Self-Help Tips for Managing Stress, Fear, Worry and Anxiety

Are you chronically wired and too fired-up to relax? As a psychotherapist and coach in New York City, many of my busy, goal-oriented and driven clients just can't seem to power down when they need to, or manage symptoms of chronic anxiety and feelings of overwhelm. As a stress management expert, I can tell you that If you're in habitual overdrive with cortisol and adrenaline levels high enough to launch a rocket, you might want to try practicing a few of these simple, good-for-you tips. It's a start (we'll tackle those problem thoughts in another blog post). If you can allow yourself the help that follows, your mind and body will reward you for following these simple tips:

  • The ritual of tea - sip chamomile tea or a blend of natural, non-stimulant teas created to calm frazzled nerves. The ritual of preparing a cup of soothing aromatic tea can begin the relaxation process by replacing anxiety with a sense of calm and control over emotional states. Once you have paired the warm tea with a sense of calm, your body may begin a "slow-down" response before the water reaches a boil.
  • A drop of oil - lavender oil (or other soothing oils) applied to inner wrists, the back of your neck and shoulders or simply inhaled works well to relieve tension and anxiety. There are many other essential oils that can be used to calm your nerves such as orange, rose, sandalwood, nutmeg, patchouli, clary sage and ylang-ylang, as suggestions. My favorite Young Living proprietary blends are Peace and Calming, Inner Child, Release and White Angelica. Why oils? The olfactory system and smell is only one of the five senses directly linked to the limbic lobe which is the emotional control center of the brain. Targeting this area of the brain reduces anxiety, depression, fatigue and stress. Essential oils have long been appreciated for their uplifting, calming, grounding and clarifying effects on emotional well being.
  • Flower essence on the tongue - I know more than a few people who are never without Bach Flower Rescue Remedy. Definitely worth a try!
  • Mantras and affirmations - keep it simple and use what resonates for you. Try:  "I can relax and feel safe," "I am calm, I am well" or "I have everything I need at this present moment"
  • Breathe, and breathe consciously - controlled breathing exercises (inhale, exhale, pause or inhale, pause then exhale, pause) helps to regulate the parasympathetic nervous system (that's the fight or flight response). Breathing exercises are not a good match for all anxious people. In fact, some people become more anxious when they focus on their breathing and any heightened body sensations that they may feel. For those individuals, guided imagery is a more helpful self-care tool. Belleruth Naparstek  is a wonderful resource and my favorite go-to for guided imagery and healing dvd's.
  • Get grounded - sit in a comfortable position with relaxed arms. Close your eyes and notice your breathing. Allow your breath to soften and relax. Imagine your body as a majestic tree, solid like the strong trunk of the tree. Feel your feet firmly planted on the ground. Imagine your legs growing roots moving down deep into the earth. Notice how rooted and anchored you feel. You feel solid and strong, able to handle any stress that you may have in your life. As upsetting situations arise return to this place of feeling grounded and safe. Visualize your body as a majestic, firmly rooted tree. If the tree imagery does not work for you use the grounding cord technique. Imagine, as you sit quietly, that a cord or sturdy rope drops from the base of your spine and connects to the rock beneath the surface of the earth. This is your grounding cord. Continue to breathe deeply and notice the sense of calm and stability that your grounding cord provides. Some days, depending on the stressors, you may need to make your grounding cord thicker and stronger, or your tree roots broader.
  • Anchor yourself - use a visual anchor such as looking at the clouds or water. Discover which visual stimulation produces a sense of calm or connectedness for you. You can evoke this image at any point during a busy, stressful day.
  • Exercise - the fail-proof and immediate solution to anxiety. Run, walk, bike or garden vigorously -- it doesn't really matter, just get your body moving and your heart beating. Exercise is a natural antidepressant and helpful for anxiety. Aerobic exercise can be as effective at relieving mild and moderate depression as antidepressants and SSRIs such as Lexapro, Prozac and Zoloft. Exercise increases levels of the important brain chemicals dopamine and serotonin, in addition to other feel-good hormones, which helps regulates mood. No time? Ten minutes can help you move through an energy slump.
  • Distance yourself - watch a movie to gain some distance from negative thoughts and feelings. It's okay to distract yourself sometimes.
  • Supplement with the amino acids GABA and L-Theanine - but please ask your doctor about this first. These amino acids have been clinically proven to help reduce stress, anxiety and panic attacks. Some individuals find relief using adaptogenic herbs such as rhodiola, ginseng, licorice root, holy basil and ashwaganda which helps rebuild depleted adrenal glands, so you can fight chronic anxiety brought on by adrenal burnout. The holistic stress relief herbs lemon balm and skullcap can be helpful as well. It is important to work with a holistic doctor when using these powerful, herbal remedies and they should never replace medication in individuals diagnosed with a serious mental health problem such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder or Major Depressive Disorder.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or CBT - is used by therapists to expose clients to anxiety-producing situations, with the goal of managing and replacing the terrifying sensations that accompany fear, with a sense of self-control and mastery. Rational, accurate thoughts helps replace the unhelpful dialogue that we often have with ourselves. CBT teaches you how to challenge habitual, automatic thoughts and think differently about anxiety-producing situations.
  • EMDR Therapy - it is, in my clinical opinion, even more effective at treating and healing fear, worry and anxiety than CBT.

You've successfully made lifestyle changes and you're still suffering? No need to feel like a failure because you can't manage your symptoms on your own. So, what other options exist when you can't go it alone? Suffering in silence is out. Getting help is in.

Medication can be a helpful resource, and It is not a sign of weakness or failure to ask for help in this way. Antidepressants such as SSRI's or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (Zoloft, Prozac, Lexapro) are effective for generalized anxiety disorder GAD, panic disorder and phobias. Other antidepressants such as SNRI's or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (Effexor, Cymbalta) target other neurotransmitters and can also be an effective treatment option. Sometimes, if left untreated, fear and anxiety can develop into a full-blown phobia (you can't drive a car) or agoraphobia (avoidance of situations where escape might be difficult), at which point medication can help you get back to your life. Anti-anxiety medications such as benzodiazepines can be used very short-term (the potential for addiction is high) and beta blockers are helpful for performance anxiety and public speaking. While medications are helpful options, they do not address the root cause of fear and anxiety, but they may reduce your symptoms enough so that you can function .

Talking with a therapist trained to help you identify anxiety and the conflicts that drive some of your symptoms is a good option as well. Therapy helps, but sometimes talk therapy does not always lead to change. That's when adding some of the action-oriented steps listed above offers a balanced, supportive approach along with psychotherapy to help manage stress and anxiety. Additionally, cutting-edge therapies such as EMDR therapy provides stunning relief for anxiety and trauma symptoms. Feeling alone with your fear and anxiety should never be an option.

You may enjoy reading The Worry Cure: Seven Steps to Stop Worry from Stopping You by Robert Leahy