12 Effective Self-Care Strategies To Manage Anxious Feelings

Discover 12 effective self-care strategies to manage anxiety levels. Learn about triggers, mindfulness, exercise, & more for lasting relief.
Anxiety levels. A dark blue background with scribbles creating an anxious energy. There is a white graphic of a human head in profile. In the area of the brain, there is graphic of a medium blue circle of water with a person lying on their back in the water.
Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
By Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
June 18, 2024(Updated: July 3, 2024)

It’s normal to worry now and then. Maybe you’re wondering whether that sore throat will turn into something worse. Or perhaps you’re getting nervous about next month’s bills. Our brains naturally anticipate the future and prepare for the worst—it’s part of their design. However, when those anxious feelings start to take over, practicing self-care can help prevent them from overwhelming you entirely.

Incorporating self-care strategies into your daily not only helps mitigate the immediate symptoms of anxiety but also builds long-term resilience against future stressors. 

“As you explore the roots and triggers of your anxiety, it’ll be easier to interpret your feelings, understand how they influence your thoughts and behaviors, and manage them effectively.”

— Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP

1. Learn About Your Anxiety

You may think distracting yourself or avoiding anxious feelings can help you feel better. However, getting to know your anxiety is an effective strategy for managing anxiety levels effectively. Did you know there are eight different types of anxiety?

Identify and Recognize Triggers

Actively work to recognize the triggers and patterns of your anxiety. Write down a list of situations that have provoked you before. Going through each situation can help you predict and prepare for them in the future.

Once you’ve identified what triggers your anxiety, you can develop tailored coping strategies that address specific situations or avoid them altogether. For instance, if public speaking triggers anxiety, you might focus on techniques such as deep breathing or visualization to cope with this particular challenge. 

As you explore the roots and triggers of your anxiety, it’ll be easier to interpret your feelings, understand how they influence your thoughts and behaviors, and manage them effectively.

Educate Yourself

Read books, listen to podcasts, and watch educational videos about anxiety. Understanding the physiological and psychological aspects of anxiety can demystify the experiences associated with it. Educational materials often provide insights into why anxiety feels the way it does and make it less intimidating and more manageable.

Anxiety often distorts perception, making things seem a lot worse than they really are. Learning about your specific anxiety responses helps in challenging these irrational thoughts and replacing them with more balanced and realistic ones.

The more you understand your anxiety, the more empowered you become to take action against it. This understanding can significantly boost your confidence in managing difficult situations, reducing feelings of helplessness and fear.

Work With Your Therapist

If you’re in therapy, having a good understanding of your anxiety can enhance your sessions. You can provide your therapist with detailed insights into what triggers your anxiety, what has or hasn’t worked in the past, and any patterns you’ve noticed. All of this can make therapy more effective.

2. Get Social

Socializing, especially with friends and family, can be a powerful tool in managing anxiety levels. Being around people who care about you can provide a sense of safety and belonging. 

Friends and family can offer emotional support and understanding. For instance, having conversations with others can sometimes reveal that they, too, experience anxiety or have similar fears. This normalization can reduce the stigma or isolation you might feel about your anxiety.

They can provide new perspectives on your worries, helping you see situations in a less threatening light. This shift can reduce the impact of anxiety-inducing thoughts.

Getting involved with the community or joining groups that share your interests can help boost your mood and self-esteem. When you focus on a conversation or a group activity, there’s less mental space for anxiety to dominate.

Positive social interactions can trigger the release of hormones like oxytocin, which promotes relaxation and stress reduction. Lower stress levels can naturally lead to reduced anxiety. Building and maintaining solid relationships can increase your overall sense of security and stability in life. Knowing you have a support network can make the world seem less daunting and more manageable.

Do you know anyone who seems to always be in Zen mode? After hanging out with them, you feel like they’ve lifted a massive weight from your shoulders. Humans often mirror the emotional states of those around them, a process mediated by mirror neurons in the brain. Spend time with calm, relaxed people—it can naturally lower your anxiety levels and regulate your emotions.

3. Keep a Journal

Keeping a journal is a highly effective method for managing anxiety. Writing helps organize and clarify the jumbled and overwhelming thoughts that can occur with anxiety. By transferring thoughts to paper, you make them more manageable and easier to understand. Journalling provides a safe outlet for emotional expression. The act of writing can be cathartic, helping to release and diminish the power of these emotions.

Regular journaling can help you identify patterns and triggers of your anxiety. Over time, you can begin to pinpoint specific situations, people, or activities that increase your anxiety levels. Then, you can start to work on modifying your behaviors to avoid or alter how you engage with these triggers.

Anxiety often involves excessive rumination — repeatedly going over the same anxious thoughts. Writing them down helps to get them out of your head, breaking the cycle and allowing for a shift in focus.

Lastly, a journal allows you to document your progress over time, which can be encouraging and motivating. You can also spot beneficial patterns, like effective coping strategies that have worked, which you might replicate in future scenarios.

Helpful Resources for Self-Care and Anxiety:

4. Eat A Balanced Diet

What you eat can significantly impact your anxiety levels. Here are some guidelines to help you maintain a balanced diet:

  • Reduce caffeine and sugar: These stimulants can cause or exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Reducing intake can help stabilize mood swings.
  • Eat complex carbohydrates: Foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables can increase the amount of serotonin in the brain, which research has shown to produce a calming effect.
  • Incorporate omega-3 fatty acids: Omega-3s, found in fish like salmon and flaxseeds, are known to reduce symptoms of stress and anxiety.
  • Stay hydrated: Dehydration can cause mood changes, so drinking plenty of water is essential.
  • Limit alcohol and avoid nicotine: Both substances can increase anxiety levels and disrupt sleep patterns.
  • Regular meals: Eating regular meals helps maintain stable blood sugar levels, preventing mood swings and irritability.

5. Exercise Regularly

Here’s how regularly moving your body can be a powerful anxiety reliever:

  • Releases endorphins: Physical activity produces endorphins, chemicals in the brain that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators.
  • Reduces stress hormones: Regular exercise lowers the body’s stress hormones, such as cortisol, over time.
  • Improves sleep: Exercise can help regulate sleep patterns, which is crucial for overall mental health.
  • Increases confidence: Meeting exercise goals or challenges, even small ones, can boost your self-confidence.

Aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise most days of the week.

6. Get Sufficient Sleep

Sleep and anxiety have a bidirectional relationship. This relationship means poor sleep can increase anxiety, and anxiety can disrupt sleep. Here are some guidelines to help you get sufficient sleep can help manage anxiety:

  • Regular schedule: Go to bed and wake up at the same time every day to regulate your body clock.
  • Optimize your sleep environment: Ensure your bedroom is conducive to sleep — quiet, dark, and cool. Invest in a good mattress and pillows.
  • Limit screen time before bed: Screens emit blue light, which can disrupt your natural sleep cycle (circadian rhythm). Try to turn off electronic devices at least an hour before bedtime.
  • Relaxation techniques: Before bed, engage in calming activities such as reading, taking a warm bath, or meditation.
  • Avoid stimulants: Avoid caffeine and heavy meals in the hours leading up to bedtime.

7. Try Meditation

Meditation involves focusing the mind to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. It can help reduce stress by improving your overall mood and has shown substantial decreases in anxiety levels over time.

How to Practice Meditation:

  • Find a quiet place and sit comfortably.
  • Close your eyes and take deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth.
  • Focus your attention on your breath, a word, or a mantra.
  • If your mind wanders, gently bring your focus back to your chosen point of concentration.

8. Do Breathing Exercises

Breathing exercises can help control the nervous system and encourage the body to relax, bringing about a range of health benefits.

Breathing Exercises:

  • Deep Breathing: Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in. It should move more than the one on your chest.
  • 4–7–8 Breathing: Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold the breath for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds. This pattern will slow your heart rate and encourage your body to relax.

9. Practice Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely focusing your attention on the present moment — and accepting it without judgment. Mindfulness has been examined scientifically and is a key element in stress reduction and overall happiness.

How to Practice Mindfulness:

  • Begin by observing the present moment—just as it is. This practice can involve a simple awareness of your surroundings, your emotions, or your thoughts.
  • Engage all of your senses — notice what you see, hear, taste, touch, and smell.
  • When you notice that your mind has wandered from the task at hand, gently bring your attention back to the present.

10. Adopt The 333 Rule for Anxiety

The 333 Rule is a quick tool to use when you feel anxiety building up. It can help you regain a sense of grounding and divert your mind from anxious thoughts.

How to Practice the 333 Rule for Anxiety:

  • Look around you and name three things you can see.
  • Then, name three sounds you can hear.
  • Finally, focus on three things you can move or touch. For instance, rub your fingers together, move your ankle, or caress the surface of your chair or table.

11. Aromatherapy

Aromatherapy involves the use of essential oils extracted from plants, which some believe have therapeutic properties. When inhaled, the molecules in essential oils are absorbed into the bloodstream and can affect the limbic system, the part of the brain that controls emotions, mood, and memory.

Scents like lavender are known for their calming effects. They can help reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and promote better sleep.

Practical Uses of Aromatherapy:

  • Diffusion: Use an oil diffuser to disperse the scent throughout a room.
  • Topical Application: Mix with a carrier oil and apply to stress points such as wrists or temples.
  • Bath Time: Adding a few drops of essential oil to a warm bath can provide a relaxing experience.

12. Microdosing

Microdosing involves taking very small, sub-hallucinogenic doses of substances such as LSD or psilocybin mushrooms, typically about 5 to 10 percent of a standard dose. This practice has gained attention in recent years as a potential means to enhance creativity, increase productivity, and manage mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.

Microdosers have reported improved mood and outlook, which can indirectly reduce feelings of anxiety. Microdosing can enhance mindfulness and present-moment awareness, making it easier to cope with anxiety triggers.

It’s important to consider that the legality of substances commonly used for microdosing varies by country and region. Many such substances are illegal. Despite anecdotal reports, scientific research on the long-term effects and safety of microdosing is limited and can vary widely among individuals.

Once you’ve experimented and found the types of self-care practices that work for you, it’s time to create a routine that ensures you keep these up. Consistency is vital in keeping those anxious feelings at bay. Incorporating self-care into daily life is a proactive strategy for managing anxiety, not just immediate relief but also long-term mental health benefits.

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Self-Care for Anxiety. (2021, February). Mind. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/anxiety-and-panic-attacks/self-care/.

1. Learn About Your Anxiety

Hirschlag, A. (2023, May 31). Do You Live with Anxiety? Here Are 13 Ways to Cope. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/how-to-cope-with-anxiety#8-long-term-strategies/.

2. Get Social

Lautieri, A. (2024, February 29). Socialization and Altruistic Acts as Stress Relief. MentalHelp.net. https://www.mentalhelp.net/stress/socialization-and-altruistic-acts-as-stress-relief/.

Sowden, S., Khemka, D., & Catmur, C. (2021). Regulating Mirroring of Emotions a Social-Specific Mechanism? Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, 75(7), 1302–1313. https://doi.org/10.1177/17470218211049780/.

3. Keep a Journal

Mercer, A., Warson, E., & Zhao, J. (2010). Visual Journaling: An Intervention to Influence Stress, Anxiety and Affect Levels in Medical Students. The Arts in Psychotherapy, 37(2), 143–148. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aip.2009.12.003/.

4. Eat A Balanced Diet

Naidoo, U., MD. (2019, August 28). Nutritional Strategies to Ease Anxiety. Harvard Health Publishing. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/nutritional-strategies-to-ease-anxiety-201604139441/.

5. Exercise Regularly

Exercise for Stress and Anxiety | Anxiety and Depression Association of America, ADAA. (n.d.). https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety/.

6. Get Sufficient Sleep

Suni, E., & Suni, E. (2024, April 23). Anxiety and sleep. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/mental-health/anxiety-and-sleep/.

Suni, E., & Suni, E. (2023, December 8). 20 Tips for How to Sleep Better. Sleep Foundation. https://www.sleepfoundation.org/sleep-hygiene/healthy-sleep-tips/.

7. Try Meditation

Staff, M. (2024, April 26). Meditation for Anxiety. Mindful. https://www.mindful.org/mindfulness-meditation-anxiety/.

8. Do Breathing Exercises

Breathing Exercises for Stress. (2022, August 19). NHS.uk. https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/self-help/guides-tools-and-activities/breathing-exercises-for-stress/.

Fowler, P. (2024, March 5). Breathing Techniques for Stress Relief. WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/stress-management/stress-relief-breathing-techniques/.

What to Know about 4–7–8 Breathing. (2023, June 27). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/balance/what-to-know-4-7-8-breathing/.

9. Practice Mindfulness

Hofmann, S. G., Sawyer, A. T., Witt, A. A., & Oh, D. (2010). The Effect of Mindfulness-Based Therapy on Anxiety and Depression: A Meta-Analytic Review. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 78(2), 169–183. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0018555/.

10. Adopt The 333 Rule for Anxiety

Herndon, J. R. (2022, July 28). What Is the 333 Rule for Anxiety? Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/333-rule-anxiety/.

11. Aromatherapy

Tan, L., Liao, F., Long, L., Ma, X., Peng, Y., Lu, J., Qu, H., & Fu, C. (2023). Essential Oils for Treating Anxiety: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials and Network Meta-Analysis. Frontiers in Public Health, 11. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpubh.2023.1144404/.

The content provided is for educational and informational purposes only and should be a substitute for medical or other professional advice. Articles are based on personal opinions, research, and experiences of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Psychedelic Support.

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Author: Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine Chan, MSc, BSc, PMP
Katharine has over 15 years of experience working in British Columbia's healthcare system, leading patient safety incident investigations, quality and systems improvement projects, and change management initiatives within mental health, emergency health services, and women's health. She has published in scientific journals and co-authored health research books. Her bylines include Verywell Mind, CBC Parents, Family Education, Mamamia Australia, HuffPost Canada, and CafeMom. Check out her books at Sum (心,♡) on Sleeve.

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