down, relax, or mentally and physically take time out (whatever you choose to call it) is an absolutely key weapon in the arsenal you are now going to assemble to tackle your over-anxiety and recapture your mental equilibrium

    Reply
  24. Three months ago i was almost involved in a head-on collision but i was able to miss the car with no damage to myself or car but three days later i started halving bad anxiety which sent me to the doctor and another doctor who gave me a bunch of test and said i have a mild case of PTSD caused by the fight or flight response to the car episode and i am on a low dosage of Vistartile and xanax which helps but doesnt cure this problem. I cant sleep until my anxiety slows down my heart enought so i can drift off to sleep so i take these pills every five hours. The doctor said that the amiglida in our brains are respondible for our fears and emotions. My symtoms are down about 25 percent but i still need the meds and i am not afraid to drive my car but my subconscious want let the trauma go i am still suffering from the car experience so i will just have to keep taken pills untill i get calmer because the doctor said it may take six months to a few years to recover . I walk everyday for twenty minutes and try to stay busy but its a very slow recovery i hope and pray that i will be like my former self

    Reply

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