21 ways to naturally manage anxiety and feel calm
Updated: Apr 22
Do you feel like anxiety is taking over your life? You're not alone. Anxiety is a prevalent mental health condition that affects millions of people worldwide.
And if you suffer from a chronic illness, you're more likely to suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder at some point in your life.
While there are numerous pharmaceutical options, i.e. anti-anxiety medications, for managing anxiety disorders, I, like many people, prefer natural ways to cope with my anxiety symptoms.
What are some natural ways to calm down when feeling anxious? How can I use breathing techniques to alleviate anxiety? Can exercise help with anxiety?
Chronic stress can affect mood, your physical health, cause difficulty sleeping, negatively impact your home life and make it hard to engage in self-care.
If you've been struggling to manage anxiety in your everyday life, keep reading for 7 short-term and 14 long-term strategies that will answer these questions, and may make all the difference for you.
What does anxiety feel like?
Anxiety frequently shivers through my body and mind, my nervous system tuned to a frequency I don't understand, my mind telling me a story that my tired brain believes:
You're not enough, you're a failure, and you can't keep up.
I feel it everywhere, frayed wires threatening to short-circuit my whole system. It's an enormously useless waste of time and energy, all of those electrical signals firing where they're not being useful.
And for what? Because you don't fit the image someone has of you? Because you're so used to treading on eggshells that now your perceptions cast worry over every interaction you have?
Because you're letting your illness define you, instead of treating it as the separate entity it is?
You can take it back. Take back the power your anxiety is giving away.
It's not serving you, and you need that energy to live.
I see anxiety as a leak in the container that houses my life force.
Small sparks of magic, twisted into a purpose they weren't meant for.
It can't be completely denied. Sometimes it feels like a driving force.
But there's a tipping point, where it becomes a chain.
You're not here for very long. In cosmic terms, you're barely here at all.
What can we do to take power back? Often it starts with the small things.
If I could condense this article into one sentence, it would be:
Breathe, stretch, take a step back, look through a different lens,
catch your mind in its wanderings, redirect it, and breathe again.
Easier said than done, right?
Anxiety looks different for everyone, and for some, there's a significant anxiety and depression association; both conditions troubling their daily existence.
A quick disclaimer: if your mental health is feeling unstable, you need to speak to your mental health clinician as a first port of call.
For relaxing techniques, I'm certain there's something on this comprehensive list of 21 strategies for coping with anxiety that might help you.
Short-term anxiety relief
When you're feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, it can be helpful to have some quick coping strategies at your fingertips. Here are some techniques you can use to help calm your mind and reduce your anxiety symptoms:
Practice focused, deep breathing: Take a few deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus your attention on your breath, and count to three as you inhale and exhale. Another deep breathing practice: sit or lie down in a comfortable position and inhale deeply through your nose for a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of 7, then exhale through your mouth for a count of 8. Repeat this process for a few minutes until you feel more relaxed. This is called 4-7-8 breathing. Deep breathing can help shift your autonomic nervous system into parasympathetic control, reducing the body's stress response, lowering blood pressure and potentially helping to reduce the body's stress hormone, cortisol.
Progressive muscle relaxation: This technique involves tensing and then relaxing your muscles. Start by tensing the muscles in your feet and working your way up to your head. By intentionally tensing and relaxing your muscles, you can trick your nervous system into chilling out for a moment.
Be mindful and notice your thought patterns: Take a moment to observe your thoughts without judgment. Challenge any negative self-talk and try to focus on the positive aspects of your life.
Stay in the present moment: Anxiety can cause you to worry about the future or dwell on the past, this is called time travel. Sometimes it's fun to think about the future, but if you find yourself ruminating with spiralling thoughts, try to focus your attention on what's happening right now. It's ok if you get distracted, just bring yourself back. Focusing on your breathing can really help you to be mindful. Sometimes it doesn't feel like we have any control over our mental health, but these grounding techniques can be very helpful for regaining control in the moment.
Use aromatherapy: Scents like lavender and chamomile can be soothing and relaxing. Try using a diffuser or adding a few drops of essential oils to your bath. You can be creative here, and use whatever feels sensuous and lovely for you.
Go for a walk or do 15 minutes of yoga: Physical activity can help reduce anxiety and improve your mood, it's one of the best natural remedies out there.
Write down your thoughts: Keeping a journal can help you process your emotions and reduce stress. You can organise your thoughts, uncover hidden troubles and help yourself to feel relaxed.
Long-term anxiety strategies
While quick coping strategies can help in the moment, it's important you develop long-term strategies for managing anxiety. Here are some tips for coping with anxiety over the long term:
Talk to your doctor: If you're experiencing severe anxiety symptoms, it's important to talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Stick to your treatment plan and attend regular appointments. Sometimes just having someone in your corner can help reduce mental stress.
Make sleep a priority: Lack of sleep can exacerbate anxiety symptoms. Try to get 7-9 hours of sleep per night. Sleep has to be the number one priority for all of us, it's the time when our brain resets, cleans itself and gets ready for the next day. If you're suffering from insomnia, talk to your healthcare provider about ways you can manage this.
Get to know your anxiety: Identify your triggers and develop a plan for managing them, being more in touch with your body will help you to notice when you're starting to feel heightened. If you notice this, try some of the relaxation techniques or deep breathing exercises we've talked about. You might be able to avoid your anxiety spiralling if you catch it early and implement strategies to calm yourself. There are some great online tools with validated mental health assessments that you can use to help understand how you are feeling.
Consider therapy: Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) can be an effective treatment for anxiety. It helps you identify and challenge negative thought patterns. A mental health clinician might be able to help you learn some of these techniques, and there are lots of resources on the web where you can find tips and tricks to easily implement in your own day-to-day life.
Daily or routine meditation: Mindfulness meditation can help reduce anxiety by promoting relaxation and a presence of mind. Try meditating for 10-20 minutes each day. To practice meditation, sit or lie down in a comfortable position and close your eyes. Focus on your breath and observe any thoughts or sensations that come up without judgment, the practice isn't being still, it's noticing you're not and guiding yourself back. There are a lot of great free meditation resources out there, and some excellent paid versions too.
Socialise with friends and family: Spending time with loved ones can help reduce anxiety and improve your mood. Humans are social creatures. It can be really tempting to hide away and you might feel like a burden to others when you're feeling anxious, but this is the most important time to reach out. Sometimes sharing your worries can lessen the burden, and we're programmed to be a part of a community. Take advantage of your programming by giving yourself that, even when you don't feel like it will help.
Try supplements or change your diet: Some supplements and dietary changes may help reduce anxiety symptoms. Talk to your doctor before starting any new supplements or making significant changes to your diet.
Keep your body and mind healthy: Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Exercise releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters. It also helps reduce muscle tension. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day, such as jogging, swimming, or yoga.
Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs: These substances can disrupt sleep, shift your brain chemistry and potentially exacerbate anxiety symptoms.
Get regular sunlight: Sunlight can help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and improve your mood.
Plan worry time: Set aside a specific time each day to worry and ruminate. When you find yourself worrying outside of that time, remind yourself that it's not useful or productive to think about it right now.
Aromatherapy: Use essential oils to combat stress, promote relaxation and reduce anxiety. Lavender essential oil is a popular choice for anxiety relief and can be used in a diffuser, added to a bath, or applied topically. When you feel anxious, a hot bath and some pleasant smells can help connect with your emotional centres and help your system to feel calm. You might like to mix it up with other essential oils like bergamot, ylang-ylang, and frankincense.
Be kind to yourself: Remember that managing anxiety is a process, be patient with yourself. Fluctuating stress levels are a normal part of life, and having anxiety doesn't mean something is broken in you. Stressful situations can turn into longer-lasting concerns when our systems are heightened. Give yourself permission to enjoy some moments out in the sunshine with fresh air, it's a wonderful way to calm yourself.
Celebrate: You will have small victories along the way. There will be days where you feel like you're on top of your well-being, and other days will circulate negative thoughts around your mind. We are cyclical creatures, it's normal to have ups and downs.
It's easier to say, read and write than to do - but layering strategies over one another can be very effective in managing anxiety symptoms.
Anxiety treatment is not always straightforward and you might need to experiment, with the guidance of a mental health clinician, to see what works best for you.
Permit yourself to rest, you're allowed to let other people down.
You don't have to be the brittle backbone, you can be soft and subdued.
You can give yourself the space to breathe.
Managing anxiety naturally can be an effective way to reduce your symptoms. These natural ways to cope with anxiety might help you feel more relaxed and calm in your daily life. We all want to feel calmer in our everyday life, even if you don't suffer from a generalised anxiety disorder you can still use these techniques to relieve stress and affect mood positively.
Always consult with your healthcare provider before starting any new natural remedies, and be patient with yourself as you understand your condition and develop your anxiety coping skills.
Remember; breathe, stretch, take a step back, look through a different lens, catch your mind in its wanderings, redirect it, and breathe again.