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Life Ed: How to Manage Anxiety

Marla W. Deibler, Psy.D., is a clinical psychologist and the founder and executive director of The Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia. Dr. Deibler specializes in anxiety disorders and obsessive compulsive and related disorders. Here, she shares her practical guidance on how to manage anxiety.

Recognize it

Anxiety is our body’s natural reaction to what we perceive as threatening, and it can be a healthy, adaptive response to stress. But anxiety in excess can cause significant distress and impair daily functioning. In fact, 40 million American adults are affected by anxiety disorders (18% of the US population according to the ADAA).

Managing excessive anxiety begins by recognizing that you have it. Here are some examples of how it can manifest:

  • Intense periods of panic
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Breathlessness
  • Worry that is difficult to control
  • Sleep disturbance
  • Appetite disturbance
  • Gastrointestinal distress
  • Headaches
  • Decreased immune functioning
What To Do

Practice Self-Care: Good nutrition, sleep, and exercise are important to well being, resilience, and healthy stress management.

Reach Out: Social support is vital to managing stress. Maintain connections with family and friends.

“Take Five”: Engage in an activity you enjoy; take a walk; listen to music; read a book. Whether it be a simple change of pace or scenery, enjoying a hobby, or switching “to-do” tasks, breaking from prolonged stress can promote healthy stress management.

“Face your Fears”: Avoidance of that which causes anxiety can unintentionally maintain the anxiety. Challenge yourself to face your fears, and learn that the feared situation is not nearly as frightening or dangerous as it seems.

“Use your Head”: Practice mindfulness and acceptance. It is “normal” to experience some degree of anxiety when stressors are unfamiliar, unpredictable, and/or imminent. Anxiety, in itself, feels bad, but it’s not inherently harmful and it does pass. Think of it like a wave of the ocean; allow it to come in, experience it, and ride it out.

Challenge your thoughts: Ask yourself these questions about your anxiety:

“Is this worry realistic?”

“Is this really likely to happen?”

“If the worst possible outcome happens, what would be so bad about that?”

“How might I think about this in a more helpful, more realistic way?”

Apps To Help You Relax

Learning to relax is one of the ways we can ease anxiety and physical tension.

Breath Pacer and My Calm Beat are two apps that help users develop paced breathing skills.

Belly Bio, Mindfield eSense, or Inner Balance are biofeedback apps (and accessories) for more advanced students, and help users manage their physical responses through awareness.

Time For Reinforcements

Sometimes, anxiety can be too challenging to manage without professional help. If you find yourself overwhelmed and struggling to manage your mood or keep up with the demands of daily life, talk to your healthcare professional.