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16 Little Ways To Keep Anxiety From Ruining Your Life

Get a better understanding of what makes you anxious and how to deal with it.

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Raise your hand if you've felt personally victimized by anxiety.

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Yeah, it's the worst. Whether you experience occasional symptoms or you have a diagnosed disorder, living with anxiety can be distracting, exhausting, and frustrating.

So BuzzFeed Health reached out to therapists who specialize in anxiety disorders to get their advice on managing it on a day-to-day basis. Keep in mind that this is not meant to be a substitute for professional help, but hopefully these strategies can help you get a better handle on your anxiety.

1. First, understand what anxiety is — and what it isn't.

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"Anxiety is our mind's ability to imagine a catastrophic outcome," clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, PhD, tells BuzzFeed Health. "When you're facing an actual threat right in front of you, fear is a natural reaction to that. When you're just in your car or lying in your bed in a panic and nothing is threatening you, in that moment that's anxiety."

"Anxiety is not bad," Regine Galanti, PhD, director of The Center for Anxiety in Brooklyn, tells BuzzFeed Health. "It's normal and natural and adaptive. It's there for a reason. It keeps you out of dangerous situations. The problem is it's a false alarm for most people."

2. Recognize the difference between anxiety and stress.

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A lot of us say "I'm so anxious!" when what we mean is that we're stressed and overwhelmed with all the shit we have to do and all the time we don't have to do it. "That causes us to feel anxious a lot of times," says Howes, but it's not anxiety per se. You really do have to get all this work done and you are incredibly busy. The anxiety comes in when you start telling yourself that you won't get it done, that your boss will fire you, and that everyone will view you as a complete failure.

So if you notice that a lot of your anxiety stems from being overbooked or overworked, first look for ways you can lessen that stress. Are you constantly overcommitting at work or in your social life? Are there ways you can cut back in one area to give yourself more time to just chill? Obviously, there might not be, but it's worth a shot to see if there's something you can say "no" to, even just temporarily.

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3. Keep an anxiety journal to find out what's making you anxious.

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Even if it seems like your anxiety is all over the place, there's almost always a tangible trigger (or several) that you can trace it back to, says Galanti. She suggests keeping a journal, not to ruminate on your anxiety but to look for patterns. Maybe you feel most anxious on Sundays, or the day before/after a big social event, or pretty much any time you watch the news.

"Most people are so avoidant of what makes them anxious," says Galanti. But that just reinforces your anxiety and keeps you from dealing with it. Instead, use this intel to better prepare yourself for when anxiety might crop up and have strategies ready to help you deal with it.

(You can buy the journal above here.)

4. Name your anxiety so you can view it as an outside thing, rather than an annoying part of you.

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Like Carol. Or Anne (as in Anne Ziety). Whatever works, as long as you're able to call it out on it's bullshit.

"If you can identify something as anxiety, like Oh, there's my anxiety again, that makes it something that's other than you," says Howes. "It's not me being worried about stuff — it's my anxiety again. And that has a way of taming it."

5. Practice grounding so you can use it when you start to panic.

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"Grounding is using all of your senses to be aware of where you are right now," says Howes. You can do this pretty much anywhere; just take a minute to focus on what you're seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, and even tasting right now. This has a way of refocusing you on your current reality rather than the worst-case-scenarios that are escalating in your mind.

6. Take big, deep belly breaths.

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When you're really anxious, your body can go into a fight-or-flight response, which explains those annoying physiological symptoms like racing heartbeat or shortness of breath.

When this happens, it's helpful to regain control by taking big belly breaths (also known as diaphragmatic breathing). "What we're doing is sending a message to the autonomic nervous system that the coast is clear," says Howes.

The best way to do this is lying down or sitting, with one hand on your chest and the other on your stomach. Inhale slowly through your nose as your stomach expands, then exhale through pursed lips as your stomach falls. The hand on your stomach should be moving (up when you inhale, down as you exhale) while the hand on your chest stays completely still.

7. Just go ahead and accept that your anxiety might be a little worse if you didn't enough sleep or had way too much caffeine or spent the whole weekend partying.

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We know this, and yet we also tend to stay up all night watching Game of Thrones, have way more than the recommended amount of caffeine, and make day-drinking an activity.

It happens; but it's helpful to admit when you effed up so you can prepare for some impending anxiety." "Accept that limitation when you do that," says Galanti. "Accept that you haven't set yourself up for success."

Plus, being able to place the blame on something specific and realizing that it isn't permanent can help alleviate some of the anxiety-spiraling. Maybe that means recognizing that you're shaky and nervous from three cups of coffee, not impending doom; or that you're feeling vulnerable because you're hungover, not because you made some horrible, embarrassing mistake last night.

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8. Vocalize your worries with someone you trust.

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Usually when we're anxious about something we want to isolate ourselves with these thoughts, because we don't want to sound like we're overreacting or being ridiculous. Just the thought of opening up or being vulnerable can be terrifying. But keeping it to yourself can create a vacuum where you're sitting alone surrounded by your anxieties, unable to really pull yourself out of that frame of mind.

If you have someone you trust and whose opinion you value, try talking to them about it. "When you do express it and vocalize it, you often realize you're not crazy; other people are worried about the same thing," says Howes. Or sometimes just saying it out loud helps you hear that a certain line of thinking was irrational. Or, if nothing else, at least you won't feel so alone when it comes time to deal with whatever it is you're worrying about.

9. Talk yourself down with simple reassuring phrases.

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It seems like a silly thing, but "it can go a long way in stopping the slide into panic or anxiety," says Howes. When you feel your anxiety building, try saying or thinking things like: I'm safe right now. I'm prepared. I am in control. I'm OK.

10. Dump out all your negative thoughts and worries on a notepad before bed.

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If you're a late-night worrier who spends the better part of an evening mentally running through every looming task, stressful responsibility, and worst-case-scenario that can happen in the next month or so, this might help.

Howes suggest having a notepad near your bed (or on your phone) where you jot down these thoughts as soon as they come to you. Try to just write a few words or phrases so you're not actually ruminating on these thoughts for several pages. Promise yourself that you'll look at it in the morning if it's important, but for now, you just need to get it out of your head and somewhere else.

This way, if it's truly something you need to devote your attention to, then it'll be there when you wake up. And if you wake up in a much less anxious space, you can just toss it.

11. Try thinking about something in a problem solving way, rather than an anxious way.

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This is a key strategy that Galanti works on with her patients. When your anxiety is tied to a specific trigger — say, a cross-country flight, a big event, or your health — try to view it as a problem that needs to be solved. What can you actually do about this thing you're anxious about? Could look up strategies to help with flight anxiety? Could you start planning what you'll wear/do/say at the event? Could you make an appointment with your doctor to run some tests on your health?

Sometimes breaking it down into actionable chunks is helpful. But sometimes there's really nothing you can do at this moment, and accepting that is equally important. "Say, 'I'll deal with this when it comes,' and recognize there's nothing you can do about it now," says Galanti.

12. Imagine yourself taking off your anxiety glasses and giving yourself a break.

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Anxiety doesn't ask "is now a good time?" before it slaps you in the face. It just goes for it. You could try to ignore those anxious thoughts or distract yourself, but they might just come right back even stronger, says Galanti.

In moments like this, Galanti says it can feel almost like you're wearing glasses that are masked in the anxiety, and you can't see anything but the anxiety. And that can really suck if you're out trying to have a good time or working against a tight deadline.

"Take those glasses off and put them on the other side of the room," she says. Sure, the anxiety is still there, but you're making a conscious decision to not let it completely ruin your night/your productivity/whatever it is you were doing. And that's huge.

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13. Schedule time for your anxiety.

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This might sound counterintuitive — who wants to pencil anxiety into their day? — but the point is to designate a time and place for anxious thoughts, rather than let them interrupt you constantly throughout the day, says Galanti.

So if you feel yourself getting overwhelmed with anxiety and it's taking you away from what you should be focusing on (like getting your work done or enjoying a party), mentally schedule a time to deal with this later, when you know you'll be free and better equipped to deal with it.

14. Expose yourself to your triggers and let yourself fail, repeatedly.

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A lot of anxiety stems from fear of failure, says Howes. Like that you're going to drop the ball at work, or you're going to make a fool of yourself in front of a crowd of people. Galanti suggests leaning in to that anxiety every once in a while and seeing what happens.

"My goal in general with anxiety is to help people feel comfortable feeling uncomfortable," says Galanti. "The goal is to get them to do it as many times as they can; to face their fears even though it might lead to whatever is in their head happening — over and over and over. One time is not enough."

So commit to doing whatever it is that makes you anxious — like speaking in front of a crowd, taking cross-country flights, etc. — several times, and arm yourself with strategies ahead of time. Afterward, ask yourself if it was as bad as you thought it would be. More often than not, it won't be as horrific as your anxiety was telling you it would be. And hopefully that means you'll be experiencing a bit less anxiety each time.

15. When your schedule is jam packed, try to feel gratitude instead of anxiety.

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Feeling like you're not in control of your schedule can be really anxiety-inducing, especially when it means you're not making time for whatever self-care you need to function at your best. So when you look at your calendar and see that you don't have a free weekend until, like, October, it's easy to let that set you off.

"Being busy doesn't necessarily mean you have to be stressed. A lot of it has to do with the mindset of it all," says Howes. Try to look at all the stuff you have to do — whether it's big responsibilities at work or a million birthday parties and baby showers or tons of networking drinks — and feel grateful for all of this that you've got going on. And if you truly don't think something will enrich your life and you can find a way to get out of it, do it.

"If you feel like you are a servant to your calendar then I think you're going to be stressed out," he says. Instead, try "to feel like: I do a lot of things and feel good about them and I have a really full life."

16. Have resources ready if your anxiety becomes too much for you to manage on your own.

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It can be hard to determine when your worrying has gotten to the point where you should see a doctor or therapist. Howes says it's typically dependent on the level of severity or the degree to which it's impacting your day-to-day life.

If your anxiety is causing you to miss work, affecting your relationships, or causing changes in your sleeping or eating habits, it might be time to talk to a professional about this, says Howes.

Here are some resources that can help:

* You can learn more about anxiety disorders at the National Institute of Mental Health.

* If you're also dealing with panic attacks, you can find more information on that here.

* And here's a great guide on how to start therapy.

Casey Gueren is a senior health editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Casey Gueren at casey.gueren@buzzfeed.com.

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