Reduce Anxiety Now: How to Calm Down Quickly (2022)

Something sets you off, and before long, you feel stuck in an endless loop of intrusive thoughts, pondering every possible thing that could go wrong. Your body tenses, your breathing quickens, and you can hear your heartbeat pounding in your ears.

When you feel anxiety kick in like this, it’s time to calm yourself down. The first step is awareness. It’s a good idea to learn to recognize the first signs of anxiety and get to work right away before experiencing an episode.

Breathe

One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. It may sound basic, but basic is great when managing anxiety symptoms.

Breathing deeply and slowly is key to experiencing the full benefits of it. It’s also a good idea to focus your thoughts on breathing and nothing else.

“When we draw our attention to our breathing and really focus on it, the thoughts that trigger the anxiety start to become more distant, our heart rate slows, and we start to calm,” explains Dawn Straiton, doctor of nursing practice and faculty member of Walden University.

Some people find 4-7-8 breathing particularly effective.

  • Breathe in for 4 seconds.
  • Hold your breath for 7 seconds.
  • Exhale slowly for 8 seconds.
  • Repeat until you feel calmer.

Name what you’re feeling

When you’re experiencing an anxious episode, you may not realize what’s going on until you’re really in the thick of it.

Recognizing anxiety for what it is may help you calm down quicker.

“Name that this is anxiety — not reality — and that it will pass,” says Kim Hertz, a psychotherapist at New York Therapy Practice. “When you are in a heightened state of anxiety, you want to disrupt that cycle, and for some people, thought-stopping techniques are effective and as simple as saying ‘stop’ to the internalized messaging that heightens anxiety.”

In other words, consider recognizing that what you’re feeling is anxiety and talking yourself through it.

“Embrace absolute truths,” says Steven Sultanoff, clinical psychologist and professor at Pepperdine University. “[Tell yourself] I will get through this — one way or another.”

Naming your sensations and feelings may help you step away from them. This is anxiety, it is not you and it won’t last forever.

Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique

When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety, the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique could help calm your thoughts down.

Here’s how it works:

  • Five. Look around the room, then name five things you see around you. These can be objects, spots on the wall, or a bird flying outside. The key is to count down those five things.
  • Four. Next, name fourthings you can touch. This can be the ground beneath your feet, the chair you’re sitting in, or your hair that you run your fingers through.
  • Three. Listen quietly, then acknowledge three things you can hear. These can be external sounds, like a fan in the room, or internal sounds, like the sound of your breathing.
  • Two. Note two things you can smell. Maybe that’s the perfume you’re wearing or the pencil you’re holding.
  • One. Notice something you can taste inside your mouth. Maybe that’s the lipgloss you’re wearing.

This technique works best if you pair it with deep, slow breathing.

(Video) Relieve anxiety in one minute

Try the “File It” mind exercise

The “File It” technique works particularly well if you’re lying awake at night thinking of all the things you have to do or haven’t done, or if you’re rehashing something that happened during the day.

These are the steps for performing this exercise:

  1. Close your eyes and imagine a table with file folders and a file cabinet on it.
  2. Imagine yourself picking up each file and writing down the name of a thought that’s racing through your mind — for example, the fight you had with your spouse, the presentation you have to give tomorrow at work, or the fear you have of getting sick with COVID-19.
  3. Once the name is on the file, take a moment to acknowledge the thought and how important it is to you. Then, file it away.
  4. Repeat this process with every thought that pops into your head until you start to feel calmer (or sleepy.)

The idea with this exercise is that you’re taking a moment to name your triggers, examine them, and then consciously put them aside with a deadline to tackle them later. In other words, you’re validating your own feelings and making a plan to deal with them, one by one, when it’s a better time.

Run

“A quick burst of exercise that increases your heart rate is helpful at reducing anxiety,” explains Patricia Celan, a postgraduate psychiatry resident at Dalhousie University in Canada.

A 5-minute, high-speed run around the block would be enough to help you reduce anxiety quickly, says Celan. Of course, you could run for a longer time if that’s something you enjoy.

If running is not your thing, you could try walking fast for 1 minute and then jogging for 1 minute until you reach 5 minutes total. The key is to increase your heart rate with exercise.

It’s also important not to forget your breathing. While you run, consider focusing on how you’re breathing.

If you live with an anxiety disorder, your amygdala is working overtime. Every time you perceive a threatening trigger, this information is sent to your amygdala. If you have anxiety, you may deal with a lot of triggers. Every time the amygdala senses a threat, it tells the body to fight, flee, or freeze.

This is a natural physiological reaction that allows you to respond to the perceived threat.

If your reaction to this message is to run, you might trick your mind into thinking it’s doing something practical to keep you safe. Then, it may lower the state of alert and reduce your anxiety in the moment.

Think about something funny

“Visualize your favorite humorous moments,” says Sultanoff. “One where you laughed so hard you fell down and [nearly] peed your pants. These can be real situations, or they can be situations you saw on sitcoms, in stories, jokes, or cartoons.”

If it’s difficult for you to come up with something in the moment, try picking a couple of memories ahead of time, so you can go to them as soon as you start experiencing anxiety.

Like most mindfulness training, humor visualization takes you out of worrying about things that might happen in the future and focuses you back in your present circumstances, in the “now.”

It does a few other things too. “You experience ‘mirth,’ which is the uplifting reaction to humor,” explains Sultanoff. You feel emotions such as joy, pleasure, or delight — all powerful emotions that can help you reduce anxiety quickly.

And if you’re able to make yourself laugh by remembering that funny moment, he says, humor visualization is even more effective.

“When you laugh, you contract and expand muscles, which reduces physical anxiety, stress, and tension,” he says.

Laughter also combats the production of cortisol levels in the body, he adds.

(Video) 10 quick anxiety relief techniques

Distract yourself

If nothing seems to be working to pull your focus from your anxious thoughts, maybe it’s time to find a temporary distraction.

For example, if you’re lying in bed, wide awake, obsessing about what tomorrow will bring and deep breathing and other techniques aren’t working, get up and leave your bedroom and find a distraction in another room.

Focusing on something you really enjoy can break the cycle of anxious thoughts and give you some relief — at least until you’re in a better frame of mind to tackle those thoughts.

What that distraction is, however, varies from person to person. The idea is to find something relaxing, pleasurable, or mindless to pull your focus from your thoughts.

For example, some people find doing the dishes or cleaning their house to be a good distraction. It makes them feel active and requires some focus, but it pulls them away from just sitting there worrying.

Other people prefer listening to calming music, watching a favorite TV show or movie (just avoid one that is scary or stressful), reading, painting, or writing.

Sometimes, simply petting your cat or drinking a cup of tea helps. Just make sure you pick a low-stress activity to pull your thoughts away from the source of your anxiety.

Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)

If you’re experiencing particularly intense anxiety, says Celan, some psychiatrists have a relatively extreme (and unpleasant) way to snap you back to reality: you can fill a large bowl with cold water, throw some ice cubes in, and dunk your face in the water for 30 seconds.

Is it extreme? Yes. But it also works.

“This technique triggers your mammalian dive reflex,” explains Celan. “It tricks your body into thinking you’re swimming, so your heart rate slows, and your body becomes calmer.”

If you don’t feel like doing something this extreme, you can achieve a similar calming effect by jumping in a cold shower or going swimming.

Another option that works, and that some dialectical behavior therapists use, is to place your hand or foot in cold water for a minute or so. You could also hold an ice cube until it melts in your hand.

There are some things you can do to improve your overall mental health and reduce your stress — which might help reduce anxiety symptoms.

Identifying triggers

The best way to do this is to keep a diary. Write down when you feel anxious and what you think caused the anxious episode.

(Video) Box breathing relaxation technique: how to calm feelings of stress or anxiety

“List these things out to identify what is outside your control and focus on the things that are within your control,” says Straiton.

For example, if you know that social interactions with a specific person tend to trigger your anxiety, make a note of that. Then, consider focusing on these questions:

  • What makes me anxious about this situation?
  • Are they going to judge me?
  • Am I judging them?
  • Even if they were judging me, how would that really affect me?
  • Would preparing this interaction help me feel less anxious? (e.g., what you’re going to say or how you’re going to say it)

“When individuals have a plan, they feel ‘in control’ of the perceived future threat that is the trigger of anxiety,” explains Straiton.

Self-care routines

Consider taking a routine that makes time for you to do calming or pleasurable activities.

This can be taking a 30-minute walk or a nightly bath before bed. It can also mean carving out time for meditation, yoga, and your favorite hobbies, whether that’s reading, painting, or doing the Sunday crossword.

It can even mean making time for “play,” such as playing video games, board games, or team sports.

It may be advisable to skip any high-impact exercise within 2 hours of bedtime.

“Play is important to adults too because it gives your brain a break,” says Emily Stone, a marriage and family therapist based in Austin, Texas. “Play helps your brain be more flexible in its thinking, which is important because anxiety promotes rigidity of the brain.”

She adds, “Play tells your brain and body, ‘Things aren’t so bad. You are safe enough to stop and enjoy life. Your brain and body are listening to what you tell it through your activity. Communicate that life is worth stopping and enjoying.”

Regular exercise

If you live with anxiety, you may feel at times that you don’t have time or energy to go to the gym or out for a walk.

It’s natural to feel this way. However, exercise can do a world of good in reducing anxiety. And, you don’t need a ton of exercise to begin seeing the effects!

“A simple 20-minute daily walk is all that is needed to see a change over time,” says Stone. “It is good for your mind and body. It provides bilateral stimulation to your brain. It gives your mind a chance to go ‘offline,’ and it tells your body that it is safe to relax and enjoy the environment.”

Practice good sleep hygiene

Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day — weekends included.

Your routine before going to bed also matters. Consider giving yourself wind-down times. For example, 20 minutes with no devices. Instead, you could read a book or take a bath.

Avoiding potential triggers, like watching TV or scrolling the news on your phone, is key.

Creating a sleep routine will help you fall asleep faster and reduce the chances that you’ll lie awake, worrying about unfinished tasks or the next morning.

Humor

Just like thinking about something funny when you’re having an anxiety episode, working humor into your daily life can help you lower anxiety and stress, according to Sultanoff.

(Video) Calm your anxiety in 2 minutes!

Consider these:

  • Sign-up for joke newsletters.
  • Read or watch cartoons.
  • Watch sitcoms and funny videos.
  • Hang out with people who make you laugh.

Hanging out with friends

“Relationships matter… even for us introverts,” says Stone. “Research also tells us that isolating is one of the worst things for anxiety and depression.”

So, consider making time for friends, family, and other social engagements.

“Put yourself in social situations at least weekly as a part of your self-discipline to help you build community over time,” says Stone.

Consider therapy

If you experience regular anxiety, it may be a good idea to consider therapy.

“Therapy can be an important ongoing part of a person’s life when they have jobs or relationship situations that bring chronic stress,” says Stone.

“A good therapist will be able to help you think through your options, establish boundaries, improve communication, practice emotional regulation and promote brain flexibility with [various therapeutic] approaches.”

What type of psychotherapy you choose is entirely up to you. You could consider setting up consultations with a few therapist to explore rapport and chemistry, for example.

Some of the therapy approaches you could consider include:

  • cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
  • dialectical behavioral therapy (DBT)
  • internal family systems (IFS)
  • emotional freedom therapy with tapping (EFT)
  • eye movement desensitization reprocessing (EMDR)
  • virtual reality exposure therapy

Sometimes, anxiety can be overwhelming and it could lead you to experience great distress. This is natural and not uncommon. A therapist can help you find more effective ways to manage these emotions.

If your anxiety is persistent and intrusive, consider seeking the help of a professional. You can also check out our free anxiety quiz to find out whether what you’re experiencing might be something more.

Let’s recap

(Video) How to reduce stress with the 2:1 breathing technique

If you’re feeling anxious, there are things you can do to help yourself calm down quickly. There are also lifestyle changes you can make that can help lower your stress levels and help you cope with potential triggers.

You might also find it helpful to talk to a therapist.

These resources might help:

FAQs

What are 5 coping skills for anxiety? ›

Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
  • Keep physically active. ...
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  • Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  • Make sleep a priority. ...
  • Eat healthy foods. ...
  • Learn about your disorder.
20 Jul 2021

How do I stop my anxiety right now? ›

How to calm down quickly
  1. Breathe. One of the best things you can do when you start to feel that familiar panicky feeling is to breathe. ...
  2. Name what you're feeling. ...
  3. Try the 5-4-3-2-1 coping technique. ...
  4. Try the “File It” mind exercise. ...
  5. Run. ...
  6. Think about something funny. ...
  7. Distract yourself. ...
  8. Take a cold shower (or an ice plunge)
22 Jun 2021

How do I calm my overthinking thoughts? ›

How to stop overthinking
  1. Take some deep breaths. Close your eyes and breathe in and out slowly. ...
  2. Find a distraction. Distractions help us forget what is troubling us. ...
  3. Look at the big picture. ...
  4. Acknowledge your successes. ...
  5. Embrace your fears. ...
  6. Start journaling. ...
  7. Live in the present moment. ...
  8. Ask for help.
21 Apr 2022

What triggers anxiety? ›

A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances. Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

What happens to your brain with anxiety? ›

Anxiety happens when a part of the brain, the amygdala, senses trouble. When it senses threat, real or imagined, it surges the body with hormones (including cortisol, the stress hormone) and adrenaline to make the body strong, fast and powerful.

Where is my anxiety coming from? ›

Difficult experiences in childhood, adolescence or adulthood are a common trigger for anxiety problems. Going through stress and trauma when you're very young is likely to have a particularly big impact. Experiences which can trigger anxiety problems include things like: physical or emotional abuse.

How can I control my anxiety without medication? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
6 Dec 2017

Why do I overthink so easily? ›

One study found a two-way relationship between overthinking and other mental health issues. Hafeez calls it a “chicken-and-egg” situation: High levels of stress, anxiety, and depression can contribute to overthinking. Meanwhile, overthinking may be associated with increased stress, anxiety, and depression.

What are signs of high anxiety? ›

Some common symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include:
  • Constantly overthinking and overanalyzing.
  • Fear of failure and striving for perfection.
  • Insomnia and fatigue.
  • The need to please others and difficulty saying no.
  • Tendency to dwell on past mistakes.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting, hair twirling, or leg shaking.
1 Nov 2021

What foods increase anxiety? ›

Foods (and drinks) that are stress- and anxiety-provoking
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Sugary drinks and foods.
  • Processed foods, such as chips, cookies, frozen foods and ready-made meals.
  • Foods high in trans fats and excessive saturated fats, such as fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, butter and baked goods.
21 Sept 2021

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

Is anxiety a chemical imbalance? ›

But researchers don't know exactly what causes anxiety disorders. They suspect a combination of factors plays a role: Chemical imbalance: Severe or long-lasting stress can change the chemical balance that controls your mood. Experiencing a lot of stress over a long period can lead to an anxiety disorder.

Can you beat anxiety? ›

Fortunately, anxiety is highly treatable. Self-help strategies to overcome anxiety can be helpful, but it is also important to talk to your doctor about your treatment options. By taking steps to get better, you can help ensure that your anxiety isn't keeping you from achieving the things you want to do.

What happens if you leave anxiety untreated? ›

For the majority of people with undiagnosed or untreated anxiety disorder, there are many negative consequences, for both the individual and society. These include disability, reduced ability to work leading to loss of productivity, and a high risk of suicide.

What is extreme anxiety? ›

Severe anxiety occurs when the body's natural responses to stress exceed healthy levels and interrupt your ability to function and carry out typical day-to-day tasks. While most people experience some anxiety, as with a new experience or challenge, severe anxiety can be overwhelming.

How long does anxiety usually last? ›

From the time of diagnosis, an anxiety disorder can last from a few months to many years. Most people will have symptoms of an anxiety disorder for a long time before seeking professional help, sometimes up to 15 years³.

How long do anxiety attacks last? ›

Anxiety attacks typically last no more than 30 minutes, with the symptoms reaching their most intense at about halfway through the attack. Anxiety can build up for hours or even days before the actual attack so it is important to take note of factors that contribute to anxiety to effectively prevent or treat them.

What is the 3 3 3 rule for anxiety? ›

Follow the 3-3-3 rule.

Look around you and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body — your ankle, fingers, or arm.

What to drink to calm nerves? ›

7 Everyday Tonics that Help Your Body Adjust to Stress and Anxiety
  • Ginger.
  • Maca.
  • Matcha.
  • Reishi.
  • Apple cider vinegar.
  • Turmeric.
  • Ashwagandha.

What triggers anxiety? ›

A big event or a buildup of smaller stressful life situations may trigger excessive anxiety — for example, a death in the family, work stress or ongoing worry about finances. Personality. People with certain personality types are more prone to anxiety disorders than others are.

How long does anxiety usually last? ›

From the time of diagnosis, an anxiety disorder can last from a few months to many years. Most people will have symptoms of an anxiety disorder for a long time before seeking professional help, sometimes up to 15 years³.

Is anxiety a mental illness? ›

Anxiety disorders are the most common of mental disorders and affect nearly 30% of adults at some point in their lives. But anxiety disorders are treatable and a number of effective treatments are available. Treatment helps most people lead normal productive lives.

Can crying stop anxiety? ›

Many people associate crying with feeling sad and making them feel worse, but in reality, crying can help improve your mood - emotional tears release stress hormones. Your stress level lowers when you cry, which can help you sleep better and strengthen your immune system.

How do you stop overthinking? ›

Here are six ways to stop overthinking everything:
  1. Notice When You're Stuck in Your Head. Overthinking can become such a habit that you don't even recognize when you're doing it. ...
  2. Keep the Focus on Problem-Solving. ...
  3. Challenge Your Thoughts. ...
  4. Schedule Time for Reflection. ...
  5. Learn Mindfulness Skills. ...
  6. Change the Channel.
24 Jan 2022

Which fruit is good for anxiety? ›

When we're anxious and stressed, our bodies crave vitamin C to help repair and protect our cells, and blueberries are packed full of it. Small but mighty, blueberries are bursting with antioxidants and vitamin C which have been shown to provide anxiety relief.

How do I deal with anxiety without medication? ›

Anxiety Treatment Without Medication: 7 Holistic Ways to Cope
  1. Keep Your Blood Sugar in Check. ...
  2. Avoid Stimulants. ...
  3. Get Enough Sleep. ...
  4. Just Breathe. ...
  5. Practice Mindfulness. ...
  6. Exercise. ...
  7. Do What You Enjoy. ...
  8. Where to Get Help.
6 Dec 2017

What are signs of high anxiety? ›

Some common symptoms of high-functioning anxiety include:
  • Constantly overthinking and overanalyzing.
  • Fear of failure and striving for perfection.
  • Insomnia and fatigue.
  • The need to please others and difficulty saying no.
  • Tendency to dwell on past mistakes.
  • Nervous habits such as nail-biting, hair twirling, or leg shaking.
1 Nov 2021

What foods increase anxiety? ›

Foods (and drinks) that are stress- and anxiety-provoking
  • Alcohol.
  • Caffeine.
  • Sugary drinks and foods.
  • Processed foods, such as chips, cookies, frozen foods and ready-made meals.
  • Foods high in trans fats and excessive saturated fats, such as fried foods, red meat, full-fat dairy, butter and baked goods.
21 Sept 2021

How can I avoid anxiety? ›

Try these when you're feeling anxious or stressed:
  1. Take a time-out. ...
  2. Eat well-balanced meals. ...
  3. Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
  4. Get enough sleep. ...
  5. Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. ...
  6. Take deep breaths. ...
  7. Count to 10 slowly. ...
  8. Do your best.
8 Sept 2010

Is anxiety all in your head? ›

Anxiety is a psychological problem. So if the question is whether or not anxiety is "in your head," the answer isn't necessarily a "no." Most of the symptoms of anxiety do originate in your brain.

Does anxiety worsen with age? ›

Does anxiety get worse with age? Anxiety disorders don't necessarily get worse with age, but the number of people suffering from anxiety changes across the lifespan. Anxiety becomes more common with older age and is most common among middle-aged adults.

Videos

1. How to cope with anxiety | Olivia Remes | TEDxUHasselt
(TEDx Talks)
2. Brief Mindful Breathing for Anxiety
(UCSF Dept. of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences)
3. Calm a Panic Attack in 3 Easy Steps
(The Doctors)
4. Use this Video to Stop a Panic Attack
(Anxiety in Order)
5. Relieve Stress & Anxiety with Simple Breathing Techniques
(AskDoctorJo)
6. What causes panic attacks, and how can you prevent them? - Cindy J. Aaronson
(TED-Ed)

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