You Can Learn How to Control Anxiety

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
August 18, 2017

Most recommendations about how to control anxiety are steps that would be good to take, even if you weren’t anxious. Here are 11 strategies. 

The first step is to decide that you actually can and will learn how to control anxiety. Anxiety is not in charge. You are.


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1. Exercise. Yes, everybody should exercise. But some people can get away with sitting in a cubicle and on the sofa at home and stay cheerful. Not you. People who are anxious get regular bodily reminders (like indigestion, aches, and pains, and a jiggling foot) to go to spin class, or at least on a walk at lunch. You’ll feel better afterwards. Exercise decreases the stress hormones in your body, and will help you sleep at night. Isn’t it nice to know that learning how to control anxiety could ultimately make you healthier than someone serene and sedentary?

2. Write it down. Especially when you’re feeling anxious, set a timer and write by hand all your racing thoughts. If your anxieties are making it hard to fall asleep, pull out your notebook.

Just getting the thoughts down can push them out of your active mind. Also, your thoughts might sound pretty silly to you when you read them afterwards. This is the beginning of freedom from their grip, says psychologist and social anxiety expert Barbara Markway, PhD. Again, anyone could benefit from seeing their mental noise in black and white. Learning how to control anxiety has the benefit of making you more self-aware.

3. Also write down the good stuff. Every day, write down 10 specific statements of good events in your day, even if it’s just “I woke up.” We all need to cultivate gratitude.  

4. Distract yourself with happy voices. When you’re alone and feeling anxious, playing podcasts or shows that are funny or contain upbeat voices will give you the sense of being part of a happy gathering. Music can work, too, but not if you play sad or angry songs.

5. Have more sex. That’s assuming your sex life isn’t a cause of your anxiety — but perhaps you can get past the problem. Sex releases relaxing brain chemicals. Do-it-yourself works, too.

6. Beat procrastination. Make a list of the tasks you’ve been putting off, from the hardest to the easiest. Each day, complete a task near the bottom of the list (or if they’re multi-step tasks, complete another step) and work up. While you’re procrastinating on the bad guy at the top, you’ll be super-productive!

7. Breathe. If you tend to hyperventilate, make yourself do breathing exercise every day, if only for a few minutes. There are many variations, but the key is to notice your breathing and slow it down. You might slow your breath and count 10 breaths (an inhale and exhale count as one), and then count backwards, 9, 8, 7, and so on.

8. Pretend. Tell yourself to do something each day that makes you anxious, while pretending that it doesn’t. Imagine that you’re an actor in a play. In short, “fake it until you make it.” Does that sound like your entire life? This time you’ll embrace the sense of pretending, rather than resent the fact that acting anxious isn’t ideal. Make it a game.

9. Take baths. You know how a soak makes you feel. Give yourself that gift as often as you can. Ideally, use bath salts. One study even found that a specific kind of daily bath for 21 days helped anxious patients more than the anti-anxiety drug paroxetine (Paxil).

If all that sounds way too hard or time-consuming, start at the bottom of this list with these two relatively easy moves and work up.

10. Take magnesium. The evidence that taking magnesium supplements will relieve anxiety is weak, but scientists have taken the claim seriously. A spray may boost your body’s level more quickly than a pill.

11. Luxuriate in lavender. You can put a lavender oil in your bath, rub oil on your wrist, or put some on your pillow. A German study concluded that Silexan, a pill containing an essential oil produced from lavender flowers was as effective as the anti-anxiety drug Lorazepam (Ativan) at reducing symptoms.

Once you learn how to control anxiety and feel better, you might find yourself skipping the bath or spin class. When anxiety resurfaces, think back to the last time you felt good — and recall if you dropped a helpful habit. Then pick it up again. This may sound completely obvious, but people drop helpful habits all the time (with any number of excuses). You can thank your anxiety for motivating you to get back on track.


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April 03, 2020

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN