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How to manage anxiety

Anxiety can feel overwhelming, but there are some simple steps you can follow to help you feel calm again.

Teen pushing aside anxious thoughts represented by anxiety related words

A long time ago, our brains evolved to respond to stress as if we were being chased by bears.

But nowadays, we don’t just experience stress and anxiety when we’re in physical danger. Lots of things about our life can cause us stress and anxiety.

These things can include:

  • Commitments and expectations, like school or work
  • Conflict with people we care about
  • Change or doing something new
  • Bullying
  • And many more!

Anxiety in modern life is a bit different

Hungry bears go away eventually, but the things that make us stressed out nowadays can be complex and long-lasting. This can make anxiety more complicated!

When our emotional brain is overactive, it demands all of our attention. One way it does this is by making us worry.

You might find you start imagining everything that can go wrong, or imagining that everyone hates you. A lot of our worries are about the past or the future, rather than the present.

Anxiety is very energy intensive. It’s like running on ‘high alert’ all the time. Some people might find they have periods where they feel ok or even depressed. 

If you are anxious or stressed for a long time, the increased levels of anxiety might become your new ‘normal’ or ‘default’ setting, which can make it even harder to feel calm.

A simple way to help yourself feel calmer is to follow these 3 steps:

1.   Calm your body
2.   Calm your mind
3.   Re-engage your smart brain

    Calm down your body

    Calming down your body helps calm down your brain

    By controlling your heart rate and your movement, you can encourage your brain to relax. For example:

    • Taking slow, calming breaths
    • Exercising, e.g. going for a run, or doing strength exercises

    Calm down your mind

    Focusing your thoughts on something in particular can help break the worrying cycle and stop the thoughts from escalating. Some great ways to break this worry cycle include:

    Mindfulness – focusing on the present moment

    Distraction – playing a video game, scrolling through Instagram, etc.

    Visualisation – choosing to ‘deliberately think’ by picturing or imagining something pleasant in your brain

    Daydreaming/imagining – you could use this as a ‘mental break’, or even use it to creatively reimagine your worries

    Turn your smart brain back on

    Re-engage your smart brain

    Once you have calmed down your body and mind, it’s important to re-engage your smart brain (especially if you need help solving a problem!)

    This can work the other way, too. If you are feeling anxious/stressed, doing things that helps your smart brain come back online can help you calm down your body and mind.

    Some ways to turn your smart brain back on include:

    • Talking to someone you trust
    • Journaling (writing)
    • Researching/reading
    • Learning something new

    Looking for more coping strategies?

    What happens in your brain when you're stressed?

    Want to find our more about different coping strategies and how they work?

    Watch to learn about the science behind feeling anxious.

    "Remember that different strategies work for different people. It’s important to find strategies that work for you.

    If you aren’t sure what to try or are having difficulties, you can talk to a Kids Helpline counsellor. 

    Like learning any new skill, strategies take practice and repetition to learn and get good at."

    Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

    If you’re feeling anxious or stressed, talking with someone can really help

    You’re not alone – support is always available.

    If you want to learn more about anxiety and how to deal with it, give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email today.

    If you need more information for other digital services and resources, check out Head to Health.

    "I've often struggled to fall asleep at night..."

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    This content was last reviewed 06/04/2020

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