A Simple Way to Help Reduce Anxiety

Approximately 18% of people struggle with an anxiety disorder every year.

Of all the mental health challenges, anxiety is the most common, but it is also highly treatable. Yet, only 37% of people struggling with anxiety will seek treatment.

Many different strategies can help manage anxiety. Here is one simple but effective strategy.

Kircanski et al. (2012), in the journal Psychological Science, found that merely putting anxious feelings into words (also known as labelling) reduced anxiety levels. They used skin conductance testing to measure anxiety levels instead of relying on self-report ratings, making the findings even more robust.

Interestingly, they found that labelling anxiety worked better than distraction and reappraisal (using neutral words to describe anxiety) in reducing the psychological response to anxiety.

Take-Home Message

Labelling anxiety is a simple and effective strategy for managing anxiety. Based on Kircanski and colleagues' findings, labelling anxiety may be the first line of defence when experiencing anxiety, before other effective strategies such as deep breathing, relaxing self-talk, or distraction.

3 Quick Tips to Manage Anxiety

During the past several years, anxiety disorders have been on the rise. And the current pandemic has contributed to an increase in anxiety for many Canadians.

Here are three more strategies to help manage feelings of anxiety:

1. Don't overestimate the emotional impact of future events

Have you ever had something planned, such as a meeting or a presentation, and every time you thought about it, you felt anxious? And then, afterwards, you thought, "That wasn't really that bad!"

This is referred to as impact bias—our tendency to overestimate the length and intensity of future emotional states, such as anxiety.

So, next time you are faced with an anxiety-provoking situation in the future, remember the impact bias and avoid overestimating your level of anxiety.

2. Acceptance helps

Facing anxiety head-on and dealing with uncomfortable feelings is an important part of managing anxiety. However, our tendency to seek comfort and avoid discomfort makes it difficult to expose ourselves to anxiety-provoking situations.

Having control over our surroundings helps reduce feelings of anxiety. But what happens in situations that are beyond our control?

Oemig Dworsky et al. (2016) conducted a study in which they asked participants existential questions—in other words, questions about situations that were beyond their control.

Results showed that people who can confront these types of questions have lower levels of anxiety. They are likely more able to accept difficult thoughts and situations that are beyond their control.

One way to become more accepting of things beyond our control is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness helps us become less judgemental and more accepting of our thoughts.

3. Spend time in nature

Spending time in nature is beneficial for reducing anxiety.

Martyn & Brymer (2016) list several ways that being in nature helps to reduce feelings of anxiety:

Relaxation – people reported a reduction in stress and a sense of renewal.

Time out – a chance to be away from everyday life and stressors.

Enjoyment – it feels good to be in a natural environment.

Connection – feeling a part of something larger than yourself.

Sensory engagement – nature engages the five senses and provides an experience of peace and beauty.

Healthy perspective – helps to put the challenges of everyday life into perspective.

And one of the many benefits of living in northern Ontario is that nature is all around us!

If you are unable to be out in nature, studies have shown that merely looking at nature is beneficial for your mental health.

What do you find to be most helpful for managing feelings of anxiety?

Join the conversation on Facebook!

Article by

Trevor Sullivan, MA, RP

Registered Psychotherapist

December 14, 2020