How to Calm Anxiety: 8 Tips from Medical Experts

Medically Reviewed By Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
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A brisk walk, meditation, and music are just a few ways to calm anxiety and the worry, fear, or nervousness that comes with it. However, what works to calm anxiety for one person may increase anxiety for another. Anxiety is a normal part of life, a reaction to physical or mental stress. Because of this, it can be helpful when it is temporary. Anxiety tells us to take the stress seriously and address it.

When anxiety becomes chronic, however, it can be detrimental. Chronic anxiety has a significant effect on society in the United States. In fact, anxiety disorders rank as the most common mental health problem in the U.S. Whether you deal with day-to-day worries or longer lasting anxiety, there are steps you can take to calm anxiety, anxiety at night, and anxiety attacks.

1. Practice relaxation techniques

Managing stress is important for both everyday anxiety and anxiety disorders. Relaxation techniques counter the effects of stress and anxiety in the body, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). When you relax, your heart rate decreases, your breathing slows, and your blood pressure drops.

Relaxation techniques can be as simple as breathing exercises or guided imagery. The NCCIH also lists more advanced approaches, such as biofeedback-assisted relaxation. The key to preventing anxiety and controlling it when it occurs is to practice these techniques when you are not anxious.

2. Get a massage

We are all different. So, what works to reduce stress for one person may not work for another. Massage therapy is one way to potentially manage stress.

Massage can be relaxing and can promote wellness. An NCCIH summary of research suggests massage therapy can work to ease anxiety for people with certain conditions, such as cancer. However, there is not strong evidence that massage helps manage anxiety disorders.

3. Meditate in a quiet location

Meditation and mindfulness can promote calmness. These techniques focus attention away from stress and anxiety and lead to relaxation. There are many different ways to practice meditation or mindfulness. Some ways, such as yoga, also include a physical component. Research suggests that regular meditation programs can improve anxiety.

Learn how to start meditating and get tips for your first session.

4. Listen to music during stressful situations

Listening to music can be a way to destress and decompress. There is some evidence, according to the NCCIH, that it can help relieve anxiety in specific situations. This includes during medical treatments.

person with eyes closed wearing workout clothes and headphones sitting cross-legged on a bench
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5. Join a support group

Support groups are communities for sharing common problems, coping tips, and successes. There are groups for just about every situation and condition.

You can find a support group online or join one that meets in person. Both the American Psychiatric Association (APA) and the National Institute of Mental Health recommend support groups to deal with anxiety disorders. Ask your doctor for advice about support groups.

6. Take a brisk 10-minute walk

Exercise is an important part of physical health, but it has mental health benefits too. The APA explains that physical activity increases the level of norepinephrine, a chemical that helps the brain’s stress response.

Aerobic exercise also increases the level of endorphins, small proteins that block pain signals in the body. Endorphins also play a role in the sense of euphoria people may feel after a bout of high-intensity exercise — commonly known as “runner’s high.”

The effects of exercise kick in quickly — it only takes about 5 minutes of aerobic activity for anxiety-relieving benefits to start. You do not have to commit to hours of exercise for it to help. However, a pattern of regular exercise will provide sustained benefits, including elevated mood.

7. Pay attention to your diet

Scientists know there is a relationship between a healthy mind and a healthy body. So, if your body feels good, your mind is likely to feel good.

Along with exercise, proper nutrition plays a vital role in physical health. This can translate to overall better mental health. Specifically, the APA recommends avoiding caffeine, which can worsen stress and anxiety. Other tips include not skipping meals, eating well-balanced meals, and limiting or avoiding alcohol.

8. Talk with your doctor about your sleep

Anxiety and sleep problems are closely related. One can lead to the other. So, getting adequate rest each night is an important part of coping with anxiety.

However, anxiety at night can make it hard to get restful sleep. Talk with your doctor if you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep until morning. Learning about proper sleep hygiene and practicing it each night can go a long way toward relieving anxiety. In some cases, using medications temporarily may be helpful.

Long-term treatment for anxiety and stress

Anxiety disorders occur when anxiety becomes excessive or persistent. This kind of anxiety interferes with daily life and relationships.

The most effective treatment is a combination of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and medication. The medications will not cure anxiety. Instead, they work to relieve symptoms, while CBT addresses the root of the problem. The goal is to gain long-term control of anxiety through CBT. 

When doctors prescribe medications for chronic anxiety, they generally choose from two classes: anxiolytics and antidepressants. Anxiolytics, such as benzodiazepines, are for short-term symptom relief. They can reduce panic and worry quickly while other treatments take effect. Antidepressants provide longer lasting symptom relief but can take some time to start working.  

A lot of people in the U.S. experience anxiety. For many, anxiety is not debilitating. When this is the case, self-care and lifestyle changes are often successful in managing daily stresses. However, chronic anxiety that disrupts your life is different. While lifestyle habits can help, this kind of anxiety requires more in-depth treatment

Get tips for talking with your doctor about anxiety.

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Medical Reviewer: Joslyn Jelinek, LCSW
Last Review Date: 2022 Jan 21
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.