Pretty much everyone deals with anxiety at some point in their lives, and you don’t have to be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder to need a release—so we spoke with experts about how to identify anxiety (and how to deal with it).
“Anxiety can show up in our lives in many different ways,” says Ginger Poag, MSW, LCSW, a licensed therapist at Brentwood Wellness Counseling in Nashville, Tennessee. “But the most common are often irritability, lack of patience, worrying, difficulty sleeping, avoiding certain situations or people, inability to focus or concentrate, inability to relax, stress eating, tense muscles, and headaches.”
If you’re dealing with anxiety, it can be tough to keep going, and while there are a lot of ways to reduce anxiety in your life, we found some very specific options that you may want to try.
1. Listen to This Song
It may sound weird, but research suggests that listening to this song could help reduce anxiety by up to 65 percent. Music therapy has been shown to help reduce anxiety for patients undergoing procedures—and it may even help reduce pain.
Try This: Block out a few minutes and pop in your headphones to listen to this song. (Yes, I tried it. And yes, it actually works.)
2. Get App-y
Anxiety can make you feel like you’re on an island, which is why it can be super helpful to talk to someone about how you’re feeling. Some people process things verbally, so talking about what’s going on in your head can help you begin to understand and cope with your anxiety.
“We can begin to catastrophize the problem and make ourselves believe the problem is much bigger and worse than what we originally believed,” Poag says. “I encourage clients to talk their anxiety out with a trusted friend or family member—by getting out our concerns verbally, we can begin to see the reality of our worries.”
However, sometimes it can be hard to talk to your friends and family when you’re feeling anxious, and therapy can be expensive or overwhelming.
Try This: Download an app like 7 Cups to work through any anxiety that pops up in your life. The app offers free trained “listeners” who are other users of the app, group chats, and even virtual therapy sessions to help when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Even just working through the app’s guided activities can help improve your overall emotional wellness and distract you when you’re feeling anxious.
3. Drop Into Cat-Cow
Need to relax fast? There’s a yoga pose (OK, a lot of yoga poses) for that. However, cat-cow pose is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety so you can focus on your breathing.
Studies show that a regular yoga practice can have a significant impact on anxiety levels in your daily life, so taking the time to find your zen can be good for both reducing existing anxiety and preventing more in the future.
“A regular yoga practice can teach you how to become aware of the present moment,” says Lauren Zoeller, a certified yoga instructor and Whole Living Life Coach. “When you learn to live in the present moment, your body and emotions are able to cope with anxiety more efficiently.”
Try This: Using a yoga mat, blanket, or the space behind your desk (we won’t tell anyone!), position yourself onto your hands and knees with your shoulders aligned with your wrists and your hips over your knees.
With your weight balanced evenly, inhale as you slowly look up and let your stomach drop toward the floor. After a brief hold, exhale and tuck your chin to your chest. Moving gently, draw your navel toward your spine and round your back up toward the ceiling. Repeat slowly for one minute.
4. Breathe With a .GIF (Seriously)
This might sound a little redundant—hello, we’re already breathing—but experts agree that deep breathing can have a serious impact on stress and anxiety.
“Deep breathing allows the brain to receive more oxygen, activating the parasympathetic nervous system, which, in turn, lowers heart rate and blood pressure, which allows the body to experience calmness and relaxation,” Poag says.
Translation: The parasympathetic nervous system is what helps you relax, which is definitely helpful when you’re feeling anxious.
Try This: Use the handy .GIF below to focus on your breathing. Set a timer to give yourself a mini-break and turn your phone on silent while you breathe.
“Two minutes of controlled breathing can significantly change your attitude and will immediately decrease your stress level,” Zoeller says. “Even if that means locking yourself in the bathroom stall at work.”
Don’t worry about controlling your thinking or needing to find your zen, which can sometimes leave you feeling more anxious. Be gentle with yourself and focus on the movement—and getting that sweet oxygen—as much as possible.
5. Take a Five-Minute Break
“It is proven that a regular meditation practice can help you cope with difficult situations, ease mental and physical pain, and eliminate the common factors associated with anxiety,” Zoeller says. “Five minutes of meditation a day can drastically your decrease your anxiety level.”
In fact, one study showed that 20 minutes of mindful meditation practice for four days cut anxiety levels by nearly 40 percent. Yep. That much.
Try This: Poag suggests downloading a guided meditation app to help the process along, or you can try watching a video on guided meditation on YouTube. It only takes a few minutes to reap the benefits of meditation, making it a perfect tool to combat anxiety.
6. Turn Anxiety Into Excitement
If you’re feeling anxious about a big work project, a date, or karaoke night, studies suggest that traditional anxiety-relieving techniques might not do as much as we’d like.
Try This: Harness your anxiety and focus on turning it into excitement instead. Research on performance anxiety in highly skilled musicians shows that those who view anxiety as a good thing are more likely to perform better.
And, honestly, it makes sense: Perception matters, and science suggests that a little bit of stress can actually be beneficial. We spend a lot of time talking about getting rid of stress and anxiety (which, let’s be real, totally makes sense). But in reality, those things—in small doses—aren’t actually the worst things for us, so long as we perceive them as good.
7. Chew Some Gum
Chewing gum might not be the first remedy you think of when it comes to anxiety, but studies suggest that it may reduce fatigue, stress, and anxiety, and even boost your mood. Of the 101 study participants, chewing gum was also associated with a better perception of work performance.
Try This: Pop a piece (or two) of gum into your mouth. This isn’t the time for casual chewing—one study suggests that the best benefit comes from more, uh, enthusiastic chewing.
8. Use the 5-4-3-2-1 Method
Project LETS—a nonprofit organization dedicated to erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness, diversity, trauma, and neurodivergence—suggests the 5-4-3-2-1 method as an emergency intervention for panic attacks or anxiety.
It involves using all of your senses and engaging your mind to find calm in the midst of anxiety. Plus, it’s something you can do out loud when you’re alone or in your head if you’re around other people.
Try This: Look around the room you’re in, and name 5 things you can see. Next, name 4 things you can touch or feel. Then, you’ll look for 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and—finally—one thing you can taste.
It might take practice, but the Mayo Clinic suggests that trying this grounding technique when you’re feeling anxious can help take the focus off your thoughts and place it on your surroundings instead. This might not seem like much, but disrupting anxiety before it builds can actually make it easier to cope in the long term.
The Bottom Line
Anxiety can make a big impact on your life, even if it’s not something you regularly deal with. If it is—and you’re struggling to identify the difference between anxiety and an anxiety disorder—try talking with a doctor or therapist.
“Anxiety is often related to an event or situation and tends to only last for the duration of that situation or event. Everyone may feel anxiety at some point, such as when a deadline is approaching,” Poag says.
Anxiety disorder, she says, is different in several ways. It can pop up for no specific reason, it’s often long-term and not situation-based, and it can seem impossible to control—especially if you start avoiding certain people or situations and worry excessively.
“Individuals should seek professional help if they have tried to control the anxiety and worrying with no success, and it has lasted for at least six months,” Poag says. “Or when anxiety begins to negatively impact relationships, work, or routine tasks.”
Stress and anxiety might be unavoidable, but that doesn’t mean we can’t take steps to prevent them from negatively impacting our lives.
Jandra Sutton is an author, historian, and public speaker. She lives in Nashville with her husband and their two dogs, and Pluto is still a planet in her heart. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.