Anxiety is an expected and normal part of life and could be triggered by a number of things including an upcoming deadline or presentation, taking a test, an important decision, or a disagreement with a loved one. We deal with anxiety in different ways, and it can be hard to deal with for many of us. This is why we need to take action, which is exactly what this anxiety challenge is meant to do.
Usually that anxiety goes away once the trigger has been resolved, but sometimes it can get out of hand when it persists, or worsens over time. This can lead to an anxiety disorder, which can interfere with your work performance, school work, relationships, and other daily activities .
Types of Anxiety
Anxiety can range in severity depending on the person and their specific circumstances. There are several different types of anxiety, including generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and phobia-related disorders.
- Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is when a person experiences excessive anxiety or worry for most days over a period of at least six months. Their anxiety could be over any number of things, including personal health, work, social interactions, or everyday routine life circumstances.
- Panic disorder is when a person has recurrent, unexpected panic attacks. A panic attack is a sudden period of intense fear that initiates quickly and reaches its peak within minutes. They can happen unexpectedly, or can be triggered by a feared object or situation.
- Phobia-related disorders could include specific phobias, such as heights, flying, or specific animals, social anxiety, agoraphobia, or separation anxiety. The fear these people have for these specific objects or situations is out of proportion to the actual danger caused by the object or situation .
The Anxiety Challenge
Over the last several months, even those who don’t normally struggle with anxiety have likely been feeling greater levels of stress and anxiousness as they deal with the constant changes and fears surrounding the global COVID-19 pandemic.
For this reason, it is important that we are all taking extra care to actively reduce our anxiety during these uncertain times, and there are many small things you can do at home to help ease any anxious thoughts or feelings you might be having.
The following list contains some helpful suggestions for ways you can relax your mind and calm your nerves. Try one of them, a few of them, or you can try all of them as an “anxiety challenge”. Some have even gone as far as trying one a day over 21 days. Everyone is different, so try what you can in whatever way feels comfortable. Are up for the 21 Day Anxiety Challenge?
Of course as previously mentioned, everyone’s anxiety is different and not all of these will work for you. If you are really struggling, consider reaching out for professional help.
- Spend twenty minutes outside. There is a growing body of research demonstrating the positive effects spending time in nature has on your mental health . Registered Psychologist Dr. Lynne M. Kostiuk says that humans need to feel connected to the natural world, and spending time in nature, where there is much less stimuli around us, helps us to relax.
“Nature goes at a completely different pace than what we’ve created for ourselves nowadays,” she says. “It slows us down, lets us pay attention to different things, and let go of others. It gives us a chance to just enjoy ‘being’.” 
While you may not have the chance to go for a long walk in the woods everyday, even just a twenty minute stroll through the park can go a long way in reducing your anxiety.
- Make art. Art therapy has shown to be a valuable treatment for depression, anxiety, PTSD, and even some phobias. It can help you to express emotion, process complex feelings and find relief . The best part is, you don’t have to be an incredible artist to reap the benefits- even simply coloring a page of a coloring book can help you to relax and put you in a better state of mind.
- Count your blessings. People who practice gratitude regularly display significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety symptoms. Experts believe that gratitude works in this way because it improves your relationships with others, and more importantly, it is associated with a less critical, punishing, and more compassionate relationship with yourself .
Practicing gratitude is easier than you think. To start, try simply writing down five things that you’re grateful for, and repeating them to yourself throughout your day.
- Drink water. Staying adequately hydrated throughout the day can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety. The brain needs water to function properly, and without it, it’s functioning starts to slow down .
- Listen to music, and dance. Dance therapy is another well-known treatment for anxiety and depression, According to anxiety.org, dancing brings us back to a more primitive, liberated state of mind, as we focus on our bodies and our movements instead of whatever else is going on in our heads .
- Take a social media break. Excessive or compulsive social media use has been associated with high anxiety and depression, particularly among adolescents . If you begin to notice feelings of “social media fatigue”, or “fear of missing out”, try turning off all notifications for those apps and staying off them for a full twenty-four hours or longer.
- Practice self-care. Take a warm bubble bath, read your favorite book, go get a message- whatever you choose to do, taking a bit of time to relax and unwind can go a long way in reducing stress and anxiety.
- Meditate. Mindfulness meditation has been shown to reduce anxiety through mechanisms involved in regulating self-referential thoughts . Meditating can be more difficult for some than others, so if you’re new to the practice, be patient with yourself as mastering it could take some practice. There are many apps, websites, and videos available online to help you get started.
- Take a page out of the Danes’ book. The Danish have a word “hygge”, which is defined as “a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or well-being.” The Danish people live by hygge (pronounced hoo-gah), and seem to have mastered the art of taking pleasure in the presence of gentle, soothing things. Think a crackling fire, a warm pair of socks, a hot mug of coffee- anything that creates that warm, cozy feeling. Adding a little more hygge into our lives could go a long way in making us all feel a little more relaxed .
- Cardio. Scientists have found that regular aerobic exercise decreases overall levels of tension, elevates and stabilizes your mood, improves sleep, and improves self-esteem. These effects are due to the release of endorphins, which are chemicals released by the brain that act as natural painkillers and reduce stress .
You don’t have to do a heart-pounding interval session to experience these benefits- even just a twenty minute walk can go a long way in boosting your mood.
- Sleep. Research suggests that sleep deprivation can cause an anxiety disorder, and that people with chronic insomnia are at a high risk for developing anxiety and depression .
Try to aim for seven to eight hours of sleep every night, and if you find your are struggling to get a good night’s rest, consider speaking with your doctor, who can suggest ways that will help improve your sleep quality.
- Eat a nutritious diet. What you eat can have a significant impact on your mood, and research has shown that eating a healthy diet can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety . Try to eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and whole grains to ensure that your body is getting all the nutrients it needs for you to feel energetic and happy.
- Pet a dog. Or a cat, or whatever animal you love. Animal therapy has been shown to reduce feelings of anxiety, particularly in fear-inducing situations . If you don’t have an animal yourself, consider asking a friend if you can take their dog for a walk, or signing up as a volunteer at your local animal shelter to get your necessary cuddle time in with a furry friend.
- Try using essential oils. Aromatherapy with essential oils can promote relaxation and relieve anxiety. Oils like bergamot orange, chamomile, clary sage, lavender, lemon, neroli, rose, and others are particularly relaxing scents, and are a perfect addition to your self-care bubble bath session .
- Try using a stress ball. Some stress energy can be channeled toward a physical object, and stress balls can be particularly useful because they prompt you to squeeze and release, leaving you less tense .
- Take some “me time”. This goes hand-in-hand with self-care, but even just simply taking a few minutes every day where you can be by yourself can go a long way in reducing stress and anxiety. Consider getting up a few minutes before everyone else in your household to have some morning minutes of quiet, or even arriving at the office a few minutes early so you can ease yourself into your workday before the office becomes busy with people.
- Do something you’re good at. Satisfaction over a job well-done can be enough to ease feelings of anxiety. In the same way, engaging in an activity that you’re good at and that you enjoy can help to take your mind off of whatever is troubling you, and help you to re-set.
- Write your anxieties down. Accepting that you’re anxious, and reminding yourself that anxiety is simply an emotional reaction can help you deal with those feelings. Writing the things that are causing you to feel anxious can help you separate yourself from them, and make them more manageable .
- Phone a friend. Steven M. Sultanoff, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Pepperdine University says that maintaining close relationships is one of the best things you can do to manage a stressful situation. When your anxiety is overwhelming you, consider phoning a trusted friend who can often offer an alternate perspective and help you to feel calm .
- Focus on the present. In many cases, anxiousness occurs when we begin worrying about the future. Of course, thinking about the future is a necessary part of life, but when you begin to notice anxiety creeping in, bring yourself back to the present. Ask yourself questions like “Am I safe?”, “What is happening right now?”, or “Is there something I need to do right now?”.
Whatever it is that you’re worrying about, you can always make an “appointment” with yourself for a later time to revisit those concerns when you’re in a better mental space and are more separated from them .
- Take a deep breath. Anxiety can come on quickly without much forewarning, so if you find yourself in a situation where you can’t stop everything and meditate, try pausing, taking a few deep breaths, and focus on inhaling and exhaling. This can calm you down and recenter your mind .
Reach Out for Help When Needed
As previously mentioned, anxiety affects us all in different ways, and some of these suggestions may not work for you. If you are really struggling to control your anxiety on your own, don’t hesitate to reach out for help from a professional who can work with you to develop personalized strategies to combat the stress and anxiety in your life. After all, this anxiety challenge isn’t meant to detract, but to add to the quality of your life.
Keep Reading: Signs You Might Have A High-Functioning Anxiety Disorder