Roughly 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, more than the occasional worry or fear. Anxiety disorders range from a generalized anxiety disorder, an intense worrying you can’t control, to panic disorder, sudden episodes of fear accompanied by heart palpitations, trembling, shaking or sweating.
For people with this disorder, it’s crucial to find strategies to manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like talk therapy or medication. But everybody can benefit from reduced stress and anxiety. There are steps you can take the moment anxiety starts to take hold. Try these eight tips to relax your mind and help you regain control of your thoughts.
- Stay in the present. Don’t worry about what might happen. Instead, pull yourself back to the present. Ask: What’s happening right now? Am I safe? Is there something I need to do right now? If the answer is no, check in with yourself later in the day to revisit your worries so those distant scenarios don’t throw you off track.
- Change the label. Panic attacks can make you feel like you’re having a heart attack. Remind yourself that it’s a panic attack and that it’s temporary. And remember that it really is the opposite of a sign of impending death; an anxiety attack is your body activating its fight-or-flight response, the system that keeps you alive.
- Rethink your fears. People with anxiety tend to fixate on worst-case scenarios. To stop these worries, think about how realistic they are. If you’re concerned about a big presentation at work, for instance, instead of thinking: “I’m going to be terrible,” say: “I’m nervous, but prepared.” The pattern of rethinking your fears helps train your brain to come up with a rational way to deal with your anxiety.
- Breathe. Deep breathing helps calm you. Focus on evenly inhaling and exhaling. This will help slow down and re-center your mind.
- Practice the 3-3-3 rule. Look around and name three things you see. Then, name three sounds you hear. Finally, move three parts of your body—your ankle, arm and fingers. Whenever your brain starts to race, this trick can help bring you back to the present moment.
- Do something. Stretch, take a walk, drink a glass of water, organize the files on your desk—take any action that interrupts your train of thought to help you regain a sense of control.
- Avoid sugar. It may be tempting to reach for a sweet snack when you’re stressed, but that Snickers may hurt more than help; research shows eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead, drink a glass of water or eat protein. This provides slow energy, which your body can use to recover.
- Take a humor break. Laughter really is the best medicine. Research shows laughter is good for our mental well-being. One study found humor could lower anxiety as much as, if not more than, a strenuous workout. So watch episodes of “black-ish” or cue up a Chris Rock special.
This story originally appeared at BlackHealthMatters.com.