How to deal with anxiety: Helpful tips for managing anxiety flare-ups

Though everyone will experience anxiety at one point or another in their lives, some people can feel anxiety more intensely than others, even to the point that it affects the way they live their lives. 

However, there are quick and effective ways to treat anxiety symptoms that can help ground you in the present moment and take you out of your anxious stream of thoughts. Read on to learn about the number of techniques you can use—plus why therapy and possibly medication are also helpful tools to support managing anxiety.

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

Anxiety is an emotional and physical response that involves feelings of fear, worry, and physical tension in certain situations—their bodies going into a heightened sense of awareness in order to be prepared for possible physical or emotional danger. 

While anxiety is a normal human experience in many situations, when someone experiences anxiety outside of an expected range, it can be helpful to describe it in the context of an anxiety disorder

Anxiety disorders can make people’s anxiety much more intense, causing them to feel severe fear, panic, and tension in seemingly harmless situations. Their muscles might become very tense, their hearts beating rapidly, their hands shaking or sweaty. Some anxiety disorders cause panic attacks, which can make people feel like they are in extreme danger or even dying despite being in everyday environments.

Aside from how it feels to have one’s anxiety flare up, anxiety disorders can make people feel anxious about feeling their symptoms. Things like social anxiety or panic attacks can make people fearful of just going about their daily life, scared of going somewhere or doing something that suddenly triggers their symptoms. This avoidant behavior can be incredibly isolating. 

However, with proper treatment, whether that be therapy or medication, people can learn to manage their anxiety and live without fear of flare-ups.

What Triggers Anxiety?

The cues and factors that inform anxiety triggers can differ depending on what kind of anxiety disorder or related condition one has. Often, though, there might not always be a discernable trigger for one’s anxiety.

Anxiety is triggered when a person anticipates that something bad will happen, usually associated with something feared. Though anxiety is built to be an instinct that keeps us safe, when anxiety bells are ringing and there is no true threat to one’s safety or well-being, that’s when it can become a problem. 

For people with social anxiety, social situations like parties, meeting new people, or even going somewhere where they will have to speak to someone they don’t know can trigger symptoms of anxiety. Agoraphobia can cause any environment that is unknown or not deemed “safe” to feel dangerous, while generalized anxiety disorder can just be a general sense of overwhelming anxiety triggered by past events or even no discernible reason. Because of this, anxiety triggers are largely dependent on the person and their specific fears.

How Can I Calm My Anxiety Fast?

Relaxation techniques are helpful ways to calm anxiety quickly, designed to counter tension and stress and promote calm. Deep breathing exercises are examples of relaxation techniques that help to quickly quiet anxiety symptoms or anxious thoughts. These exercises are regulated techniques that involve the conscious use of the diaphragm to decrease the speed of one’s breathing cycles by increasing the volume of inhalations and exhalations.

Examples include: 

  • Breath awareness
  • Alternate nostril breathing
  • Box breathing

Grounding techniques are another helpful way to lessen symptoms like flashbacks and unwanted thoughts or memories. “Grounding” is a term used to describe techniques that bring a person to their present moment and keep them from getting consumed by their racing thoughts. 

Examples include: 

  • Taking a bath
  • Savoring food or drink
  • 54321 approach
  • 333 rule

For a more proactive approach to preventing intense bouts of anxiety, mindfulness is a practice that promotes a nonreactive and accepting approach to the observation of your thoughts, feelings, and experiences. This can happen in the moment, intervening and assessing one’s anxious thoughts before they completely take hold, or at a calmer time, allowing you to sift through triggers, process anxiety-inducing events, and calmly confront one’s anxiety in order to lessen its impact in the future.

Examples include: 

  • Body scanning
  • 5 senses exercise
  • Mindful communication

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How Should One Deal With Anxiety Attacks?

It’s wise to consult with your medical provider if you are experiencing anxiety attacks, as it may be an indication of an underlying issue. A medical provider like a primary care doctor is likely to refer someone experiencing anxiety attacks to a mental health professional, who can assist them in learning ways to cope with triggering situations. 

If it’s a certain thought or belief that is triggering your anxiety attacks, a therapist can help you find techniques that interrupt or lessen the impact of the distressing thoughts through evidence-based and personalized mental health interventions.

Anxiety attacks can be broadly described as anxious responses that gradually increase in intensity to a usually identifiable trigger. Anxiety attacks share many similar symptoms to panic attacks; however, the onset of the attack is usually the distinguishing factor between the two, as panic attacks are sudden and can often lack an identifiable trigger. 

Some symptoms of anxiety attacks can include an increased heart rate, sweating, shaking, shortness of breath, choking sensations, discomfort, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, feeling you are overheating or feeling chills, numbness, derealization, loss of control, and fear that you are dying.

What Are Good Ways to Deal With Anxiety?

The best way to deal with anxiety is to learn to manage it with the help of a mental health professional. Whether you need therapy or medication (or a combination of the two), a mental health professional can help you work through your symptoms, uncover triggers, and process subconscious beliefs or past events that could be tied to your anxiety.

In terms of managing anxiety symptoms in the moment, one good tool for dealing with anxiety is to use mindfulness to eliminate the perceived threat. To identify the threat, it may help to ask yourself, “What am I worried is going to happen?” followed by “If it does happen, what consequence would it have on my life?” 

Hopefully, your responses to those two questions will shed some light on areas of vulnerability that are triggering your anxiety. With that awareness, you and your therapist can then begin to take steps to process, reshape, and heal from those vulnerabilities. 

Oftentimes, the spike of fear and nervousness that clinical anxiety causes are outsized responses to certain everyday stimuli. These can be addressed with a psychotherapy approach called reality testing. 

Since anxious thoughts become “irrational” when the reaction is more extreme than the threat, reality testing allows one to make sure their thoughts are attuned to reality—accurate and balanced for making life decisions. By adjusting thoughts to match the reality of the situation, one is better able to identify a range of practical and realistic solutions. 

What Are Good Coping Skills for Anxiety?

In addition to the aforementioned techniques like grounding, deep breathing, and mindfulness practices, other ways to cope with anxiety include:

  • Reframing thoughts: This involves rethinking a problem by taking a different perspective.
  • Talking to a supportive individual: This can be a friend, family member, or anyone who can provide tangible or intangible support and resources to help relieve tension.
  • Physical activity: This can involve multiple forms of exercise that promote tension relief, such as cardiovascular and muscle-building activities. 
  • Relaxation techniques: This can involve techniques such as progressive muscle relaxation and meditation, which are methods intended to promote mental and physical calm.
  • Taking a break: This involves removing oneself from a stressful situation, whatever that may look like.
  • Healthy diet: This can involve the practice of consuming highly nutritious foods and limiting or avoiding processed and refined food. 

Though each of these techniques can work well to decrease anxiety in the moment, the most effective way to treat anxiety is to see a mental health professional about your symptoms. They will be able to show you personalized tools to help you manage and lead you through the complexities of processing your triggers and symptoms.

Table of contents

What Does Anxiety Feel Like?

What Triggers Anxiety?

How Can I Calm My Anxiety Fast?

How Should One Deal With Anxiety Attacks?

What Are Good Ways to Deal With Anxiety?

What Are Good Coping Skills for Anxiety?

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Laura Harris, LCMHC in Durham, NC

Laura Harris, LCMHC

Laura Harris is a Licensed Clinical Mental Health Counselor (LCMHC). She specializes in anger, anxiety, depression, stress management, coping strategies development, and problem-solving skills.

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP in New Haven, CT

Kate Hanselman, PMHNP-BC

Kate Hanselman is a board-certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner (PMHNP-BC). She specializes in family conflict, transgender issues, grief, sexual orientation issues, trauma, PTSD, anxiety, behavioral issues, and women’s issues.

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Hannah is a Junior Copywriter at Thriveworks. She received her bachelor’s degree in English: Creative Writing with a minor in Spanish from Seattle Pacific University. Previously, Hannah has worked in copywriting positions in the car insurance and trucking sectors doing blog-style and journalistic writing and editing.

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  • Westling, B. E., & Öst, L. (1993). Relationship between panic attack symptoms and cognitions in panic disorder patients. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 7(3), 181–194. https://doi.org/10.1016/0887-6185(93)90001-2

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The information on this page is not intended to replace assistance, diagnosis, or treatment from a clinical or medical professional. Readers are urged to seek professional help if they are struggling with a mental health condition or another health concern.

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