Anxiety is as much a part of our culture as television, cell phones, and divisive politics. If your clients are like most everyone else, from time to time they worry about paying next month’s rent or mortgage, panic when they think about their upcoming presentation at work, and stress over how they will buy Christmas presents for more people this year even though they have less money to spend. Anxiety is all around us and it is not going anywhere.
Is Professional Help Always Necessary?
As a psychologist, I am obviously biased. I think that mental health professionals provide valuable clinical services to clients struggling with all sorts of anxiety issues. There are a number of evidence-based psychotherapies for panic disorder, generalized anxiety disorder, and social phobia.
Medications are also helpful for some. However, the research is pretty clear that cognitive and behavioral therapies are the preferred interventions. Medications can have significant side effects. And benzodiazepines (Xanax, Valium, etc), a common treatment for a variety of anxiety disorders, can lead to abuse and dependence.
Indeed, most people associate managing anxiety with seeking professional help.
The truth, however, is that many of your clients can effectively manage their anxiety by engaging is some basic and straightforward techniques. Often the most successful techniques are those rooted more in common sense than some abstract psychological or biochemical theory.
10 Simple Anxiety-Busting Techniques
The following 10 techniques are simple, yet effective. Help your clients set the goal of doing each one for an entire week. Ask them to keep track of those techniques that are most helpful and integrate them into their ongoing routines. Although there are no guarantees in life, I am confident that these simple behaviors will reduce your clients’ anxiety.
Take a warm bath or shower before bed. Warm water relaxes your muscles, dilates your blood vessels and increases oxygen flow to your body. It also helps set a bedtime routine. Research has shown that when a person develops a bedtime routine that includes a relaxing activity the person is more likely to achieve good quality sleep.
Listen to your favorite music. Research shows that listening to music decreases arousal and promotes relaxation. However, you may want to tell your client to dial in to the more mellow stations because loud, fast and frantic music can increase arousal.
Sit quietly and think of pleasant childhood memories. Conjuring up childhood memories stimulates positive thoughts and feelings. When you do this your mind thinks you are actually experiencing the situation again, and sends off a cascade of “feel good” chemicals, which promotes a sense of well-being.
Do something that you’ve been putting off. Procrastination causes a person to feel overwhelmed. Even doing small things that have been put off can make life seem less chaotic. Plus, it leads to greater productivity at home and work.
Turn off the television if you’re not watching it. Life is filled with background noise, which contributes to anxiety. Traffic, barking dogs, and the neighbor’s stereo are probably enough.
Avoid someone who makes you anxious. Generally, avoidance is not a healthy strategy for dealing with anxiety. But, in some instances, staying away from an individual who makes you anxious can be helpful. Hopefully it is not a spouse, friend, or co-worker making your client anxious. It can be hard to avoid them.
Give in on something. People with anxiety have high standards for just about everything. Ask your client to relax his or her standards on at least one thing each day.
Stay in the present during conversations. A hazard of multi-tasking so that things can get done at work and at home is that your clients probably are not providing their full attention during conversations with their loved ones. When talking with their spouse, friends, children or other loved ones, encourage your clients to devote 100 percent of their attention to what is being said.
Sing while you wait. Waiting is a source of stress for most people. Singing while you are standing in line at the store, in traffic or in the doctor’s waiting room is a great way to reduce stress. If other people are around, you may want to recommend to your clients that they use their “quiet voice.”
Practice forgiveness. Ask your clients to find an opportunity to forgive someone for what they did to them. Forgiveness is a great way to let go of anxious and hurtful emotions.