You Can Learn How to Control Anxiety

By Temma Ehrenfeld @temmaehrenfeld
July 20, 2023
You Can Learn How to Control Anxiety

Most recommendations about how to control anxiety include steps that would be healthy even if you weren’t anxious. Here are 11 strategies you can practice. 

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


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  1. Exercise. Everyone should exercise. But some people can get away with sitting in a cubicle and on their sofa at home and stay cheerful. People who are anxious, however, get regular bodily reminders (like indigestion, pains, or a jiggling foot) that they should exercise. You’ll feel better afterwards. Exercise decreases the stress hormones in your body and can help you sleep at night.
  2. Write it down. Especially when you’re feeling anxious, set a timer and write down your racing thoughts. If your anxieties are making it hard to fall asleep, pull out your notebook. Just getting thoughts down can push them out of your active mind. Your thoughts might also sound pretty silly when you read them afterwards. That practice is the beginning of freedom from the grip of your thoughts, says psychologist and social anxiety expert Barbara Markway, PhD. Anyone can benefit from seeing their mental noise in black and white. Learning how to control anxiety can make you more self-aware.
  3. Write down the good things in your life. Each day, write down 10 specific statements of good events in your day, even if it’s just “I woke up.” Cultivate gratitude benefits your mental health.  
  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.
  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 your list (or if they’re multi-step tasks, complete another step) and work upwards. While you’re procrastinating on the hard task at the top of your list, you’ll be very productive.
  7. Breathe. If you tend to hyperventilate, do breathing exercises 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.” Embrace the sense of pretending, rather than resent the fact that acting anxious isn’t ideal. Make it a game.
  9. Take baths. A soak can be relaxing. Give yourself that gift as often as you can. Ideally, use bath salts. One study found that a specific kind of daily bath for 21 days helped anxious patients more than the anti-anxiety drug paroxetine (Paxil).
  10. Take magnesium. The evidence that magnesium supplements will relieve anxiety is weak, but scientists have taken the claim seriously. A spray may boost your body’s level faster 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 an exercise class. When anxiety resurfaces, think back to the last time you felt good — and recall whether you dropped a helpful habit. Then pick it up again. That 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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July 20, 2023

Reviewed By:  

Janet O’Dell, RN