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Anxiety Relief: What Works and What Doesn't

August 28, 2019 Heidi Green, Psy.D.

We all experience anxiety from time to time, and relieving anxiety can be tricky. Some commonly used methods to relieve anxiety actually make it worse. Other attempts at relief just ignore the underlying problem. To get lasting anxiety relief, we must understand which methods help and which ones perpetuate the problem.

One of the things that helped most in understanding my anxiety was seeing it as a helper. Anxiety isn't the enemy. My anxiety wants to keep me safe. I like to think of it as a well-meaning friend who can get a little dramatic at times.

When I tried to fight my anxiety, it just got worse. For example, it is unpleasant to be anxious about giving a presentation, but when I added the pressure of trying to fight off my anxiety, I faced two problems. Having anxiety about my anxiety made every anxious moment even worse.

Relieve Anxiety by Talking to It Like a Friend

The first thing I do now when I notice anxiety is welcome it. I might say something to myself like, "Hello anxiety. Here you are. I feel you. You've come to tell me this presentation is a big deal. You want it to go well for me because it's important. I know you are worried about everything that could go wrong." 

The next thing I do is talk to my anxiety the way I would talk to an anxious friend. "I have prepared well for this presentation. It probably won't be perfect, but I know I can get the main points across. If people see that I am nervous, it's not such a big deal. I will probably get more comfortable as it goes on."

Notice that I don't make perfection an expectation. When I permit myself to be imperfect, that soothes my anxiety. 

Avoiding Traps to Find Anxiety Relief

When I began accepting and engaging with my anxiety, I stopped doing the things that made my anxiety worse. In the past, I perpetuated my anxiety by avoiding the things that made me anxious. I told myself public speaking was scary and I couldn't do it. The more I avoided it, the stronger my fear became. Reframing my anxious thought put it into perspective. "Public speaking is hard for me but I can do it" is more accurate than my old message, "It's too scary and I can't do it."

Finally, accepting my anxiety has allowed me to let go of "safety behaviors" that make my anxiety worse. A safety behavior is something you do that makes you think you are relieving your anxiety, but it perpetuates your anxious belief. For example, if I believe I can only give a presentation if I wear my lucky necklace, I assign power and meaning to something that has nothing to do with my presentation-giving abilities. When I give my power away to something outside myself, I have less control over my thoughts and feelings. It is more helpful to say, "I like to wear my lucky necklace when I present, but I know I can do just fine without it."

Anxiety Relief Dos and Don'ts

Do:

  • See your anxiety as a helper.
  • Talk to it as a friend.
  • Balance anxious thoughts with more realistic thoughts.
  • Accept non-perfection.

Don't:

  • Fight your anxiety.
  • Use avoidance.
  • Tell yourself you can only be okay if you engage in safety behaviors.

How do you find anxiety relief so anxiety doesn't interfere with your ability to live a full life?

APA Reference
Psy.D., H. (2019, August 28). Anxiety Relief: What Works and What Doesn't, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, September 17 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/livingablissfullife/2019/8/anxiety-relief-what-works-and-what-doesnt



Author: Heidi Green, Psy.D.

Heidi Green is a clinical psychologist and self-love aficionado. She lives her blissful life in Arizona where she enjoys hiking, kayaking, and snuggling her rescue pups. Find Heidi on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and her blog.

Please note: Dr. Green shares her personal opinions and experiences and nothing written by her should be considered professional or personal services or advice.

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