7 keys to managing anxiety

Do you suffer from anxiety you feel unable to control? Do those thoughts keep rattling around your mind? Do you feel so tired, it’s an effort to drag yourself out of bed in the morning? And is it too much to even consider going for a walk simply to exercise your body?


If you are a person who deals with anxiety on a regular basis, there are some things you can do that won’t take up too much effort, and may help you manage it so you can live a better life. To help you, I’ve listed seven keys that aim to calm your mind and manage your anxious emotions.

Key 1: Control your thoughts

Easier said than done, I guess. Why is it so difficult to get a handle on all those words rattling around your head? And why are they always so negative? You probably wouldn’t mind so much if they had a little bit of positivity in them, but no! They seem to drag you down, put you down and never pull you up. So, how do you control them?

They are your thoughts, but at times you begin to believe your mind is being highjacked by someone else. The shocking truth is, you only control a very small part of your conscious mind. Does that ease your thoughts? No? Just know that a large amount of your thoughts are being controlled on a subconscious level.

Thankfully, there is a way to control the subconscious level. Especially all those negative words that hound you through the day. All it will take is a little practice and a bit of willpower.

When you check out those negative thoughts, do you recognize where they come from? As a psychotherapist, I’ve heard hundreds, if not thousands, of people tell me that all these bad thoughts come from a place of fear.

There is a way of processing the fear without being frightened – by understanding that it’s your brain’s way of protecting you.

It may not make a lot of sense at first, but when you think of the way animals behave and align your instincts along with them, then it becomes a little clearer. You see, we fear the things we don’t understand, can’t see and, of course, not so pleasant memories.

Fear is your body’s reaction to get that ‘fight and flight’ mechanism into place. It works in the ‘reptile’ brain – the emotional part that reacts to situations, sounds, scents and, well, quite a lot of situations and people that haven’t given you a very good picture of the world.

So, the fear is there to keep you safe from predators or situations that may be seen as dangerous.

Your brain is not trying to work against you.  It’s just doing it’s job, the best way it believes it can with the knowledge and experience it has to hand. If you can make the effort to break this cycle, then you’ll be able to change your life for the better.

Here are some ideas you can use to eliminate those bad thoughts rattling around your mind:

  • Affirmations and mantras. Make a collection of them.  Put them in your diary, or create a journal and write them down, or cut them out of magazines and stick them in a scrap book.
  • Be present in the moment. This way, you can stop your imagination straight away.  Being aware of what is around you, even what colour socks you have on, will bring your mind back to the present reality
  • Meditation or prayer. Whatever religion you follow or spiritual outlook you align yourself with, the grand master’s of those organisations have a tendency to encourage you to spend time in silence. Thinking only good things for someone else or being thankful for the gifts you have, as in prayer. Or focusing on the sound of silence (or the hum of the radiator/fan).  Either of these, help to clear your mind of the clutter.

Key 2: Volunteer your time

Your time is precious. There have been various research reports that demonstrate when we focus our time on helping others, our brain has a tendency to release all those ‘feel-good’ chemicals. They are the hormones responsible for making you feel good and they lower stress levels.

When we help others, we tend to focus on them and get out of our own heads.  We begin to focus on someone else. Doing this, can give you a perspective and help make you see things from a different point of view.

Volunteering our time can provide you with an opportunity to meet new people with similar interests. Those people can also provide a good support system for you as well as the people you are helping.

Key 3: Quality sleep 

Quality sleep is vital. Sleep experts have been recommending for years that people need to get both quality and quality sleep. Of course, the amount of sleep you get varies for each individual. However, the average amount of sleep time can be between seven to nine hours of restful sleep.

Recommending sleep as a good remedy for anxiety is good in itself, but when you have an anxious mind, it can be difficult to get that precious shut eye experience. A way around this is to create a sleep routine.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Schedule bedtime: Begin about an hour before you climb into bed
  • Mattress. Get a firm, but comfy one.
  • Temperature: Keep your bedroom cool. Between 60 and 67℉ is ideal.
  • Remove electronics. If you can’t remove them from your bedroom, turn them off about half an hour to an hour before you get into bed.

Key 4: A deep breath

I’m a great advocate for the easy methods and taking a deep breath occasionally, helps to calm those nerves down. It’s been biologically proven that controlling your breathing taps into your nervous system and tells it what to do – and not do.

The importance of consciously breathing slowly as a way helps to calm your body and mind. The idea is to take a deep breath, from your diaphragm, then let your breath out slowly in a controlled way, your brain tells your body to relax and let go.

Follow these instructions:

  1. Lie on a flat surface, or sit up straight
  2. Put one hand on your belly and the other on your chest. 
  3. Take in a deep breath, through your nose, as far as is comfortable.
  4. Then breathe out through your mouth, very slowly.
  5. With every breath out, focus on relaxing your muscles (start with your forehead, eyes, shoulders, then move all the way down to your feet).

If you’re at work, or in a public place, and you start to feel anxious about something, these breathing exercises can be done right where you are and nobody will know.  

These exercises can be repeated as many times as you need to.  The effect they have on your body, mind and emotions will probably take effect after about a minute.

Key 5: Caffeine and alcohol

That morning cup of coffee hits the right spot every time. However, while the caffeine fix is what the experts call the ‘uppers’ coffee and alcohol has a tendency to force your nervous system into overdrive. 

It’s the reason why you feel energised and all jazzed-up when you drink coffee, and energy drinks.

On the other hand, alcohol is called a ‘downer’ because it lowers your inhibitions and can even make you sleepy. Alcohol reduces the arousal of different parts of the brain.

Of course, if you go easy on caffeine and alcohol, and only take them in moderation, that’s ok. The problem comes when coffee or alcohol is taken one after the other in a short space of time. This is when your body doesn’t know whether to go up or down. So that’s when anxiety jumps into overdrive.

Reduce your caffeine and alcohol as much as you can. Several studies have found that you’ll be acting in a kind way to your liver if you do.  But, avoiding them altogether, especially when you know there will be stress triggers, is a much better approach.

Key 6: Exercise

The advantages of doing any type of physical activity for 15 – 30 minutes three times a week are too many to count. Of course, exercise isn’t just about keeping fit and healthy. It’s also about maintaining our mental and emotional well-being. Doctors often recommend it to manage anxiety and lower feelings of stress.

The best part is it doesn’t matter what you do. Just make sure you pick something you look forward to each week.

Another good idea is to find anything that requires a group. Sometimes it can get lonely exercising by yourself. So, why not join a cycling team or find a hiking buddy?

When you exercise as part of a group, you meet new and interesting people and you can also create a good support system for yourself. You’ll also get to work your muscles and let off some steam as well. 

Key 7: Know thyself

Instead of spouting off Greek history to you, what I mean by this is learn to recognize what your triggers are. Understand which places, situations, people, foods and smells – make you feel anxious about life. Learn to see how the smallest of things make you become stressed and begin to panic.

Writing a list of them can be helpful. Once you become aware of the triggers that spark your anxiety off, you can begin to find ways to ease your anxiety and that feeling that makes you nervous.

One way to achieve this is to avoid situations or certain people altogether. That way you’ll be eliminating any possibility of a panic attack.

Another way to tackle the trigger, is to prepare yourself for it. Consciously walk into the situation, knowing there will be a trigger. You’ll also have been practicing all the above Keyes, so that you can be confident in knowing you are strong enough to deal with them head-on.

The second point might seem a bit scary at first, but, trust me (I’m a psychotherapist, after all), once you’ve done it once, it does become easier every time you practice it.

Once you begin to become aware of what causes your anxiety, you can begin to learn to control it - rather than it controlling you. So, the next time it happens, you’ll be more prepared to take action.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Kidderminster, West Midlands, Worcestershire, DY14
Written by Kaye Bewley, MA (Hons). CBT Dip., EFT Dip.
Kidderminster, West Midlands, Worcestershire, DY14

Kaye Bewley MA, set-up her own clinical counselling practice after redundancy from the military welfare environment where she had worked for over a decade. She now helps military personnel and veterans, as well as the local community, ease anxiety and trauma. Visit her website: https://www.BewleyTherapy.com

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