3 Things That Can Help Reduce Anxiety

If you suffer with anxiety, you'd probably do just about anything to get rid of it. Medication and anxiety therapy can be helpful for many people. But did you know there are a few things you might be doing to make your anxiety worse? Here are three behaviors you can immediately change that can help reduce the anxiety that often accompanies fears and phobias.

#1: Your Thoughts

Most people with an anxiety disorder try desperately to stop the thoughts and fears that plague them. This is a classic pattern of behavior with those who have generalized anxiety disorder, PTSD, OCD, and panic disorder, and psychology professionals believe this happens because of something known as thought suppression.

Have you ever been told to stop thinking about something? It's pretty difficult, isn't it? Back in the 80s, a study was done to measure just how effective telling someone to avoid a particular thought would be. The group that was told to not think about white bears had more thoughts about white bears than the group that was actually instructed to think about them.

This led researchers to conclude that trying to suppress thoughts is counterproductive. So go ahead and let yourself have those negative thoughts. If you allow them to enter your mind without attempting to force them away, they will be more likely to fade over time.

#2: Your Triggers

Every individual with anxiety has different triggers, and learning what yours are can help you out. But here's the thing—some triggers should be avoided while others should be actively sought out.

Say what?

Here's a simple explanation. It's probably better to distinguish between an irrational "trigger" and a "cause." You should work on avoiding things that can cause, or even exacerbate, your anxiety, like too much caffeine, staying at a stressful job, or remaining in an abusive relationship.

Triggers, on the other hand, can be things you fear, but there is no logical reason to fear them. And the more successful you are at avoiding them, the worse your anxiety becomes.

For example, suppose you're afraid of public places. You think about going to the mall, and it makes you nervous. But every week, you make it your mission to try to overcome this fear. You get to the parking lot, you head to the main entrance, and your palms start to sweat, your hands tingle, your heart races, and you feel like you're going to pass out. It's too much. You can't do it, so you turn around and go back to your car. Immediately, your hands feel dry, your pulse slows, and you feel normal again.

This behavior teaches your mind that the mall really is something to fear because when you walk towards it, you feel sick. And when you walk away from it, you're fine once again. So it becomes a pattern of negative reinforcement for your anxiety.

With the help of a therapist, you can learn to reverse this negative reinforcement by exposing yourself to those triggers. When you "survive" the thing that you fear, your mind eventually learns that there is no real justification for the fear. This form of therapy is called exposure therapy, and it can be highly effective at minimizing anxiety in patients.

#3: Your Breathing

One of the best ways to make a panic attack worse is by not breathing properly. Without realizing it, many people tend to take short, shallow breaths when they're anxious. This is probably because they've tensed their body up, including the chest muscles. This is what usually triggers the chest pains many panic sufferers feel. It can also cause tingling in the arms and fingers.

But shallow breathing also tells the body to make more red blood cells, which increases the heart rate and makes you feel even more nervous. When you feel a panic attack coming on or you're generally anxious, stop what you're doing and complete this exercise:

Expand your belly and pull in a breath as deep as you comfortably can, hold for four seconds, and then exhale while letting out a sigh. This will relax your chest, your body, and your upper shoulders. It will also get more oxygen to your brain, allowing your thoughts to become clearer. Repeat once or twice but not too many times or you could hyperventilate.