12 Practical Tips for Reducing Anxiety
This past year my whole life changed. In a matter of two months I got engaged, graduated from my master’s program, planned my wedding and got married, travelled to another country, packed up my life, and drove across the country to an entirely new state in which I was to live. Everything about my life was new and foreign to me, even down to my name.
My days were different, my roles in life different, and even the people in my life were different. A couple of months after all this, my career goals would change, as well, as I decided not to pursue doctoral studies (something I had thought I would do for years) and to write a novel instead. The well-known proverb attributed to Heraclitus that “change is the only constant” seemed to describe my state at the time. Life had begun to feel like a strong sea with me in the waves moving up and down rapidly.
I had never struggled with serious anxiety in the past, just the day-to-day stuff that most people deal with. It took me describing my newfound predominant state of feeling to a close friend who had been diagnosed with anxiety for years for it to be brought to my attention that “it sounds like you are struggling with panic.” I felt relief hearing there was indeed a name for what I was experiencing.
In the Christian world there can be stigma attached to mental health. Anxiety is the issue to which nobody wants to admit lest their friend or confidant make a judgment on their faith. A brief trip to my local Barnes & Noble, however, taught me that I was by no means alone, as well as other conversations with friends. In his book Anxiety & Panic Attacks: Their Cause and Cure, Robert Handly includes a list of life events from the smallest to most major of situational changes, noting that the higher your number from this list the more likely you are to experience anxiety. According to Handley, “Even positive changes cause stress.”
I spent this entire past year learning as much as I could about anxiety and fear. I learned to look fear in the face, the Lord leading me. I’m still learning, but I have more peace than I ever had before. Whether you struggle with occasional anxiety, panic, or want to overcome a particular fear in life, here are some practical ways to incorporate more peace in your life on a daily basis. Overcoming fear takes time; be patient and gentle with yourself.
Prayer puts everything into perspective. Lean on the sovereignty of God and remember that he has control over all things and promises to give you good. As Psalm 84:11 says,
For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly.
Ask for courage, strength, and his presence. Remind yourself of God’s goodness by reading his word.
For me, this was perhaps the most revolutionary lesson I learned in my struggle with anxiety. 1 John 4:18 says,
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
Fear and love do not mix well. They are two opposing masters, two opposing paths. When you choose love over fear, fear literally cannot remain. Yet, fear can often be the motivation behind many of the choices that we make in life. Our greatest fears are often masked behind positive ideals. Playing it safe is easy. Yet, what if you made life choices that were motivated from love?
A practical way to put this concept into practice is to look at a particular choice you are making in life, even a particular habit, and ask yourself, what is motivating me to make this choice? Is it fear or is it love? The goal is to try to do all things from love, even when it is not easy.
3. Look outward to Christ.
Don’t focus on yourself; instead, look to Christ. When you are experiencing anxiety, it is tempting to look inward and dwell in negativity. Yes, it is important to spend some time with yourself and ask, “Why am I feeling this way?” to get to the root of the matter. Yet, don’t get stuck there. Set aside a certain amount of time to do this and move on. The majority of your time should be spent looking outward to Christ. Taking too much time to focus inwardly can result in giving in to voices of doubt. Focus instead on what is true. As Philippians 4:8 says,
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.
Faith is the antidote to doubt, but faith can only be practiced by looking outward to Christ, as faith is the instrument through which we behold our Savior.
4. Take a break from drinking coffee.
I know, this one sounds impossible. Before my experience with anxiety, I was the lover of all coffee lovers. Yet, a cup of coffee in the morning (or two—and make it strong!) was not worth the anxiety caffeine intake can exacerbate. I’ve been caffeine-free for twelve months with the occasional slip—hey, I’m not perfect!
5. Examine how your physical health and your anxiety are connected.
Having skin issues? Stomach pain? Digestive issues on top of your anxiety? These are all symptoms that sometimes appear alongside anxiety, and they are your body’s way of communicating to you that something is off. That “gut feeling” you have may actually be an indicator of an underlying physical issue with your health. Studies have shown a connection between gut health and mental health. Listen to your body, eat healthy foods, and seek proper medical care.
6. Detox your life.
Organize your space. The spaces we live in tend to reflect our inner worlds. If you want to tame the chaos within, keeping a tidy and organized environment can actually help you feel more at peace and lower cortisol levels. Take control of your space rather than letting it control you.
This goes with other areas of life that may feel disorganized or out of control. Of course, when you are anxious, this tends to feel like everything. There are things you can control and others that you can’t. Focus on what you can control, and it will help you deal better with what you can’t.
Take a break from (or cut out) toxic relationships; practice self-care; put an end to unhealthy binges (junk food, too much Netflix, stress eating); make time for the people who matter (that means time for you, too); organize your time; practice the art of ritual; make space for air. Breathe.
But not too hard. It is important to sweat and get the heart rate up each day, but exercises that are too hard on the body can raise cortisol levels. If you are experiencing a time of high anxiety, you do need to get off the couch, but it may not be the best time to join CrossFit. Do therapeutic, low intensity exercises instead. Start your morning with light movement. Walk or hike in nature. Do safe stretching movements.
This is a no-brainer. Yet, if your anxiety is high, maybe you are struggling to get sleep. If you are experiencing insomnia, you may want to check with your doctor to see if you have low magnesium levels. Studies show that some Americans may not get enough magnesium on a daily basis. Other ways to help with sleep include having an evening ritual like reading in bed or anything that helps get you into a state of calm. Turn off anything with a screen an hour or so before bed (yes, even the screen from your phone can disrupt your sleep cycle).
9. Find an outlet.
Get creative. Do that passion project you’ve always wanted to do. Start that blog or journal; learn to play your favorite song on the guitar; learn a new hobby. The sky is the limit here! Make it personal. Your outlet can be as unique as you are. Find something that feels good to you.
10. Allow yourself to have this season.
You can experience growth from your anxiety. I know, it doesn’t feel like that will happen, especially while you are experiencing anxiety for a considerable length of time. No struggle, trial, or experience of pain ever feels like a gift when we are first confronted with it. Give yourself this time while you are still in the midst of it to learn and to grow—to become braver, more courageous, and stronger. Don’t be hard on yourself; don’t judge yourself.
Yes, despite what you may have heard, Christians struggle with fear and anxiety too. We aren’t in glory yet. You are a fallen human being. So many believers have an over-realized eschatology when it comes to mental health. They expect perfection now. That, by the way, is legalism, not Christianity. (Consider Paul’s words in 2 Corinthian 11:28 where he writes, “...there is the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches.”) Even Paul felt anxiety! So why would you think you won’t?
Be kind to yourself, accept where you are in your life journey, and learn from God what he is teaching you through it. And if you feel comfortable, (and use wisdom, of course), don’t be afraid to open up to others about your anxiety. You may be able to be there for a brother or sister in Christ in their time of need. There is no shame in asking for help or in opening up about your struggle—that’s why God gave us siblings in the church.
11. Take small steps outside of your comfort zone.
Even if they are the smallest of risks, taking small steps outside of your comfort zone is guaranteed to stretch that comfort zone. Take a look at what you are afraid of and take steps towards it. This doesn’t mean pushing yourself too hard or too fast towards a particular fear. If you are afraid of the ocean, don’t just jump in right away! Just put your feet in the water, feel it out, and let your mind and your body register that you are nearer to the thing you are afraid of and yet you are still safe.
12. Seek help.
There is no shame in receiving medical treatment or counseling. In some cases, anxiety is due to a chemical imbalance, and pharmacological treatment may be an option. You may also be experiencing anxiety due to a hormonal imbalance. It is important for you to know about the underlying issues that may be causing your anxiety, and you can be assured there are people out there who are ready and trained to help you!
A Praying Life: Connecting with God in a Distracting World by Paul E. Miller
This page may contain affiliate links through which Beautiful Christian Life may receive a commission to help cover its operating costs.