Anxiety Self Help - 11 Tips

Self help for anxiety need not be difficult provided you break it down into reasonable steps. And it definitely works: A 2012 study totaling 4713 individuals revealed that anxiety sufferers that engaged in self help treatment did much better than those on a placebo or waiting list.(1)

On this page I have formulated a great anxiety self help guide to get you started on the way to recovery. It's divided into 11 top anxiety self help tips designed to reduce your symptoms to a minimum and reclaim your life. Follow the advice below taking one step at a time and you will you will be surprized at how quickly you feel better.
Self help will be easier if you take a stepping stones 

Tip 1: Is there an obvious way that you can reduce stress now?

If there is, take action now! Once we enter the cycle of stress it can become surprisingly difficult to see the obvious or find solutions. If this is the case, taking some time out to relax and reflect is all that's required to see things more clearly. Whether it is reconciling to your spouse over a dispute, reducing your hours at work, avoiding a difficult person, or even filing that overdue tax return, if you recognize that you can do something to reduce stress, act immediately without delay.

Perhaps you need to take a more drastic course. Are you involved in an abusive relationship? Do you need to change your job, or even your career?

This piece of advice applies to physical stress as well. If you are assaulting your body on a physical level by over-exercising, late night partying, working nights, drinking too much coffee, smoking, or exposure to chemicals, then you need to change these things too - the sooner the better.

If you know what you need to do but don't do it, then it is time to ask yourself, why not?

Tip 2: Stop using drugs and alcohol

To have any real chance of lasting improvement you must first stop using any non-prescription drugs. There is no way around this, since all of these substances (including cannabis, cocaine, ecstasy, uppers, downers, heroin and all hallucinogenic drugs) are harmful to the brain’s delicate balance of chemicals and neural pathways.
You cannot expect to get well if you continue to
abuse drugs or alcohol.

Do not be swayed by the fact that many people appear to be able to use these substances without coming to harm. Everyone has their own threshold for how much of a drug they can tolerate. You on the other hand already have symptoms, and exposing your brain to these substances will only make you worse.

Alcohol should be limited to very small amounts. Half a pint of beer or a small glass of wine with dinner is unlikely to do you any harm. Any more or anything stronger on a daily basis creates a problem for the brain’s balance of chemicals and is likely to make you worse. Again, a few extra drinks at the weekend is unlikely to do you much harm, but if you have been in the habit of binge drinking you will need to stop.

If you feel dependent on drugs or alcohol, you will need to get help immediately. You will need to treat the addiction first before moving on to resolve your anxiety. Your doctor should be the first port of call. You may need to enter a 12 step program. I understand that this may seem a daunting prospect, but it really is essential if you are to stand any chance of becoming well and leading a normal life.

Tip 3: Optimize your diet

There is a lot to cover under this point so I will try to be concise! What you eat will have a significant effect on how you feel. You should aim for a balanced diet, containing foods from all the major food groups in moderation each day. These are: grains (oats, bread, cereals), fruit/berries and vegetables (including beans), nuts and seeds, meat (mainly oily fish), and a little dairy. The majority of your diet should be plant based. Generally, the best foods are minimally processed, fresh, locally produced or certified organic. Eat regularly throughout the day. Drink a couple of extra glasses of water each day in between meals.
A balanced nutritious diet is important for your mental
well being.

Eliminate or at least reduce your consumption of refined carbohydrate: sugar, refined cereals, white bread, cakes, biscuits, sweets and sugary drinks - they all play havoc with your sugar levels, leaving you vulnerable to anxiety attacks or mood swings. Also, avoid artificial sweeteners (especially aspartame) which can act as stimulants.

Do not buy anything that reads 'hydrogenated fat' or 'hydrogenated vegetable oil' on the label (these contain very harmful trans fatty acids that damage your arteries). Limit your consumption of caffeine, try green tea instead. Use relaxing herbs, like chamomile, passion flower or valerian, occasionally to help you sleep.

If you are overweight you need to reduce your diet down to small helpings of whole foods, while increasing activity. You might consider joining a slimming club that supports the type of diet I have suggested, although I am all too aware that this can be difficult and professional psychological therapy is sometimes necessary.

Know your intolerances. This will not apply to everyone, but if you find you often feel worse after eating certain foods try excluding those foods from your diet. Signs of low grade food allergy or intolerance include abdominal pain, bloating, diarrhea, skin rashes, puffiness, and sudden changes in mood. A complex immune response is involved in allergies and intolerances, and this has a direct impact on the brain - and how you feel.

Tip 4: Exercise!

Exercise is a proven help in anxiety and depression, believed to work by reducing stress while increasing brain serotonin and endorphins - the feel good chemicals. Studies indicate that aerobic exercise helps the most and should be performed at mild to moderate intensity for about 15 to 30 minutes 3 or more times per week.(2) Aerobic exercises include walking, jogging, cycling and swimming. 

Other types of exercise seem to help as well, including weight training, martial arts or yoga. The important thing is to find a form of exercise that you enjoy - this way you are more likely to stick to it.

But do not be tempted to overdo it because intensely strenuous or overly prolonged workouts may lead to increasing stress and fatigue. Moderation is the key! It is usually advisable to check with your doctor before embarking on a new exercise program.

Tip 5: Get quality sleep

Make sure that you are getting enough sleep. Most adults require around 7 to 8 hours of sleep each night to feel well rested and refreshed. A few people may need less than this. Teenagers need more – usually around 9 hours.

It is very important to have a regular routine – i.e. going to bed and getting up at roughly the same time every day. To get the best deal out of your sleep follow the rule "early to bed early to rise". It is in the hours before 3 a.m. that sleep works most of its magic.

The last couple of hours before bedtime should be spent winding down with relaxing activities and dim lighting. At this time of the day you should avoid stimulating activities, such as computer games, exciting television, arguments, socializing or work.

If you have been in the habit of late night partying you will need to give this up – at least for the time being. If you work a night shift it will be more difficult. If at all possible you should avoid working nights, but if you have to work nights simply try to follow the rest of my advice as best you can.

Tip 6: Take time out each day for hobbies and relaxation

It is essential to take regular time out from your schedule to enjoy interests and activities that have nothing to do with responsibilities or work. Getting out into the countryside, local park, or even your garden is good - there is something inherently therapeutic about natural surroundings. Whether it is golf, model railways, music, or vintage film, make time for a hobby that you find interesting and relaxing.

Make sure you use some of this time to 'properly relax'. One excellent way to do this is through self hypnosis CDs or downloads, which may be used to program self confidence as well.

Tip 7: Benefit from meditation and self hypnosis

By meditation I mean to develop a practice of relaxed contemplation. Not all meditation is sitting in the lotus position reciting mantras (although there would be nothing wrong in this if it suited you). One type of contemplation is taking time to relax, withdraw the mind from externals (work, money, worries, regrets, to do lists, etc), and think about the bigger picture: who you are, which values are important, the life being lived, and where you are going. It is from this place of quiet reflection that things can sometimes fall into place, your perspective changes and you see things anew.

Other forms of contemplation include thinking on scripture or spiritual wisdom, prayer, or simply taking a beautiful object (like a flower or a candle) and contemplating that. The fact is, you can be quite creative about it. The aim is to discover what works for you and then make it a regular practice.
Self hypnosis can be a great way to relax and
overcome specific issues.

Hypnosis produces a similar state of relaxation in the brain. You can either memorize a self hypnosis routine or make use of the many available self hypnosis CDs and downloads. One advantage of this is that you can be guided professionally through a more complex sequence of suggestion and visualization (usually producing much deeper relaxation). Another is that you can choose from a whole range of problems you would like help with. As an example, if you wanted to overcome a fear of public speaking, you could choose a hypnosis CD or download that deals with social anxiety or specifically public speaking.

Choose from over 100 expertly created hypnotherapy CDs or downloads here

Tip 8: Learn a CBT based method for stopping anxious thoughts

Cognitive behavioral therapists have created a great exercise for identifying and dealing with anxious negative thoughts. It is based not on positive thinking which tends not to be believable, but rather realistic thinking. You get to test your initial negative thoughts against real evidence that can't be disputed. If your thoughts have been irrational you can then change them to more realistic thoughts, leading to a sharp drop in anxiety.

The exercise is carried out using written sheets (sometime called thought record sheets). Sheets and accompanying guidelines can be found in most self help books based on CBT. Alternatively, for an express version with full instructions you can drop me an email and I'll send you my own version for freeEmail here

If you do the exercise as soon as possible when your anxiety is triggered, you will stop the escalation of frightening thoughts and save yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and worry.

Tip 9: Stop avoiding things (but do it the right way)

If you have been highly anxious for some time it is only natural that you may have started to avoid certain situations. After all, who enjoys feeling anxious? To regain confidence in those situations you must gently ease yourself back into them over a period of time. But it is important to do this right! Jumping in at the deep end with the idea of conquering it all in one big go is highly unlikely to work. Such an approach is more likely to just leave you feeling traumatized.

It is also a bad idea to try this step until you have put all the other advice on this page into practice and are feeling generally more relaxed. It does not work well for people who suffer repeated panic attacks or who are highly anxious in general. For this reason it is better undertake once you are at the stage when you only get anxious in certain situations.
Going into situations that make you anxious is an
important part of your recovery, but it must be done in
the right way.

That said, the best way to do it is to first make a list of all the things you currently avoid because of anxiety, and place in order from the least to the most frightening. This will provide you with a number of smaller steps towards your final goal of going into even the most difficult situations. Starting with the least difficult you go into that situation and tolerate any feelings of anxiety until they pass and then stay there for another 30 to 60 minutes. 

The most common mistake is to leave the situation while you are still quite anxious, which does not help at all. It is during the time you are relaxed that the brain is being reprogrammed with a relaxed response to that situation. This must be repeated every few days until you experience no anxiety at all in that situation. You then do the same for the next step, and so on, until you become fully used to even the most difficult item on your list.

This step can be made easier by using a hypnosis CD or download that deals with the situation you intend to tackle. Simply listen to the hypnosis session a couple of times before entering that situation.

Detailed guidelines for exposure therapy may be found in certain self help books based on behavioral therapy. Alternatively, for an express version with full instructions you can drop me an email and I'll send you my own version for freeEmail here

Tip 10: Reduce dependency and manage people

People who are afraid often begin to rely rather heavily on others for both reassurance and to take care of things that they find difficult. However, this can serve to perpetuate the symptoms (especially the avoidance aspect of anxiety), create dependency and lower self confidence.

It is important to reclaim responsibility for things that you would normally do if you did not have anxiety. This includes not constantly seeking reassurance or having to have a loved one alter their routine because of your anxiety, as well as getting back to chores and responsibilities, such as shopping and school runs, etc. The best way to undertake this is by following the advice above in tip 7.

It is here though that you can sometimes meet with an unexpected problem: As you change to become more self sufficient one or more people who are close to you may begin to resist your efforts with uncooperative behavior or negative comments. It happens because they had got used to you being the way you were and subconsciously feel uneasy about the changes you are making.

The tell tale signs are over-protectiveness, continuing to do things for you when you've asked them not to, failing to encourage your successes, or commenting that you seem to have gotten worse in some way. It is not so much that anyone would actively stand in the way of you recovery; simply that it is difficult to do the courageous work of overcoming a serious anxiety disorder when you get the feeling that it means upsetting someone you care about or feel dependent on.

The best antidote to this is to quietly reassure the person concerned that although things are changing there is nothing for them to fear - you will still be the same person who loves them just as much, except that life is going to get better. This will make it far easier for the person to adapt to the new more confident you (as they almost certainly will given time to get used to it). You may also need to gently but firmly say, and mean, that you have to make these changes for your own well being whether they support you or not. This will almost always trigger an about turn, as the person's conscience tells them they ought to be supporting you.

Tip 11: Accept some residual symptoms

Although for some people anxiety disorders can be reduced to non-existent, for others it appears to be an inbuilt trait that cannot be eliminated completely. If you are in this category, the approach I believe to be best is first do everything you can to reduce the condition to a minimum (including professional and medical help if needed), then learn to accept and live with some residual symptoms.
After you've done all you can, you may be happier if
you accept some residual symptoms.

The majority of my clients can reduce their anxiety by about 80 or 90 percent (which is pretty good I think!). Improvement tends to plateau after this with less and less gain for the same amount of effort.

The quest for a complete cure is inappropriate for these clients, who feel upset and disappointed when the old anxiety briefly recurs, obsessive thoughts still pop up, or one or two symptoms cannot be entirely eliminated. If you fall into this category it may be better to stop searching for the perfect cure and accept the presence of some residual anxiety symptoms in your life.

If you reach this point it may well be worth reading up on acceptance based approaches, such as mindfulness, which has become very popular in recent times. There are many self help books promoting minfulness; unfortunately I have not produced my own version just yet.

In the words of one authority, "...anxiety disorders cannot be eliminated by any form of treatment...Getting well - finding a real cure - means accepting that you have the anxiety disease and learning how to care for it in ways that take away most of the suffering and all of the disability."(3)
  1. Haug T et al (2012): Self-help treatment of anxiety disorders: a meta-analysis and meta-regression of effects and potential moderators. Clin Psychol Rev Jul 32(5):425-45
  2. Guszkowska M (2004): Effects of exercise on anxiety, depression and mood. Psychiatry Pol Jul-Aug 38(4):611-20
  3. Dupont RL et al (2003): The Anxiety Cure – An Eight Step Program for Getting Well. John Wiley & Sons, Inc p46
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