6 (Free) Coping Strategies to Reduce Anxiety Symptoms

By Enid Wilson, MA

Anxiety can be exhausting, frustrating, distracting, and overwhelming — and it
can stop us from being able to live our lives fully, feeling connected to people we
care about and ourselves.

While anxiety can be a natural response to stress — part of our body’s fight-or-
flight response — it can also prevent us from being able to see things as they are
and to appropriately respond.

I see many clients struggling with anxiety. Sometimes it gets in the way of our
therapeutic progress, just like it gets in the way of other things they care about in
their lives. To support people in “turning down the volume” on their anxiety,
there are some simple tools that can help.

How Common is Anxiety?

National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) reports that over 40 million adults in
the US, around 19%, have and anxiety disorder. According to the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention, over 9.4% percent of children and
teenagers aged 3-17 years old have been diagnosed with anxiety—that’s almost 6
million children, and it is up over 2% in the past five years. Even more people
experience anxiety without ever being diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Physical symptoms of anxiety include: chest pain, racing heart, shortness of
breath, stomach discomfort, sweating, tingling.
Mental symptoms of anxiety include: racing thoughts, obsessive or “looping”
thoughts, excessive worry, nightmares, irritability, zoning out.
Behavioral symptoms of anxiety include: avoidance, fear of social situations,
feeling jumpy, inability to focus, compulsive rituals, nervous ticks.

Six Ways to Manage the Symptoms of Anxiety

  • Breathing Practices
    Try a mindful breathing technique like square breathing, bumble bee breath, or
    belly breathing. Focusing on your breath gives your mind something to attach to if
    your thoughts are racing. Deep breaths can also send cues to your brain that
    you’re not in a fight-or-flight situation and support your system in feeling more
    calm and safe.

1. Square Breathing is counting the seconds of your inhales and exhales and
trying to even them out. If you have that down, you can try inhaling while
you count to 4, then hold your breath in for 4, exhale for 4, and hold your
breath out for 4. Repeat this cycle. You can increase the length of your
inhales and exhales as your breath slows down.

2. Bumble Bee Breath is a type of breathing that creates a soft noise.
Start by closing your eyes and plugging your ears. Take a deep breath in and as you
exhale, make a quiet humming noise or making a soft “shhh” sound. Focus
on that sound and how the exhale feels in your body.

3. Belly Breathing means focusing on breathing all the way down into your
belly. To start, relax your shoulders and your belly. Take a deep breath in
and inflate your bell area first, then let the air go up into your chest. Exhale
and let your belly deflate first, then your chest. You can place your hands
on your belly if that helps. Repeat this and keep trying to relax your belly as
you breathe.

  • Grounding exercises
    Focusing on concrete details requires you to be present. Slow your racing
    thoughts and simplify frantic situations by grounding.

4. Present moment awareness: Name five things you see, four things
you are touching, three things you hear, two things you smell, and one thing you
taste. Another way is to name one thing you see, hear, and feel; then two
things you see, hear, and feel; then three things, etc. Continue for as long
as you need.

5. Focus on physical sensations: Refocusing your mind on the
physical can help to slow down racing thoughts and bring you back to the present
moment. If you can, take a warm bath or shower; hold an ice cube (not too cold!);
tap on pressure points like your chest; press gently on your temples. Even fake a
laugh—the sensation of a laugh in your belly and chest can take shift you out of the
anxious feeling. If you’re in public, try gently clenching and releasing your
fists, slowly lifting and lowering your heels, or slowly pressing your thumb
into each one of your fingers.

6. Visualization: A free coping technique you can do anywhere is
visualization. Imagine a time or place where you’ve felt confident, safe, or
calm. Try to remember or imagine the situation in detail — the colors,
sounds, sensations. Picture that place. Now, try to put yourself into that
picture. Visualize the situation and if a thought comes along that tries to
take you out of it, come back to the details of that time and place.

You can draw from these 3 healthy coping techniques to find the right fit for your
situation. When you first feel the anxiety start to grow, try to slow down enough
to use one of these practical ways to reduce the symptoms of your anxiety. These
are not meant as a substitute for therapy, and it is helpful to meet with a
therapist to understand the deeper cause of your anxiety and get personal
support on how to heal and get back to yourself.