“What are the best ways to prevent anxiety?”
As a therapist, I get this question a lot, and for good reason. No one likes to feel anxious. It’s just so darn unpleasant. Regardless of age, gender, or station in life, anxiety is the number one thing my clients seek my help for.
As such, I wanted to write a post about the best ways you can prevent anxiety. Although I suppose I should start by stating the obvious: not all anxiety is preventable. In fact, I did an entire hour long webinar on the subject not long ago and one of the main takeaways was that it’s impossible to prevent anxiety entirely. This life is full of uncertainty, full of ups and downs. Despite that, there are definitely things I always encourage people to do to prevent anxiety from becoming a MAJOR problem in their life, as opposed to the day to day worries that are common to us all.
I’m not just saying this because I’m a therapist; I’m saying it because it’s seriously the most important thing you can do to make sure your anxiety doesn’t turn into something majorly unmanageable. If you’re feeling anxious, or you’re having trouble with intrusive thoughts, get to a therapist right away. The reason? You may simply be experiencing a stressful circumstance that you’re having difficulty staying mindful through, or you may actually have something more serious like generalized anxiety disorder or OCD. I know it’t not fun to think about, but those distinctions are best left to the professionals who have experience and expertise to help you determine what you have and the exact right course of action. And please, for the love of all that is good, do not google your mental health symptoms (stepping off my soap box now).
Truthfully, the sooner you know what you’re dealing with, the more likely you will be able to stop anxiety in its tracks and learn the skills necessary to get your life back on track. I know there is often a stigma around seeing a therapist or even admitting that you have anxiety, but to that I say: would you rather continue suffering or would you rather live life to the fullest, free from the anxiety that weighs you down on the regular?
Yeah, that’s what I thought. Besides, going to therapy is cool.
Nervous about heading to a therapist for the first time? Read this: What your therapist wants you to know before your first session.
One of the major ways anxiety rears its ugly head is making people feel like they don’t want to do anything or go anywhere. It’s a major bummer. A tried and true way keep anxiety at bay is scheduling things you enjoy into your day, week, month, etc. You love the beach? Awesome – find a time in the next month where you’ll go for a walk there. Is there a restaurant in your town you adore? Perfect – plan to eat there once in a while.
It’s best to plan the people you’ll hang with and the places you’ll go when you’re in a good place, but if you’ve been in a funk for a while, try to make a habit of looking at your planner once a week (Sunday night is usually a good time) and penciling in a few fun activities here and there.
One of the coping skills I teach almost every single client is making a deck of coping cards. To do this, take a deck of index cards and write one thing you like to do on each card. When you find yourself with unstructured downtime, shuffle up your deck, pull out a card and do what it says. Nothing seems to trigger anxiety like boredom, so this can be a lifesaver to prevent anxiety!
Many people mistakenly believe that alcohol will help their anxiety go away, when in fact it can do just the opposite – especially if you are taking psychotropic medication of any kind. Excessive alcohol consumption can (and will) interfere with your medication and prohibit them from working as effectively as they should. Even if you’re not taking medication, drinking may make you feel better in the short term, but ultimately it will dehydrate you and leave you feeling worse than before. Caffeine consumption in excess can do the same thing; so while this coffee-loving girl will never recommend you give up your java completely, try cutting back to one cup per day or even switching to matcha or green tea for a bit.
A good rule of thumb is this: everything in moderation is ok. Anything beyond that is going to make you feel more anxious than before, which, obviously, is not what we’re after. Make sure you’re drinking enough water each day (aim for at least 8 glasses!) as chronic dehydration often contributes to anxiety and depression.
Which of these do you think is the best way to prevent anxiety? Have any been helpful for you in the past? If you have others to add, definitely let us know!