14 ways to calm anxious thoughts
Many tips and tricks can help calm anxiety, including exercise, yoga, and music therapy. If these do not help, medication and counseling may be beneficial.
Physical and mental stress can trigger anxiety. People with anxiety disorders may experience anxiety without a specific reason. Anxiety can cause severe stress, along with racing thoughts, sweating, abdominal pain, and a racing heart.
However, there are ways to manage it. Lifestyle choices can often help, and medical treatment is available if these are ineffective.
This article outlines tips and techniques for developing a calmer, less anxious state of mind. We also provide information on medications and talking therapies to treat severe or persistent anxiety.
The following tips and tricks can help people manage stress levels and calm anxiety.
1. Drink less caffeine
Adrenaline is a hormone involved in the body’s fight-or-flight fear response.
Caffeine causes a spike in adrenaline levels, and this can make some people feel anxious or on edge.
Coffee is one of the most popular sources of caffeine, but it is also present in:
- energy drinks
People who notice a connection between their caffeine intake and anxiety should try cutting caffeine out of their diet.
People should do this slowly to avoid caffeine withdrawal. Withdrawal can cause physical symptoms similar to those of anxiety.
What is the link between caffeine and anxiety?
Exercise may calm anxiety in two ways. Firstly, it decreases levels of stress hormones within the body. Secondly, it makes people focus on the task of exercising, and this can distract them from ruminative thoughts.
In 2022, researchers found that people who followed a 12-week exercise program saw a reduction in symptoms of depression and anxiety compared with those who did no exercise.
The exercise group did cardiorespiratory and resistance training. Moreover, those who exercised to a higher intensity saw greater improvements in anxiety scores than those who did lower intensity activity.
Anyone interested in starting a physical activity program to manage anxiety should speak with a doctor first, and work with a qualified trainer to ensure they exercise safely.
How can exercise help manage depression?
3. Practice yoga
Yoga may be a particularly beneficial form of exercise for anxiety.
One 2015 review investigated the effects of yoga on nervous system function and mood.
Across the 25 studies, the review found yoga decreased heart rate, blood pressure, and cortisol levels. Cortisol is a hormone involved in the fight-or-flight fear response. Having too much cortisol in the bloodstream can exacerbate anxiety.
Yoga leads to a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety. It also reduces levels of molecules called cytokines in the blood. The immune system releases cytokines in response to stress.
Chronically high cytokine levels can cause long-term inflammation and other negative health effects.
How can yoga help manage anxiety?
4. Listen to music
Music may activate reward systems in the brain that increase feelings of pleasure and alleviate stress and anxiety.
One review concluded that symptoms of anxiety improve while people are listening to music. However, it is unclear whether the effects last longer than the activity.
A 2016 study found that music preference was the most important factor in reducing stress levels. This suggests that listening to a favorite song or music genre may be an effective short-term remedy for stress.
What is music therapy?
5. Practice mindfulness meditation
Mindfulness is a popular form of meditation.
Mindfulness encourages a person to focus on feelings, thoughts, or bodily sensations that are happening in the present moment. This can help distract people from ruminative thoughts and other negative thought patterns.
How can mindfulness help manage anxiety?
6. Use visualization techniques
Guided imagery (GI) is another type of meditation. GI involves mentally visualizing peaceful scenes to promote a state of relaxation.
One 2015 study investigated the combined effects of GI and music (GIM) on work-related anxiety. For this study, the researchers divided 20 participants into 2 groups. One group underwent a 9-week GIM program. The other group received no treatment.
Compared with the no-treatment group, the GIM group showed significant improvements in stress management and well-being. The results also showed a greater reduction in blood cortisol levels for the GIM group.
Further studies are necessary to establish if GIM is helpful for treating other forms of anxiety.
What are some grounding techniques for anxiety?
7. Practice diaphragmatic breathing
Diaphragmatic breathing is a type of deep breathing technique. A 2017 study found that DB reduces cortisol levels in healthy adults.
To help relieve anxiety, people can practice the following technique:
- Lie flat on the back with the knees bent and the soles of the feet on the floor.
- Place one hand on the upper chest and the other on the stomach, below the ribcage.
- Breathe in slowly and deeply through the nose. Draw the breath down toward the stomach so that the hand on the stomach rises upward. Make sure that the hand on the chest stays still.
- Exhale slowly through pursed lips, drawing the belly button toward the floor. The hand on the stomach should return to its original position. The hand on the chest should remain still.
Which breathing exercises can help with anxiety?
8. Avoid procrastination
People with anxiety may be prone to putting off important tasks or projects to temporarily avoid stress.
However, procrastination often results in a last-minute rush to complete tasks before a deadline. This causes even greater stress and anxiety.
In fact, research shows that this type of stress may trigger a range of stress-related health problems.
Counseling can help a person learn ways to overcome challenges they face with procrastination.
9. Limit alcohol intake
Research suggests there are links between alcohol use and anxiety, as they often occur together. They may involve similar brain structures.
When a person is stressed, it may feel as if alcohol will take the anxiety away. But alcohol will not solve anxiety, and a person may feel worse after drinking.
Without treatment, both alcohol use and anxiety can have severe long-term effects. Anyone who faces challenges with alcohol, anxiety, or both should seek medical help.
What are the links between alcohol use and anxiety?
10. Try journaling
Journaling and other types of writing can help a person express their feelings, channel their thoughts in a positive direction, and organize their thoughts and feelings. Therapists may recommend it for addressing mental health issues, including anxiety.
A 2022 review of the benefits of journaling concluded that it is a cost-effective therapy with a low risk of side effects. It can support other forms of therapy.
How can journaling help with anxiety?
11. Turn off the phone
Constant access to a phone can increase a person’s stress levels.
One Korean study suggested there may be a two-way link between persistent smartphone use and anxiety. The authors called for measures to prevent people from developing a smartphone addiction, due to its effect on mental health.
Tips for managing smartphone use include:
- leaving the phone outside the bedroom at night
- setting aside time to avoid phone use, for example, not checking the phone until 9.00 a.m.
- setting targets to spend time on other activities, such as exercise
- reduce the number of notifications received
What are the negative effects of technology?
12. Get some good sleep
Studies show that anxiety can prevent people from having enough sleep and that a lack of sleep can also make anxiety symptoms worse. Scientists say there may be a link between anxiety and sleep problems in terms of brain activity.
Here are some tips for improving sleep:
- Ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and of a comfortable temperature.
- Establish a regular routine for going to bed and waking up, including on weekends.
- Establish a relaxing sleep routine, for example, having a warm bath and listening to some music.
- Try to avoid caffeine, alcohol, and large meals before bedtime.
If lifestyle remedies do not help a person sleep, a doctor can suggest other therapies.
What is the link between sleep and anxiety?
Medical help is available if lifestyle approaches are ineffective or if feelings of anxiety become severe, persistent, or interfere with daily life.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) helps people recognize how negative thought patterns can influence their mood and behavior and find ways to replace them with more positive, constructive thoughts and responses.
Psychotherapy aims to help people regulate their emotions and improve their stress management skills. It is often a longer-term therapy that may explore past experiences.
How can counseling and other treatments help with anxiety?
Sometimes, a doctor may prescribe anti-anxiety medication alongside talking therapies. Some common anti-anxiety medications include:
- beta-blockers, which reduce symptoms such as trembling
- anti-anxiety medications, such as benzodiazepines
- antidepressants, which affect the ways the brain responds to stress
Benzodiazepines are for short-term use only, as there is a risk of dependence and withdrawal symptoms.
Many people feel anxious sometimes. However, many tips and techniques can help people reduce their stress levels and promote calmness.
People should talk with a doctor if they experience severe or persistent anxiety. They may recommend medication, talking therapy, or a combination of these treatments.