5 Ways to Cope with Anxiety

Written by Dahyana P. Schlosser, PMHNP-BC

Tip #1 Mindfulness

This is an overarching topic that forms the foundation for many therapeutic interventions. Mindfulness, as it relates to anxiety, simply refers to the idea of being aware of yourself and how you feel.

If your young person suffers from anxiety, you and your young person know that sometimes it seems like it comes out of nowhere. However, if they think about what they were feeling before they noticed they were anxious, the answer is usually “I don’t know.” Usually, if they are feeling super anxious, there was likely a buildup.

Being mindful by making it a priority to check in with themselves periodically is important. They should ask themselves: “how do I feel right now,” often. It will help them to figure out what they need, and when. The rest of the strategies on this list can be employed at any time during the “build up” and even in full blown panic mode.

Tip #2 Deep Breathing

This often falls into the mindfulness category, but it can stand alone as an intervention. Most people think they know how to breathe deeply, but it is easier said than done when in the throes of anxiety. Three Tips for Deep Breathing for your young person…

  1. They should not try to fight against the anxiety as they try to breathe. They will only end up becoming more anxious. Instead, they should make a concerted effort to focus on their breathing and eventually it will begin to help.
  2. When they inhale, they should fill their body up with air until they can’t possibly fill it any longer.
  3. When they exhale, they should push all of the air out SLOWLY. If it helps, they can form their lips as if they are getting ready to whistle.

Here is a list of thirteen deep breathing apps. Some of these are really cool. You can set them on your phone or your young person’s phone/tablet to periodically remind them to breathe. This is such an easy way to ensure they are checking in with themselves!

Tip #3 Grounding Exercises

These aren’t your traditional forms of exercise (though we’ll get to that in a bit). These are things that your young person can do to help engage their senses. Engaging their senses when they are feeling anxious is super helpful because it diverts their mind’s attention from being anxious.

The “Lizard” part of their brain is not able to command the energy that is necessary to experience all sensations, much to its dismay. So, a great way for your young person to take back control is to have them engage in a multisensory experience.

One example of a grounding exercise is having your young person hold ice in their hands or against their wrist. When they hold the ice, they should try to be aware and mindful of what it feels like in their hand. Let the adjectives flow. Also, remind them to focus on their breath, too.

Another awesome grounding exercise is one that takes some prior prep and builds on the ice idea.

  • Take a bowl, fill it with beads and/or other small objects, add water, then freeze it.
  • When your young person feels like they need some grounding, take the bowl out of the freezer.
  • Then, have them fish out the beads and objects.
  • They will have to be creative about how they get them out. This is why it’s so helpful as a grounding exercise. With this activity they are engaging multiple senses, as well as diverting their cognitive energy to a task. “Lizard Brain” should quiet down after they have ignored it for a bit.

Anything that engages your young person’s senses can be a grounding exercise. Showers, baths, weighted blankets or lap pads, swinging, walking while looking at nature, listening to music, holding a warm drink between their hands, and smelling pleasant smells are all great things to try.

Tip #4 Exercise

Exercise has many benefits to overall health, including mental health. Expending some energy outside, at yoga, or in the gym can be just what your young person needs to keep their “Lizard” dormant.

Tip #5 Talk with Someone

Sometimes anxiety is not only the result of the misfiring of the brain. Perhaps the “Lizard” is reacting for good reason. If your young person finds that coping skills alone aren’t keeping their anxiety at bay, then finding a good, solid, therapist to help them sort through things is advisable.