January 1, 2019 Daniel Olavarria, LCSW

4 Simple Ways to Begin Managing Anxiety in the New Year

Coping with anxiety can sometimes feel near impossible—but it doesn’t have to be that way!

I get it … it can be hard to believe that things can be different. The feelings of being overwhelmed, frustrated, unhappy, and unfulfilled by anxiety-induced stress can sometimes become the new norm. Anxiety has a way of affecting so many different aspects of life, including your career, relationships, pursuing your passions, or just trying to enjoy your downtime. For many, it even interferes with their ability to manage typical day-to-day life activities like sleeping or being out in public.

If that’s you, you are NOT alone. Over 18% of American adults live with anxiety disorders—that’s over 42 million people! Everyone experiences stress, but what makes anxiety disorders different are when the anxiety negatively impacts your daily functioning or sense of fulfillment.

Some common symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Racing & Unwanted Thoughts
  • Insomnia & Restlessness
  • Constant Worrying
  • Irritability & Agitation
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle Tension
  • Stomach Pain
  • Heart Palpitations
  • Avoiding Social Situations
  • Difficulty Concentrating

Our fast-paced, high-demand world makes it tough to find a sense of balance and peace—but you don’t have to accept that. Finding a good therapist who can work with you to cope better with anxiety can change your life for the better. In the meantime, here are 4 steps to help you begin the process of taking back control of your anxiety so that you can live your life on your terms:

1. Write it down

Get your thoughts and feelings out on paper daily. This helps reduce the intensity of pent-up feelings. If you’re not much of a writer, try this: in each daily entry include two sections. The first is “Anxious Thoughts” where you write out any worries, fears, preoccupying thoughts, etc. that come to mind. The second is “Gratitude” where you will write at least one thing that you are grateful for that day. By externalizing those negative thoughts, you allow them a place to exist outside of yourself. And with the daily gratitude, you begin to reorient yourself towards positive and affirming thinking patterns.

2. Banish “always” and “never” from your vocabulary

Challenging negative thinking patterns as they occur is a powerful way to begin to redirect yourself towards positivity. The most frequent negative thinking patterns (also known as cognitive distortions) that I encounter in my practice are the use of absolute terms such as “always” and “never.” The truth is, very rarely does something always or never happen. Using terms like these create a sense of inevitability that breeds feelings of hopelessness, resentment, and powerlessness. Whenever you catch yourself using one of these words, correct yourself with something like “It often feels like…” or “I rarely get to…” It will take some practice, but allowing yourself to break free from that type of “black or white” thinking will help you feel more comfortable with the nuance, and many shades of grey, that life often brings.

3. Breathe … with purpose

Deep, diaphragmatic breathing (also known as belly breathing) helps maximize your oxygen intake which slows your heartbeat and can lower your blood pressure. These physical changes send signals to your brain that all is well and results in you feeling more relaxed. It’s an incredible way to take control of your body’s built-in systems to train your mind towards calm and wellness. Try this: lay on your back with a book on your stomach. Breathe slowly and deeply into your nose with the goal of filling up your belly with air and then slowly exhale out of your mouth. Focus intently on your breathing. You’ll know that you’re doing it right if you notice your book moving up and down as you inhale and exhale. Once you’ve mastered this, you will be able to do deep diaphragmatic breathing anywhere without any props, whether you’re standing, sitting, or laying down.

4. Get moving

Exercise is known to naturally increase serotonin levels in your body—that’s great news since serotonin is known as a feel-good, happy chemical that helps regulate mood, appetite, memory, sleep, sexual function, and more! That means exercise is an amazing addition to your new anxiety-busting routine. Remember that exercise does not need to be an all or nothing endeavor. Find a physical activity that you enjoy and go with it! Playing in a social sports league, martial arts, yoga, the gym, and running are all awesome options. If you’re very pressed for time or are a newbie to athletics, a 15-minute walk while you chat on the phone is a great way to get the serotonin perks that exercise provides. Physical movement allows you to use your body as a way to release energy and feel more grounded in the present moment.

The key to making these steps work for you is practice! Learn to incorporate these techniques into your daily life. They won’t work unless you commit to applying them consistently and intentionally. At the same time, remember that this is not an all-or-nothing proposition. If you happen to miss a day, try again the next!

Everyone’s situation and needs are different. For many people, therapy can be incredibly helpful for providing lasting changes unique to your needs. Check out my previous blog post on how seeing a therapist is different from talking with your friends—you can find that post here.

Learning to manage and cope with anxiety is a process, so start today with these techniques and be kind to yourself along the way!

Daniel Olavarria, LCSW

Daniel is a licensed therapist who works with adults and couples in his private practice, The City Psychotherapy. Based in New York City, he regularly presents on issues related to mental health and diversity across the country.

In addition to writing on health, relationships, pursuing passions, and work-life balance, Daniel is also a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu and an emerging coffee aficionado. He lives with his husband in Manhattan.