Tools This Therapist Uses to Reduce Anxiety

Tools This Therapist Uses to Reduce Anxiety

Anxiety is a hot topic these days and for us in the mental health field, it’s a topic we’ve been talking about for years. As a psychotherapist, it may come as a surprise that I’ve struggled with anxiety, but the beauty of this is that I very much empathize and understand what it may feel like for many of my clients.

What’s even more important is that I’ve learned how to manage and reduce the way anxiety interferes with my life, and I can share these tools with my clients. Here are some of the tools that work for me and my clients.

3 Therapy Tools to Reduce Anxiety

These seemingly simple tools can have profound effects on your mental health and reduce anxiety when we are consistent with them. This means a daily practice. Aim for doing one of these each day to see how they feel, and for more support on managing anxiety, click here.

1. Breathe

A daily practice of deep breathing for one minute or more can make a world of difference. Take a moment to become aware of how your body is feeling during the day. I try to set an alarm or reminder for the morning and mid-afternoon, just to remind myself to check-in and take a few deep breaths.

I suggest diaphragmatic breathing. Breathe in for three counts (expanding your belly), hold for three counts, and release for three counts. Do this for one minute.

Are you going to notice immediate effects? Perhaps. But the bigger shift will happen within your body over time. By doing this, you can begin to identify where feelings are stuck in your body. Then by diaphragmatic breathing (deep breathing while your stomach pushes out on the inhale), you can activate your vagus nerve. This nerve is responsible for regulating emotions, and when we take deep mindful breaths, we are literally massaging the intensity of our emotions.

2. Mindfulness and Mediation

Without moments of mindfulness, we cannot really feel what our bodies and brains are trying to tell us. As a Dialectical Behavior Therapist, I teach mindfulness to all my clients, but it’s a concept that many people overthink.

Simply put, a daily mindfulness or meditation practice allows us to create more parasympathetic support for our nervous system. When we learn to tune into our bodies, our thoughts actually slow down and offer us more control. Research shows time and time again that a meditation practice improves our response to managing stress and can give us more control when feeling worried or fearful.

I find that short guided meditations (two to five minutes) are a great way to get one’s mind off autopilot and reduce avoidance of emotion. I also find it helpful to do this with a teacher and through apps such as Simple Habit and Calm. You can also learn from an expert (like Light Watkins, for example), which helps you stay engaged and accountable to a daily practice.

Doing this daily (ideally in the morning, but whatever works for you) can help you become more confident in managing your anxiety.

3. Challenge Negative and Intrusive Thoughts

Rather than letting the worst-case scenario play out in my brain, I have learned to stop the story and challenge my thoughts. It’s difficult to do without mindfulness, but when you recognize you’re headed down the path of doom and gloom, you still have choices.

So, I’ll take out a piece of paper and use a good old-fashioned CBT approach to anxiety. I ask myself several questions after identifying the anxiety-driven thought, such as:

  • What is the evidence for this thought?
  • Is there evidence to disprove this thought?
  • What are the facts in this situation?
  • What would a good friend or colleague tell me about this situation?
  • How can I look at it from a different perspective?

By the time I’m done with this simple yet effective exercise, the thought really doesn’t even feel intense. I can actually find a positive or neutral thought to replace it.

Managing anxiety and emotions is a daily practice but with some support and guidance you too can feel more in control of your mind.

Authored by: Emily Roberts MA, LMHC