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By Susanna Sweeney, MSC, MBACP, CHT
In this article, I have put together ten steps of self help for anxiety that you can use to change your life for the better.
You don't have to work through them in chronological order, use your own discretion for what stage you are at and what is right for you at this time.
Watch my introductory video first!
These steps don't offer any easy answers- because there are non when it
comes to anxiety. Anxiety is a complex issue. Instead, these steps offer
a comprehensive self care plan that I hope will bring you on the road
with self help for anxiety.
My first recommendation is to talk to your doctor and rule out any possible physical causes for the anxiety you are experiencing. WebMD name the following health conditions that can cause anxiety:
If the anxiety you are experiencing has an underlying physical cause, it will require medical treatment. Discuss this with your doctor.
If the anxiety does not have a physical cause, this article is for you. In that case, very likely, your doctor will bring up the topic of medication. Medication is something you might consider if:
Take into account that every medical intervention has both potential benefits and potential risks. Be clear on what these are.
If you are considering taking medication, do your research on the particular medication your doctor is proposing. Very likely the leaflet for the medication can be found online and I suggest you read it carefully, taking note of any potential side effects.
Also, there are many online forums where you can find out how other people are doing on this medication. Only after this research decide what you want to do. It’s very important that this is your decision and you are making it on the basis of being fully informed.
If you do decide to take medication:
It's important to understand that taking medication does not preclude you from working on your anxiety using other therapies, too.
Before seeking any specific anxiety treatment, you are well advised to
rule out deficiencies in crucial minerals and vitamins that may be at
the heart of feeling anxious, or that may be making matters much worse.
Talk to your doctor about deficiency testing.
But even if you are not found to be clinically deficient according to blood tests- here are three supplements that can help to give your nervous system to operate at full capacity by making sure it is receiving the right nutrition.
Other sources will recommend a wide variety of supplements. I have boiled the list down to my top three. These, in my opinion, are the most commonsense supplements for anxiety that offer the best value for money.
Magnesium is my number one g supplement for anxiety. Your body requires
magnesium for a multitude of functions, including regulating sleep,
activating many enzyme reactions, for proper muscle functioning and
improving nerve conductivity. Most people today are deficient in
To get magnesium from your diet, you would need to include as many green vegetables as possible, such as spinach, different green salad leaves and broccoli. Most people don’t eat enough of these.
If you think you may be deficient in magnesium, choose a good magnesium supplement that is easily absorbed by the body, such as magnesium citrate. This will ensure you get the best results possible.
As well as supplementing with magnesium you should then avoid carbonated drinks and any foods that contain phosphates because these will bind magnesium and render it useless. Also avoid or at least reduce refined sugar, coffee and tea because these will leach magnesium from your body.
Vitamin D is crucial for optimal functioning of the immune system
and bones but also for proper brain development and functioning. Vitamin
D deficiency can lead to depression and many diverse neurological
problems including schizophrenia.
You can get enough vitamin D by exposing your naked body to sunlight for 20 minutes a day (without using sunscreen). If you live in a Northern climate, or sunshine just isn’t an option for you for whatever reason, make sure you supplement all year round.
Many of the B vitamins are
vital for proper functioning of the nervous system. Deficiencies can
cause irritability, short term memory loss, depression, fatigue,
difficulties concentrating, nervousness, and nerve damage.
Taking B vitamins can enhance your mood and improve your energy levels. They will also boost your immune system.
Anxiety can be a very overwhelming experience. While you may choose to go through the next six steps on your own, practicing self-help for anxiety all the way, I just want to say that sometimes, support can make all the difference.
One of the big benefits of support is that you will start to see that you are not on your own. when you suffer from anxiety, it's so easy to become lost in the intensity of the experience that it can feel like you are the only one in the world going through this. You are not!
Because of the intensity of the symptoms, another common belief by anxiety sufferers is that they feel they are going crazy. You are not. And, with a bit of work and by implementing a few simple tools you can learn to manage that anxiety so you can live a full life again. This is where professional support can really make a difference.
Is there a situation when you SHOULD definitely seek professional help?
Yes. If you are self harming or if you are in danger of doing so, or if you are feeling suicidal, I recommend you definitely seek professional help. You can still practice self help for anxiety alongside availing of professional help- so this guide will still come in useful.
I have specially designed some anxiety relief self help journals that you can find here.
These journals can accompany you on your journey, help you develop your self awareness around anxiety related issues, self care, self love and help you have a positive outlook and future focus.
Your lifestyle is completely within your control and hence is a good place to start practicing self help for anxiety.
There may be some factors in your life style that are promoting anxiety.
If you are taking any recreational drugs realize that drugs may be making the anxiety worse- or may be causing you to experience anxiety in the first place. This may be a good time for you to stop taking these before you experience any other more severe effects.
Drinking alcohol, too, won’t help matters. Alcohol can increase feelings of anxiety. I suggest you stop drinking alcohol, or at least cut your usage way down to below the recommended weekly allowance. Talk to your doctor and see what they recommend in your case.
Are you getting enough sleep? Not getting enough sleep may cause
you to feel anxiety, or alternatively, may be making matters worse.
Sleep is vital for your nervous system to recover so it can operate at
If you are not getting 7-8 hours a night, but are surviving on less:
Exercise has been shown to work as effectively as medication in reducing the symptoms of anxiety. Exercise produces endorphins and makes you feel you have accomplished something.
If you want to keep it natural, consider including an exercise routine in your day.
Junk food, soda drinks and caffeine won't nourish your body and brain, so my recommendation is to cut it out.
Overall, a balanced, healthy, clean diet that gives your body the nutrients it requires will support your recovery from anxiety.
You can find articles on particular anti-anxiety foods on my Pinterest page on the 'Anxiety Self Help' board.
Laughing and having fun has been found to support healing from any health condition. Take it as a must when putting together your plan of self help for anxiety.
Make sure to balance the heavy experience of anxiety
with some fun. Having fun doesn’t require anything complicated, and it
can be had for free:
I can hear you thinking: “Avoid stress? How will I do that?”
I do hear you.
This is a very stressful world we live in. But stress
promotes anxiety when the stress hormone cortisol is released. And if
stress becomes chronic, it can make anxiety worse.
Here are some things that could be causing you to feel stressed:
I suggest you take a close look at your life and evaluate what is causing you stress. Write all the items on a list.
Then think about each item:
Reducing stress is crucial self help for anxiety.
Pick a daily practice to support your well being. Committing to using just one of the forms of daily practice on the list below on a daily basis will make a big difference in your life.
A crucial piece of self help for anxiety involves getting to know how anxiety works in your case:
Ask yourself these questions daily and write the answers in your journal:
"Nobody likes me and I that's why I feel anxious at parties. The longer I stay, the more I think people don't like me."
"I judge myself to be unlikable. In reality I have a good few friends who like me, namely x, y, and z. I don't know why, but I do feel anxious during social gatherings. But maybe that could change if I accepted and liked myself better."
Also write about:
If you keep an anxiety journal on a daily basis and once a week go over what you have written all week- very soon, you will see a pattern emerge that gives you more information. You will learn about what triggers anxiety in your case, what helps, what changes to your lifestyle are necessary for your well being, and much more.
Yoga helps both your body and mind. Yoga can help you feel more
contained. Yoga practice typically ends in meditation which can help
calm your nervous system. Some yoga teachers even recommend special yoga
poses for anxiety. I have articles with further resources on this on my Pinterest page for you, look out for the board 'Anxiety Self Help'.
Many mindfulness techniques would be helpful in relation to self help for anxiety. If you read on, I will talk you through a sample mindfulness technique lower down where you develop an inner observer who witnesses your triggers, feelings and actions. This can be very useful. You can gain a bird’s eye view of your life. This can help you better understand yourself as well as put anxiety in context.
There are many different forms of
meditation and all of them will hold some benefit as self help for anxiety. I recommend
Transcendental Meditation (TM).
There is a lot of research around the benefits of Transcendental Meditation, which stretch from physical benefits such as an improved immune system to benefits for your mind and emotions such as improved concentration, much improved containment of emotions, and reduced stress and conflict in your life.
The commitment? TM requires you to meditate for 20 minutes twice a day. You can meditate anywhere, even on a bus or train. It fits easily into a busy life style. Investing in a TM training is one of the best things you can ever invest in. I use it myself daily, along with self hypnosis techniques.
Getting out into nature is excellent
self help for anxiety. It is one of the most healing and resourcing
things you can do to calm down anxiety.
Walking in the woods or barefoot on the sand at a beach and breathing fresh air produces endorphins. It’s good for your body, good for your emotions, good for your mental health. You can do it as often as you can, but if this is your daily practice, fit it into a regular slot once a day.
If you cannot get out of the city, go find a park. Walk barefoot in the grass. Lie on the grass.
Can you feel how the ground is supporting you?
Self hypnosis for anxiety can be very effective self help for anxiety that you can use right from the start.
Without spending much money, or even a dime, you can teach yourself self hypnosis relaxation techniques, and put together affirmations to be used as suggestions that can help you to alleviate anxiety (see examples on my Pinterest page on my board 'Affirmations').
You can use such a self help hypnosis program daily to teach your system to relax, to teach yourself to change the type of thinking that triggers anxiety for you, to foster positive emotions and to help you be more present in the moment.
You can design a special self hypnosis routine to be used during anxiety attacks which can help you to maneuver them safely.
Over time, you can look forward to a decrease in intensity of anxiety, and to an improvement in your quality of life. Check out this success story of someone who achieved just that using suggestion hypnosis alone.
One definite pattern emerging from my client work is that for many people anxiety is linked to feeling out of control. Are there
areas in your life, such as certain relationships, where you feel out of
One such example is if you find it hard to draw boundaries.
Re-evaluate your boundaries and start saying ‘No’ more often. You might dread saying no, and it might be difficult to get started with it, but once you do, notice how liberating it can feel.
If you find this step difficult, having support maybe even from a professional may be really helpful here.
Many people who suffer from anxiety reach their turnaround point when they start developing self compassion. Practicing self compassion is great self help for anxiety.
How do you know that this is important in your case?
Think about the following points:
For example, don’t judge yourself for experiencing anxiety. You are already having a hard enough time having to put up with the symptoms of anxiety.
Realize that there isn’t anything wrong with you for experiencing anxiety and there is nothing you are doing wrong that is causing this. Somewhere in your story there will be a reason for why you suffer from anxiety. (Have a look at my article ’Hypnosis Therapy for Anxiety’ where I use a real life example to illustrate how anxiety can arise.)
Go gentle on yourself with other issues, too.
example, do you have a need for everything you do to be perfect? If it’s
not entirely perfect, do you consider it a failure?
thoughts and feelings towards yourself. Curb that all-too-common inner
critic. Keeping a journal can be helpful here to help you notice and
keep track of any such self-bashing habits you may have developed.
Catch yourself and correct the messages you are giving to yourself. Turn them around into positive statements. “I am just not good at ...x...” becomes “I would like to develop...x...”. “I did ...x... wrong.” Becomes “What I am learning here is that...”.
You will be surprised at the far reaching effects of developing self-compassion. Self compassion can help you to reduce the symptoms of anxiety by a great deal.
When practicing the
previous seven self care steps, you will have started keeping a journal,
and you will have written about:
Now you can start using this ground work to build present moment techniques. Why? When anxiety becomes intense, the only safe place to be is in the present moment.
But how do you get into the present moment?
Here is a simple yet powerful mindfulness technique to help you: Start developing an internal witness. Visualize this witness as a small part of you which sits on your shoulder and watches everything that is happening:
Developing such an internal witness takes a small bit of practice but is really worth the effort. It will help you to stop being completely consumed by the
experience of anxiety. Instead, as well as experiencing it, you will be
able to see it from a more removed point of view.
Once you have a degree of mastery with this practice, you can introduce another new concept for the witness to mindfully take notice of. This new concept are body sensations.
When we experience distress, the default thing most people do is to cut off from their body. They get stuck in the head. What do I mean by that?
Think about these points:
I bet you that your thoughts are running wild and that rather than feeling body sensations, you are likely mostly 'freaked out' by them.
when you are freaked out and panicked, you are in your head. For a
moment, let's look at what your mind will do when you feel anxious.
a) Your mind trying to make sense of what stimulus in the outside world caused the anxiety.
When thinking about why you feel anxious, your mind may well have INTERPRETED a small thing that happened, such as a throwaway remark someone made, as the cause of the anxiety symptoms.
The difficulty with that is that in reality, this remark was only a TRIGGER, not the root cause. In reality, the root cause of why you feel anxious is not visible to you right now because it's buried somewhere way back in your subconscious mind- the real cause of that anxiety is INTERNAL. (If you don't believe me, check out Jenny's story in my article "Hypnosis Therapy for Anxiety" which will illustrate this further.)
So, if the cause is internal, trying to make sense of it in relation to the outer world is not helpful.
b) Your mind trying to make sense of what YOU did to attract these unpleasant feelings of anxiety
And this is how things typically play out when people look for the internal cause of the anxiety they are feeling:
Making sense here will look for what you have done wrong to attract this unpleasant emotion. But this idea also is no good to you. Why? It typically will only lead you down one avenue- self blame. Being hard on yourself.
being hard on yourself will, in turn, increase anxiety. If this is what
happens to you, go back to step seven (self compassion).
So you can now see how the default process of making sense that your conscious mind goes to when you feel anxious is not helpful at all.
So let's look at the alternative to the above- being in your body- the one place you have most likely been diligently avoiding during anxiety attacks.
Why would you want to be in your body? Because being in your body and being able to sense exactly what is going on WITHOUT interpreting the sensations in some fearful way is a powerful way of making you present in the present moment. And, as I already said above, being present in the here and now will help with managing panic and anxiety.
Once you can feel your body sensations without jumping to meaning (i.e. 'I have been a bad person', or 'I will die'), you will realize they are just body sensations, nothing more.
So, what are body sensations and how do you identify them?
To identify body sensations, ask yourself: How does my body tell me that I
feel anxious right now? The answer to this question should contain only
body sensations. Body sensations are the language of the physical body.
Here are some examples for sensations which may underlie anxiety:
A funny thing will happen once you can identify and clearly focus on body sensation- anxiety won’t feel as overbearing.
You will start experiencing the sensations in the present moment. Your attention will be shifted from the fearful thoughts that drive anxiety to the present moment sensations in your body. In other words, you will sink down into your body, rather than spin off into fear.
You will discover that in the present moment things are usually bearable.
You may be experiencing uncomfortable body sensations, but you are alive and breathing, and you will see that in the here and now, there is no real danger. Stay with these body sensations. Observe them. Notice if they change, or stay the same. And that is all you have to do- just to witness the body sensations as they are unfolding internally.
Take my word for it: Those uncomfortable body sensations have a beginning, a peak and an end. All you have to do is sit out the anxiety attack. Now you have a method to pull yourself
back from fearful thoughts. Get your internal observer or witness to remind you to check your
Staying with anxiety on a sensation level can help you contain the experience much better and start feeling safer while experiencing anxiety. This is very practical self help for anxiety.
Another important element here is for you to enjoy being in your body. Think about what activities make you feel good physically- and spend time doing just that.
This will probably be the most challenging of my steps of self help for anxiety.
This step is inviting you to separate yourself from making anxiety part of your identity. What do I mean by that? Really think about how you relate to your experience of anxiety, for example:
something is part of your identity, you are inviting it to stay around
for the long haul. Is that what you want?
Hear this: You are more than anxiety. You are a beautiful human being with hopes, dreams, feelings and goals. You deserve to make them reality.
How would it be to develop a positive vision where you are fully in control of your life and feeling fulfilled?
Build meaning in your life. Find your purpose and start working towards a goal.
Dare to dream again. Dare to develop a positive vision. Actively visualize this at least once a day. Imagine it in as much detail as you can. How will achieving this vision make you feel? Feel the positive feelings. Going through this process is excellent self help for anxiety.
Having a sense of meaning and working towards a goal can put anxiety into context. It stops it from dominating your life.
And remember this: Whatever you can imagine, you can achieve.
Your positive vision might well include shedding the symptoms of anxiety. Hypnotherapy can help here.
Once you are some way on the road with the steps in this guide and your symptoms stop being out of control, hypnosis for anxiety using regression hypnosis becomes an option. Regression hypnosis can help you to push the boat out a bit more and move towards becoming symptom free. This will involve the help of a professional hypnotherapist. See my recommendations here on how to get the best out of life regression hypnosis.
Here is to your speedy recovery.
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I hope you have found this article on self help for anxiety useful. Let me know how you are getting on in the comments below.
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